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Before we get started, take a listen to this (length - 39 sec):



I've probably mentioned this before but I worked as a DJ at a small AM radio station in West Texas during my high school and early college years. That was back in the late 60s/early 70s, and the Viet Nam war was hot. And while the draft was still in effect, the various branches of the military were also stepping up their recruitment efforts.

Wolfman Jack USAF Program labelPart of those efforts entailed what we would today call infomercials, but which back then were referred to as public service announcements (PSA). They came in the form of prerecorded programs, usually musical, which were interspersed with promos for a specific branch of service. Radio stations were required to run a certain number of hours of PSAs each month, and the military recruiting programs were a good way to meet those requirements.

As you can imagine, stations didn't run these programs during prime time. Our station ran them on Sunday mornings. They came to us as 15-25 minute LP records (that's vinyl, kiddies), one PSA to a side. They were dated and once they were played, they were trashed.

I managed to "rescue" a half dozen or so of these PSA platters that came to us from the Air Force and from the Marine Corps. The Corps' programs were entitled Jazz on the Potomac, and were precisely 14 minutes and 30 seconds of, well, jazz. (Frankly, I never really grasped which demographic they were aiming at. Were there really that many 18-to-22 year old guys listening to jazz in the late Sixties?) They were narrated by Felix Grant, who had an almost fifty year career in radio, and whose voice was apparently created with jazz in mind. Grant's narration was educational, focusing on the music - the style and history. He made a single, low-keyed pitch for the Marine Corps during each program. Here's an example (length - 76 sec):



The USAF, on the other hand, took a different approach. Their programs were narrated by the (in)famous Wolfman Jack, and featured current rock and pop hits. The Wolfman's pitch was less polished but more lively, in keeping with the musical selections. Following is a good example, this one targeting young women (length - 1 min, 42 sec):



The music on the USAF's programs was a rather eclectic mix. I managed to save three LPs - six programs - and each had four-to-six songs. I'm not sure why I feel it's important to archive this information, but I guess it's partly for personal reference and partly to capture a bit of cultural history. In any event, here are the program listings for those three discs.

Series #11 - Program 1 - Disc 1 - Side A (July, 1972)
  • Layla - Derek & The Dominos
  • It's Too Late To Turn Back Now - Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose
  • Sympathy For The Devil - Rolling Stones
  • Immigration Man - David Crosby & Graham Nash
Series #11 - Program 2 - Disc 1 - Side B (July, 1972)
  • Tumbling Dice - Rolling Stones
  • I Need You - America
  • Questions - Moody Blues
  • Hot Rod Lincoln - Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen
  • I Didn't Get To Sleep At All Last Night - 5th Dimension
  • Hold Your Head Up - Argent
Series #11 - Program 3 - Disc 2 - Side A (July, 1972)
  • I Saw The Light - Todd Rundgren
  • Wolfman Jack - Todd Rundgren
  • What Is Life - George Harrison
  • Troglodyte - Jimmy Castor Bunch
  • Old Man - Neil Young
  • Blue Sky - Allman Brothers
Series #11 - Program 4 - Disc 2 - Side B (July, 1972)
  • 30 Days In The Hole - Humble Pie
  • People Make The World Go 'Round - Stylistics
  • Sweet Hitch Hiker - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Someday Never Comes - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Sylvia's Mother - Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
Series #12 - Program 1 - Disc 1 - Side A (August, 1972)
  • Layla - Derek & The Dominos
  • Take It Easy - Eagles
  • Sunshine Superman - Donovan
  • Day By Day - Godspell
  • Brown Eyed Girl - El Chicano
Series #12 - Program 2 - Disc 1 - Side B (August, 1972)
  • Rip This Joint - Rolling Stones
  • School's Out - Alice Cooper
  • Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin
  • Long Cool Woman - Hollies
  • Conquistador - Procol Harum
  • It's Too Late To Turn Back Now - Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose
As an aside, none of those songs would likely have made the radio station's regular playlist (with the possible exception of Day By Day). The station format was "variety" or "middle of the road," and featured primarily country (or "country & western," as it was known back then) and easy listening music. So, the USAF platters were actually pretty cool collections from my perspective.

