The problem with the posters in the airport was that they resembled the political propaganda of a totalitarian regime, insinuating what could not be dissented from without some danger or personal inconvenience. I do not mean to say that we now live in such a regime in the most literal sense, that we have already to fear the midnight knock on the door, but rather that the posters contribute to a miasma of untruth, the kind of untruth that is becoming socially dangerous, or at least embarrassing, to point out. For if you do dissent from such a slogan you will be immediately cast into the social Gehenna where the reactionaries are sent, whose cries of outrage can be dismissed merely by virtue of who they are. If you say that science does not need women, you will be taken to mean that you think that women should be confined to children, kitchen, and church, and that you are an advocate of the burqa (though actually I would make it compulsory for young English women in the center of English towns and cities on Friday and Saturday nights, though only for aesthetic, not for moral or religious, reasons).
Not to be able to answer back to perceived untruths: such is the powerlessness that can eventually drive people to espouse the worst causes.
Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.
May 12, 2015
March 4, 2015
Megan McArdle on the weird things some people can believe:
I got a lot of responses to my post last week on Wal-Mart’s decision to raise the minimum wage many of its employees earn to $10 an hour next year. One variety of response stood out: the folks who said “Wal-Mart is doing this because it’s good for its business.”
It stood out because it is almost right, but not quite. The correct statement is that “Wal-Mart is doing this because it thinks it’s good for its business.” Never ignore the possibility that Wal-Mart could be completely wrong.
I remark on this because some of the arguments I saw verged upon what I’ve come to think of as “corporation theology”: the belief that if a corporation is doing something, that thing must be incredibly profitable. This is no less of a faith-based statement than the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Yet it is surprisingly popular among commentators, not just on the right, but also on the left.
This left-wing writer was evincing considerably more faith than I have in the American corporation. Corporations do dumb stuff all the time — for decades, even. Moreover, advertising has multiple purposes. It can of course induce you to consume more of a product, but frankly, no matter how much Pepperidge Farm advertises, it’s probably not going to dramatically increase America’s consumption of prepackaged cookies. So why does it advertise? Because it wants you to choose a Milano instead of an Oreo or one of them newfangled biscotti.
This is corporation theology. Of course, you also see it on the right — arguments that if some product were good or desirable, a corporation would already have provided it. The entire history of human progress argues against this theory.
As these two examples suggest, corporation theology gets trimmed to personal and ideological convenience, as all theologies often are: A liberal is capable of simultaneously believing that market failures abound in industries he or she would like to regulate, and also that Costco knows how to run Wal-Mart’s labor policy better than Wal-Mart does; a conservative, the inverse. Both are wrong. Corporations, like all human institutions, are great engines for making mistakes. The only reason they seem so competent is that companies who make too many mistakes go out of business, and we don’t have them around for comparison.
February 15, 2015
At Techdirt, Karl Bode sings the praises of dumb TVs that don’t share your every word with unspecified “third parties” who may or may not have any compunction about further sharing of what happens in your home (within audio range of your TV, anyway):
But it’s something else stupid that Samsung did this week that got less press attention, but that I actually find far more troubling. Numerous Samsung smart TV users around the world this week stated that the company has started injecting ads into content being watched on third-party devices and services. For example, some users found that when streaming video content from PC to the living room using Plex, they suddenly were faced with a large ad for Pepsi that actually originated from their Samsung TV:
“Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos. A Plex spokesperson assured me that the company has nothing to do with the ad in question.”
Now Samsung hasn’t responded yet to this particular issue, and you’d have to think that the company accidentally enabled some kind of trial ad injection technology, since anything else would be idiotic brand seppuku (in fact it does appear like it has been working with Yahoo on just this kind of technology). Still, users say the ads have them rushing to disable the smart portion of Samsung TVs, whether that’s by using a third party solution or digging into the bowels of the TV’s settings to refuse Samsung’s end user agreement. And that raises an important point: many consumers (myself included) want their TV to be as slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, dumb and dim-witted as possible.
February 6, 2015
The stuff had an unpalatable reputation — no one likes the taste of Listerine, which is why Listerine had to come up with Flavored Listerine. Perhaps people respected it because it did taste so horrid; you could well imagine it was killing germs by the millions, because it tasted like death in your mouth. If Listerine Toothpaste had been flavored with mint or Pepsin! or Iridium! or some other brand-new ingredient, surely they would have told you up front. Unmodified “Listerine” is a warning.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2015-01-20.
