Jon Reed Goes Off On... February 2004
Friday, February, 27 2004
The "New" Microsoft Office: One more reason to call in sick
Is there a company more out of touch with its own users than Microsoft? Judging from the absurd new Microsoft Office campaign, perhaps not. You've probably seen the commercials, which feature workers jumping around like jackasses (actually, they're not workers, but out of work actors who may or may not have any pride left. If you're willing to jump for biscuits from Bill Gates, your options must be even more limited than mine). Anyhow, here we have all these workers in spastic celebration - supposedly because they've just increased their employer's productivity due to the "New Microsoft Office." How many things about this ring false? First, we can all count on one hand the times where installing new software wasn't a huge pain in the ass. Second, only a small percentage of us feel a burst of explosive happiness when we make our employers more productive. Sure, being the first on the team to understand how the fuck to use the new Microsoft Office might keep us out of the firing line for a little while, but the connection between corporate productivity and our own well-being is no longer clear. Third, it's common knowledge on Wall Street that corporations are using technology to squeeze every last drop of sweat from their workers. Ordinarily, we wouldn't accept this relentless push for productivity, but after the tenth time you hear your manager say "we're all going to have to pick up the slack for so-and-so, whose job has been eliminated," you suck it up and hope that your job won't be the next to be outsourced or simply dissolved into "increased productivity." So after another manic day of insecure busywork - a day which was further negated by all your co-workers who begged you to help them figure out how to use the "new Microsoft Office," which has once again moved/retooled/fucked up all the editing features they rely on (and they're asking you, by the way, because the help desk staff has been outsourced), you get the hell out of there, drag your car through the gridlock, get home, crash yourself down on the couch, turn on the t.v., and the first thing you see: workers jumping for joy because of Microsoft Office.
There is a whole field within the software consulting world called "change management," - a field which is built on the understanding that all software installations are resisted by users unless they are walked through the benefits and shown how the new software will make their lives easier. I doubt this is news to Microsoft, so why do they insist on these condescending commercials? If you want to emphasize productivity gains, why not target the managers who buy the software in the first place? And if you want to get employees excited about your software, why not start by showing a real employee somewhere, anywhere, who can do something he or she could never do until your new software came along? There seems to be a misconception that marketing based in reality isn't sexy enough to move product. I don't buy it. And I can't believe that commercials like these, which basically proclaim that Microsoft is completely and unapologetically out of touch with the American worker, are the best use of Microsoft's bloated advertising budget. Compared to this loser of an ad series, the MSN "butterfly" campaign looks like pure genius.
Thursday, February, 26 2004
Exxon: fueling us up for the apocalypse
The lead-in for the commercial is shocking: "In 40 years, the world's oil needs will double." Sounds like a serious crisis. But thanks to Exxon, we can all relax, because their lab geeks have the problem well in hand. Even while I type, the white suits at Exxon are working into the night to make their existing drilling processes MUCH more efficient. I can't tell you how relieved I was after viewing this commercial. For a little while, I was thinking that we were facing a serious problem: global demand for a non-renewable resource, ratcheting up political tensions between Middle Eastern oil suppliers and oil-dependant Western countries. But I was mistaken. The sophisticated technology of multi-national corporations is going to head these problems off at the pass. The only thing that's missing from this commercial is a multi-racial children's choir singing "it's a small world after all" as the lab heroes from Exxon shake hands and humbly acknowledge catastrophes averted. I admit it's a relief to know that Exxon's technical innovations will spare me from altering my high-consumption lifestyle. In all seriousness, though, there are only a couple of oil scenarios are awaiting us, and one of them involves the End Times. Of course, how long this takes to play out depends on whether we end up drilling a giant hole through the Alaskan preserve. And as we know from Exxon's latest commercial, their gang will buy us some pre-Alaska time by sucking and scraping all the oil from existing wells in the most efficient manner possible. In my End Times Calculations, I always figure Alaska goes down eventually. Folks, these people aren't fucking around. It's going to take something close to Civil War to stop Alaska from going when things get really tight. Otherwise, it's going. But not all at once, just piece by little piece, ever so tastefully, in that "Comfortably Numb" way we find acceptable, creating jobs all along the way. But let's put Alaska aside and figure that one way or the other, we start running out of oil within the next century.
