Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sign o' the Times: feature reporting hits a cul-de-sac

Three Days of the Condor: watch for our hero at 4:04.

There may be one hope for newspapers in the crowded world of online information.

That hope is the one kind of information in which immediacy doesn't matter: it's investigative and feature journalism, where a picture emerges after months or years of investigation about something that we didn't know before, didn't understand, or weren't able to put into human terms.

This kind of journalism is impossible for TV to do, and something that newspapers used to excel at doing. Ironically, local newspapers have almost completely abandoned it, because it's so expensive and time consuming.

We're told that the Web rewards writers who produce stories no longer than 50 words: perfect for small attention spans and cell-phone screens alike; if that's true, then why would a newspaper assign two reporters to cover one story for six months?

The answer: "for the public good." Remember that old concept?

The New York Times and the boulevard of broken dreams

I was reminded of the need for feature journalism today, when I read the New York Times' long and rewarding look at how the housing bubble hit one neighborhood cul-de-sac in Moreno Valley, California:
"Since January, The New York Times has made regular visits to the fraying neighborhood to chronicle — in print, photographs and video — how, in one small place, the foreclosure crisis has reshaped the view of homeownership as a cornerstone of the American dream."
The full article and images are here. The video is here. Readers' comments are here.

Video: part of any, great newspaper story.

The designers also get in on the action with helpful charts, graphs, and maps, like this one:

Source: New York Times

The article is peppered with fascinating anecdotes and the little, human elements that characterize what happens when an entire neighborhood goes belly up one house at a time and comes back as a different kind of neighborhood altogether.

No doubt, this investigation took a lot of time and cost a lot of money. And I'll wager that there's not a single TV station or website in North America that could've done it as well.

Even better is that this article, though commissioned by a newspaper, was built to work in print and online media.

The idea that stories have to be short online may not be true at all: the Internet has proven itself to be a flexible medium, capable of handling whatever you throw at it: sound, pictures, words, video, and links - if that's not "scope," I don't know what is.

As well, if we can pay for and download books to read on our iPhones - something I just started doing myself - longer-form journalism should be possible to create and market as well, shouldn't it?

Since "immediacy" isn't the key selling point of these stories, you can make them available for a longer period of time without worrying about "breaking news" stealing its thunder.

The New York Times has been particularly great at being ahead of the curve in its online editions, covering breaking news on its iPhone app - supported by the Visa ad that pops up when you load it - and the Times Reader 2.0, which provides you the entire content of the newspaper in the same format as a newspaper for $3.45 a week:

Not to mention the Times mobile site, texting service, and Kindle edition.

The point is that the Times is making an effort to deliver us the news where we can read it, and at the same time continuing to do the in-depth stories that make it an agenda-setting media outlet, not just for print, but for all media.

For other newspapers without the resources, or still clinging to the mistaken belief that they will come back in a big way if they just start walling in online content again, it may already be too late. 

In the movie Three Days of the Condor (see clip at the top of this post) Robert Redford returns from lunch to his job at the CIA, where he finds that all of his co-workers have been killed. On the run from mysterious enemies, he decides that there's only one way he can save himself: by calling the New York Times.

Maybe we've been concentrating on saving the newspaper, when we should've been worried about saving the news itself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

KFC has something against bread and life as we know it

The next time you think you might be having a heart attack, just Double Down!

Double Down is KFC's new cheese and bacon sandwich, which is noteworthy for replacing the traditional bread part of the sandwich with meat. As the above ad helpfully says, "We didn't have room for a bun!"

That's right: Double Down is two slices of cheese and two slices of bacon housed between two fried chicken patties - plus heaps of something called "Colonel's sauce." Pause here to make your own inappropriate joke.

The sandwich is currently being tested in three U.S. states, which means that if the test subjects survive, it should be available here in Winnipeg in no time. It costs $4.99 or - if you want to make it a meal - $6.99. 

The New York Daily News reports that independent labs estimate the sandwich to have about 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat, which is just about enough to drop an elephant. KFC estimates the sandwich to have just about half of these numbers, which is about enough to drop an emu.

What's really interesting is that KFC is in the middle of its "unthink what you thought about KFC" ad campaign in which it tries to turn around its image by promoting a healthier lifestyle.

With this bold, new sandwich, KFC might as well go back to calling itself "Kentucky Fried Chicken." As for a themeline, I have a suggestion: "The audacity of hopelessness."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wherefore art thou, clean place to pee?

What a relief.

The next time you're looking for a clean place to pee, you can thank Winnipeg companies Spacecadet Design and Visual Lizard, good friends of the Creative Communications program and people who've gotta go the world over.

(Spacecadet was also the summer workplace of second-year advertising student Jarrett Moffatt, whose fingerprints are all over this application. In a good way.)

Their iPhone app - called "Where to Wee" - is the brainchild of former Blue Bomber Dave Pitcher. It lets users find and rate restrooms around the world, including salient details about said restrooms, like cleanliness, amenities, wheelchair access, and - I hope - refreshments.

Users can also take pictures of restrooms and submit them to Where to Wee, and enter "the best and worst toilet contest," coming soon.

My money is on the U.K. for winning "worst toilet;" having been there and seen Trainspotting, I know that there isn't a single flushable toilet to be found anywhere. Prove me wrong, British Isles!

Where to Wee will be available on iTunes soon. You can sign up here to be the first to find out when the app is ready.

Gotta go!

Sacrifice is the toughest sell

Saving gas = fighting evil. Quaint.

When going through my Ted Kennedy pix yesterday, I came across this classic U.S. out-of-home treatment from 1980:

Why, it's Ayatollah Khomeini himself reminding you to conserve gas by driving 55. Yes, that means you too Sammy Hagar.

At the time, the Ayatollah was the most-hated man in America, owing to the Iran Hostage Crisis, where 52 staff at the American Embassy in Tehran were held hostage for over a year.

The Ayatollah became the bogeyman who you could only defeat by by slowing down your car and preserving gas. He even started appearing on T-shirts and bumper stickers, which people bought by the truckload (let's just hope that they weren't made in Tehran):

Let it not be said that America trails any country in having the latest name-calling technology at its fingertips.

But it seems that the days of these campaigns are over, as Bill Maher points out in his book, When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden (the title itself a parody of this classic World War II poster)."

He says:
"Perhaps the most threatening of all the connections we're not making these days is the one between terrorism and one of the great loves of the American life, the automobile. We used to make that connection because the government endorsed it. Oil was regarded as an essential weapon during World War II, and it is certainly no less so today."
"We see in posters from (past) eras a government unafraid to call upon its citizens to curb travel, save tin, buy bonds, plant a victory garden - I believe the United States government should (still) be making and plastering everywhere, like they did in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War."
Is it time for the government to bring back the propaganda posters and PSAs to make connections for people who can't make them for themselves, as Bill Maher suggests? Or are we so used to buying whatever we want when we want because "we're worth it" that "sacrifice" is a product that can't be sold to us anymore, at any price?

We may be the first generation to ask, "Sacrifice? What's in it for me?"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I met the back of Ted Kennedy's head once

Ted's head, about to be squashed by that "I'm crushing your head" guy.

Ted Kennedy: the Lion of the Senate, a towering figure in the Democratic Party, and champion of healthcare. But to me, he'll always be and the blurry hair in the photo.