February 2, 2015
I may have missed a few, as I didn’t get to start watching the game until near the end of the first quarter, but of the ones that Forbes included in their round-up, I recognize only the Doritos, Coca-Cola (ugh!) and #LikeAGirl ads. We certainly got more than our fair share of Ford F-150, Nissan, and The Keg ads, however. I’d show more, but a surprising number of the ads now show warnings similar to this
I’m sure they’ll eventually clear the border, but part of the point of the advertisers paying the big bucks for the Super Bowl timeslot is the immediacy.
January 29, 2015
Christopher Taylor points out that the folks who advised Comcast on their recent home security advertising campaign rather missed the mark:
Comcast is trying to act like using any other security system is old fashioned; its actually a tag line in some of their ads “don’t be old fashioned.” They’re using the old knight in armor to stand in for any other security system which, not being “in the cloud” and accessible “anywhere” from your smart phone is thus dated and old.
But consider; which would be preferable?
- An internet based system which, by its own advertising notes that you can turn it off “from anywhere” using only a phone, and look at cameras anywhere in your home, just by using the phone.
- An armored knight with a broadsword.
Now, perhaps you’re new to the internet and aren’t aware of this, but it gets hacked pretty much every minute of the day. Passwords are stolen and sold on Chinese and Russian websites. Your smart phone is not secure.
I once found a website (now gone) that had live feeds of people’s homes from around the world by clicking on various names. All they did was use commonly used passwords and logged into the security systems. It was like this weird voyeuristic show, but really boring because it was all empty rooms and darkness — people turn on their security when they leave, not when they do fun stuff to watch.
What I’m saying is what should be abundantly obvious to everyone who has a television to watch Comcast ads: this is a really stupid, bad idea. You’re making it easier for burglars to turn off your security system and watch for when you aren’t home. You’re making it easier for evil sexual predators and monsters to know your patterns and when you’re home or alone. Get it?
This is like publishing your daily activities and living in a glass building all day long. It seems cool and high tech and new and fancy, but its just really stupid.
But an armored knight? Unless he goes to sleep, he’s a physical, combat-ready soldier that acts as a physical deterrent to intruders.
And its not even old fashioned. It’s so old an image, it doesn’t even feel old fashioned, it feels beyond vintage to a fantasy era. Which is cooler to you, being guarded by a knight in shining armor with a sword, or your smart phone?
These ads have a viral feel to them, like some hip college dude with a fancy business card came up with it for Comcast, but they don’t make sense. I doubt they even get people to want to buy the product.
January 18, 2015
On Monday afternoon Harris came round; he had a cycling paper in his hand.
I said: “If you take my advice, you will leave it alone.”
Harris said: “Leave what alone?”
I said: “That brand-new, patent, revolution in cycling, record-breaking, Tomfoolishness, whatever it may be, the advertisement of which you have there in your hand.”
He said: “Well, I don’t know; there will be some steep hills for us to negotiate; I guess we shall want a good brake.”
I said: “We shall want a brake, I agree; what we shall not want is a mechanical surprise that we don’t understand, and that never acts when it is wanted.”
“This thing,” he said, “acts automatically.”
“You needn’t tell me,” I said. “I know exactly what it will do, by instinct. Going uphill it will jamb the wheel so effectively that we shall have to carry the machine bodily. The air at the top of the hill will do it good, and it will suddenly come right again. Going downhill it will start reflecting what a nuisance it has been. This will lead to remorse, and finally to despair. It will say to itself: ‘I’m not fit to be a brake. I don’t help these fellows; I only hinder them. I’m a curse, that’s what I am;’ and, without a word of warning, it will ‘chuck’ the whole business. That is what that brake will do. Leave it alone. You are a good fellow,” I continued, “but you have one fault.”
“What?” he asked, indignantly.
“You have too much faith,” I answered. “If you read an advertisement, you go away and believe it. Every experiment that every fool has thought of in connection with cycling you have tried. Your guardian angel appears to be a capable and conscientious spirit, and hitherto she has seen you through; take my advice and don’t try her too far. She must have had a busy time since you started cycling. Don’t go on till you make her mad.”
