Sunday, May 31, 2009

$40,000 off your next ad campaign

The Brainstorm Group wants to give you $40,000 off your next ad campaign. If you spend $250,000, that is.

The above coupon, which is apparently legit, ran as a full-page ad in yesterday's Globe and Mail, and reads:
“Offer applies to any of The Brainstorm Group’s services, including advertising creative, branding & design, interactive and media buying.”
The Toronto agency, according to the Globe, wants "to demonstrate that you can make some great noise advertising in a down market."

The ad, with its oversized coupon, were certainly noticeable. No doubt, this is a great way to get publicity (the ad also garnered a Globe article in the same paper) and raise the agency's profile, but will it attract new clients and - if it does - make them more "discount prone," like all sales promotions?

Friday, May 29, 2009

I am the last man on Earth without a cell phone

Please allow me to introduce myself: I'm a man of wealth and taste. And the last man on Earth without a cell phone.

Or so I thought. Last week, I ran into an old friend at the Watchmen. I asked him if his brother was coming to the movie, and he said, "I don't know, why don't you call him on your cell phone?"

"I'm the last man on Earth without a cell phone!" I said. "Why don't you call him on yours?"

"I don't have one either," he said.

We then walked into the theatre, where 200 kids, age 16 to 21, were talking on their cell phones and sending text messages.

One thing this situation proved: I have a new nemesis in my battle to be the last man on Earth without a cell phone. He must be destroyed! Now that I've got that out of my system...the other thing that this proves is that phones really, really suck these days.

'Member when phones were great?

Last week, I decided to look into getting a cell phone. I barely talk on the phone at all, and when I do, I almost always wish I was doing something else. Like shoving white-hot ingots into my eyes.

I also believe that, 90 per cent of the time, I'm doing something in which I don't want to be reachable. Like having a drink at the bar. Walking home from work. Sleeping. Reading. Watching my stories. Working on my "That's So Raven" fansite. Etc.

However, I also feel that I almost have to get one anyway, because the cell is becoming something that every advertiser needs to understand and use to manipulate "the kids" into buying stuff. And I teach advertising. Which means I should get one. Make sense? Didn't think so...

My search for a cell phone

The slackers sitting inside the MTS made me wary, just like their creepy bison, so I hauled my butt over to the Rogers store, where an initially bored employee came to life as a fountain of knowledge when as explained the different cell phones and their features.

In the old days, you'd just buy a phone, plug it in, get it connected, pay $20 a month, and be done with it. When did phone features become a la carte?

Among the million decisions I now need to make:

Minutes, "weekday minutes, or "anytime" minutes?

You gotta be kidding me: I've got to choose between different kinds of minutes? No matter which you take, there's a set monthly fee and a monthly "system access fee."

Just like the "true coat" paint in Fargo.

As well, there seems to be distinctions about when "evenings" begin; that's when you can make unlimited calls - pity the fool who calls anyone at 5:59 p.m.

When you talk on a cell phone, there's gotta be a lot of pressure: the Doomsday Clock is always ticking away those minutes...tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock...35 cents a minute!

Which five friends would you like to call most?

This one is confusing as hell. The brochure says you have "MY5 Canada wide unlimited long-distance talk." When you read the small print, it says, "long distance extra." Wah?

Which phone would you like?

Phone, smartphone, or BlackBerry? No dumb-ass phone? The BlackBerry looks nice, but...looks like I'll have to pay a higher monthly fee for that one. Which is the one that allows me to take video of myself in the shower and then post it on YouTube? That's the ticket to fame and fortune!

What other stuff would you like?

Internet? Costs extra. Messaging? Extra. Call display? Extra. Voicemail? Extra. Ringtones? See Chris Rock material, above.

So, if I do my math, it's impossible to get a phone that rings with voicemail for less than $50 a month, never mind the cost of the phone itself.

I will likely have a shiny, new cell phone next week. Don't call me, I'll call you.

I'm trying to save those "anytime minutes."

Fare thee well, ticket stubs

A few of my favorite ticket stubs (see explanation, below).

Goodbye, ticket stub, we hardly knew ye.

One of my most prized, tangible possessions (other than "myself") is the photo album in which I've collected ticket stubs to every concert and event I've ever attended, from Cliff Richard at the Playhouse in 1982 to Bloc Party at the Burton Cummings a few weeks ago.

I've been waxing nostalgic about my ticket-stub collection over the past few days, because I know that the next victim of the digital age will not be the newspaper, but my good friend, the paper ticket, and the decapitated "souvenir" version: the stub.

I came to this realization after first buying tickets to Coldplay. My only option: to print out a soulless Ticketmaster page that so doesn't look like a ticket, it has to tell you that "This is your ticket" at the top of the page.

If that ain't bad enough, I then bought tickets to Fleetwood Mac, and was horrified to find out that they're "paperless." Good for trees, bad for my ticket-stub collection.

The paperless ticket

The paperless ticket, I'm told, is designed to prevent scalping. To me, it also seems well designed to prevent "convenience."

Check out the list of paperless ticket "rules," provided to me by Ticketmaster by e-mail and phone:
"IMPORTANT REMINDER: You will not receive paper tickets for this event. To enter, you must present the credit card used to purchase your tickets. We ask that you also bring along valid government photo id (such as a Drivers License or Passport) to ensure smooth and timely access to the event. Your entire party must enter the venue at the same time. Tickets are non-transferable. All patrons will be subject to a security search...

"Enjoy the show!"
Yeah, I'll be sure to do that.