As oil becomes scarce, there's only a couple of futures. #1: one of my "most likely apocalyptic scenarios," the Resource Wars. In the Resource Wars, the haves and the must-haves battle each other for control of remaining oil reserves. The stakes will be high and the nuclear trigger-finger itchy. You gotta figure that folks are going to be pretty pissed off to begin with, especially given that the parties in the Resource Wars are going to hate each other going in. If you guessed that the Resource Wars just might have a religious dimension, perhaps involving Christianity and Islam, then you get a can of oil and your choice of either a Bible or a Koran. How do the Resource Wars end? Can't say. But if life goes on after the Resource Wars, there's not going to be much time to surf the Internet, and assault rifles will come in handy. But to be fair, there are other, happier scenarios. Scenario #2: some innovative people build companies that specialize in alternative energy sources. At first, these companies struggle to make serious money (as most of them do now), but eventually, their production systems improve, demand for new types of energy heightens, and prices go upward. These companies create enough "clean" energy to become very profitable and widespread, and thus the "resource wars" are averted - though the lifestyle changes involved do give the average American one hell of a hangover. But once Americans get over their disappointment that technology couldn't make all their problems go away, they realize that bicycles are really kind of fun and Hummers are really kind of ugly and life goes on. Oh, and Exxon goes belly up. Trying to prop up a dying business model, they milk their profit margins until the last drop of oil is consumed and completely miss the opportunity to redeem themselves. But they stand by their commercials. Later, they enter the history books as "those wacky Valdez guys." Of course, a third scenario involves Exxon actually making a productive and thoughtful contribution to these high-stakes problems. But judging from their latest commercial, that's not a future Exxon is all that interested in. And who can blame them? Their shareholders would not take kindly to the increased overhead and slimmer profit margins of alternative energy R&D. And of course, many of those shareholders are 401K holders like you and me who are counting on Exxon to keep our returns high, especially after Enron shafted us. No, we don't have any accountability here whatsoever, do we? Who knows, maybe Exxon can pull it off. But for now, they must excuse themselves from this conversation and get back to the challenge of dividing up a fixed number again and again without getting anywhere close to 0. Einstein wasn't able to do it, but maybe Exxon can.
Saturday, February, 21 2004
ESPN "Dream Job" not quite a reality.
ESPN is bombarding viewers with promos for its new reality show, "Dream Job," which features wannabes contending for the so-called "best job in sports": an anchor job on SportsCenter. These spots are jammed with clips from no-pride contestants saying things like "welcome to the big show," - things they'll never get the chance to say on the air. Full disclosure: the ads are pretty good, and I remain impressed with ESPN's ability to evolve its "sports-tainment" empire in lucrative directions. The beef here is with ESPN's claim that being a SportsCenter anchor is the "best job in sports." Heck, there are tons of better jobs right there at ESPN. They're not that hard to find either, especially when you consider that being a SportsCenter anchor means being a sackless shill for canned-beat highlights, intermixed with as many sponsor promos-within-the-broadcast as ESPN can jam in there. Just for starters, John Saunders has a better job as commentator-in-chief for "The Sports Reporters," and Bob Ley has a better gig raising issues for "Outside the Lines" each night. Sean Salisbury has a better job ripping the smirk off John Clayton's face every time they face off, and Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon have MUCH better jobs shooting the shit with each other on "PTI." Max Kellerman had a pretty sweet gig on the seriously underrated "Around the Horn," still an enviable gig for capable but inferior replacement Tony Reali. Unfortunately for us, Chris Berman also has a better job dumping terrible puns and big ego all over the NFL highlight reel. Should I go on? Aspire to be a SportsCenter anchor if you want, but you'd have a better chance at self-respect if you paid your dues on a daily and built up a media rep over time, like heavyweights Bob Ryan (Boston Globe) and Mike Lupica (New York Daily News) have done. Imagine that: you could work