Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ten questions answered by last night's Billy Bragg concert

1. Can I wear spiked bracelets, shine a laser pen, and shoot off fireworks?

And how do you spell "bracelets?"

2. Will I meet Billy Bragg?

3. Will I get his autograph?

4. Will he enjoy my stories and laugh at my jokes?

5. Will other famous people be there?

6. What songs will he play?

7. Will he have advice for "the kids?"

8. Will "the kids" have advice for him?

9. Is it possible to rock out to Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, the former Soviet Union, strategic air command, missiles, hospitals, smart bombs, acupuncture, and Facebook in a three-minute song?

10. Future Cathy Hanson assignment: can you get racism, the Clash, bullies, perspective, inspiration, cynicism, fascism, the Tories, Labour, Tony Blair, Naomi Klein, and Barack Obama into a seven-minute speech?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ten great Billy Bragg lines, in preparation for tonight's concert

1. "I am the milkman of human kindness. I will leave an extra pint."

2. "I don't want to change the world; I'm not looking for a new England, I'm just looking for another girl."

3. "I never made the first team, I just made the first team laugh."

4. "I'm celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo."

5. "Safe sex doesn't mean no sex, it just means use your imagination."

6. "When you wake up to the fact that your paper is Tory, just remember there are two sides to every story."

7. "They must declare their interests, but not their company cars. Is there more to a seat in parliament than sitting on your arse?"

8. "I've always been impressed with a girl who can sing for her supper and make breakfast as well."

9. "Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is. I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses."

10. "Your life has lost its dignity, its beauty, and its passion: you're an accident waiting to happen!"

Hilary Druxman goes from RWB to RRC

Druxman (left) and her new RWB-inspired collection.

Hilary Druxman is bringing class to the class on Monday, Dec. 7.

The renowned, Winnipeg-based jeweller launched her RWB-inspired jewelry collection this week; next week she comes to Red River College to review work produced by the CreComm advertising majors for her Winnipeg airport location.

The majors have had just over a month to put together recommendations for implementing an Integrated Marketing Communications (ad and PR) campaign with creative (including new media) as its backbone.

As I write this, Hilary and her team - including CreComm grad Christa Mariash - are looking over the campaigns in book form, and will choose some of their favorites to see presented in person at the college next week.

I met Hilary Druxman at last year's Red River College Directions Business Conference, where she spoke about embracing risk, commitment, and adaptability as an entrepreneur.

I had a chance to speak with her at the RWB launch, and was blown away by her approach to creativity and the seriousness with which she's reviewing the students' work.

The pictures in this post are from her RWB launch event in the Exchange District, just a couple of blocks away from the college's downtown campus. You can buy pieces from the collection online here.

Next week, Druxman launches her jewelry commissioned by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I wrote about the RRC Business Conference and Druxman opening the airport location here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Comedy Writing students rock the house, the mic, and the improv

McRobb (left) and MacKenzie.

It's fun to hang out after school and make stuff up.

Big thanks to CreComm grads and ImproVision members George McRobb and Alan MacKenzie for a rip-roaring improv seminar after school today (and for my annual reminder of how terrible I am at it - thanks for confirming it, Emily. Ha!).

An equally big thanks to the always awesome second-year Comedy Writing students for having the fortitude to show up well after normal "going home time" and bringing the house down, whether it was Janet beating up Jarrett:

Joel giving Kalen a "helping hand:"

Or Thor rockin' his two turntables and a microphone before freezing at a crucial moment in his Michael Jackson impression:

Thanks for the memories, the laffs, and the images that will never stop haunting my dreams.


Alan and George will be performing in these shows in the near future:

Alan in Paper Jack, Facebook link here. George in See Alice, Facebook link here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Kindler, gentler way to read?

I no longer need a newspaper for "kindling."

I got my Amazon Kindle in the mail a few hours ago; newly available in Canada, the device is supposed to change the very way we consume books, magazines, and newspapers by allowing us to download them digitally, the same way the iPod changed the way we listen to music.

Having shipped from the U.S. in a record three days, the Kindle cost me $259 U.S., plus the other $115 U.S. for the "It's Garry Shandling's Show" DVD box set I ordered along with it, for a grand total of $10 million.

The first thing that strikes you when you tear open the box is how compact and light it is. It's eight inches tall, five inches wide, and weighs just 10 ounces - lighter than a paperback, and way thinner.