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
November 30, 2014
I managed to miss the initial controversy about a typographical hoax that might not have been so hoax-y:
According to the website of the Independent newspaper, LEGO UK has verified the 1970s ‘letter to parents’ that was widely tweeted last weekend and almost as widely dismissed as fake. Business as usual in the Twittersphere — but there are some lessons here about dating type.
‘The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.’ It’s a sentiment from the 1970s that’s never been more relevant. Or was it?
Those of us who produce or handle documents for a living will often glance at an example and have an immediate opinion on whether it’s real or fake. That first instinct is worth holding on to, because it comes from the brain’s evolved ability to reach a quick conclusion from a whole bunch of subtle clues before your conscious awareness catches up. It’s OK to be inside the nearest cave getting your breath back when you start asking yourself what kind of snake.
But sometimes you will flinch at shadows. Why did this document strike us as wrong when it wasn’t?
First, because the type is badly set in exactly the way early consumer DTP apps, and word processor apps to this day (notably Microsoft Word), set type badly — at least without the intervention of skilled users. I started typesetting on an Atari ST, the poor man’s Mac, in 1987. The first desktop publishing program for that platform was newly released, running under Digital Research’s GEM operating system. It came with a version of Times New Roman, and almost nothing else. Me and badly set Times have history.
In the LEGO document, the kerning of the headline is lumpy and the word spacing excessive. The ‘T’ seems out of alignment with the left margin, even after allowing for a lack of optical adjustment. The paragraph indent on the body text has been applied from the start, contrary to modern British typesetting practice; the first line should be full-out. The leading (vertical space between lines of text) is not quite enough for comfort, more appropriate to a dense newspaper column than this short blurb.
There’s also an error in the copy: ‘dolls houses’ needs an apostrophe. Either before or after the last letter of ‘dolls’ would be fine, depending on whether you think you mean a house for a doll or a house for dolls. But it definitely needs to be possessive.
It wasn’t just that the type looked careless. It was that it stank of the careless use of tools that shouldn’t have been available to its creators.
November 4, 2014
Think today’s ads on TV are irritating? You ain’t seen nothing yet:
I’ve discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute “thing” rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it’s a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren’t clear. What you’re giving up and what you’re getting back aren’t always done transparently, and that’s where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don’t fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that’s when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened.
The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.
To some extent, that’s not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier:
It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.
More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.
You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.
October 31, 2014
Virginia Postrel talks to Samira Kawash about her book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure:
It was, Kawash writes, the “first ready-to-eat processed food, the original ancestor of all our fast, convenient, fun, imperishable, tasty, highly advertised brand-name snacks and meals.” For more than a century, we’ve simultaneously gorged on the stuff and felt guilty about it. It’s an intensified version of our ambivalent and fickle attitudes toward abundant, convenient, mass-produced food in general.
“The candy that gives us some of our happiest experiences is the same candy that rots our teeth, ruins our appetite, and sucks tender innocents into a desperate life of sugar addiction,” she writes. “Candy joins the ideas of pleasure and poison, innocence and vice, in a way that’s unique and a bit puzzling.” Candy is, one might say, both trick and treat. With Halloween in mind, I interviewed Kawash by e-mail.
Question: When and how did candy become associated with Halloween? Was trick-or-treating just concocted to sell candy?
Answer: Would you believe the earliest trick-or-treaters didn’t even expect to get candy? Back in the 1930s, when kids first started chanting “trick or treat” at the doorbell, the treat could be just about anything: nuts, coins, a small toy, a cookie or popcorn ball. Sometimes candy too, maybe a few jelly beans or a licorice stick. But it wasn’t until well into the 1950s that Americans started buying treats instead of making them, and the easiest treat to buy was candy. The candy industry also advertised heavily, and by the 1960s was offering innovative packaging and sizes like mini-bars to make it even easier to give out candy at Halloween. But if you look at candy trade discussions about holiday marketing in the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween doesn’t even get a mention.
October 6, 2014
In Mother Jones Kevin Drum discusses the plight of the poor poll organizations who have seen yet another drop in their telephone response rates. A recent report said that the average response rate for polling companies this year is 11.8%, and that’s a 1.9% drop from 2012. It probably explains why the polls seem less accurate every election.