I spent some of my childhood in Boston, which means that I was legally obligated to attend any and all political rallies featuring the Kennedy family, which mostly happened around big buildings with pillars surrounded by dudes in cheap suits, as you can see:

The above shots were taken with my parents' state-of-the-art camera in 1979 at a campaign stop on Ted Kennedy's ill-fated run for the U.S. presidency.

Even though he was met with enthusiastic support in Boston, it was less so everywhere else. It didn't help that he flubbed an interview with Roger Mudd where he couldn't explain what went down at Chappaquiddick, and was unable answer the deceptively simple question, "Why are you running for president?"

Kennedy ultimately lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter and never ran for president again.

I met the back of Carter's head at a book signing in New York in 1988, and let me just say to him now: "I have met the back of Ted Kennedy's head. And you, sir, are no Ted Kennedy."

By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I met Jackie Onassis? We go way back, Jackie and I:

Jackie O: wherever she went, ink circled her head.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boulevard Bikes makes the most out of 1/8, if you know what I mean

 Chicago's Boulevard Bikes has put the excitement back into cycling ads.

This 1/8-page ad appears in the latest print edition of the Onion, a place where advertisers can dare to feature an old cycling joke, phallic balloons, and a dude enjoying his bicycle - along with the promise of "expert sales & service."

I actually like this ad: I noticed it right away, and burst out laughing when I imagined the account rep selling the client on the strategy: "We put the fun between your legs. Where something else is! You sell bikes, get it? That'll be $400."

And it worked!

Memo to Woodcock Cycle: don't even think about it, OK?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

If revenge on bullies is wrong, why do the movies tell me that it's OK?

I'd like you to meet "My Bodyguard."

Today's Winnipeg Free Press reports that Winnipeg martial arts instructors are taking a stand against a mom who enrolled her son in kickboxing classes to get vengeance against his bullies:
"The mother, who asked not to be named, gave her son the green light to "kick the snot out of" his alleged tormentor when school starts next month."

"Martial arts is not about kicking and punching," said Sonny Pabuaya, instructor at Iron Fist Tae Kwon Do. "That's a misconception people have because that's what they see in the movies."
Very true. Which is why, as a movie fan, I believe that all martial arts are only about kicking and punching and exacting revenge on bullies. What else could I use them for?

And if martial arts weren't an effective deterrent, why would the movies tell me otherwise? Movies don't lie!

Superman II

The general premise behind my life is that "if it's good for Superman, it's good for me."

We all remember "the truth, justice, and the American way" part of Superman, but we may have forgotten that when Superman himself lost his powers in Superman II, he took a beating for the first time, and learned what it's like to be beaten up, to bleed, and to be humiliated in front of a crowd of onlookers.

It's not to his liking.

So, at the end of the film, powers restored, Superman's first order of business is to return to the scene of the crime to exact some revenge on his tormentor:

Our hero.

You'll also note that he doesn't just beat up the guy, he sits him down in a piece of pie. Is that blueberry or humble pie?

A Christmas Story

Then, there's the classic scene in A Christmas Story in which our hero, Ralphie, takes a stand against the odious (and odiously named) Scut Farkus: the bully with the yellow eyes.

After a series of roundhouse blows to the head, Farkus reveals himself to be nothing but a yellow and yellow-eyed crybaby:

The Wizard of Oz

Then, there's the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz - the Scut Farkus of the animal kingdom - a "humanoid bipedal" but bully by any other name. Until Dorothy clocks him one, that is:

The Karate Kid

I'm sure there are more examples, but I'm ending with my favorite: the Karate Kid; this is the movie where the kind, humble, peace-loving Mr. Miyagi teaches a kid how to wax cars, so he can not only kick the crap out of a bully, but win a trophy while he does it:

You'll note that the Karate Kid bully is played by William Zabka, one of the My Bodyguard bullies. Some kids never learn.

Thanks to my dad for the idea for this blog. I hope he doesn't beat me up for using it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

(I can get some) satisfaction: RRC posts most-recent grad survey results

Red River College: can you feel the love tonight?

Red River College grads are goin' places, workin' hard, and makin' money, at least according to its most-recent grad survey results, posted here.

Results are based on the Satisfaction and Employment Survey of 2006/07 graduates.

There is a lot of interesting info in the report, which you may want to download and read in its entirety. Here, I've compared the Creative Communications program's individual results to the college's overall results:

1. Workin' hard or hardly workin'?

"Of all full-time program graduates who responded to the survey, 95% were employed or furthering their education. Of those graduates who were in the workforce, seeking employment, 97% found jobs."

In CreComm, it's 79 per cent employed, and seven per cent in school.

2. Outstanding in your field, or out, standing in a field?

"Almost 88% reported they were working in a field related to the education and training received."

In CreComm, it's 72 per cent in full-time positions and two per cent in part-time positions.

3. Satisfaction or unsatisfaction?

"Over 93% of respondents reported they were very satisfied or satisfied with their education at Red River College and 93% said they would recommend their program to others."

In CreComm, there are two surveys. On a student-evaluation survey, 90 per cent said they were satisfied with the program, and 88 per cent said they would recommend it to others.

In the graduate satisfaction survey, 98 per cent said they were satisfied with the program, and 100 per cent said they would recommend it to others.

4. Pay or play?

"Graduates also reported their starting salaries. While results vary by program, the average was $34,833, which was an increase of 2% over that reported by 2005/2006 graduates."

In CreComm, the salary range was $22,000 to $50,000, with an average of $33,474.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ten things that crossed my mind at tonight's AC/DC concert

Cheap crap for $15 here!

1. Winnipeggers won't pay $5 to park downtown, but they will pay $15 for plastic devil horns that light up.

2. Opening band "The Answer" is the answer to a question that nobody asked.

3. A old man dressed in a schoolboy costume is creepy. An old man stripping out of a schoolboy costume is even creepier.

4. Who gave Gollum a guitar?

5. Why salute those about to rock? They may wimp out and not rock. It's much better to salute those who are already rocking, so your salute doesn't go to waste.

6. Every song can and should end with a raging guitar solo.

7. Has AC/DC churned out more ingenious guitar riffs than any other band, or has it just written one ingenious guitar riff and cleverly disguised it over and over and over?

8. What do you do with a three-storey blow-up doll when the tour is over? Scratch that: I don't want to know.

9. This song reminds me: I would really like to visit Hell on my next vacation.

10. Am I the only one who sees an evil face in the clouds? Because I see an evil face in the clouds.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One year of infotainment scanning: blogging rules

Like a blog within a blog, so too are the days of our lives.

Happy anniversary to me.

It's been one year since I started this blog by simply "paying tribute" to the title of my favorite album by the Fall, dropping my name in front of it, and writing about stuff that interests me.

At the time, I knew I wanted this blog to be for some combination of these audiences:
  • Family/friends;
  • CreComm grads;
  • CreComm students;
  • PR people;
  • Ad people;
  • Media people;
  • Me.
OK, I'm lying. It was really just for me. I hadn't been doing as much stand-up in recent times - it seems kind of "undignified" once you become a person of a certain age - and needed a new venue in which to vent, tell jokes, and comment on stuff.

The therapist had stopped laughing at my new material, so this blog was born with this mandate:
"This site is for people like me, who love and hate the media in equal measure but can't stop consuming it, who are fascinated by how journalists, PR people, and advertisers work together or don't work together to make the media landscape what it is today, and who love to pick it apart piece by piece."
I'd say that's still about right, though the word "hate" is probably too strong a word (but it does work for one of my favorite local sites, Winnipeg: Love and Hate).