The ticket has always been the tangible remembrance of the intangible event - without it, people may be more inclined to pick up a quality item at the merch table for, I'm sure, a low, low price. Charlene from Regina weighs in on the CTV talkback page:
"I have saved every ticket stub from every concert I have ever attended. I have them glued into a scrapbook with a date and who I went with, and where it was held, sometimes a comment about the concert (whether or not I enjoyed it). It's a whole lot less expensive (than the) t-shirts they sell at these things and I can look back with my friends, and remember the good-old days when tickets were $20, and we had to scrounge for that kind of money. Without a ticket stub what will I do?"
Other questions:
  • What about people who don't have credit cards?
  • What if you've bought the tickets as gifts, but don't intend to go to the show yourself?
  • What if one friend shows up late - everyone has to wait for him or her to show up?
  • What happens if the credit-card holder gets sick that day?
  • What's with the "government-issued ID?" If I have the credit card and no government ID, I can't enter the concert?
  • How, exactly, will all of this ID checking and people counting "speed up" entry to the concert?
It doesn't help Ticketmaster's argument to consider that it has been routing people to its own ticket-scalping site, TicketsNow, when tickets are "sold out" on its own site. Concert tickets are quickly becoming airline tickets: the ticket price has very little to do with what you actually pay.

Every ticket tells a story

I love flipping through the ticket stubs, marveling at the tickets themselves: design, color palette, and font (dot matrix to laser!).

Good job on those square Arena ticket stubs in the early 80s (The Fyxx! Tears for Fears! the Tubes!), bad job on those green and purple tickets of the early 90s, where someone really needed to change the printer ribbon (Moxy Fruvous! Soul Asylum! Kids in the Hall!).

I also love "the memories," many of which are surprisingly bad:
  • The day I got ejected from the Sloan concert for protecting my girlfriend's honor (which, ultimately, wasn't worth protecting): Sept. 17, 1994. Four days before my birthday!
  • The day I went to see Cabaret in New York with my about-to-be ex-girlfriend, and drank a bottle of wine to prepare for the discussion: Sept. 2, 2000.
  • The day I called in sick at work with the flu, but dragged myself to the Sting concert, only to run into my boss at the show: Aug. 6, 1991.
  • The day my girlfriend got hit in the head with a beer bottle at a Waterboys concert in Boston: Nov. 13, 199 (date cut off).
  • The date Dane Cook was the unannounced comedian at the Pyramid Cabaret Just For Laughs Tour: March 27, 1999. Good memory! After the show, he talked to me about writing jokes for Betty White. No joke.
  • Thankfully, I'm missing the ticket stub from the day that a guy turned around and punched me in the face at the Simple Minds concert. "Simple Minds" is right...
Ticket prices

Another reason I love to flip through the old ticket stubs is to marvel at how little a concert ticket used to cost. The old argument was that "shows are for "the kids" and the kids don't have a lot of money."

Green Day was still towing this line in 1994 when it played Les Rendezvous for a measly $11 a ticket. New Green Day ticket price: $59.50. Low by today's standards, but five times higher than 1994.

The great 2003 documentary, Festival Express, chronicles Janis Joplin - and a host of great bands - as they tour Western Canada in 1970. It's hilarious to find out that the big controversy of the day was that the bands dared to actually charge admission to the show. Honest!

You can see Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper review Festival Express, and marvel at the Winnipeg mayor (I believe that it was actually Edmonton), who took up the free admission cause here in the At the Movies database.

A sampling of ticket prices from "the early days" of my collection: Genesis: $12.73; Rush, $12; the Police: $13.41; David Bowie: $20; Split Enz: $12, etc.

It's funny to consider now that David Bowie's first concert in Winnipeg - the 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour at the Stadium - was controversial in its day for charging the huge sum of $20 a ticket. "And how are we supposed to buy beer as well, Mr. Bowie?"

Twenty years later, I spent $70.50 a ticket to see Bowie at the arena, not so much as a grumble to be heard. The next time he comes through town, I wager it'll cost about $300.

As Chris Rock once said, "F*** the kids!"

Ticket stubs pictured above, clockwise from top left:
  • Belly, Minneapolis, April 16, 1995 - the stub made it through the washing machine intact;
  • World Trade Center Observation Deck, 1988;
  • Autographed A Flock of Seagulls, Winnipeg Concert Hall, July 20, 1983 (the back reads, "You must be joking," written by band member who refused to sign such a small ticket, but not to make a joke in the same space);
  • Queen with Billy Squier, St. Paul Civic Centre, Aug. 15, 1982 (Freddie Mercury's last US tour!);
  • The Police, Synchronicity Tour, 1983, $13.41!;
  • Late Night with David Letterman, Sept. 1, 1988. Rick Moranis was the guest;
  • Cliff Richard, Playhouse Theatre, July 21, 1982 (the first concert I ever saw, except for maybe "Beatlemania.");
  • Autographed Elvis Costello (did he sign it "Declan?") ticket stub, June 5, 2002, Minneapolis;
  • The Divine Comedy, Leeds (love that design!), May 8 2001. I said, "We came all the way from Winnipeg to see you." He said, "I think you're mad."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Current-event math: Indiana Jones missing link between two Jeans

Current-event math:

1. Prime Minister Jean Chretien attacks a dude:

2. Plus: Temple of Doom Thuggee removes a beating heart:

3. Equals: Governor General Michaelle Jean eats the heart of a slaughtered seal:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Investing in downtown Winnipeg

Winnipeg's Central Park as photographed by Bryan Scott (*.
Does this look scary to you?

Today I bought a tiny condo in the heart of Winnipeg, in a character building just off of Central Park.

The park is getting a $6 million facelift from the government, but that's not the reason I bought there; I truly love the vibe of the neighborhood and believe in its potential to become one of the city's most interesting places to live and visit.

I'm renting out the place in the short term, but it would make a great office or, as the real estate agent says in the ad, "grt (sic) second residnce (sic) when the old lady kicks you to the coach (sic)." Is that funny because, or in spite, of the typos?

I became familiar with the Central Park area a year ago, when my grandmother moved into the seniors' centre at the northwest side of the park, just months before she passed away. The complex is an interesting and entertaining place: one day an elderly man rolled up in a wheelchair and confessed, "My downfall was always the hookers!" Ha!

However, the first thing that almost any Winnipegger would quickly point out is that Central Park is among the most dangerous places to live. "It's the hood," a friend of mine always says, half joking.

This wasn't and isn't my experience, or Wikipedia's, as it turns out:
"The area has been transforming in recent years. Its Central Market for Global Families is a summer outdoor market that sells handmade and imported African clothing, beadwork, handicrafts, weavings, art, as well as organic produce.