in sports and get paid to have an opinion! You could still appear on ESPN, and you wouldn't have to get clipped in the process. And don't even bother calling it the "Big Show." After Keith Olbermann left the show, ESPN executives insisted that "SportsCenter is bigger than any one person." But in truth, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann WERE the "Big Show," and their sharp chemistry has never been duplicated. Yes, we still have a sports highlights show, and yes, we still have a chance to hear Stuart Scott freestyle cliches into infinity, but we don't have a Big Show anymore. Dan Patrick is stiff without Olbermann's rebuttals, and as for Olbermann, since leaving SportsCenter, he's sold his soul more times than even Dennis Miller can keep track of. I hope these reality show contestants enjoy their experience at ESPN, which is eager to deflect attention from its gutless decision to pull "Playmakers." I'll look forward to seeing fresh faces pump up the highlights and merchandise tie-ins on the "little show."
Saturday, February, 14 2004
Nipplegate: we brought it on ourselves.
Several folks have pointed out that I can't do a blog on commercialism and sports without commenting on the Super Bowl halftime fiasco. I suppose my reluctance to comment is based largely on indifference. Don't get me wrong, I disliked the halftime show; for starters, I thought it was tacky, tasteless, and brainless. But that's not much different than the state of pop music in general. On the other hand, those of us who were dumb enough to watch the Pro Bowl saw that the NFL's idea of "family friendly" entertainment is so mind-numbingly boring that a bit of tits and ass starts to sound like a pretty good idea. Full disclosure: I'm one of those people who had seen a naked breast before the Super Bowl, so it's hard for me to get too worked up about Janet's nipple. Call me un-American, but I just don't see a lot of harm in explicit and open (consensual) sexuality. It's hard not to smell hypocrisy when Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill can score an R rating with human bodies dismembered right and left, but a quiet little foreign film that shows a bit of dick gets slapped with an NC-17 rating. As for the morality critics, I guess I respect people who are willing to challenge the sex AND the violence. At least they are consistent in their desire to control and reshape our culture until it satisfies their regressive, centrally-controlled, weak-minded, single-religion "Leave it to Beaver" version of morality (bring on the culture wars, motherfuckers! You try to regulate it while we keep on creating it.)
I'll give 'em this much: there's certainly room for more rated G, family entertainment in this world - though you're a fool if you look to the NFL for that! But if you thought a line had been crossed when the nipple was exposed, I can't respect that. Condemn the vapid and sex-driven popular culture as a whole and you'd have no real objections from me. But how can you say that Jordan Timberlake dry-humping Janet Jackson was cool, but the nipple itself was a problem? It's a lot more troubling that people support "artists" like Justin Timberlake in the first place. People don't seem to understand that the most important vote you make is not at the ballot box, but at the shopping mall. Folks, if you don't like this kind of music, you can make it go away! The question of whether Justin is talented, and whether talent justifies itself, is fodder for another discussion on another day. The thing that bothered me the most about the nipple affair was MTV draping public service announcements all over the performance, as if there was some educational component to the debauchery. Is MTV really delusional enough to think that they are responsible educators of today's youth? Unbelievable, the lengths that people will go to in order to justify a profit motive. Personally, I'm in business to make money; I suspect the same is true over at MTV. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see MTV show some spine and defend its right to be baseless, instead of pretending that it serves some public good beyond its own bottom line? And that's the problem with "nipplegate." Object to the halftime show all you want, but what about all the erectile dysfunction commercials? The problems go a lot deeper than Janet, who at least took responsibility for the desperate act she committed (and as for those who felt the "custom malfunction" promoted violence against women, talk to Janet about that, it was her idea). Boy, did she and Mariah Carey get "J'Lo'd" or what? Or should I say "Beyonced"? Go ahead, be offended, but I say we got the halftime show we deserved.