Then, you simply plug it in, and turn it on. There, at the top of the screen, it said "Kenton's Kindle" - pre-registered and ready to roll through my Amazon account. Cool. If you get it for a gift, you just register when you get it and, presumably, the name changes (or you use it in perpetuity under the name "Aunt Bea," I guess).

The next thing you notice is the screen. It's downright bizarre: no glare or reflection on its surface whatsoever. It doesn't look like an iPhone screen or a page out of a book - more like an Etch A Sketch than anything.

Having weaned myself onto an iPhone earlier in the year, I can't stop myself from touching the Kindle screen, which feels very strangely like paper. When you do touch it...nothing happens, except you feel stupid for touching it.

Although the screen isn't in color - I'm sure that'll be a feature in the next edition - the resolution is pretty great, resembling more a painting than a pixelated image:

After marveling at the pretty pictures, I went through a short tutorial, which explains how to use the buttons, and headed straight to the newspapers - the topic of many a recent post (no, I don't really believe that bad spelling is a good idea, but I'll blame Socrates and his blasted "method").

Then, I headed straight to the newspaper downloads and found the New York Times. I downloaded today's edition for $1.99, and there it was, about a minute later.

A monthly subscription to the Times is a mere $27.99 a month - which is what I was paying just to get the Sunday issue delivered to my door a day late with the Globe and Mail.

I still haven't really figured out the best way to navigate the paper, but I had bigger fish to fry. Onward and upward!

Clicking on Canadian newspapers, I saw that I could only choose from four titles, though that might not be surprising, considering that the device is new in Canada. The titles: The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, and the Montreal Gazette.

Sorry, no Winnipeg Free Press or Sun for now. The Globe is $15.99 a month, the Post $14.99, the Sun $13.99, and the Gazette $13.99.

On first blush, hours out of the box, the Kindle's picture kicks butt, but I'm not sure if I'll find it more convenient than the iPhone and its touch screen, apps, cameras, voice memos, access to Twitter, text message, Flickr, email, YouTube, and electric razor (not yet, but...mark my words!).

The controls seem to be a bit clunkier than the iPhone, but I'll see how easy they are to get used to in the weeks ahead. I'll get back to you to let you know what I think.

In the meantime, has anyone else bought one yet, or plan to buy one? Yes or no, do tell.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How I'd save the local news (not that anyone's asking me)

Billy Idol - White Wedding
It's a nice day to staaaaaaaaaaart agaaaaaaaaainnnnnnn!

I write these pieces about saving the local news from time to time, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself.

It's just that the CRTC hearings have got my heart all aflutter, and my post yesterday - about the MTS ads on the front page of both newspapers - leaves me open to the big question: well, then, what would you do to save local news, hot shot.

Why, thanks for asking, governor!

How I'd save the local news:

1. I'd get some of our favorite, local, traditional, media outlets to team up.

I'm not talking about one media outlet buying another, I'm talking about a cooperative news-sharing arrangement.

First, we need to stop sniping at each other about "who scooped who," since people who consume the news don't care. I've heard CJOB report news I first read in the Free Press, I've seen the Free Press tweet news I first read in the Sun.

You all secretly love each other, so let's consummate this marriage already: CJOB + Winnipeg Free Press + CTV = Powerhouse!

2. I'd support it with new (and social) media.

After awhile, the new media part would be the only part. More on that in a sec.

Traditional media outlets need young people to consume their news. Young people are sexy to advertisers (and each other, but that's another blog post), and they're the demographic that advertisers will pay good money to reach.

Right now, the only place it can be reached with any degree of certainty is online and on the phone.

The iPhone hasn't invaded Canada at the rate it's invaded the U.S., but it will. At Lollapalooza in Chicago last summer, every kid had an iPhone, and that means that you - or your kids - will have one soon too.

I'd get a big, local sponsor to support the app. Canad Inns? The Canadian Museum for Human Rights? Manitoba Hydro? Great-West Life? Investors Group?

I'd update that sucker all day, all the time. It's not the size of the story that matters in the digital age, it's the story's timeliness.

I'd pay good money for that app.

And, as of yesterday, my Kindle is in the mail. Is yours?

3. I'd encourage participation by "everyone" and get rid of editors altogether.

Journalism only becomes vibrant when "some idiot with a laptop" participates in the discussion. And, if we've learned one thing about reading online, "journalism" is better when it doesn't have an editor.