"Live entertainment fills the air in Central Park on warm Friday nights throughout the summer and are a significant aspect to the markets on Saturday. Special events attract hundreds of people to the park on World Refugee Day in June, and HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in July."

Central Park is apparently home to 70 per cent of Winnipeg's refugees and is one of the city's "most densely populated" areas, with almost 14,000 people per square km.

Of course, gentrification is always an issue, and a complicated one at that; however, I think that most would agree that there has to be some infrastructure improvements, private-sector investment (restaurants, bars, grocery stores, etc.), and beautification to make the area better than it is, but still in reach of new immigrants' limited budgets.

"You may say I'm a dreamer..." etc.

Canadian Museum For Human Rights

Which brings me to my second and sort-of related point about some other local investors: every Winnipegger who has already donated money to the Canadian Museum For Human Rights - a worthwhile endeavor, but seemingly much more expensive than the $265 million we were led to believe.

Today the museum told the Winnipeg Free Press that it needs another $45 million.

The response isn't surprising:

Policyfrog says, "You should all be fired."

Progressive Winnipeg says, "How long will they keep up the charade?"

I say, "I know a guy who could build a stuffed penguin museum for less than $1 million."

*Thanks to Bryan Scott for permission to use his photo.

Piece de resistance: copyright infringement - U2 style!

Q Magazine once said that "only a bastard" would point out the similarity between U2's "Beautiful Day" and a-ha's "The Sun Always Shines on TV."

With that in mind:

U2's "Beautiful Day," released in 2000:

A-ha's "The Sun Always Shines on TV," released in 1985:

This is copyright infringement: George Harrison style!

Now, here's a real, judge-decreed example of copyright infringement wherein George Harrison was found guilty of plagiarizing the Chiffons. Here's the full story.

Here are the songs:

George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord:"


The Chiffons' "He's So Fine:"

Is this copyright infringement? Tom Petty style!

1. Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance:"


Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California:"

2. Tom Petty's "American Girl:"


The Strokes' "Last Nite:"

3. Boston's "More than a Feeling:"


Tom Petty's "The Waiting:"


Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit:"

Is this copyright infringement? 80s style!

Copyright infringement, tribute, or "accident?" You decide!

Psychedelic Furs, the Ghost in You, released 1984:

Platinum Blonde, Somebody Somewhere, released 1986:

Monday, May 25, 2009

CJOB: "No tag day for CTV is required"

"Manitoba's information superstation" has some harsh words for "Manitoba's number one broadcaster."

CJOB's news director Vic Grant sticks it to CTV in his Excuse Me blog today in response to CTV's cross-Canada open-houses to "help save local TV," held last weekend after the CRTC turned down its bid to charge cable companies to carry its programming.

Key quotes from Grant:
"The local CTV station, which, incidentally is the cream of the local crop, held a meet and greet over the weekend trying to recruit support. The effort fell flat on its face.

"Well, Excuse Me, this is all part and parcel of CTV Globe Media and for it, or for any portion of the company to make a plea of poverty is ridiculous.

"Didn’t CTV, through its holding , spend ridiculously to secure the Hockey Night in Canada Theme. And then the topper, CTV buying the broadcasting rights for the Winter Olympics, a multi-million dollar investment.

"And CTV wants each Canadian household to pitch in and save a few of its television stations?"
Meanwhile, the CTV events seem to have attracted a decent crowd in most places. Check out this group of people waiting in line at the Edmonton event:

Says the YouTube poster:
"A pan of people waiting in line inside CTV studios on Stony Plain Road in Edmonton. They were touring groups of 15 people every five minutes through the control rooms and otherwise. When I left at 1:30pm there was an hour and a half wait for the next tour and no sign of the lineups getting any shorter soon. There were also lineups at the 15 computer stations they had set up throughout the building."
Anyone care to offer an explanation without saying, "There's nothing to do in Edmonton on a Saturday?"

In a cut-and-paste culture, when can you use someone else's work?

I often joke with my students that, in a few years' time, I'll say, "Please have your assignment plagiarized for next Thursday."

Cut-and-paste culture

The Internet has changed everything, but perhaps no more than our ability to find and use information as we need it, which continues to be the medium's great promise: having the entire sum of human intelligence at our fingertips.

But what does that ability mean in terms of intellectual property? Will it - and the whole idea of copyright - die a natural death, like so many newspapers?

On this blog, I'm pretty liberal about quoting other websites, linking to YouTube videos - most of which are "illegal" in that the people who posted the clips don't own the rights to them, and using photos that "fit" my stories from Google images.

It seems fair to me, as long as I source where I got the information. Am I fooling myself? Or is that "fair use" of the medium? And is it a slippery slope between doing that, and copying stories outright?

For students in a writing program, the work should obviously be "original," with words and ideas from outside parties sourced. But should the same rules apply to everyone else? Should anyone care if a six-year-old kid prints out a picture of Mickey Mouse and sticks it to her window?

When I ask students to create a print ad, I always say, "Don't use Google to come up with creative, because all of the best creative comes from your own mind." And I believe that. There's something depressing about not using one's own intellectual capacity for thinking through a problem - but is Google faster and more efficient than our own brains? Or, as the Atlantic asked last summer, is Google making us stupid?

Putting the copy in copy

Another thing I've noticed with alarming frequency is the number of my freelance clients who send me copy to edit or use with their website or brochure, which has been lifted from another business' website.

Sometimes the violations are so flagrant that the name of the original business hasn't even been removed; when I point it out, the response is usually, "I like that copy and that's just an idea of how I want mine to read." But without my involvement, I'm sure that's exactly how the copy would read...

Time was, a person would be embarrassed to be caught lifting words - right Joe Biden? - but I'm not sure how long our cut-and-paste culture will still consider it a crime.

American University Center for Social Media

That brings me to the above video, which explains how you can legally borrow from other works without worrying about the legalities.

The video comes from the American University Center for Social Media, which published a document last year on the code of best practices in fair use for online video and explains fair use and copyright here.

The organization is a proponent of creativity and empowering remixes, mashups, and fan tributes. This is all good stuff to protect: one of my favorite songs is Beck's "Jack-Ass", which samples Them's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," which is a cover of the Bob Dylan song.