I assume the problem here is twofold. First, there are too many polls. A few decades ago it might have seemed like a big deal to get a call from a Gallup pollster. Sort of like being a Nielsen family. Today it’s not. Polls are now conducted so frequently, and the public has become so generally media savvy, that it’s just sort of a nuisance.
More generally, there are just too many spam phone calls. The Do Not Call Registry was a great idea, but there are (a) too many loopholes, including for pollsters, and (b) too many spammers who don’t give a damn. When the registry first went on line, my level of spam phone calls dropped dramatically. Since then, however, it’s gradually increased and is now nearly as bad as it ever was. I won’t even pick up the phone anymore if Caller ID suggests it’s a commercial call of some variety.
We’ve been seriously talking about dropping our land line: fewer than one call in ten is from anyone we know or do business with. Most of them are (real or fake) surveys, “Microsoft” scam calls, and “You’ve won a cruise!” spam. WestJet seems to think I’ve flown with them and keeps calling me to say “Thank you for flying WestJet” (the harassing phone calls make it exceedingly unlikely that I’d voluntarily do any business with them if I have a choice in the matter). My favourites are the “This is a very important call about your current credit card.” Those ones we hang up within three syllables on average.
October 3, 2014
Among those currently imagining our possible futures, one of the most persuasive is the novelist William Gibson, who, having evolved quite a bit past the man who wrote Neuromancer in 1984, can hardly be said to be imagining futures at all, with his most recent novels constituting, in his words, “speculative fiction of the very recent past,” more oriented toward social situations than technological situations. With the possible exception of David Foster Wallace, no novelist of whom I am aware has ever written with such freshness and imagination on the subject of advertising and marketing, which is a big part of what Wallace called “the texture of the world I live in.” Nor has any novelist quite so precisely identified what is sinister in our world of ubiquitous sales pitches: that something whose entire purpose is to be at the center of our attention still manages to be somehow covert. The marketing mentality is an invasive species; earnest young people now speak entirely seriously about their “personal brands” at the same time they complain about the commodification of this or that. Gibson understands the strangeness of our times, and my own mental shorthand for the odd little details one sometimes encounters, particularly in urban life, when one identifies something that is entirely ordinary and yet feels as if it were not in its right time and place, is “Feeling like I’m living in a William Gibson novel.”
Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.
September 17, 2014
I haven’t been posting much about the Adrian Peterson situation, partly because I was still waiting for the picture to clarify and partly because it just depressed the hell out of me to think about it. I agreed with the Vikings’ decision to deactivate Peterson for Sunday’s game against New England, even though it clearly distracted the team and disrupted the game planning: it was the right thing to do. I was shocked and dismayed when the team announced that Peterson would be returning to the team on Monday and would play this weekend in New Orleans.
I wasn’t alone in my reaction: the fans, the media, and even the team’s sponsors reacted very negatively to the announcement. The governor of Minnesota weighed in on the issue and his intervention had to be awkward, as he’d been a major supporter of the team’s campaign to get public funding for their new stadium now under construction. Some Viking players were happy to have Peterson back, but even there the support was not as widespread as it might have been … players from the south were much more vocal in their support than those from elsewhere in the nation.
As Monday wore on, a few more pebbles came loose from the PR dam, as the team learned from one sponsor after another that they were suspending or contemplating ending their promotional relationship with the team. Companies and organizations with a direct relationship to Peterson himself were even more direct: Nike, for example, ordered their retailers in Minnesota to stop selling any items branded with Peterson’s name or number.
The team’s ownership and management met late last night to hammer out a new answer to the PR disaster that had landed on them on Friday and had been made far worse by their Monday decision. Shortly before 1 a.m., the team announced that they’d made a mistake and that Peterson would not be active for the coming game. Instead, he’s being put on the NFL’s little-known exempt list, meaning that he’ll be paid his salary but will not be with the team until his legal issues are resolved. Although he’s being paid, he will not count against the team’s 53-man roster.
ESPN1500‘s Andrew Krammer has more:
Instead of Mike Zimmer and Matt Cassel commanding the podium on a typical Wednesday at Winter Park, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf issued a statement and Mark Wilf, general manager Rick Spielman and team attorney Kevin Warren took questions about getting “it right,” a mantra uttered nearly 30 times in the 17-minute press conference.
Running back Adrian Peterson has been placed on an exempt list, an order directed by the Vikings, agreed to by Peterson and made possible by NFL commissioner Roger Godell’s oversight. The Vikings’ decision comes two days after the team held a similar press conference at the same location announcing Peterson’s reinstatement.