I'm in the process of digitizing these LPs, again for whatever historical value they might have). They're in pretty bad shape; I was not able to get the album covers and didn't have the foresight to at least put them in sleeves so they've been rattling around loose and uncovered for the past four decades. The flaws add a certain authenticity and character to them (sort of like my reflection in the mirror, or so I keep telling myself). Copyright law prevents me from ever posting the entire content online, but I've done what I could.

Customizing QR Codes
October 17, 2011 9:54 PM | Posted in: ,

So, what's this?

Custom QR Code for Louis Vuitton website

Being the perceptive reader I know you to be, you instantly recognize this as a QR Code...sort of. Go ahead - use your smartphone scanner and see if it works for you (you should end up at a Louis Vuitton website, for better or for worse). If your scanner app won't read it, you might jump over to this website and scroll down to the much larger version and try it again.

I stumbled across that website a couple of weeks ago and it was a revelation. You may recall my obsession with QR codes. (If you need a reminder, here's some past Gazette musings, ranging from educational to observational to aberrational.) But I never realized the flexibility they offer in terms of customization. All of them I've encountered to date were sharp-edged black-and-white squares, and it is quite a revelation to learn that they'll accommodate color as well as some graphic embellishment.

As it turns out, the QR code specifications allow for some built-in error correction. Google has a pretty good explanation of the basics, but the bottom line is that you can lose up to 30% of the original embedded data and still have a scannable code. As with everything else, your mileage may vary; in the case of QR codes, the continued functionality will depend on the amount of data contained in the code, the physical dimensions of the code graphic, and the capabilities of your scanner software.

The preceding Google webpage permits the generation of a QR code via its charting API, and you can specify the level of error correction embedded in the generated code.

Anyway, I started thinking about the ways customized QR codes could be used for practical purposes. The most obvious use is to reinforce the branding of the entity employing the code. For example, the Sibley Nature Center uses as its logo a little green tortoise. If the Center wants to add a QR code to its promotional material linking back to its website, it could use one similar to this:
Custom QR Code for Sibley Nature Center website
I actually oversimplified this code in order to ensure its scannability; it should return a URL that may or may not be clickable, as it's missing the "http://" that precedes most web addresses. Your scanning app may or may not know what to do with it, but you get the idea.

As far as I can tell, color has no effect on usability; the main concern is how many scannable pixels are in the primary code. There again, this may vary with the scanning software. In any event, it's fun to experiment with this technique.
I streamed the first 50 minutes of Gog* today via Netflix, during my workout. This movie debuted in 1954 to widespread yawns, for many good reasons, but it does provide some unintentionally campy moments.

The plot of the movie surrounds some apparent acts of sabotage taking place at a top secret government research facility (I know; how redundant is that?). Most of the top scientists in the US are assembled at the facility to pursue their pet projects, which range from harnessing the power of the sun via mirrors to inducing suspended animation by turning people into blocks of ice. Heady stuff. Oh, and someone has built a super computer, dubbed NOVAC ("Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer," which clearly demonstrates the primitive state of acronymization in the Fifties). NOVAC is also referred to as a "giant brain machine," and it's controlled by commands embedded in hole-punched paper tape ("Every punched hole represents a thought."). I didn't get all the way through the movie, but I suspect NOVAC is behind all the criminal hijinks, laying the groundwork for later similar hijinks by HAL.

Anyway, that's not important. What's important are the various product placements that are peppered through the movie. For example:

Screenshot from 'Gog'

There it is, a genuine Coca Cola vending machine with no discernible purpose other than to be an advertisement. Brilliant!

Then there's this:

Screenshot from 'Gog'

Notice how NOVAC is cleverly accompanied by a device provided by Bendix Computing? This is actually pretty interesting, because, according to our own Giant Brain Machine (aka "Wikipedia"), Bendix made a lot of electronic equipment but didn't actually introduce a computer until 1956. Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with this. Did Bendix actually leak an impending product via a "B" movie? The company did get some sweet credits from the film:

Screenshot from 'Gog'

But the most fascinating product placement was this one:

Screenshot from 'Gog'

This IBM electric typewriter (note the "Return" key) was apparently the first computer peripheral, merrily typing away on its own while NOVAC pondered the imponderable. Its function was inscrutable, but apparently important as it garnered several close-ups during the movie.

But, do you catch the irony? In the movie, IBM played second fiddle to Bendix's computing superiority, but we all know that IBM became the king of Big Iron.