It just goes to show that there's a big difference between using another creative work as "inspiration" and posting someone else's song online and saying that it's you: one is creative, the other is stealing.

The document, and above video, are American examples, of course, but "as goes the U.S., so too goes Canada."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

News round-up: let's all stick it to Jay Leno!

HBO's The Late Shift.

Next Monday, June 1, marks the debut of the new time-shifted NBC late-night schedule.

What this means is that it's almost the same NBC schedule as before: Leno followed by Conan O'Brien hosting the Tonight Show, but now broadcast an hour earlier. The big news is that NBC is saving money by showing Leno five nights a week, rather than the expensive 10 p.m. dramas that used to be the network's bread and butter.

I've said before that I think the big loser here is probably O'Brien, who was promised the real "Tonight Show," but is now hosting "a" Tonight Show with the same lead-in he's had for the last decade: Jay Leno.
"Some competitors suggested Mr. O’Brien might be less than happy to still be following Mr. Leno. “I think this could kill Conan,” said an executive from a rival network. “He won’t be getting a good lead-in and viewers will already have seen a late-night style show.” - New York Times
Will viewers even notice a difference? The previews for the new Leno show look about as funny as the old Leno show, which is: not at all.
"According to Jay Leno himself, it’ll be just like his old show but with more ’stunts’. And stunt number one? Seeing how quickly he can send Conan O’Brien into the depths of gibbering impotent psychosis. We imagine." - Stuart Heritage
Globe and Mail sticks it to Leno

Last week, John Doyle was the first to kick the crap out of Leno in his Globe article headlined, "Jay Leno can't save NBC." Here's the lead:

"Train wreck alert: Jay Leno.

"Jay Leno is not funny. Leno is a tedious, rat-a-tat 10th-rate joke machine lacking real wit, nuance or edge. But, you know, NBC has this plan to save the network by airing an hour of Leno at 10 p.m. every weeknight. I'm telling you now, this could be a total disaster."

CBS' response

Then there's CBS - the most-watched network in America - which has adjusted its 10 p.m. shows to account for Leno. Says Ellen Gray at "No one seems more excited about "The Jay Leno Show" than the programmers at CBS."

The Late Shift

This week, HBO Canada is reshowing its 1996 movie, the Late Shift, based on the book of the same title by Bill Carter, the New York Times TV reporter.

The book was written, and the movie produced, back when Letterman was still killing Leno in the ratings: it's no secret that Carter considers Letterman a talent for the ages, and Leno a hollow imitator.

Most recently, Carter wrote this scathing piece about Ben Silverman, NBC's co-chief of entertainment: NBC hired a hit maker. It's still waiting, in which he practically dares NBC to fire Silverman. Can't wait for his Leno follow-up article.

If you can't wait to watch the Late Shift, you can start here on YouTube, where some nice soul has posted the whole thing.

Boston affiliate takes Leno after all

WHDH, the NBC affiliate in Boston, originally announced that it won't air Leno's talk show, because a local newscast would draw higher ratings. It eventually changed its mind, with this mild endorsement from its owner:
"Jay is from Andover, where I went to school. I enjoy his humor. We hope the new show is a big success."
Grand finale...

And, best for last, Lynne Hirschberg's big tribute to Conan in this week's New York Times Magazine.

The article chronicles how Leno screwed over Conan:

"As he became increasingly disgruntled, Leno began entertaining offers from other networks.

"To entice him to stay at NBC, Zucker offered Leno a daytime show, a cable show, a series of specials. When Leno turned all those down, Zucker proposed a half-hour show, five nights a week at 8 p.m. “Eight p.m. doesn’t work,” Leno explained.

"Zucker made his final plea: an hourlong show at 10 p.m., five nights a week. To Zucker’s surprise, Leno agreed. “I have believed, for a long time, that there should be a daily prime-time program with a topical format,” Zucker told me. “The advantage of a show like that is it’s easy to join, DVR-proof due to its topicality and different.”
And, the punchline: could the real winner be Letterman?
"Senior-level executives at NBC, who requested anonymity, say they fear that (Jay's) new show will be trounced by hourlong dramas (especially on CBS) and viewers will venture elsewhere, well before 11:30 and O’Brien.

"Many see Leno’s move to 10 p.m. as a boost for David Letterman. Letterman was Carson’s pick — when Carson retired, he appeared twice on Dave’s show and never on Jay’s — and he’s revered in the tight-knit community of comedy writers, many of whom, like O’Brien, grew up watching him.

"Letterman’s cool irony can make him seem unkind, but it can also create thrilling comedy out of unexpected situtations. On Feb. 11, Letterman’s interview with a heavily bearded, quasi-comatose Joaquin Phoenix not only offered up Letterman at his best but demonstrated why talk shows endure even as the TV audience becomes increasingly fragmented.

“When Dave is good,” O’Brien told me the day after the Phoenix episode, “no one is better. At moments like that, I can’t touch him.”

CTV's save local TV campaign reaches (ahem) zenith

Which way to the donuts?

CTV's "Save Local TV" campaign hit Portage Place yesterday.

Of course, the big event was about the CRTC turning down CTV's bid to charge cable companies to carry its programming.

Whether that means that local TV is in danger is a matter of opinion, but CTV reporters nonetheless filed live remotes from the event, with barely a whiff of balance or "journalism" to be seen. CTV did go for a dash of balance on its website:

"But not everyone is convinced local TV is in need of extra help.

"Cable giant, Shaw Communications, bought full page ads in the Globe and Mail, and in local newspapers across the country.

"They are calling the broadcaster's request for fee for carriage an unfair tax.

"Ken Stein a senior VP at Shaw says the request for carriage fee is backwards.

"Our view is that they should be paying us!" he told CTV News."

Interesting way to frame the debate in the first sentence, and equally interesting use of exclamation mark in the last.

Regardless of where you sit on this issue, it's got to be uber embarrassing to be CTV's on-air talent covering this sad event, which throws out the CTV brand with the bathwater by admitting that no one - viewers or advertisers - wants it anymore.