"But editors check stuff!" Yeah, and stories are still wrong. So, let's just open it up already. More heresy: Don't edit (it pains me to say) typo-laden rants, blogs, or articles. Proper spelling only dampens the passion.

Disclaimer: not in school assignments, puh-lease. **Update: then again, maybe the whole notion of "spelling" is outdated. At least, that's what my text messages tell me: "whtrudoing2nite?"

4. For now, I'd only produce printed versions of the newspaper on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Then, when the Great-West Life actuarial charts tell me that all the old people are about to die, no print at all.

5. Goodbye "objective journalism."

With participation comes subjective journalism with diverse voices - a network of blogs comes to mind, for some strange reason - and let's not just have professional writers posting articles and blogs and the masses providing feedback.

6. I'd make journalism fall in love with PR.

C'mon, journalists, I've seen your resumes pour in when I've posted a PR job. I know you want a little PR lovin' - and here's your big chance!

Despite the notion of being immune to PR, journalists themselves are already "brand ambassadors" for their newspapers.

I realize that the idea of an objective journalist is that he (mostly) doesn't wear a shirt and tie, comb his hair, or get along with others, but I'd make "PR skills" a prerequisite for my journalists. Who can sell a newspaper more than people out in the community, everyday, talking to people?

Now that's buzz worthy of a BzzAgent - every time you talk to your sources, sell them on the iPhone app. People will read and pay for the news if they're in it.

7. I'd partner the local news with local schools, colleges, and universities.

Let's turn students into contributors and, therefore, readers.

I've seen some very lame attempts at this in the past - most notably, the Regina Leader-Post's God-awful section written by kids.

How about this model instead?

Assign one "experienced" journalist to oversee and organize an army of student "citizen journalists," who would file hyper-local online reports from their community beats.

The students get free experience, the online newspaper gets free stories. I'm not going to say it's a "win-win," because that's a terrible PR cliche. So I won't. But it is.

Of course, this would - again - require a journalist with PR skills: you may say I'm a dreamer, etc.

And this would also free up old-school reporters to do the important work of "being a watchdog" and "conducting investigative journalism."

One of the biggest rallying cries of supporters of traditional media is "the demise of investigative journalism will screw us all!"

As I pointed out on this post, investigative, in-depth journalism is impossible for TV to do, and something that newspapers used to excel at doing, yet local newspapers have almost completely abandoned it, because it's so expensive and time consuming.

But this is the "public service" part of journalism that makes it so valuable and worth saving.

8. I'd go all hyper-local all the time.

A busted fence on Wardlaw? Stop the presses!

It may sound crass, but that's what people want to read. As the former editor of many a corporate newsletter, I can tell you that "births and marriages" is easily the most-read part of any newsletter, followed by "who got promoted."


Here's the big question: how do we make money off of this thing?

As any PR person knows, you get people to buy into your idea by showing what's in it for them, encouraging participation, making it easy to take action, and selling it as a concise idea that "makes sense."As any advertiser knows, you make money by getting eyeballs.

As I've said, I'd pay good money for a Winnipeg News iPhone app, and I'd be surprised if there wasn't a high-profile local advertiser willing to sponsor it, like FedEx does with the NY Times app.

There's some money right there!

And if I'm wrong, which I may very well be, I'll end with one more quote from Rosenberg's book, Say Everything.
"As the profession of journalism tries to rescue itself from the wreckage of print and rethink its digital future, this is where its most knowledgeable practitioners and most creative students are doing their hardest thinking."
So, would anyone like to tell me where I'm wrong? Or right? Or what we could do to add to this? Or comment on what those dancers are doing in the White Wedding video? Please do!

Breaking news: fun flaps with apps!

It's a great day for advertising in your hometown when the "front page" of both newspapers features the massive news that...MTS has "lots and lots of apps."

However, it's probably not as great a day for journalism.

It may be an even a worse news day when the real front page is about someone getting stabbed to death. But that would be underneath the fun flap with apps.

It was just last week that I received an email from a reader who wondered whether my anti-print comments weren't actually anti-traditional journalism.

I opened my response with this:
"I don't disdain traditional journalism; in fact, I love it and consume it with fervor everyday. I hope that journalism - especially local journalism - cannot only live, but thrive in a new-media environment.