Incidentally, the producer of Gog was Ivan Tors. If that name sounds familiar, then you're getting close to being "of a certain age," as he created such memorable TV series as Sea Hunt, Flipper, and Daktari. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if Mr. Tors was the driving force behind the product placements, given his later gift for ginning out commercial hits.

*Two of the "characters" in the movie are Gog and Magog, robots controlled by NOVAC. If those names sound familiar, then you know your Bible (see prophecies in Ezekiel and Revelation).
I realize that picking apart the logic of any television ad is like taking candy from a fish in a barrel, but GMC's recent "I Vow" series touting its Sierra pickup line seems to push the envelope for damning with faint praise. Here's my cogent analysis of what the commercial says vs. what it really means. (Don't thank me for these revelations; this is just what I do.)

What it says: "I vow to be ready to go whenever you are."
What it means: "I have an ignition switch, battery, and starter."

What it says: "I vow to work even after the sun goes down."
What it means: "I have headlights."

What it says: "And I vow to take a tank of gas as far as she'll go."
What it means: "I will not violate the previously-thought-to-be-immutable laws of physics regarding the conservation of energy and matter." Actually, I have no idea what they're saying here, because this is one of the most nonsensical statements in the history of advertising, and that's saying something.

There's also the puzzling issue of genderizing the tank of gas, referring to it as "she." The social and psychological implications are overwhelming, and space doesn't permit their analysis. Perhaps later, when the presidential campaign is completed.

Here's the ad in all its underwhelming glory, if, like a persistently annoying gnat that hovers on the periphery of your consciousness, you sort of knew it was there but couldn't be bothered to focus on it:


There's no doubt that television technology has made great strides. We're on the threshold of having an 85" 33-megapixel TV to hang on our walls (for most of us, it will have to be in the garage, of course), or if that's too ostentatious, you can put in an order for Samsung's new 70 incher, if you're willing to settle for a mere 8 million pixels of Dr. Phil.

Scan of Magazine Ad
But for some of us, we harken back to a simpler time, when a guy (and not just MacGyver), with nothing more than five simple tools and sweat of his brow, could build his own TV, and a color one at that, complete with an "ultra-rectangular," 25" (315 sq-inch) screen that provides almost immediate access to 24 channels, more than you'll ever need if you're expecting quality programming.

The ad on the right (click to enlarge, and to dig that cool 70s 'do) appeared in the January, 1973 edition of Cycle Magazine, complete with a postcard (postage-paid, no less) to get more information about enrolling in the Electronics Home Study School offered by DeVry Institute of Technology (a Bell & Howell School). If you successfully completed the course, you got to keep the Bell & Howell Solid State color TV that you built. Plus, as the ad revealed, "You might even end up with a business of your own in color TV servicing."

The magazine also has an ad for Record Club of America: "FREE! up to 25 Stereo LPs or 15 Tapes (cartridge or cassette) with NO OBLIGATION to BUY ANYTHING EVER!" Did you fall for that one?

Super Bowl Ads: Winners and Losers
February 6, 2011 9:05 PM | Posted in:

My winners: The VW "Little Darth Vader" ad and the Chevy Silverado "Timmy's where...?" ad.

My losers: GoDaddy.com's teaser and the Groupon ad with Timothy Hutton.

My sentimental favorite: the full-length version of the Jack Ingram's HEB ad (was that a national ad, or just aired in Texas?).

Overall, I thought this was one of the weaker Super Bowls in terms of the quality of the ads. But I think that every year.

Super Bowl: Fourth Quarter
February 6, 2011 8:18 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, maybe concerned that you might be caught in the celebration. Green Bay wins the big one.

OK, maybe just a little angsty.

If you're a Bayou Verde fan, you should be very, very worried right about now.
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"Desert and Mirrors and Teacher" - Camaro: Love the car more than the ad.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"I can hear you now" - Verizon: Works better for me than the us-vs-AT&T approach.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Mouldy Bay's offense has been their best defense. But if they don't score a TD here, they'll lose the game by one point.
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"Reanimated Benzes" - Mercedes-Benz: Meh.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Cane in the Face" - House: Good as the show itself.
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

"Beaver in Road" - Bridgestone Tires: What is it with all these animals in the road?
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Contractually Obligated" - GoDaddy.com: Yeah, that's the GoDaddy we expected.
Ant Rating: Rating: 1 Ant

"Racing Stripe Beetle" - VW Beetle: Nice music, fun animation.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants
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Bayeaux Vert seems incapable of stopping the Pittroplex's offense.