I will admit to rubbing my hands together with glee at the local media war that was recently launched by the Winnipeg Free Press, mostly because of how silly it is for traditional media to be taking potshots at one another when their larger problem is that information belongs to everyone now - for free - regardless of who found it first.

I'm not saying that it's right, just that it's so.

Networking with the best

I started this blog slowly - just four, lousy posts last September - unsure whether I'd have the time to stick with it, enjoy it, find an audience, or alienate those closest to me, as any would-be comic, teacher, or commentator is wont to do.

I also wasn't sure if blogging would be a good or bad thing, being a college instructor. I'd hidden my Facebook profile because being "Facebook friends" with some students in the class and not others didn't sit well with me. And every instructor knows that his or her actions and words can be misconstrued at the best of times. For instance: anyone who's ever been a student knows that a teacher with a beer in his or her hand is, by definition, an alcoholic. Pass it on.

Nonetheless, I saw the worthwhile applications for blogging in the world of ad and PR, and noticed that more and more of my freelance clients wanted to set up and write blogs in conjunction with their existing social-media efforts.

So, I went with the stealth approach to test the waters: "secretly" blogging and tracking the hits with StatCounter. In a year's time, I went from getting just one page view a day (I admit: it was me! Ha, ha!) to a lifetime high of just over 4,000 the day that another, way more popular website linked to one of my extremely rare sports blogs.

Slowly but surely, I noticed that I was getting e-mails, comments, and feedback not just from friends and family, but "strangers" who actually found an article I wrote through Google, Amazon, or an RSS feed, including "famous people" like ad guru Roger von Oech, my favorite YouTube vlogger Katz20two, and RRC president Jeff Zabudsky, a blogger himself.

For me, the most rewarding aspect of blogging isn't the number of page views, it's being part of this vibrant local, national, and international blogging community in the fields of advertising, PR, politics, media watching and critiques, education, news, and (ha!) sci-fi collectibles.

My favorite local blogs: PolicyFrog, Progressive Winnipeg, ChrisD (a nice guy who I was happy to meet in person at the Bothwell Cheese airport launch), Winnipeg: Love and Hate, Message Communications, the Rise and Sprawl, not to mention CreComm grad blogs World of Wade and Vadebonk-isms.

I've been ruminating on a workable online news model for some time, and these thoughtful and eloquent folks have helped me visualize how that might work.

On tap: a network of CreComm blogs

As a result, one of the first orders of business for this year's first-year Creative Communications PR students will be to set up a "professional blogging network" of their own, with some advice from a roundtable of local bloggers in the second week of school, featuring some of the famous local bloggers named above.

It should be an interesting discussion, and just cool to see some of my favorite "online people" in a room together.

Once the student blogs are set up, I'll link to them through the blogroll on the right of this page, and we'll see how our little experiment progresses and grows (or regresses and dies, as the case may be).

I know that when I ask 35 students to "move the chairs out of the way," it happens in about two seconds. Imagine the communication and reporting possibilities - which is almost exactly like moving chairs out of the way, only better.

Study at RRC

Lastly, as I did one year go, I encourage anyone interested in the advertising, PR, journalism, and broadcast industries to look into Red River College's Creative Communications program. If you think you'd like to do this stuff full time, it's the best place to be - I say that as an instructor and graduate of the program.

The college gives preference to Manitoba applicants, though it's not unusual for us to have out-of-province and international students. There's a waiting list to get in - the earlier you can apply, the better.

And, oh yeah: thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not any space can be beautiful in Canada: IKEA's promo goes awry

I got the IKEA postcard, above, in the mail earlier this week.

The yellow square is a hole, and the copy invites you to look through it to imagine how your "space can be beautiful" too. I did, and it was wonderful.

It's a pretty standard treatment, which probably got noticed by a lot of Winnipeggers, who are anxious for the new IKEA store to open here.

In other Canadian cities, it wasn't so much that the mailer got noticed, it was the the guerrilla marketing campaign that went along with it.

And that's when the trouble began.

To tie in with the mailer, IKEA's ad agencies - Zig and Mango Moose - sent out street teams into five Canadian cities with IKEA stores. (Winnipeg, presumably, will get its own IKEA street teams when the store opens here. Yay.)

The teams used a chalk-based spray to write IKEA's slogan, website, and release date of its new catalogue on walls and sidewalks, which featured the same yellow box featured in the mailer. The idea: even ugly walls and sidewalks "can be beautiful" with IKEA.

According to Media Life:
"A number of businesses and politicians saw no beauty but an assault on public space, and private as well. A newly opened Vancouver skateboarding shop complained that the chalk artists had defaced its freshly done paint job.

"Vancouver claimed the retailer had violated a city ordinance by failing to receive permission for the campaign. A Toronto city councilman wrote Ikea Canada president Kerri Molinaro demanding that the campaign be stopped."
IKEA Canada's VP Kerri Molinaro has written a letter of apology, and IKEA has removed all of the offending chalk marks.

When good PR saves questionable advertising, all is right with the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Jay Leno needs your hatred to ensure his continued success

In a week where David Letterman's Late Show reruns beat Conan O'Brien's new Tonight Shows, there's a glimmer of hope for NBC: Jay Leno.

Normally, I would end that sentence with "just kidding," "had you going," or "wah, wah, wah," but a media research company, NewMediaMetrics, says it's true. With a straight face.

Although I really liked Leno's early appearances on Letterman and thought he was a great stand-up comic in his day, I hated his Tonight Show, including his inexplicably heralded monologues; to me the show only succeeded as a sleep aid and a way for people with terminal illnesses to live longer - because one minute of watching the show felt like six months.

Says NMM:
"The Jay Leno Show could prove to be a powerhouse at 10 p.m., particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays" because "17 per cent of Leno's core demo gave him a score of at least nine out of 10 (in terms of emotional attachment). That attachment translates into a group much more likely to watch "Leno" than anything else in the time period."
Just when we get past the disturbing fact that people actually not only like Jay Leno, but feel an emotional attachment to him, it gets even worse.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, "the NMM team's research model is derived from the methods developed by Jonathan Bowlby, the British behaviorist who in the 1940s developed a methodological approach to quantifying the emotional bond between mothers and children."

In other words, Jay Leno is more like a mom than a comedian to his viewers. His comedy doesn't make you think, get angry, question your beliefs, or even laugh. It simply gives you that comfortable, warm feeling you get when Mom cooks you your favorite meal and lets you fall asleep on the comfy couch when you're done.

Awww, isn't that nice?

Probably if you're a Jay Leno fan, but not if you're a snarky, mean-spirited comedy lover like me. Nor, apparently, if you're a writer who makes money by penning scripted dramas. To these people, Jay Leno is the Satan responsible for taking away five hours of prime-time real estate a week that would normally go to them.
"This could put a lot of people in Hollywood out of work," Erik Sorenson, a former CBS News and MSNBC executive told the LA Times. "A lot more people work on five hours of scripted drama than on this one variety show."
Peter Tolan, creator of Rescue Me, also recently stuck it to NBC at a panel of FX showrunners (the folks responsible for the day-to-day "running" of TV shows):
"I feel they should take the American flag down in front of their building and just put up a white one. Because they've clearly given up. They've essentially said, 'Look, we can't develop new shows anymore.'"
Love + Hate = Success!

Given all of this negativity, what accounts for the high level of Leno love among a certain group of people? Ironically, it may be the negativity itself. That's right: by hating Jay Leno, you may be ensuring his show's success.