"My fear is that it can only happen with new readers. As an ad and PR instructor, my main frustration with the state of the newspaper biz is how some of the marketing solutions aimed at "the youth market" don't harness the power of the online world, or hit the demographic where and when it consumes information."
I meant it.

It wasn't my intention to give the impression that I hate traditional journalism, but as a PR instructor, I know how it happened: there's only so much I can hear about journalism being "the objective truth" and PR being "spin" before I've run out of coffee to spew from my mouth in mock surprise.

My usual response: "PR is more honest about its dishonesty."

Not bad, eh? You can use it!

If the front page of both of our newspapers is for sale on the same day to the same advertiser, maybe it's time to ditch the notion of "objective journalism" altogether.

As I'm fond of noting, reporters didn't always aim to be "neutral observers." Says Scott Rosenberg in his excellent book, Say Everything:
"Etched into the journalism school curriculum, these values (of objectivity) were held out as timeless verities, but in fact they were of relatively recent vintage. They had been shaped by the specific business needs of the publishing and broadcasting industries.

"As they consolidated markets and sought to sell advertising that might reach vast agglomerations of consumers, the peddlers of news found they couldn’t afford to alienate partisan populations of any stripe; neutrality was a prerequisite for profits.

"Yet vibrant journalism had existed without the benefit of such values — for example, in the pamphlet culture of late seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century Britain and Colonial-era America, or in the raucous partisan newspaper competition of the late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century urban United States. And vibrant journalism could plausibly survive their demise."
Lately, I've also been asking myself why I enjoy reading blogs written by amateurs more than reading "the real news" written by professionals.

It's tempting to quote the line often attributed to Wired's Chris Anderson, "A passionate amateur beats a bored pro," but to assume that all pro writers are bored isn't very nice.

Maybe its the inherent dispassion in traditional journalism that makes it a less vibrant ("boring?") read than the stuff by passionate people who are really riled up about something, and writing because they care about it.

So, if we free ourselves from the notion of objective journalism, and be upfront about where our biases lie, we can read exciting and passionate journalism everywhere.

Idea for the front page of tomorrow's Winnipeg Free Press: "MTS paid us a shitload of money yesterday to advertise on a flap over our front page."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Improve your improv with ImproVision

Shout out an occupation. Shout out a location. Shout out something funny for me to say.

ImproVision members, Fringe Fest veterans, and CreComm grads Alan MacKenzie and George McRobb come to Red River College's downtown campus next Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. to host an improv seminar at the Great-West Life Lecture Theatre.

The seminar is ostensibly for students in my second-year Comedy Writing class, but if you're not in that class and would still like to come to watch or participate, here's your big chance to not only do it, but to marvel at how terrible I am at improv. Honestly, be prepared for many a pratfall and "wah, wah, wah."

Afterward, we retire to the King's Head "to forget."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On advertising, economics, Ogilvy, and the hula hoop

Congratulations, students in my advertising class: tomorrow is the most boring class of the year!

Actually, the problem is just that it's about economics. To students in a writing program, it's like telling Superman, "Tomorrow's lecture will be about Kryptonite. Don't skip, now!"

So, instead of getting into the fear and greed cycle, value and growth investing, and Greenspan vs. Bernanke, and getting all TSX, Dow Jones, and NASDAQ on you, we're going to keep it simple, starting with the law of supply and demand and working our way up to "should you still advertise in a recession?"

When it comes to the law of supply and demand, there's no better scene than the one above, "the invention of the hula hoop," from the Coen Brothers' otherwise so-so film, the Hudsucker Proxy.

I've posted this clip before, but I can never get enough of seeing the kid start the hula-hoop craze (he was robbed at Oscar time), not to mention the winks to Brazil (the ducts) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (the warehouse).

I show this clip in advertising class every year, and I will again tomorrow, because it has almost everything anyone needs to know about economics, the four Ps of marketing, sales, buzz, the law of supply and demand, and creative brainstorming: "The Daddy-O!" "The Belly-Go-Round!" "The Shazzameter!" "The Wacky Circumference!"

Ogilvy weighs in on the recession

Another great resource for advertisers - apart from the clip, which is pretty great in and of itself - is Ogilvy and Mather's Yep, it's named after ad hero David Ogilvy and his book On Advertising.