Categories: bad sports corporate whores mocking ads
posted on Saturday, February, 14 2004 by Jon Reed
Thursday, February, 12 2004
Would Old Spice guarantee it if it didn't work? Absolutely.
Old Spice seems pretty proud of itself because it offers a "guarantee" of its deodorant. This long-running series caters to cynical but discriminating young dudes who don't slap any old scent on their extreme pits. To get new dudes on the stick, Old Spice hired a tough-talker to offer a very cool-sounding guarantee: "Dude, think about it. Would they guarantee it if it didn't work?" Well, they might. I don't know about you, but I'd say that any dude who's willing to spend an hour of their lives packaging and mailing a stick of deodorant back to Old Spice is officially on their way to becoming a complete loser, if they're not there already. Even dudes who are toughing it out on minimum wage would be hard-pressed to justify the time spent rummaging through their receipts and carefully wrapping and mailing a half-used stick of deodorant. Imagine two dudes at the post office. Dude #1: "Hey dude, whatcha doin' at the P.O."? Dude #2: "Well, I'm just trying to mail this deodorant back to Old Spice, man. They'll send me a check in about six weeks for about two bucks." "Dude...you're an idiot." Do people really live like this? Given how long this "guarantee" has been on the air, I'm guessing not many. The last thing Old Spice wants is to become the Salvation Army of deodorant, processing thousands of hairy used sticks each month. You gotta love an ad campaign that, on the surface, markets to the discriminating consumer, but secretly depends on the consumer being a passive sucker. Just like the credit card companies that make the biggest bucks on late fees and interest rate hikes, Old Spice makes money on a guarantee that costs them almost nothing. Let's see that same guarantee on music and then we'll have something to talk about. But it will be a long time before a record company says "dude, would we guarantee Shakira's new album if it wasn't any good?"
Thursday, February, 05 2004
Morgan Stanley: Helping rich people achieve their dreams
The most brilliant commercials plant a company's name in a consumer's mind, along with a real competitive advantage that is truly unique to that particular company. Forgive us if we don't consider "personalized service" such an advantage. It's not that large corporations can't be personal. My local Stop and Shop has some of the nicest cashiers who ever scanned a bar code. But we all know that such service typically varies from store to store, and sometimes even shift to shift. We also know there's a limit to that kind of service. Sure, one of the clerks at Stop and Shop might occasionally help an elderly man carries his bags to his car, but Stop and Shop can't use that as a competitive advantage. Modern groceries chains can't afford to walk people to their cars. That level of service would violate their expense principles. Thus my disgust for Morgan Stanley's new "feel good" identity campaign, which has been airing on cable channels like CNBC. In this series of ads, the firm tries to convince us that Morgan Stanley's investment brokers insert themselves into each of their clients' lives, helping them to "achieve their dreams, one investor at a time." What a sham. I have no doubt that Morgan Stanley brokers take extra time to pamper their wealthiest clients with personalized service, but these clients are well on their way to realizing their dreams without Morgan Stanley's help. Don't think for a minute that if you have $5,000 and a dream to open your own riverboat casino that you'll be given some daily hand-holding by a Morgan Stanley broker. Investment firms tier their level of service to the level of wealth their clients have and the amount those clients invest. We all know that, there's no crime in that business model. But don't give us these hokey spots with doctors opening new office locations thanks to their Morgan Stanley investment broker. That's where a small business loan comes in, not a speculative hedge fund play. Hello, Morgan Stanley: the people who have realized their dreams in the last five years have done so IN SPITE OF the bogus stock picks of their investment brokers. A much better advertising campaign would be a series of commercials that featured Morgan Stanley executives who are changing their business practices after the corrupt ways that big investment firms propped up the dotcom bubble and lined their own pockets. Call this the "Morgan Stanley comes clean, one executive at a time" campaign. Will they ever have the balls to run it? No. But one way or another, some trust has to be regained before an investment firm can pull off a dopey "one dream at a time" commercial. If I'm a typical investor, I'm not sure I want to trust Morgan Stanley with one dollar. I have to get over that hurdle before I invite a Morgan Stanley broker to my kid's soccer game.