As with many products, the thing that makes Leno consistently successful is that people feel so strongly about him one way or another. So, if you despise his lame comedy, and you're vocal about it, you too are helping him out.

There are examples of this effect all over the world of marketing and advertising; some of the most successful products are the ones that are hugely attractive to one audience and equally repulsive to another.

Strong feelings on either side of a product mean that those who love it have to argue for it against the dissenting voices of others. Hence, a stronger attachment to the product they already love.

As a friend once told me in high school, "I love basketball, but I really love the fact that I love basketball." Jay Leno fans don't just enjoy his show, they enjoy the fact that they enjoy his show. The more you hate it, the more they dig in their heels and love it.

The website Threadless operates on this premise. Users rate T-shirt designs on the site on a scale of zero to five, and Threadless prints the ones that get a score of 2.6 or higher (the popular ones) and, in some cases, those that achieve a score of just 2.0, provided they have lots of high scores and lots of low scores.

Why not just print the most-popular T-shirts? Because the ones that inspire the most love and hate are the ones that tend to sell the most.

Go figure.

I hate your comedy, Jay Leno, I really do. Your ratings can thank me on Sept. 14.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Steven Tyler is not yet dead: press statement

Now that the Aerosmith concert in Winnipeg is canceled forever, it's worth reminding everyone that Steven Tyler is not yet dead.

This is according to TMZ, which received a press statement from Tyler's daughter, Mia, who claims that, despite evidence to the contrary, "THE DEMON OF SCREAMIN IS NOT DEAD."

A classic press statement in the vein of Mike Piazza's "I'm not gay" news conference, and former Virginia Senator William Scott's news conference to declare that "I'm not the dumbest congressman of them all."

Let's just hope that Angus Young doesn't go falling off any stages before Saturday's AC/DC show in Winnipeg, or someone will have to alert that media that he's not dead either.

Thanks to Jason for the link.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Winnipeg Free Press launches ad campaign: what happens next?

I know this ad launched today, because I read it on ChrisD's blog.
Wait a sec...

Should you know where your news comes from, or is it like what Otto von Bismarck said about laws and sausages: better when you don't know how it's made?

Chris D has posted the first ad in the Winnipeg Free Press' information campaign, which explains to local news consumers where their news comes from. Apparently, the news is not dropped down the chimney via stork, and it doesn't happen when two people love each other very much. No, it's from newspaper reporters who are there, talk to sources, and check the facts.

Unfortunately, the message is a little less convincing when there's a typo in the ad ("Mikes story" sans apostrophe). D'oh!

As I mentioned in my last post: I'm curious to know what the Winnipeg Free Press would like its readers to do after they read this ad. Like most ads, you can't forget to end your message with a call to action, but this one doesn't have a convincing one. Maybe it's nothing more than a campaign to publicly embarrass CJOB - but to what end?

This ad is a risky move. It could be embarrassing if the Free Press is caught not practicing what it preaches. My guess is that other media outlets will be watching the Free Press - especially its Twitter feeds - like a hawk.

Already, ChrisD has pointed out that he's got a credit in today's Free Press for breaking the news about more AC/DC tickets. As Chris says in his headline, "Apocalypse upon us."


I should've pointed out that Mike McIntyre - another former CreComm classmate of mine (he graduated a year after me) - actually has a show on CJOB in addition to the work he does for the Free Press.

It makes this ad campaign even risker than I first thought. Will he still have a show on CJOB after this ad campaign?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Freep vs. OB smackdown: the media will eat itself

The Free Press' Margo Goodhand slammed OB in Saturday's editorial.
(Photo credit: CNW Group).

Nothing like a local media smackdown to cure the summertime blues.

The Winnipeg Free Press' Margo Goodhand had some harsh words for CJOB radio in Saturday's editorial page. This seems to be going around: CJOB had some harsh words of its own for CTV Winnipeg on its website a couple of months ago.

In case you missed it, Goodhand's thesis is that the Free Press does the original reporting and OB rips it off. This may be true, but it's certainly not new, nor is it limited to just CJOB.

What is new is that these intra-media grievances, which have traditionally only mattered if you worked at a media outlet, are now trotted out in public as each media outlet attempts to get its audience to consume, defend, and support it at the expense of the others. At stake is the audience and an ever-shrinking pool of local ad revenue.

(PolicyFrog has a good discussion about this issue here. ChrisD here.)

Let ye among us without sin be the first to condemn - la vie boheme!

Frankly, I was surprised that this is news outside of the Free Press newsroom. Isn't all media - the Free Press included - guilty of poaching stories from the others?

As PolicyFrog says, "Don’t tell me the Free Press has never chased down a story that had its origin in a local blog and not given any credit for it."

And has a Free Press reporter never tweeted "breaking news" that first appeared in yesterday's edition of the Winnipeg Sun without giving credit?

Why can I tell you what some of the items will be on tonight's NBC Nightly News? Because I've read yesterday's New York Times. That's what makes the Times an agenda-setting newspaper. In a way, it's a compliment! What is the Times going to do: call a cop?

Nonetheless, Goodhand says that the Free Press has launched an ad campaign "trying to explain the situation to our readers and others. We want you to know where your news is coming from."

And then what's supposed to happen?

I'm not being snarky, I actually want to know the answer, because "where my news comes from" probably doesn't matter to an audience that is used to getting it from lots of media outlets, especially younger people, who media outlets desperately need in order to have a future.

I'm in a classroom with young people every day, which means that I witness the death of traditional media every day; each year, new students have more trouble naming even a single on-air news anchor or newspaper columnist. A majority can't differentiate between Brian Williams, the anchor of the NBC Nightly News, and Brian Williams, the Canadian sportscaster, because they've never heard of either (one of my classic first-day quiz questions!).

When Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford recently came to Red River College to speak to first-year students, I was surprised when some students opened their questions with, "I'm not at all familiar with your work, but..."

It's worth noting that I teach in a communications program.

Cooperation, not competition
"When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work." - Clay Shirky
If we've learned one thing from the Internet, it's that information is not proprietary anymore, it's part of a worldwide knowledge buffet. This means that the glory of being the one media outlet in town to get "the scoop" only lasts as long as it takes to replace it with another story. As we see on CNN every day: every news story is now a breaking news story.

So, how does a local media outlet survive? By having an online presence and network, and by being interactive and everywhere your audience needs you. I can download Globe and Mail and New York Times apps on my iPhone, but not a Free Press app. So guess which newspapers I will be reading on the bus this fall?

I think that PolicyFrog also has the right idea when he calls for a partnership between OB and the Free Press; hey, content sharing, wire services, and sponsorships are nothing new.

It wouldn't seem out of place to hear CJOB reporting on "What the Free Press is working on for tomorrow" or even having "Winnipeg Free Press breaking news." The Freep reporters could call in to CJOB to discuss the news on air, and the CJOB personalities could write editorials for the Freep, even if they're written in short sentences with typos (as radio personalities are wont to produce).

You could make the argument that what CJOB does isn't "stealing" news from the Free Press, but creating a greater appetite for local news by reporting today's headlines; if something is interesting to its listeners, they can get depth by picking up the Winnipeg Free Press. It's the natural role for both mediums.

As any restaurateur knows, the way to increase traffic to your restaurant is to be friends with the owners of all the other restaurants and work together to get people to come to your neighborhood. The worst thing you can do is put up a sign saying, "The restaurant across the street stole our recipes."