"Old Technology" - Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: Love the guy with the turntable and the headphones.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Wondering" - Pepsi Max: Surprisingly edgy for a soft drink ad...and it doesn't work.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Talking Cars" - Cars.com: Talking cars work in the movies, but here...not so much.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Dogsitter" - Bud Light: Attractively quirky.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Pittsdown wanted to challenge that last catch, but they've already used two timeouts this half, and would lose the third if the challenge failed. Strategery.

Another Pottsburg turnover. But can Bayou Verde capitalize? Or capitolize?
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"Classic TV Shows" - NFL: Gimmicky, but cute.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Jack Ingram" - HEB: Sorry, but this one is off the hook. Be sure to watch the full version on YouTube (although the short version is most excellent as it features Aggieland...whoop!).
Ant Rating: Rating: 5 Ants


Super Bowl: Third Quarter
February 6, 2011 7:01 PM | Posted in: ,

So much for a quick-moving quarter. *yawn*

Oh, the most exciting play in professional football: a challenge from the sideline!

The best thing about the third quarter is that it's passed quickly.

"Eminem in Detroit" - Chrysler: Inspiring? Uh, how 'bout insipid? Inscrutable?
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

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"Funky Bistro with Adrian what's-his-face" - Stella Artois: Singing to a beer. It's a French thing.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Old time service station" - Carmax: Inadvertent snicker.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

I do appreciate Fox for not running a commercial immediately following every kickoff.

"Psychedelia" - Hyundai Elantra: Have I said "meh" yet?
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Timothy Hutton" - Groupon: Uh...what th'?
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Border Crossing" - Coca Cola: Not bad. Not great, but not bad.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

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How about that...might be a game here after all.

"Cram it in the Boot" - Mini Cooper Countryman: How do you say "meh" with a British accent?
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Test Baby" - HomeAway.com: Double-meh.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

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And, we're back, following a nutritious meal of corn dogs and cheese sticks.

"Let others go first" - Cars.com: Meh
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Tailor" - eTrade: Uh, I expected more.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Ozzy & Justin" - Best Buy: "What's a Bieber?" Classic.
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

Super Bowl: Second Quarter
February 6, 2011 6:18 PM | Posted in: ,

See you after the big halftime show, featuring the English Peas, or some other vegetable.

Your dedicated correspondent just had a boiled shrimp snack and it was awful. That is all.

And the Pottsville Feelers draw within a hat-trick. Could be a game after all.

Big Ben done got his bell rung. Green Bay loses a key pass defender. Generalissimo Franco is still dead.
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"On Star Facebook Updates While Driving" - Chevy Cruze: Do we really need yet another driving distraction. I'm rating this down just for the concept.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Kid in a Candy Store..." - CarMax: Not bad, not bad.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Pittstown forgot to show up for the game. Sorry, Jeff. 
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"Loggers" - Snickers: Nothing new. (OK, I was actually "out of the room" when this ad aired and didn't catch the end. Mike informed me that it was Roseanne Barr getting flattened, which does redeem the ad significantly.)
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Monkey Parkers" - Some online job service: Ditto
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Oh, look. Some more scoring between commercials.
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"Lord of the Rings parody" - Coca-Cola: Did I predict this or what?
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

"Tiny Darth Vader" - Volkswagen Passat: Totally cute.
Ant Rating: Rating: 5 Ants

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"Western - Tiny Dancer" - Budweiser: Full of surprises, starting with Fargo's Peter Stormare cast as the gunslinger.
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

"Faith Hill and Unreal Rack" - Teleflora: Having Faith Hill kick it off made the ending surprisingly good.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Motorola Zoom: Take a slap at Apple at your own risk.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Exhaust" - BMW Diesel: LIke diesel smoke is a bad thing?
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

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Ads between quarters:

"Reply All Email...Not" - Bridgestone Tire: Great use of special effects.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Tech History" - Volt by Chevy: Evoking Hendrix? Works for me.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"New .co Girl" - GoDaddy.com: OK, that WAS funny. I'm shocked.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Super Bowl: First Quarter
February 6, 2011 5:25 PM | Posted in: ,

"Eminem" - Lipton Tea: Uh, OK...
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

Cowboys and Aliens? Count me in!