Arena football on tv: tell me when the season's over
Even before the Super Bowl, NBC started pushing an ad campaign that hyped their upcoming Arena Football League coverage. The print ad reads: "You're gonna tell these guys that football season ends in February?" Umm....yes. I think this ad might work a little better as a statement than a question. "Football season doesn't end in February" is a bold assertion that might get my attention. But when you pose arena football on t.v. in February, as a question, there's only one answer: no thanks. Hey, at least they're trying to get our attention before March Madness kicks in. I'm sure arena football games are great to attend in person. But I think we need a better ad campaign. How about some player talking on a cell phone, saying: "we'll be taking calls all season long!" Though the idea fills me with repugnance, it seems like their might be room for a league that featured a little more showboating with their football than the NFL plans to allow. Though I guess the XFL would be the rebuttal to that argument. But there may be a middle ground, and that's where I'd market arena football on t.v. Either that, or launch a campaign that tells us how much faster and higher scoring the arena game is. Tell me how it's different than what I'm used to seeing. Tell me, but don't ask me if B league football in February sounds like fun.
What can we learn from Wachovia Securities? Nothing at all.
One of the most absurd mass advertising campaigns in recent years is the Wachovia "what can [insert random object here] teach us about investing?" ad blitz. In this muddle-headed campaign, Wachovia actually tries to convince consumers that Wachovia is the best option for money management because "we learn from the world around us." As it turns out, Wachovia has an edge because they are the people who gain insight about investing by studying ant farms, railroad stations, and traffic accidents (to be fair, they haven't actually used those three examples yet, but they'll get to them shortly). Whatever inanimate object you can think of, Wachovia has learned something about investment from it. A recent incarnation from this campaign went something like: "What can a kindergarten class teach us about investing?" The obvious response, which I recommend yelling out loud for maximum satisfaction: "nothing at all!" My favorite from this long-running series? A rare ad for their insurance division: "What can dinosaurs teach us about insurance?" The Wachovia answer: "What's big one day is gone the next." Hmm...I think the dinosaurs have something far more important to teach us about insurance: when the shit really hits the fan, insurance is just a worthless piece of paper.
Monday, February, 02 2004
Apocalypse sign #1: Pepsi and the Clash in bed together at the Super Bowl
As far as I know, the Clash never got rich, so it's hard to fault the surviving members for wanting to score some cash, but surely there was a better opportunity than selling "I Fought the Law" to Pepsi and iTunes for a reputation-busting Super Bowl sell-out. To review the ad in question: a teenage girl strikes a rebel pose by bragging that "starting tomorrow," she's going to "keep downloading music for free." But she's not gonna break the law after all. She's gonna march in lockstep with Pepsi and iTunes and download her songs in the legal way. OK, so the lyrics to the song are defeatist: "I fought the law, and the law won." But the spirit of the song most certainly is not. When the Clash allows one of its signature songs to morph into a corporate-sponsored tribute to conformity, we have the first (of many) Signs of the Apocalypse we'll be tracking in this blog. And we can also consider this our first Corporate Whore Hall of Fame Entry in the Single Song Sellout Division. If the Clash have to raise some bucks in the future, hopefully they can find a more obscure option, like crapping out a song for the "The Return of Mister Deeds" soundtrack, or selling "Rock the Casbah" to Quentin Tarantino for one of his fetishized cooler-than-though soundtracks. If the Clash continues on its current course, you can expect to see British Airways blaring "London Calling" on a t.v. set near you. Just don't say it was my idea.