Guess what: the clientele doesn't care about your personal antagonisms, as long as the food is good. If you have a beef, talk to that person directly. If that goes nowhere, hire a lawyer. But, I'm sad to say, don't look to your audience to fight your battles for you. It won't happen.

As Clay Shirky said in this column: "society doesn't need newspapers (or radio), it needs journalism."

Something on which all media outlets can agree.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I've seen over 280 bands, and over half of them didn't suck

Roger Waters in Winnipeg: one of the best, but was he better than A Flock of Seagulls?

Dan Vadeboncoeur has thrown down the gauntlet for the rest of us by listing the bands he's seen in concert.

Now I feel compelled to do the same: however, I think it's funny that Dan's favorite concert of all time - Pearl Jam at Sunfest in 1993 - is my least-favorite. Go figure.

And I also love that Dan and I have a lot of overlap in our lists. But...Weird Al Yankovic and the Tea Party? Crazy!

I've omitted forgettable opening acts because I've forgotten them, and I probably have even forgotten some of the headliners along the way - for a while, First Avenue in Minneapolis and Les Rendezvous in Winnipeg were notorious for literally "taking" your tickets, which means no record of the show. Boo.

And local bands? Seen a zillion of 'em, but I've only listed them below if they were ever a major going concern outside of the city. So, yes to the Weakerthans and Crash Test Dummies, no to Liquid Bone Dance and Chocolate Bunnies From Hell.

I'm also resisting the urge to number the times I've seen each band - in fact, one of the surprising things in making this list is how many of the concerts I've seen are "repeats," which is probably because the local concert scene only started heating up around the same time that people stopped buying CDs (and MTS Centre opened).

The list below brings back a lot of memories: like the time in 1982 when my dad said he'd take me to Minneapolis to see one of these bands: Queen, the Clash, or Blondie. I chose Queen - Freddie Mercury was still alive and well - and for years I patted myself on the back for making such a good decision, until Joe Strummer died. Boo.

Probably my favorite big concerts of all time are Paul McCartney and Roger Waters, and my favorite small concerts, the Pixies, Elvis Costello, and - no joke - Bow Wow Wow.

My top "must-see" bands are Jesus and Mary Chain, Peter Wolf, Sparks, Pere Ubu, Eels (though not for the current album, which is one of my least favorite) and XTC, though it's an open question if or when the band will ever reform and, if it does, whether Andy Partridge will ever get over that bout of stage fright that's been haunting him for the last 20 years.

That said, here's the list of a good chunk of the bands I've seen (including some big-name comedians and actors doing one-person shows), in no particular order.

And of the terrible artists listed below: what can I say, I'm a child of the 80s, which also explains why my remaining hair is still making a pathetic attempt to stand up straight.
  1. The Divine Comedy
  2. Dead Kennedys
  3. Doug and the Slugs
  4. Cliff Richard
  5. A Flock of Seagulls
  6. The Fixx
  7. Harry Hill (comedian)
  8. Jerry Seinfeld
  9. Andy Kindler
  10. Thomas Dolby
  11. Julian Cope
  12. Cracker
  13. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  14. Neil Finn (featuring members of Radiohead, Lisa Germano, and Johnny Marr)
  15. Rolling Stones
  16. Pete Best
  17. Neil Diamond
  18. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
  19. Throwing Muses
  20. Holly Cole
  21. Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  22. Simple Minds
  23. The Spoons
  24. The Box
  25. Pearl Jam
  26. Michelle Shocked
  27. The Call
  28. Strange Advance
  29. Johnny Cash
  30. The Alarm
  31. Smothers Brothers
  32. Lemonheads
  33. Buffalo Tom
  34. Hole
  35. Gene Loves Jezebel
  36. Meat Puppets
  37. Squeeze
  38. Aimee Mann
  39. Peter Gabriel
  40. Blind Boys of Alabama
  41. Midnight Oil
  42. Arrested Development
  43. Lenny Kravitz
  44. Debbie Harry (with Jazz Passengers)
  45. Queen (original line-up)
  46. Billy Squier
  47. Smashing Pumpkins
  48. Robyn Hitchcock
  49. Buster Poindexter
  50. Proclaimers
  51. Gruff Rhys
  52. David Byrne
  53. Sloan
  54. Elvis Costello
  55. Split Enz
  56. Hovercraft
  57. Gowan
  58. Loreena McKennitt
  59. Psychedelic Furs
  60. Kids in the Hall
  61. Violent Femmes
  62. Ramones
  63. Bad Brains
  64. They Might Be Giants
  65. Moxy Fruvous
  66. Bruce Cockburn
  67. Blue Rodeo
  68. 54-40
  69. Deja Voodoo
  70. The Watchmen
  71. Junkhouse
  72. Foo Fighters
  73. Bif Naked
  74. Weird Al Yankovic
  75. Ron Sexsmith
  76. Richard Thompson
  77. Platinum Blonde
  78. Tears For Fears
  79. Genesis (Phil Collins-led lineup)
  80. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
  81. General Public
  82. The English Beat
  83. Northern Pikes
  84. Prince
  85. Elton John
  86. Rush
  87. David Bowie
  88. Hall and Oates
  89. The Police
  90. Tina Turner
  91. Thompson Twins
  92. Duran Duran
  93. Georgia Satellites
  94. Pursuit of Happiness
  95. Soul Asylum
  96. Jane Siberry
  97. ZZ Top
  98. The Pretenders
  99. Iggy Pop
  100. David Lee Roth
  101. Van Halen
  102. Journey
  103. The Beatnigs
  104. Greg Kihn Band
  105. INXS (Michael Hutchence-led era)
  106. Paul McCartney
  107. Leonard Cohen
  108. The Tubes
  109. D.O.A.
  110. Tragically Hip
  111. Sting
  112. Billy Joel
  113. Waterboys
  114. Stone Roses
  115. Payola$
  116. Men Without Hats
  117. Paul Simon
  118. Bob Dylan
  119. Rod Stewart
  120. Soul Asylum
  121. 10,000 Maniacs
  122. Natalie MacMaster
  123. Ashley MacIssac
  124. Billy Idol
  125. Steve Winwood
  126. Jesus Jones
  127. Billy Bragg
  128. Hoodoo Gurus
  129. Joe Jackson
  130. Jay Leno
  131. The Beautiful South
  132. The Lightning Seeds
  133. George Michael
  134. Crowded House
  135. U2
  136. Headstones
  137. Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  138. Liz Phair
  139. The Who
  140. Lyle Lovett
  141. Dane Cook
  142. The Mahones
  143. Eve 6
  144. Jesse Cook
  145. Sarah Brightman
  146. The The
  147. Cash Brothers
  148. Andrew Cash
  149. Fugazi
  150. Danko Jones
  151. Neko Case
  152. The Guess Who
  153. Greg Kihn Band
  154. Moe Berg
  155. Belly
  156. George Wallace (comedian)
  157. KISS
  158. Shane MacGowan and the Popes
  159. Weezer
  160. Michael Moore (filmmaker)
  161. Peter Ustinov (actor)
  162. Gregory Peck (actor)
  163. Steve Earle
  164. Meat Loaf
  165. Wilco
  166. Steven Wright
  167. Frank Black
  168. Bob Geldof
  169. Echo and the Bunnymen
  170. New Pornographers
  171. Hot Hot Heat
  172. Metric
  173. Bob Dorough
  174. The Flatlanders
  175. Tom Jones
  176. Rufus Wainwright
  177. Martha Wainwright
  178. Loudon Wainwright III
  179. Magnetic Fields
  180. Andrew Bird
  181. A.C. Newman
  182. Sandra Bernhard
  183. Bette Midler
  184. Pixies
  185. Bob Newhart
  186. Martin Short
  187. R.E.M.
  188. New York Dolls
  189. Iggy and the Stooges
  190. The Strokes
  191. Colin Hay
  192. Tom Cochrane
  193. The Romantics
  194. Nancy Sinatra
  195. Big Star
  196. The Dictators
  197. Bo Diddley
  198. The Pretty Things
  199. Moby
  200. Snow Patrol
  201. Green Day
  202. Garbage
  203. Arcade Fire
  204. Feist
  205. The Sounds
  206. Bob Mould
  207. Belle and Sebastian
  208. Art Brut
  209. Jason Collett
  210. Death Cab For Cutie
  211. Franz Ferdinand
  212. Bright Eyes
  213. Paul Williams
  214. She Wants Revenge
  215. The Futureheads
  216. Cowboy Junkies
  217. The Rentals
  218. The Dears
  219. The Hidden Cameras
  220. Roger Waters
  221. The Raveonettes
  222. Supernova
  223. The White Stripes
  224. Modest Mouse
  225. Kaiser Chiefs
  226. My Chemical Romance
  227. Andrew W.K.
  228. Patrick Watson
  229. Hot Chip
  230. John Mellencamp
  231. David Cassidy
  232. Holy Fuck
  233. Black Mountain
  234. The Hives
  235. k.d. lang
  236. Ricky Gervais
  237. Ray Davies
  238. Tom Petty
  239. Bill Cosby
  240. Morrissey
  241. Harland Williams
  242. Buffy Sainte-Marie
  243. Greg Proops
  244. Secret Machines
  245. Lily Allen
  246. Pat Dinizio
  247. The Smithereens
  248. Bloc Party
  249. TV on the Radio
  250. Fleetwood Mac
  251. Eagles of Death Metal
  252. Coldplay
  253. Lou Reed
  254. The Killers
  255. Bat For Lashes
  256. Passion Pit
  257. Love and Rockets
  258. Marshall Crenshaw
  259. The Blasters
  260. Bow Wow Wow
  261. Icicle Works
  262. Modern English
  263. Pete Yorn
  264. Rough Trade
  265. Lindsey Buckingham
  266. Crash Test Dummies
  267. Joe Cocker
  268. Ned's Atomic Dustbin
  269. Hunters and Collectors
  270. Yo La Tengo
  271. Superchunk
  272. Unicorns
  273. Billy Bob Thornton
  274. Black Flag
  275. The Cult
  276. The Tea Party
  277. Guns N' Roses
  278. The Weakerthans
  279. Andy Taylor
  280. Juliana Hatfield
  281. Cub
  282. 7 Year Bitch
  283. Nik Kershaw
  284. Ben Folds (almost - he's playing Fargo in October)
  285. AC/DC (almost - for those of you about to rock next Saturday, I salute you!)
  286. The Sounds (almost - Minneapolis in November)
  287. Gogol Bordello (almost)
Your turn!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Advertising is cheap and solves all of your problems: I Love You, Man