The site gives free tips to advertisers - and you - on how to support and build brands during uncertain economic times. Topics include:
  • Turning shoppers into buyers;
  • Doing more with less;
  • Improving sales force performance;
  • The new PR.
There's lots of great stuff in these papers - charts, graphs, comparisons, and tips, including why you might be able to cut back on advertising during a recession and not see an impact on sales for three years, but why you might also see an deterioration on the impact of the customers' relationships with the brand in less than six months.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The first byline is the deepest - baby, I know!

"My first byline," by Fisher Price.

One of the great rites of passage for any writer is to pen something so awesome that it actually gets printed somewhere.

I guess that may change in the not-so-distant future - death to print! - but it still has cache for now.

The first time it happens, you spend a week gazing longingly at your byline and taking calls from your family and friends, who congratulate you profusely and tell you what a great writer you are.

They know you're a great writer, because they've concentrated on every one of your beautiful words. You know you're a great writer, because you've done the same.

Grandma sticks your article on the fridge. Mom has it framed. Lamination is not out of the question. Ex-girlfriends call to let you know that they've made a horrible mistake. You let them down gently.

After that, it's all downhill. No one ever notices your byline again. The clipping eventually falls off of grandma's fridge and she doesn't even bother picking it up. Mom and dad get divorced, and no one argues over who gets your story in the picture frame. You can have it. In fact, take it.

The people who notice your writing now notice how much they don't like it, and write letters to the editor to say so. The editor prints them. People agree.

"Why did I become a writer!?" you scream over a long shot of planet Earth, and no one answers your plaintive wail.

All the more important to "sing while you're winning," as Robbie Williams once called his album, and then - to prove his point - proceeded to never record a good album or hit single ever again.

I know from personal experience that I've never been able to surpass my greatest accomplishment as a writer: at age 10, I published an article as part of a "Here's to you, dad" feature in Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Hey, that's me with all the hair and that funky Hawaiian shirt in the article at the top of this post. Yet, I've somehow managed to let my great looks get in the way of my talent. Haw, haw.

Among my witty and clever observations in the article:

1. My dad sometimes works until 1 a.m.

2. He once went to Chicago for a week: the Winnipeg of the south.

3. Norman "Larceny" and "the liar" were hysterical puns in '77.

4. I once wanted to be a lawyer to "help people." Just like Johnnie Cochran!

5. Journalists are boozers. Lawyers don't like this.

6. My dad is rich. Share the wealth, dad!

7. He says, "In any event" a lot.

8. My jokes haven't gotten any better.

Also notable is that Jackie Freedman, a senior citizen at age 12, publishes an article in the same issue. In a bizarre coincidence, she and I ended up working at Assante together in the 90s. I was in the communications department and she (surprise!) was a lawyer.

No, it never got better than this article. Later on, I'd "grow up" and form a fondness for manipulating the media, writing ads that appeared in the media, and appearing in the media, but I - and everyone else - knew that it was only a shadow of my former glory as a 10-year-old writer at Canadian Lawyer Magazine.

Then again, I did come in third at Varsity View Community Centre's First Annual Spelling Bee, 1975, in grade group one and two, and still have the trophy to prove it:

But it was only a springboard to my true passion: finding the kids who won first and second place, beating them up, and stealing their trophies.

Bylines are temporary, but vengeance is forever!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loud cell-phone talkers: don't call us, we'll call you

I am Larry David. Hear me roar.

There are only two sins that I consider to be unforgivable:

1. Throwing trash on the ground.

2. Screaming into a cell phone in what's supposed to be a quiet, public place.

And the good and bad news is that I'm willing to back my belief with action and activism by being a "rudeness Nazi," which consists of fighting rudeness with rudeness in hopes of attaining that one, clear "teachable moment" where we all can hold hands and sing "Kum Ba Yah," nary a cell phone or piece of garbage in sight.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters.

Great balls of fire!