To support its effort, CTV created a Facebook site, a video encouraging you to contact your MPs to tell them how much "television" means to you, and - my favorite - a video testimonial from Siloam Mission about how much TV helps the homeless. Sheesh.

This whole campaign leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It reminds me of that one employee who's about to get fired launching a "help save employees" campaign in a last-ditch attempt to keep his job: too desperate, too late.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Traffic" covers a lot of ground

The town square: safer and quicker than traffic lights. No, really.
Q: Are you a good driver?

Of course you are! But have you noticed that everyone else drives like a moron?

Q: Have you ever noticed that pedestrians and cyclists are always in the way when you're driving your car?

Of course you have! But have you also noticed how drivers suddenly turn into idiots when you walk or ride your bike?

Tom Vanderbilt's excellent book, Traffic, made me take a good, hard look at my driving, and I'm more than a little sheepish about what I saw. Let's just say that I shouldn't have honked and waved my fist at that illegally stopped city vehicle on William Ave. today...

The good news is that, according to the book, many of the illegal or dangerous things we do when we drive aren't our fault; we're often "lured" to drive based on the design of the road and other external factors: we're simply acting as any rational person would, given the situation.

Try explaining that to a cop to get out of a ticket. "But officer, it's the design of the freeway that lured me into having a false sense of safety!"

It's sobering to consider that when we drive, much of the time we're depending on nothing more than "human nature" to keep us safe. What's more, Vanderbilt says that we're almost never right about what's "safe" and what's "dangerous."

Consider this question:
Q: What's more dangerous: driving on a clear highway going in a straight direction with guard rails and speed-limit signs, or driving up a winding mountain road in the rain with no guard rails or speed-limit signs?

A: When we feel that something is dangerous, we drive more safely. When we feel that something is safe, we drive more dangerously. So, paradoxically, "dangerous is safe."
As North Americans, we think that "roundabouts" are more dangerous than traffic lights. However, Vanderbilt points out that roundabouts require that you pay attention to what's going on around you. A traffic light causes us to pay attention to the traffic light.

"We have a strange, almost fetishistic belief in the power of signals," he says.

Today, I noticed that I was driving a slow 40 kph through Corydon village. What's the actual speed limit on Corydon? 50? 60? I can't remember ever seeing a speed limit, but the narrow road with cars parked on both sides, and plenty of crosswalks and pedestrians who use them, make it futile and dangerous to go faster.

Conversely, I know that the speed limit on Grant Ave. is 50 kph in some places, but it feels perfectly safe to go 70 kph. The cops must know this, because there are lots of photo radar stations on Grant, but none on Corydon (near the restaurant district, anyway).

After reading Vanderbilt's book, a reasonable solution would be to make Grant Ave. feel less safe to go fast. But there's no photo radar money in that, is there?

Ample parking is a good thing, right?

When I tell Winnipeggers that I paid $200 US for three days' parking in downtown Chicago, they look at me like I'm a mental case.

Maybe I am, but Winnipeggers are famous for complaining about lack of free parking - and our downtown has more parking than any major North American city.

Vanderbilt turns the "classic" way of thinking - more parking is a good thing - on its ear:
"The new Wal-Mart is built and, lo and behold, it attracts lots of cars. Planners seem to ignore the fact that they are helping to dictate demand by providing supply. There are lots of cars in lots because parking is free.

"Parking lots are not only the handmaidens of traffic congestion, they're temperature-boosting heat islands, as well as festering urban and suburban floodplains whose rapid storm-water runoff dumps motor oil and carcinogenic toxins into the overwhelmed sewer systems."
So there.

Early vs. late mergers
Q: Are you an early or late merger?

A: It's better not to say in mixed company.
One of the most contentious traffic issues is the early vs. late merge. Joseph Rose of the Oregonian calls it "one of the great philosophical debates of modern commuting."

Rose is a late merger. His wife, Heidi, is an early merger. He explains:
"Driving home from downtown Portland, I always exit Interstate 84. Just before the Shell station, a yellow sign informs drivers in the left lane that they need to merge right.

"The right lane is often jammed. Still, as soon as she sees the sign, Heidi flips on the turn signal and goes for the first opening. The people in the right lane, she says, were there first.

"Me? I say the merge lanes on city streets and highways are there for a reason. Use 'em or lose 'em. Merging early, I argue, creates bottlenecks and angers the cars behind you. People in the other lane shoot me angry looks as I drive toward the end of the merge lane."

Bring this up with anyone and prepare for a fight. I was shocked to recently find out that my father agrees with the late-merge theory. "Every inch of the road should be used for the most efficiency," he says.

I'm an early merger. I treat late mergers with the same disdain as those who cut in line at the movie theatre or - even worse - pass money to their friends in line at Tim Hortons.

I'm not the only one. An Oregonian reader responds to Rose's late-merge thesis:
"You're one of the the ***holes that causes the traffic jam every single day because you people fail to merge properly. I hope you die."
So, who's right? Vanderbilt stirs the pot by not only suggesting that late mergers actually help traffic flow, but that he himself has now joined their ranks. Boo. I'm still not going to let you late mergers into my lane!

The psychology of traffic

Traffic is as well researched as any book I've read, and also a lot of fun.

One of my favorite chapters involves Vanderbilt's visit to the LA traffic-control department, where he discovers that the most "found" item on LA freeways is: a ladder. So, if you've ever felt a little leery about that bouncing ladder in the back of the truck driving in front of you: good for you.

Vanderbilt also learns how the department ensures that thousands of cars full of VIPs arrive at the Oscars year after year with minimum hassle (I won't give it away here, but it's fascinating) and observes how it somehow manages to control and even predict the day-to-day mayhem on LA highways. Sample traffic report: "Man urinating on highway. No sign of veh."

Traffic is full of memorable facts and anecdotes to discuss at your next party. Digging deep into "the psychology of traffic," it challenges many of our widely held assumptions about driving and should be required reading for anyone who's learning to drive, and the rest of us, who already think we know how.

Monday, May 18, 2009

CTV draws long overdue attention to the plight of the local TV station

Won't you please lend a hand?