Public outcry from fans, media, sponsors and even Governor Mark Dayton prompted the change, as Mark Wilf said: “We value our partners, sponsors and community, and especially our fans. In the end, it’s really about getting it right.”
Peterson will be paid his full salary while sorting out his legal matters, which assistant DA Phil Grant has reportedly said could take “nine to 12 months” to go to trial, though a judge can lengthen or shorten at his/her discretion.
The $12 million question for the Vikings is: Will Peterson play another game in 2014? If not, will he ever don the Vikings purple again?
“Until these legal matters are resolved, he will remain on this exemption list,” Spielman said.
September 4, 2014
Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick alerted me to a new source of old images:
Here’s some nice news. Kalev Leetaru has been liberating a ton of public domain images from books and putting them all on Flickr. He’s been going through Internet Archive scans of old, public domain books, isolating the images, and turning them into individual images. Because, while the books and images are all public domain, very few of the images have been separated from the books and released in a digital format.
There are all sorts of images in this stream, so you never know what you’ll find when you dive in. Here, for example is an image used in Canadian grocer January-June 1908:
Which, if you follow the link to the original publication, was isolated from this page of ads:
Or the rather impressive works of George White & Sons in London, Ontario:
This image appeared in Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News (January-June 1913), illustrating a “Staff article” about the company:
A description of the works of an old established firm building threshing machinery, traction engines, etc. The plant has been gradually built up to its present size, the foundry being the latest addition. The company maintain two branches in the West and have agencies in all the principal cities and towns in the grain growing districts of Canada.
May 2, 2014
Michael Pinkus takes a short pause from his usual wine reviews (and decrying the LCBO for their stone-age approach to selling wine) to throw some scorn at the foreign-owned multinational oligopoly that runs our beer retail business in Ontario:
Not sure which [of the two TV ads] I object to more, the lies of the first or the total misrepresentation of variety store owners in the second. The biggest lie to me in #1 is the implication of impeccable customer service: the visual of a beer store employee (Glenn Howard) showing a customer to her beer selection (can woman not find the beer they are bringing home to their man on their own? Is that another implication here?) or is he giving a recommendation of what beer to serve? Either way it’s a complete falsehood: I have been to plenty of Beer Stores in my day and NO ONE HAS EVER ‘showed me’ to the beer I was looking for, in fact, Beer Store employees are some of the surliest bunch in the customer service world, second only to LCBO and Home Depot staff for the most un-helpful in retail.
Ad #2 makes variety store owners look complacent in the act of minors buying alcohol in their stores, the only thing the Beer Store did not do was put an ethnic minority behind the counter (that should be your first clue that the Beer Store is out of touch with corner stores) … But seriously what a load of absolute garbage that ad is. I was thinking that a good acronym for the Beer Store is “The B.S.” which is exactly what they are peddling to the public with their ads and “beer facts” campaign … hopefully you see right through it: all they are trying to do is protect their bottom line through the guise of social responsibility. Heck the LCBO has been using that excuse for years and look at the monopoly they’ve built.
When it comes to the illegal sale of booze to minors, no one is protected more than the liquor store employees of this province. First, both LCBO and Beer Store employees are protected by unions, so if they were to sell to minors that employee would continue to keep their job. A sting by reporter David Menzies for SunMedia proved that not only can minors get alcohol at the LCBO but nothing befell the employees who sold to that minor.
On the other hand, a variety / corner store would face harsh penalties, stiff fines and I am sure the loss of their license to sell booze and quite possibly lose their store, their livelihood, everything they’ve worked for – not to mention the civil lawsuit that might be a consequence of their actions. Most variety store owners are hardworking, law abiding people who work long hours in their own stores, and usually rely on their family members to help out. They aren’t about to give up their way to make a living to sell a couple extra bottles of Blue to 15-year-old Joey Ripkin. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any rotten eggs in the basket, but you’ve had LCBO workers sell booze out the back door of stores and warehouses and clerks sell to friends – there’s always someone who takes advantage of the system, but to paint them all with this absurd brush is clearly ridiculous. The BS the Beer Store is pushing is practically see-through.
The loss of one’s business and livelihood is a bigger price to pay than the slap on the wrist a Beer / LCBO store employee would see.