I Love Your Billboard, Man (photo from Franklin Ave.)

I finally got around to seeing I Love You, Man, which first hit theatres, oh, about the same time that Socrates was condemned to drink a decanter of hemlock.

I liked the film a lot, which doesn't surprise me, considering that it features Canadian sci-fi rockers Rush, a guy with a man-cave, and Lou Ferrigno - the Hulk himself.

Though the film doesn't strive for realism, I must point out that I've seen Rush in concert twice, met Lou Ferrigno twice, and if I don't have a man-cave, I do have a "room" with books, a drum set, CDs, action figures, a computer, and comics...wait a sec - it is a man-cave!

The thing that did surprise me is that the moral of the film is: "$8,000 worth of advertising can save your life."

*Spoiler alert*

In the film, Paul Rudd's character loans Jason Segal $8,000 bucks (a plot point that doesn't make a lot of sense, given what Segal says about his financial situation at the end of the film).

The loan creates a rift between the two, as personal loans often do, and Rudd decides that he no longer wants Segal to be the best man at his wedding.

Turns out that Segal has actually used the $8,000 to buy about $1 million worth of out-of-home ads in Los Angeles to promote Rudd's real-estate business ("I got a deal from a friend," is how Segal explains the disparity between the cash and the media buy. Hmmmm....).

Surprise: the advertising works and solves all of Rudd's problems: his friendship with Segal, his relationship with his family, his business, the sale of Lou Ferrigno's house, the wedding, and maybe even the marriage. Wow - neat trick.

While the film is a great ad for getting married, having a bro-mance, and seeing Rush in concert, it's even a better ad for out-of-home advertising.

Which reminds me: "Dude, can I borrow $8,000 for this investment thing? I'll totally pay you back."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CreComm grad Dan Kenning, 1973 - 2009

Dan Kenning (photo from Bill Brioux's blog).

Dan Kenning, MediaEdge editor, former Canwest publicity manager, and Creative Communications grad, died of cancer on Tuesday at age 36.

Dan was one of my classmates in the Creative Communications graduating class of '94. I remember him as a likable and positive guy with a good sense of humor, big heart, and love of music and pop culture.

My heart goes out to Dan's friends, family, and colleagues.

Ten products I love, but can't buy in Canada

Sam Adams: cheers to truth, justice, and the American way (to drink).

I'm not really a big fan of cross-border shopping.

I believe that, generally speaking, the quality goods and services in Canada is better than anywhere in the world - especially groceries, restaurant food, and general helpfulness and friendliness of wait staff.

And yet, I still find myself longing for some products I can't buy in Canada. Some of these are "good-good," and some are "so-bad-they're-good," but I crave them all nonetheless - the law of supply and demand in action:

1. Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Boston lager that actually tastes like the city of Boston - the Common, the U.S.S. Constitution, the Tea Party, and Cheers all rolled into a bottle. In a good way.

The slightly lower alcohol content than some beers (4.75 per cent) simply means "more to enjoy."

2. Carson's Signature BBQ Sauce

Actually a restaurant in Chicago, Carson's has got the greatest rib sauce in the universe - a billion times better than Tony Roma's. No, really.

The tangy, spicy sauce comes in pints, and must be consumed in 30 days, which means that even when you just get it, you're almost out of it.

At the restaurant, they give you a bib, so you can really go to it.

Sam Adams and Carson's ribs, meet your maker. Oink, oink.

3. Cherry Dr. Pepper

Smoother and even better than Cherry Coke, though a crime against your stomach if you drink it in more than small doses.

4. Cherry Coke

Once widely available in Winnipeg - I found it at Food Fare and Sobeys as recently as a couple of years ago - it's now impossible to find north of the border. I once had a student who bought 100 plastic bottles of the stuff and rationed herself to one a day. When it ran out, she got the shakes.

And, yes, cherry plus any beverage is magic.

5. Nature Valley Cinnamon Granola Bars

Speaking of magic, the magic ingredient in anything is cinnamon.

We have Nature Valley Granola Bars in Winnipeg, but they're withholding the good stuff on us: cinnamon granola bars are Nature Valley's crack cocaine. It's about time that someone load their trunk with them and sell them for $25 a box after the bars close on Corydon.

6. Cookie Crisp Cereal

No, no, no, it's not "cookies," it's "cereal!" I can't believe I actually talked my mother into letting me eat these things when we lived in Boston.