CTV is asking you to help the less fortunate - itself.

CTV is getting into the PR business by holding open houses across Canada to "help save local TV." This comes after the CRTC turned down CTV's bid to charge cable companies to carry its programming.

Toward this effort, CTV has created a Facebook site, a video encouraging you to contact your MPs to tell them how much "television" means to you, and - most shameless of all - a video testimonial from Siloam Mission about how much TV helps the homeless.

After watching the video, I have to say that those homeless people have no idea how good they have it, compared to local TV stations. Are you with me, people?

The big push to save local TV culminates with a big "save local TV" event in Winnipeg at Portage Place on Saturday, May 23 at 11 a.m. Says CTV:
"Take advantage of a special opportunity to meet and chat with our Anchors, Reporters, Managers, Staff and our Community Leaders. Learn about the threat to our local television stations and what you can do about it. At noon we will start taking groups of people on tours of our facility by escorting them through the skywalk to our third floor newsroom and studio."
But will there be ample parking and refreshments to follow?

One has to wonder how the on-air talent feels about participating in this event: it's pretty embarrassing to be, in essence, admitting that no one wants your product anymore, being the public face of a "poor me" campaign engineered out of Toronto, and - quite possibly - damaging the CTV local news brand for all time.

In fact, CTV is at the top of the local TV news heap, with an average of just over 126,000 viewers, which is down about 40,000 from last year - but still a huge number above Global and CBC combined.

The larger problem for local news is that the shows are padded with a zillion weather and sports breaks, which we can now get at a glance online without the anchors' awkward banter, lame jokes, and pleas to "stay tuned."

See you at the big event. Until then, I'm with the Ramones: "If you're not in it, you're out of it."

The Ramones - Something to Believe In

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Newsweek's new recipe for success: fewer readers

Newsweek's new format includes fewer S's, apparently.

I stopped subscribing to Newsweek last year when it became obvious that it was in a rut of stories:

1. Why this disease is really bad and why you may have it.

2. Breaking info about Jesus.

3. Baby boomers feel a certain way about something.

But the single, one story that really pushed me over the edge was the cover story, by Fareed Zakaria no less, entitled, "What Bush Got Right." The only way it could've redeemed itself at that point was to run blank pages inside the cover but, alas, it was an actual story.

So, today the newsweekly presented its new look and format, which - according to Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post - is "reporting and argument." Each issue will be divided into four parts: Scope; Features; The Take; and The Culture.

Here's the crazy part:

And in a move described by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham as "counterintuitive," the magazine is actually discouraging people from renewing their subscriptions:
"Newsweek, whose circulation was as high as 3.1 million in recent years, plans to cut that to 1.5 million by the beginning of 2010, in part by discouraging renewals. The magazine will begin charging the average subscriber about 90 cents an issue, nearly double the current rate."
To recap (something the new Newsweek is promising not to do): half the mailing at twice the cost = success!

So, that begs the questions: if you're a current Newsweek subscriber, what should you do? Should you wait to find out if you're the "right" subscriber, or should you just cancel your subscription now, just in case?

"The staff doesn't understand it," says Meacham in Kurtz's second 'graph.

Yeah, it used to be that you wanted as many readers as possible to read what you'd written. Go figure.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Larsen, Beck, and Costello to reunite at Winnipeg Folk Fest

One of these people is not happy to be here.

Elvis has left the tent.

Elvis Costello will be playing this year's Winnipeg Folk Fest - and no one is happier than me.

Costello hasn't actually played in Winnipeg since 1978, when he performed at the Playhouse Theatre with the Attractions. Afterward, he showed up at a local bar and played a set with - someone help me, please, I can't remember who it was! I remember reading the article about it in the Winnipeg Free Press at the time, but was too young to go, so if anyone happens to be at the Millennium Library today, you know what to do.

On a related note, Rufus Wainwright was on Elvis' show, Spectacle, last night. Rufus sung some characteristically great songs (the transformation between "speaking" Wainwright and "singing" Wainwright is always surprising) and dropped "the Winnipeg Folk Fest" as one of his childhood influences. Nice!

Meeting Elvis

I've seen Elvis Costello play a couple of times before: once at Jones Beach in New York City with Winnipeg's own Crash Test Dummies (no kidding!), and once in Minneapolis with Billy Bob Thornton (no kidding!), back when Billy Bob was still humble and boinking Brad Pitt's future creepy wife.

"We're just the band that plays when Elvis is putting on his drawers," said a modest Billy Bob from the stage, a long way from his wacko interview with CBC's Jian Ghomeshi.

My pal, Jason Beck, and I managed to meet Mr. Costello after the Minneapolis show. The combination of alcohol plus the excitement of meeting my favorite musician of all time made me grasp at straws for conversation.

"Thanks for playing King of America," I slurred. Elvis smiled politely (just like in the above picture).

It was only later that I remembered that the song is, in fact, called "Brilliant Mistake." D'oh! Now I have the opportunity to put things right by shouting, "Brilliant Mistake!" at the Folk Fest. No doubt, Elvis will notice me in the crowd, remember me clearly from Minneapolis, and invite me up to sing "Brilliant Mistake" as a duet. Or not.

Tickets for the show are available here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A doomsday clock will save the newspaper: the NY Times

The Times Bomb: tick...tick...tick...boom!

The meter is running at the NY Times.

John Koblin at the Observer reports that the NY Times is considering two ways to get people to pay for online content:

1. A doomsday-clock system.
" which the reader can roam freely on the Web site until hitting a predetermined limit of word-count or pageviews, after which a meter will start running and the reader is charged for movement on the site thereafter."
2. A PBS-style pledge system.
"In this model, readers pledge money to the site and are invited into a "New York Times community." You write a check, you get a baseball cap or a invite to a Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web."
Proposal number one sucks on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. How about here: You want people to spend LOTS of time on your site, not race through it before the charging starts.

As Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine says:
"Readers’ inner dialogue is not hard to imagine: ‘Uh-oh, should I read that next story - and see that ad and maybe find something worth linking to and bring in other readers? It might start costing me. I’d better conserve my Times characters; they’re adding up; already read 20,000 of them. I think it’s time to go elsewhere now."
Proposal number two isn't necessarily a bad thing, but will it generate enough revenue? Slate Magazine attempted the same thing in 1998, when it started charging for its online content by offering a free umbrella. It didn't work.

However, as an advertising guy, I like Slate's attempt to make an intangible product (online content) tangible by offering the umbrella. Though it may change in the future, we humans have proven that when we spend money, we like to get something in return that we can take with us, hold in our hand, and/or "consume."

Of course, there's always the Jane Siberry/Radiohead solution (Siberry thought of it first!): "If you like what we do, pay us whatever you like."

I love the NY Times, and pay dearly for the only hard-copy edition I can get in Canada: the Sunday Times, which arrives on Monday with the Globe & Mail. That said, given the choice between no Times or paid Times online - I'd take paid Times online.

But if other news agencies followed suit, wouldn't that ruin the great promise of the Internet, where the vast sum of human knowledge is all stored in one place and accessible to everyone?

Let's hope this Internet thing is just a fad.

Pfizer's new PR strategy - sex for the unemployed!

Unemployed people are about to get more erections.

In the ultimate way to "rise" to the economic crisis, Pfizer is offering free meds, Viagra among them, to unemployed Americans without health insurance. The program, for people who have been unemployed since Jan. 1, and who were taking the meds before they were laid off, is open for enrollment through Dec. 31.

Awwww, isn't that nice of Pfizer?

The reality is that, like any good community-relations PR program, this takes care of a few issues for the company: "helping people out in their hour of need" is one of them, but Pfizer also has to be worried about retaining customers who realize that they don't actually need its meds when they go off them, or - even worse - who go to competitors when they get their health insurance back.

This campaign is a pretty great example of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC): it encompasses publicity, community relations, sales promotions (loyalty!), direct marketing, and perhaps even lobbying: "Hey, Washington, you don't need to regulate our prices: we're giving our meds away to poor people!"

Indeed, it's situations like this where my favorite PR cliche - the "win-win scenario" - was born. And we're seeing more "win-wins" than ever; in fact, companies are going downright refund crazy in their bids to keep us satisfied in "these harsh economic times."

A sampling:
I'm so inspired by these stories, I'm now offering a special to any student who becomes unemployed while taking Creative Communications at Red River College: one, free coffee at Tim Hortons per year until you find a job, at which time you have to pay me back double. Make that double-double.

One more thing: you're welcome for the great lead. Ha!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Holy F***! Chrysler teams up with a great, Canadian band

Holy F***!

I never thought I'd see the day that Chrysler would team up with one of my favorite Canadian bands, Holy Fuck, for an ad campaign.

Yet here it is: a 30-second spot for Chrysler's "We Build" campaign, which makes liberal use of the band's signature tune, Lovely Allen.

It's a great song, but it's odd for a company to align itself with a band called, "Holy Fuck" to be sure. I would've loved to be a fly on the wall at the pitch meeting:

"The band is hip with the kids, and they're called,"

"Holy what?"

"Uh...let's take a coffee break."

Ramirez and marketing march to Hell together

I'd like to return this quality item, please.

For sale: 2,000 Manny Ramirez wigs.

As the LA Dodgers have found out - painfully - basing an entire marketing strategy on a famous person is a dangerous thing.

When Ramirez got suspended from the Dodgers last week for taking steroids, he royally screwed over the team, its fans, and himself - but mostly, he screwed over the marketing and PR departments.

This would normally be bad news, but for the most passive marketing department in history, which - according to the NY Times - plans to do "nothing." Swell.

My head hurts already

Here's the checklist of the Dodgers' troubles (as reported in the Times):
  • They've already sold 1,800 of the $25 Manny Ramirez wigs (see photo, above), 850 of Ramirez jerseys, and 5,000 T-shirts. Three-for-one sale, anyone?
  • They named a section down the left-field line at Dodger Stadium "Mannywood."
  • There's a Ramirez bobblehead promotion in the pipeline - which is apparently still a "go" for July, when his 50-game suspension is over.
  • The Dodgers sold 30,000 tickets the day after Ramirez was signed; now that he's suspended, could these fans claim "bait and switch?"
What's more frightening is that, as the Times reports, the Dodgers think the mess will go away, "mostly by doing nothing at all." Sigh.

As we learn in PR class every year, the Ostrich Strategy doesn't work: "A PR crisis won't go away if you ignore it."

Use the celebrity-based campaign with caution

In his book Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, " Luke Sullivan points out that "a star isn't a concept. Only an executional technique." But even better than that is his warning:
"It doesn't happen very often, but celebrities have a way of turning up in hotel rooms with persons of questionable character, doubtful employment, and large Ziploc bags of "Peruvian Marching Powder" tucked into their orange vinyl boots."

"Are you willing to bet a client's financial future that your superstar won't end up manufacturing license plates?"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New political media strategy: ask the interviewer how much she makes

A new way to handle a hostile interview: yell, "How much do you make!?" at the interviewer.

That's what happens in this great clip from PR geek; BBC interviewer Carrie Gracie interviews Lord Foulkes - who turns the tables on her interview strategy. Before it's all over, he gets her to admit she earns £92,000, then rips her a new one.

Would somebody please try this out on George Stroumboulopoulos?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sorry for being such a jerk: the Evening Standard

Love means never having to say you're sorry.

So, in an audacious out-of-home ad campaign, the London-based Evening Standard newspaper is apologizing to readers, who have fallen out of love with it for its past conservative-based coverage.

Over the past couple of months, readership of the Evening Standard has fallen five per cent to just over 263,000.

The above poster is only the tip of the iceberg. In other treatments, the paper apologizes for being complacent, negative, predictable, and "taking you for granted."

The campaign signifies a makeover for the paper by its new owner, former KGB Agent Alexander Lebedev (I'm not making this up), who has turned over a new leaf on the paper's design and politics: recent focus groups apparently pegged the paper as "right wing" and "preoccupied with crime."