"Everybody wants one" - Kia Optima:  Just for the special FX
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

"Cool guys befriend dork" - Pepsi Max: Shot to the crotch. Very original, Pepsi. Go sit over there by Bud Light and consider your sins.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Resurrected Grandpa" - Doritos: They're just beating me down.
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

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Touchdown, Greenburgh Slackers. Some guy named Jordie just redeemed himself.

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3rd round...

"Product Placement" - Bud Light: Somebody just phoned it in.
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Tommy's in Trouble?" - Chevy Silverado: Great concept, well-done. Good dog, Lassie, er, Chevy. Best ad thus far.
Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants
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2nd round...

"Finger sucking, pants-sniffing" - Doritos: A bit too gross and weird
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Retirement home" - Chevy Cruze: Let's make fun of the old folks
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

"Abusive Wife" - Pepsi Max (But only because of the last scene)
Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

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OK, first ads of the game, and they're obviously trying to manage expectations:

"Hack Job" - Bud Light: OK satire of an HGTV show

Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

"Pug through the glass door" - Doritos: Lame
Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants


"Mercedes Trap" - Audi: 3 Good use of Kenny G

Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

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If you're unsure how to handicap this game, use the approach employed by my wife's second cousin, who, albeit quite cute and employed, is inexplicably unmarried, and who decides who to root for, in the absence of any other compelling reason, by which quarterback is most dateable. In this case, unsurprisingly, she's pulling for Green Bay.
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By the way, this is the first Super Bowl in a long time where we can almost interpret the roman numeral, XLV, which is the metric equivalent of 183.

Oh, I missed the kick-off. But no one has scored yet so that's OK.
Has Christina ever sung this song before? That was, well, pretty bad, overall.
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I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but those guys do realize that they don't have to put their caps over their hearts when they sing "America the Beautiful," don't they?

Big roar from the crowd when George and Laura appeared on the Big Screens. Cool.
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Smoke machines? Really, NFL? Oh, look...there's Christina Aguilera.
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The Steelers may be playing in the home of the Dallas Cowboys, but they couldn't manage to beat the Cowboys during the 2010 season. OK, so they didn't play the 'Boyz, but, still...
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OK, the recitation of the Declaration of Independence was pretty cool, albeit a bit incongruous. There were lots of ex-football players saying lots of big words.

Did you catch Terry Bradshaw's interview with Pre-Felon Ben Roethlisberger? Sheesh, guys, get a room.
At the risk of sounding like I know what I'm doing, I need to lay out a few ground rules so you'll be able to recognize when things inevitably start to go south and we descend into uncontrolled chaos.

First, it's important to be able to quickly recognize the team I'm writing about. There's nothing worse than thinking I'm talking about the ugly shoes of the Pittsbay Stackers, when in reality I'm dissing the Greenburgh Feelers. So, to make things more clear, I'll refer to the latter as "those guys" and the former as "the Cheese Whiz Heads." Note: If the game gets crazy, I may inadvertently reverse the references; in that case, just go by the context and you'll be fine.

Second, we use an elaborate rating system to judge the ads, a rating system developed over years of analyzing the best data I could make up. It's called The Ant System® and it goes something like this: it's a sliding scale of 1-5 ants, with 5 ants represented by something like Coke's "Teach the World to Sing" ad, and 1 ant represented by anything produced by GoDaddy.com. But how, you might ask, will I recognize the rating? Good question. Watch carefully for the subtle clues:

Ant Rating: Rating: 1 Ant

Ant Rating: Rating: 2 Ants

Ant Rating: Rating: 3 Ants

Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

Ant Rating: Rating: 5 Ants

Third, you should always feel free to weigh in with your own observations, opinions, recipes, paranoid delusions, and predictions, keeping in mind of course that by leaving a comment you've confirmed my suspicion that you also didn't get invited to a Super Bowl party.

OK, I think that about covers it. Any questions?

Oh, I almost forgot. If you want some insights from someone who actually cares about the game itself (what a concept!), check out Jeff's place.

Super Bowl Ads: Pre-Game Predictions
February 6, 2011 3:36 PM | Posted in: ,

We're about ninety minutes away from kick-off, which gives me plenty of time to do the usual in-depth preparation that I'm known for. That's why I'm watching something on The Food Channel, working up an appetite for Super Bowl snax.

I don't think The Food Channel will be showing any of the Super Bowl ads, but I feel confident in making a few predictions for what's coming up. To wit:

  • There will be plenty of ads featuring animals acting like humans, and being really hilarious in the process.