Every kid secretly believes that cookies with milk on them will be fantastic, and this product makes those dreams come true. An unholy blend of Oreo meets Cap'n Crunch, it'll make any kid's (and some adults') eyes pop out with glee upon sight alone.

The big lie now: "They're made with WHOLE GRAIN!" Uh, OK, whatever excuse you wanna use works for me.

7. iPhone cases

You get an iPhone, you need a holder.

There are three iPhone cases at Future Shop, and a million iPhone cases at any Apple Store in the U.S. - rubber, plastic, leather, steel, concrete - take your pick. And the tattooed clerk at the checkout will even give you her opinion on the aesthetics.

8. New York Times

The one newspaper that demands you read it in print as well as online: why can I only get the Sunday edition delivered on Monday for a million bucks with a Globe subscription, when a mere, two-hour's drive away, it's available at cover price seven days a week?

9. Amazon Kindle 2

I want to download novels and electronic editions of newspapers and have them all in one, light, portable, carrying device where I can access them anytime - on the bus, at school, in the bathtub - just like my American friends do. Please, Amazon, help a young boy's dream come true.

10. Alka-Seltzer Wake-Up Call!

I picked up some of this stuff in the U.S. a couple of years ago, when it had a different name and themeline. Now Alka-Seltzer just goes for it: it's "dependable hangover relief!" It's also more honest about its target audience: hard-drinkin' manly men. Like me. Ha!

A group of beer-lovin' students tested this stuff for their Buyer Beware advertising assignment, and found that it actually works.

If I have a headache - usually not beer-related, but you never know - this stuff does seem to put a spring in my step, at least until a nap is feasible.

You'll be happy to know that this stuff tastes as terrible and chalky as the original. As the commercial sez: "Wake up. Man up."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Which of these super-nifty websites will replace Twitter?

In my summertime discussions and e-mails with students current and former, we're all agreed: it's only a matter of time before something comes along to replace Twitter: there are only so many times we need to read about what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast, no?

Here are some that might.


Using the voice recorder built into every iPhone, you can record and share short audio clips, like Twitter with sound.

As the narrator below points out, this has a very real application for journalism. And telling people what you just bought at the grocery store.

Walking through Audioboo from Mark Rock on Vimeo.

Enter your musical taste and location and - voila - customized concert tips are yours. It's social networking for live music fans:


Twitter meets video. Post 12-second updates from your webcam or mobile phone. Seems like much less work than all of that "typing," doesn't it?


Only up in preview form, this is supposed to be the big thing that Google uses to kill all other social networking sites: e-mail, wikis, social networking, Google voice, collaborative editing, and God knows what else, all in one place.

Warning: this video is long, as in one hour and 20 minutes. However, over three million people have watched it, which means that you might want to as well.


Stream any song you like, legally and free on this Flash-based media player. Or use it to promote your band. Or network with other users. Or upload your songs and show an ad when anyone selects them. Or for fundraising. Or, apparently, to "make money while you listen to free music."

Whaddaya think: anything worthy of replacing Twitter here?

An entire meal for $10 at Walgreens?! Sign me up!

This is one of the best sales promotions I've seen in a long time.

Clipped out of a flyer in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Walgreens promises us "an entire meal for only $10."

I love that:
  • Eating "the entire meal" will probably kill you;
  • If you actually consider this to be a meal, you likely won't make it to Walgreens.
  • Health concerns trump cost savings - I mean, it's an entire meal for only $10!
Better speed up that health-care reform, Obama: these meals are selling like frozen pizzas, Cokes, buckets of ice cream, and hotcakes.

My relatives all look like their T-shirts

"Hey, ladies! Courir avec moi!"

Meet my nephew, Christopher.

I could analyze him and this photo from an advertising and marketing perspective, but instead I'd prefer to note that he just looks a lot like his shirt, not to mention a young Björn Borg:

Keep on rockin' in the free world, Christopher!

My new, favorite TV ad for ice cream and cake

One of the great things about traveling in the U.S. is that you get to see advertising that you never get to see in Canada, because we have "laws" and "regulations" here.

Like, for instance, this ad for crack cocaine. Oh, sorry, I mean Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake; it's the person who wrote the song who was on crack cocaine.

This thing runs, oh, about 1,000 times a day on U.S. TV during all the best shows, like "NYC Prep." You really hate the ad at first, until you find yourself walking down the street, involuntary thinking, "ice cream and cake do the ice cream and cake do the ice cream and cake."

Suddenly, you realize that you will die unless you buy some ice cream cake at Baskin-Robbins immediately. And you do. Rinse, wash, repeat.

The ad (warning: this ad will not leave your head for the rest of your life):

Infectious and insidious: my two favorite Darths.

This is essentially a more advanced execution of the same strategy used by Head On: Apply Directly to Forehead: that a simple line, repeated ad nauseam, will eventually break through the clutter.

Every indication is that this ad has legs - rubbery, dancing legs; yep, Baskin-Robbins has started an online ice cream and cake dance contest here, in which you ("you" meaning "Americans") can win $10,000 in cash and $1,000 in - you guessed it - ice cream and cakes by dancing to the ice cream and cake song and submitting the video to the website.

The helpful instructions:
"Get your friends together, use costumes, props…anything that shows off your style and is fun. We've shown you the basic moves, now it's your turn to make the dance your own. Get creative!"
The awesome results:

I don't know about you, but I think I may have developed a little hankerin' for some ice cream and cakey cake cake do the ice cream and cake ice cream and cakey cake cake cake ice cream cakey cakey cake cake ice cream...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ten reasons to be homesick for Winnipeg on a U.S. road trip

"The pleasure was all mine, sign."

1. Longest wait time in Winnipeg rush-hour traffic: 20 minutes. Longest wait time in major American city rush-hour traffic: 275 hours.

2. We already have universal health care, so I don't need to listen to anyone yelling about it at town-hall meetings.

3. No tollways in Winnipeg, not counting the squeegee kids on Broadway and Osborne.

4. Sarcasm and irony reserves are at an all-time low in the U.S. with one exception: a young Subway employee introduced himself with a straight face as my "sandwich artist." At least I think it was sarcasm...

5. A Walgreens' flyer in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offers "An entire meal for only $10." The meal: a 12-pack of Coke, a 12-inch DiGiorno frozen pizza, and a tub of Dreyer's ice cream. More irony?

6. Cherry Dr. Pepper may be the tastiest beverage ever engineered in America, but it gives you the runs (I'm told).

7. No summer in Winnipeg means no humidity.

8. No inferiority complex in the U.S. means that no one gives a hoot why I might be on vacation in their neck of the woods or writes an article when I challenge the town to live up to my personal "friendly" expectations.

9. Fewer people in Winnipeg means that the streets and sidewalks are mine....all mine!

10. I'd much rather talk about how excited I am that T.G.I. Friday's is opening at the Winnipeg airport than actually eating at a T.G.I. Friday's.

A grouchy Lou Reed smiles upon Lollapalooza

They're not booing, they're chanting "Looooou."

I finally did something I've been wanting to do for over a decade.

You'd be forgiven for guessing that I became a pod racer on Tatooine - that one's still on my bucket list. No, I finally attended Lollapalooza in Chicago, America's premier alternative music festival.

(I attended the traveling version of the Lollapalooza festival in New York in 1994.)

It took Lou Reed, the leathery, grouchy, elder statesman of alternative rock to get me there, and he made it well worth the tortuous drive and 15-year wait.