Interestingly, in today's Evening Standard, there's a story about a tycoon who refuses to apologize to his wife for a 10-year secret affair. He says:
"As far as I'm concerned, I have done nothing wrong - in fact, I look upon myself as having been a good husband."
Come back, Evening Standard, all is forgiven.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I went for the torture, I stayed for the refreshments

A seminar without refreshments? Now that's torture! Am I right, people?

I found this poster on the bulletin board at a local 7-Eleven, which features one of my all-time favorite PR cliches.

Yes, it's the always great "refreshments to follow" in an especially large typeface that makes it clear that "if you're not interested in this topic, just hang in there, because there will be Wildberry Kool-Aid at the end!"

OK, I'm done complaining now. I'm sure this will be a great event. It's only three days away. And refreshments will be served. See you there!

Wait a there "ample parking?"

Friday, May 8, 2009

By "free," KFC meant "not free"


KFC President Roger Eaton didn't see this one coming: KFC gave out free coupons for free meals, but didn't expect the demand. So, Roger posted a letter and the above video on the KFC website to explain what would happen next:

"Please visit a participating KFC restaurant for a rain check form. Complete the form, attach your original coupon , and give it to the KFC restaurant manager or postmark per the form’s instructions, by May 19, 2009, and we’ll send you a rain check for your free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meal at a later date, plus a free Pepsi with our compliments. Your participating KFC restaurant will provide you with the form you need. Please note that the redemption periods of the rain checks will vary."

Well, that makes it simple for everyone.

The overly happy video (is that a Crocodile Dundee homage?) is backed up with this news release, which blames Oprah for the mess; she heard about this promotion and told viewers about it. Damn her!

As Ron Buist points out in his excellent book about promoting Tim Hortons - Tales From Under the Rim (OK, the title sucks) - you should always know what you're getting into with promos and - of course - make sure the franchise owners are in right from the beginning.

As well, promotions have to be simple, and coupons easy to redeem, or there's no point in having them.

Thanks to Jason Booth for the link.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A better reward for the homeless hero: a job, apartment, and support system

Faron Hall, left, from

The heartwarming "homeless hero" story continues to have legs.

The homeless man, Faron Hall, saved a teenage boy from drowning in the Red River last Sunday.

It is a great story, and it's equally great that it appears to have given Hall his moment in the sun, if not a new beginning. In some ways, it reminds me of the Susan Boyle story, in which someone who "looks a certain way" or "lives a certain lifestyle" surprises everyone by doing something pretty great.

Just look at the feedback on the above link at Samples:
"This really lets you see that there is good in everybody. Hall is not a bad man because he is homeless. We all can learn a lesson from him." - Carlene
"I just hope this demystifies people's ignorant preconceptions of homeless people, which seem to run rampant. Maybe it's not such a good idea to squeeze them out of our urban cores. Maybe we should appreciate that they are human beings who can give to society like everyone else. Godspeed, Mr. Hall." - Karis
True, but...

The other side of the story

I hope that this isn't a case of people loving the "feel-good" homeless story in the media, but ignoring the larger, and more depressing, homeless story going on all around them; sadly, people would rather watch Jamie Foxx portray a homeless man in a movie (see below) than notice a real homeless man right outside their window.

As well, the simple idea that this homeless man's life is now "better" is probably too good - and simplistic - to be true. Hall is a self-professed alcoholic with a troubled family background, and that's not something that's easy to overcome.

While this could be the catalyst to a new life for Hall - and I hope it is - the real answer is that overcoming alcohol addiction and a troubled past is "complicated," even for someone with a home and an income.

I'm sure I wasn't the only person who blanched at Mayor Sam Katz's gift to Hall: a medal and season tickets to the Goldeyes. Says "Richard" on the above link:
"Season tickets for a homeless man?? Really??"
Well, OK, the guy likes baseball, but wouldn't the gift of a job, apartment, and counselling services really be something that could turn Hall's life around?

I'm reminded of David Cross' intro to his stand-up act:
"Did you hear that George W. Bush says we're going to the moon? Woo-hoo! Hey, everyone: we're going to put a man on the moon! Uh, how about putting a homeless man in an apartment?"
Sounds like a plan.

How Hollywood portrays the homeless:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How many people watch the local TV news?

In a city of nearly a million people, how many would you expect to watch the local news? According to the latest local news ratings, recently reported by BBM, the answer is "not many."

The results:
  • CTV Winnipeg continues to be the local news leader, but its numbers are down, as it drew an average audience of 126,700 during the spring ratings period. That's down from 165,800 last year.
  • CBC TV news is up to 43,600, an increase from 31,200 last year. Former CTV and Global TV viewers?
  • Global TV averages 28,500 viewers, compared to 38,800 last year.
The different takes on the ratings:

According to the Free Press, this makes CBC the "biggest winner."

According to CTV, it "remains #1."

Meanwhile, "Canwest Global Communications has been given another extension as it attempts to weather the economic downturn under a crippling debt load."


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm mostly a secular humanist; Not so much a Jehovah's Witness

You gotta have faith.

If you've ever wondered what that wacky George Michael is singing about in that song (I'll leave an analysis of the images for another time), you can find out for yourself through the Belief-O-Matic, a fun link I found through Roger Ebert's website.

By answering just a handful of questions, the Belief-O-Matic matches you to the faiths it thinks "most closely" matches your beliefs.

Here are my results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (95%)
3. Liberal Quakers (83%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (78%)
5. Neo-Pagan (72%)
6. Nontheist (69%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (67%)
8. Taoism (60%)
9. New Age (60%)
10. Mahayana Buddhism (57%)
11. Reform Judaism (52%)
12. Orthodox Quaker (47%)
13. Jainism (45%)
14. Baha'i Faith (41%)
15. Scientology (41%)
16. Sikhism (40%)
17. New Thought (39%)
18. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (33%)
19. Hinduism (27%)
20. Islam (23%)
21. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (23%)
22. Orthodox Judaism (23%)
23. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (21%)
24. Seventh Day Adventist (19%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (14%)
26. Roman Catholic (14%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (10%)

I've been accused of being more Quaker than Mormon in the past, and this bears it out. Har, har...