  • There will also be plenty of ads featuring humans acting like animals, and being much less hilarious in the process. (I'm thinking of you, Bud Light.)

  • Kids will be big, and guys will be big kids.

  • At least one sports figure will appear in a commercial that will cause him (or her) to wonder, tomorrow, "what was I thinking?"

  • GoDaddy.com will be in a class by itself, that is to say, class-less.

Speaking of GoDaddy, one of its biggest competitors, Network Solutions, has posted a parody ad on its website, employing Cloris Leachman as "the Go Granny." It's not hilarious, and it's a little offensive in its own right, but it is a shot over the GoDaddy bow.


Let the games begin!
Against my better judgment, the Gazette will once more be the scene of uninformed opinion and inexpert commentary regarding just about everything related to the Super Bowl. You're invited to join in with your insights, as we select the best and worst TV ads for the year.

Tune in around kick-off, assuming I'm up from my nap by then.
Why would Sears create a remarkably graphic (but still tongue-in-cheek) ad campaign that features zombies? Beats me, but I'm impressed, if slightly unnerved. I mean, they've gone all out, including three videos using the undead to pitch their products, and their zombieized website is at least a couple of clicks deep before you get to actual merchandise. You can even click a link that re-translates the site's verbiage into zombie-speak (although I cannot vouch for its accuracy).

Two thumbs up for the effort, Sears! Now, why are you looking at me like that...?


Have you noticed the new L.L. Bean TV ad that's set to some of the lyrics of Harry McClintock's Depression-era song, Big Rock Candy Mountain? If not, here's it is, via YouTube:



This strikes me as an odd choice of music for a company which, I assume, wants to be incredibly sensitive to the sensibilities of its customers. The ad takes a brief snippet of lyrics and puts them into a setting that conveys a carefree sense of adventure and wonder, but the original song in its entirety is much darker and filled with references that I'm sure L.L. Bean would not want to be associated with.

The ad wisely omits lyrics such as "There's a lake of gin we can both jump in," "...little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks," "There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too," and "...where they hung the jerk that invented work." (According to Wikipedia, the original version of the song also contained a verse laced with profanity and a vulgar reference. You can read all the lyrics, sans that original verse that never made it to an actual recording, here. Ironically, the website with the lyrics is the National Institutes of Health's "Kids' Pages.")

Granted, this song has been recorded many times through the years by such family-oriented artists as Burl Ives and included on the Care Bears Karaoke CD - with "sanitized" lyrics, of course - and I suspect that many if not most listeners have no idea about the context or actual lyrics of the entire song. But that still doesn't lessen my surprise that it would end up in a national advertising campaign for a company like L.L. Bean.

This is an interesting area for marketers. How much should the overall context of background music matter to the advertisers? Does the reputation of the writer or original recording artist play into the decision to use a song? Is any connection between song lyrics and ad message, however tenuous, sufficient justification to use that song? And will we thus eventually hear a Michelin ad backed by Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Funny how context changes things.

One of the most grating commercials on TV is the "Wow, that's a low price" spot by Staples. If you haven't yet been annoyed by it, permit me to give you the opportunity:



What'd I tell you?

But, using that same technique, the H-E-B grocery chain has created a hilarious and effective parody:



I like the way the ad actually refers to the first commercial (although it was probably necessary to do so in order to show that they know that we know that this is a parody).

In the end, the yelling guy gets booted from the store, something that would have definitely improved the original ad, albeit to the detriment of the message. But since that ad is so annoying, I can't imagine that it's very effective anyway. Although, I did write a post about it, so Staples has that going for it.

Of course, it could always get worse:


Need a new job? Do what this guy did - capitalize on the narcissistic tendencies of bosses by purchasing their names as keywords, and wait for them to Google themselves.

This is a rather striking example of combining tech savvy with insight into human nature and psychology. No wonder he actually landed a job with this approach. [Link via Neatorama]


I'm sure that you've heard that Lindsay Lohan is suing E-Trade and its advertising firm for using the name "Lindsay" in one of their wildly popular TV commercials. The "actress" wants $100 million for "pain and suffering" because - her lawyer claims - she's a "one-name celeb like Oprah or Madonna" and the TV ad sends a subliminal message that reflects badly on her image.