The festival

Originally a touring music festival, Lollapalooza now takes place annually at Chicago's Grant Park, the same crowd and place that Barack Obama made his presidential acceptance speech last November, minus Oprah.

The atmosphere at Lollapalooza is a combination of celebratory and chilled out: think the Winnipeg Folk Fest with 225,000 people, mosh pits, crowd surfing, and a temperature of 38 Celsius, just a shade over 100 Fahrenheit.

Top o' the morning, milady:
A modest Lollapaloozian enjoys the dulcet sounds of the Kaiser Chiefs.

Adding to the attendees' agony is that there's no seating, and the festival bans all but one bottle of water per person and "outside food" - the better to sell yucky hamburgers for $5.

At the security gate sits a sad buffet of confiscated homemade sandwiches in their Saran Wrap alongside seized bottles and cans of Gatorade and Red Bull. Yet, somehow, the drugs get in. Just like prison!

On the plus side, the festival is well organized. The bands start on time (except Lou Reed), people are mostly considerate of each other's space, the $7 pina-colada and mango smoothies taste suitably cold and fantastic, and security around the festival is impressive to behold, maybe because Chicago doesn't want anything to happen that might endanger its bid for the 2016 Olympics.

The mainstages sit at opposite ends of the park and there's enough space between them that surprisingly very few sound conflicts happen, unless you happen to be Band of Horses playing kitty-corner to Jane's Addiction at the same time, thanks to Lou Reed leaving the stage 15 minutes late. You tell Lou he went long.

At the centre of the festival sits the Buckingham Fountain, better known as "the fountain from the Married With Children credits." I give the overheated and exhausted attendees all the credit in the world for waiting until the end of the day to jump into the water, at which point even the surliest of security guards could forgive a guy for wanting to cool off.

Ask yourself: what would Ed Bundy do?

The music

The main issue with Lollapalooza isn't that there aren't enough good bands; if anything, it's that there are too many of them playing at the same time.

Some of the Sophie's choices at this year's festival:
  • Depeche Mode vs. Kings of Leon
  • Andrew Bird vs. Of Montreal vs. Peter, Bjorn and John
  • Los Campesinos! vs. Animal Collective
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs vs. Tool
  • TV on the Radio vs. Rise Against
  • The Raveonettes vs. Dan Deacon
  • Neko Case vs. Vampire Weekend
  • Lou Reed vs. Snoop Dogg
  • Jane's Addiction vs. the Killers
There seemed to be a consensus among Chicago music critics that this year's festival was the worst lineup of all time, but it might be a case of being spoiled by an embarrassment of riches year after year; I know that if we got this festival in Winnipeg, it would sell out in an hour.

Like all outdoor music festivals, the setting doesn't translate well for some bands and is perfect for others.

An excellent band like Bat For Lashes, for example, has some great tunes that would captivate any well-fed, comfortably seated audience in a dark theatre. On an outdoor stage, under the scorching sun, before a hungry, uncomfortably standing audience, not so much. But points for trying.

On the other hand, a band like the Kaiser Chiefs isn't very well known in America, but has a lot of experience playing to large festival crowds in England, where they're much more famous. They also have some great songs and a whole lot of swagger.

Never mind that their most recent album stinks; the band wouldn't take no for an answer, assailing the crowd with singalongs, scissor kicks, and attitude.

"I'd like to buy you people a beer," shouted frontman Ricky Wilson, "as long as it's not a Bud." Oooh, there's no better way to prove your authenticity than by sticking it to the main festival sponsor from the mainstage.

I predict a riot. I predict a riot. I predict, forget it.

Excuse me, friend - I'm trying to get to the front of the stage.

Waiting for Lou

Despite seeing some of my favorite bands, like the Raveonettes, and some buzzworthy new ones, like Passion Pit, for me much of the day was about "Waiting For Lou."

Lou Reed was the sole living legend on this year's bill: this is the guy who survived electro-shock therapy, wrote songs for Pickwick Records, founded the Velvet Underground, was mentored by Andy Warhol, has recorded as a solo artist for over 30 years, wrote "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Sweet Jane," once punched David Bowie in the face for not paying a bar bill, is married to Laurie Anderson, and is "the original rapper," speaking in rhymes before there was even a name for it.

Take that, Snoop.

At first there seemed to be some doubt that Reed was even going to show up. The stage was set up, the instruments awaited, Lou, after every other band had started and finished their set on time.

A famous curmudgeon, it's never exactly a sure thing that Reed will show up or, if he does, that you'll get anything resembling a set of "greatest hits." Like Bob Dylan, Reed plays the songs the way he wants to play them and if you have a different opinion, that's your problem.

Finally, the crowd let out a roar as a muscular and visibly grumpy Reed walked out onto the stage with his band and, without a single word to the audience, swung a guitar over his shoulder and played the famous opening chords to "Sweet Jane." Grown men wept.

Between his lines, Reed shouted at technicians and barked orders at his band, who uniformly took it with good humor. "Oh, well, that's just what he's like," their body language seemed to be saying.

At the end of the song, Reed removed his guitar, set it down on the stage behind him, pointed to it, cast a killer glance at a techie offstage, shrugged his shoulders and - if my lip reading is correct - said, "What am I supposed to do with this fucking thing?" That's my Lou!

An inconvenient haircut: an angry, young man enjoys a grumpy, old one.

Launching into "Senselessly Cruel," "Dirty Boulevard," "Waves of Fear," and "Mad," it started to look as though grandpa Lou was really a softy on the inside: if we weren't going to get a greatest hits set, we were at least going to get Reed at his most upbeat and commercially friendly.

And we did, until Reed launched into a white-noise frenzy as grating as anything on his famously bad (or is it genius?) Metal Machine Music album. Cranking the white noise to 11, no melody required, Reed seemed to delight and confuse the audience in equal measure.

Though some people clearly hated it, I took the noise break as Reed sending a message to the youngsters in the audience: "You think you like some hardcore bands? Well, I invented hardcore, and I'm going to show you how it's done."

At this point, the clock on the wall showed that Reed's set was about to end; I figured that he'd cut the feedback, walk off the stage, and leave the audience to consider whether the big ending was art, junk, punk rock, or some elaborate practical joke.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, the noise segued into the bouncy keyboards that any serious music fan would recognize as the intro to the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting For the Man." Miracle of miracles, Reed followed this great gift with something even greater: a groovy rendition of "Walk on the Wild Side."

Even more amazingly, Reed led the crowd in a singalong, blew kisses, said "Hey, Chicago!" and gave the crowd a big wave and smiled as he descended the stairs to...Hell or his Winnebago.

The set came across as fun, tough, acerbic, authentic, and uncompromising; all befitting of a legend.

I'm Mr. (yawn) Brightside!

Half an hour later, the Killers - a band I usually like - performed their headlining set. In comparison to Reed, they seemed a little hollow, desperate to be loved, and in possession of precious few great songs.

And at the end of a long, hot, sandwichless day, the crowd ran out of gas a few songs into the Killers' set. The band's subsequent pointless banter about their trip to Chicago was enough to send the most hardened Killers fans to the exits, which they did in droves.

"Wow, you sure got quiet fast," said frontman Brandon Flowers. Uh, yeah, it's all of those songs from your new, crappy album that you're playing...

And Lou Reed, who was in the park, didn't join the Killers for their big duet on Tranquilize. Too bad - it would've been fun to see Grouchy McGee teach Happy Gilmore a thing or two.

As any pod racer on Tatooine knows: Killers aren't born, they're made.