Excuse me? First, I feel compelled to remind Lindsay that she's made a series of choices in her life that have relegated her to the B-list (at best) of impaired and out-of-control wannabes. Having a talking baby make fun of her (even subliminally) would actually be a step up for her.

Setting aside the fact that in 1986 (the year of her birth, in case she can't remember) the name "Lindsay" was the 46th most popular girl's name in the USA (and the variant "Lindsey" ranked even higher, at 39), I think she should give careful consideration to the implications of claiming an exclusive association with certain descriptors. If her lawsuit is successful and thus requires that every time we hear "Lindsay" (or, if we have a discriminating ear, "Lindsey") we think of her, then it will have to logically follow that we'll also bring her to mind whenever we hear "pathetic," "narcissistic," and "delusional."

Then again, perhaps that horse has already bolted the stable.

Update: This just in - Oprah and Madonna are suing Lindsay and her lawyers for associating their names with hers.

And just to show how seriously we here at the Gazette take Lohan's lawsuit, here's the ad in question:


Happy Slo-Mo Dogs
March 5, 2010 8:04 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember the frustrated frog videos? Well, on the flip side of things, here's a vid that has a happier ending for all the participants. (Remind me never to eat in front of a 1,000 frame per second camera.)


More Tilt-Shift
March 1, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in: ,

Perceptive Gazette readers will recall this short post about tilt shift photography, a technique that seems to be gaining in popularity.

One of my favorite commercial applications of the technique is the following Allstate Insurance TV ad:



It's a winsome effect, turning a real life scene into something toy-like. But, as nice as it is, it's child's play compared to this (link via Neatorama):

The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.

The filmmaker, Sam O'Hare, describes the process he employed in converting 35,000 still photos (shot over a five-day period) into this fascinating look at "a day in the life of New York City." He used a Nikon D-3 digicam and opted for standard Tamron and Sigma lenses in place of dedicated tilt-shift glass; the "minature" effects were added in post-production.

O'Hare says that he likes "making large scenes small," and The Sandpit is an amazing example of how to do that.

Super Bowl Thoughts
February 8, 2010 2:31 PM | Posted in: ,

Drawing upon the documentary film Airplane!, my reaction to yesterday's Super Bowl MMCXLVIIIXI was that I picked the wrong day to quit live-blogging the TV ads. It would have been so easy to assign the coveted Ant Ratings. There were about 30 1- or 2-Ant ads, and only two that I thought were worth watching again.

My favorite occurred near the beginning of the game. It was the Doritos dog shock collar ad. I always like to see mistreated canines wreak revenge on their tormentors (and gain the Doritos in the process). My second favorite was the Volkswagen "slug bug" ad, which was entertaining throughout but hit the perfect note with Stevie Wonder calling slug on Tracy Morgan at the very end.

I'd give an honorable mention to the E*Trade "milkaholic" baby ad.

The GoDaddy.com ads were as forgettable as I expected, although in hindsight, I don't think they reached the same level of sleaziness as in past years. GoDaddy's ad strategy continues to mystify me. I have a hard time believing that they're hitting their target audience with those ads, and even if they do succeed in driving a ton of traffic to their website (which is generally one of the marks of a successful ad campaign), I doubt those clicks turn into revenue. I continue to believe that GoDaddy's founder, Bob Parsons, is just a DOM who likes hanging out with cute young chicks. But, hey...it's his $2.5 million per thirty seconds and if that's how he wants to spend it...

Actually, the edgiest ad from a sexual content perspective came from a completely unexpected source: Motorola. Megan Fox (Megan Fox!), pondering the effect of posting a photo of herself in the bathtub, with the result being several scenes that no parent really wants to try to explain to a ten year old.

The Focus on the Family ad with Tim Tebow and his mom was sweet and funny, and the controversy about airing it seems to prove that some people are simply born to be offended.

The one glaring aspect of the broadcast yesterday was the glaring product placements that CBS inserted at every turn. It even extended to the halftime show. Think it was coincidental that The Who played the theme songs from all three CSIs? Their discography has hundreds of songs and yet those three were prominently featured. (Yeah, I'm just bitter because Magic Bus is my favorite Who song.)

Speaking of music, Carrie Underwood's rendition of the National Anthem was spine-tingling...up until the last note. Yikes. Still, I nominate her for next year's halftime show.

However disappointing the ads were this year, the game itself more than made up for them. Going in, I had no skin in the game, not really caring too much who won, but expecting to see a well-played game by the two best teams in the NFL. Well, if you put my feet to the fire (I have very tender feet, you know), I'd have leaned slightly in the direction of Nawleans, for the obvious sentimental reasons. When the Saints went down early by ten points, I thought, "oh no, another overhyped game ruined by expectations," but that was obviously premature.

I felt bad for Manning, throwing that late interception, but he's had his day in the sun and Drew Brees was on fire. It was just his time, and he made a fine and gracious victor.

I can't help wondering, though, what Indianapolis would have done had they scored a touchdown instead of throwing the game losing interception. Would they have taken the safe way out and kicked the extra point, and hope to win the game in overtime? Or would they have considered how absolutely unstoppable Brees had become, and not wanted to gamble their season on a coin toss...and thus gone for two points? We'll never know, of course, but if the tables had been turned, I suspect the Saints coach, Sean Payton, would have gone for two. And, no doubt, made it.

Of course, in closing, I'd just like to remind the Saints and their fans everywhere of one little fact: the Cowboys still kicked your rears in your own house. I'd like to think that that game provided some education that led to your ultimate victory. No need to thank us. ;-)

I don't remember how I stumbled across it, but The 20x200 Blog is a fascinating showcase for a wide variety of artists. If you like what you see, you can buy the artwork for a fixed price of $20, $200, or $2,000, depending on the size of the piece. Anyway, one of the posts that caught my eye dealt with a video featuring Jason Polan, a freelance artist from New York City who also happens to be a member, presumably in good standing, of the Taco Bell Drawing Club, and whose current project is to draw every person in NYC. He also paints big ants, thereby endearing himself to this blog. 

The video that's the subject of the 20x200 post was commissioned by the State Bar of Texas, and it's a very good primer on the importance of the separation of powers among the three branches of government. Here 'tis, courtesy of YouTube:
 

That's Jason's actual arm doing the sketching in the video. I thought it was a great piece of work, and quite effective in communicating basic concepts in an appealing fashion. (I'm a sucker for ads that incorporate drawing; the current UPS "whiteboard" series of TV commercials comes to mind.) My curiosity was also piqued by the pairing of a New York artist with the Texas Bar, and I wanted to know more about the project. I couldn't find anything online so I took the unprecedented blogging step of doing some actual research, thereby avoiding my usual tactic of just making something up. I emailed Jason with some questions, and he very graciously carved out the time to answer them. Here's the transcript.
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NYC is pretty far from Austin. How did you and the State Bar hook up with one another?

Jason
: I think a producer at the group that was in charge of making the films had seen a film I made with a friend, Meredith Zielke, called How To Draw A Giraffe on the Wholphin Website and contacted me.

Where were the videos shot?


Jason
: Atlanta

Each video looks pretty clean, almost as if each was created from a single uninterrupted shot. Was that indeed the case? If so, how many takes were required to get the final version of each?


Jason
: Yea, each one had to be done with one shot. The editors changed speeds on some parts (you can notice it at the end of each film because I was writing too slow) but each one was done in one shot. They took three or four full attempts at each. A couple of times I would stop because I messed something up or there were a couple cases of going through the whole script and then people deciding something needed to be reworked. While I was doing it I was nervous but I was happy with the direction and I think they came out well.

Apart from doing the drawing, what was your role in the creation of the stories? Did you have input to the scripts?


Jason
: Scripts were completed before I did the drawings so I was completely out of the equation for their production, but as we figured out timing with the drawings we realized that some things in the script could be reworked. I gravitated toward visual things and parts of the script were not very visual - things needed to be educational the whole way through so we hopefully found a balance.

Did you also narrate the videos?


Jason
: Nope.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in this project?


Jason
: I was fairly nervous the whole way through. I wanted to be producing visually stimulating things that were also learning tools. I needed to be producing them in the order presented at a particular timing. Things were altered a little with the pace changes but I was trying to avoid that where I could and make things easier for editors (and more pleasing for viewers).
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You were no doubt perceptive enough to note that in a couple of places, I referred to videos. The separation of powers spot is one of a "Choose Well" series of three commissioned by the State Bar, and featuring Jason. The other two deal with judicial elections and serving on a jury. The State Bar should be commended for using such a creative approach to education.

I also want to again thank Jason Polan for taking the time to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the project.

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