To prove it, here's a dance-remix collection of some of my greatest hits, not including "Great Balls of Fire:"
  • Picking up a Coke can freshly thrown out of a car window, and throwing it back from whence it came.
  • Picking up wrappers freshly dropped onto the ground, sneaking up behind the guy who dropped them, and surreptitiously putting them back into his coat pocket, where - I hope - he discovered them later, saw the error of his ways, and repented for all time.
  • Saying, "Shame on you" when a guy chucked his cigarette wrapper onto the sidewalk on Broadway. To my surprise, he picked it up. Shame works!
  • Rolling my eyes as I pick up someone's fresh garbage and make a grand show of it as I drop it into the recycling bin, as if to say, "See, it's right here. You could've done it. But you didn't. Because you're rude. And lazy. And don't care about the environment. You suck."
  • Waiting for a loud cell phone talker to reveal his (it's always a guy) phone number on the bus. When he does, writing it down, then calling him later on to politely let him know how rude he was (or still is) being.
  • Sitting next to a loud cell phone talker on the bus, and pretending that I'm on the other end of the conversation. Example:
Loud Cell Phone Talker (on cell phone): "Where we goin' tonight?"
Me (not on cell phone): "Applebee's?!"
I've found that these Larry David-inspired shticks get big laughs when I tell the stories later. However, men do seem to enjoy them more than women, which is usually the first sign you've embarked on something idiotic.

Of course, these seemingly harmless shenanigans can also get tense at times, because the offenders generally don't take kind to being publicly called out on being an idiot - though I'd argue that I'm just the guy making them aware of it. They were still idiots before I got involved, right? Right!

But so far, so good: I've lived to tell the tales. Whew.

Taking the sting out of rudeness

I thought about my little vigilantism hobby yesterday when I picked up the New York Times - yes, the very paper I've resolved to stop quoting so much in 2010 - and was delighted to see the article, "As the rudes get ruder, the scolds get scoldier."

Turns out that my side project is, in fact, a grassroots movement. And newsworthy, no less.

In the article, we meet:
  • Amy Alkon, an advice columnist, and woman after my own heart, employing my patented "call the caller" shtick. But she takes it a step further, posting the personal details she overhears from loud cell-phone talkers on her blog.
  • Vinnie Bartilucci, a computer programmer who places a small recording device next to people talking on their cell phones. When questioned, he replies, "Since you obviously want me to hear your conversation, I'd better keep a copy of it."
  • Shannon Stamey, who runs the Disaffected Scanner Jockey blog, where she regularly recounts tales of her confrontations with rude people - to the delight of her readers.
  • Lynne Brown, an office manager, who listens in to people's conversations, then asks them about personal details when she runs into them later. "Hey, how's that group therapy going?"
  • Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig - famous actors! - who recently broke character in A Steady Rain on Broadway to stick it to an audience member whose cell wouldn't stop ringing.
Can you fight rudeness with rudeness?

However, what had never really crossed my mind until yesterday is the question raised in the second part of the story: could it be that these "harmless pranks" aren't actually teaching anybody anything, just making the offensive person more defensive and doubling up on the rudeness?'s a good point, I guess. So, what's an anti-rude, rude activist to do besides embracing the irony?

The Times' floats this possibility: the card company, pardonMOI, which makes cards for strangers, like:
"Pardon MOI, I couldn't help but notice that you're talking too loudly on your cell phone...perhaps you could tone it down a little?"
And, for planes:
"Pardon MOI, I couldn't help but notice that your group is too loud...we're getting complaints from other planes."
Not bad. But it still doesn't change the fact that if your message isn't taken well by the offender, you're stuck in a plane with him 32,000 feet above planet Earth.

So, I've been thinking about another solution, which involves bringing the loud cell-phone talkers into another arena: art. Instead of insulting and ridiculing them, maybe we should celebrate them as "great artists," which is something that the Bud Light Real Men of Genius Campaign has already done, God bless 'em:

I've also considered a YouTube gallery of fame, not shame, in which we post a celebration of "Mr. Really Loud Cell Phone Talker Guys," who, as the above ad says, "Insist on ignoring the latest advances in cell phone technology," like this young man - the future Prime Minister of Canada, perhaps - and his enabler on a Winnipeg Transit bus:

At the end of each year, we vote, tally the results, and crown our very own King of Rudeness. The guy gets a key to the city, and is placed - sans cell phone - in a little chair at the top of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' Tower of Hope, where we affix him with display spotlights, a la Purple City.

At ground level will be a bronze plaque that reads, "I'm sorry. We can't hear you. You're breaking up. Good bye."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Into the Music's new sign: it's a love-Haight thing

It's the Autumn of Love in the Exchange, and that's not just the psychoactive drugs talkin'.

Actually, it's just Into the Music's new storefront signage, which harks back to the 1967 Summer of Love. Though Winnipeg may not have that year's climate of cultural and political rebellion, we do have an unseasonably warm November climate: the next best thing.

I love the sign's retro, mildly psychedelic typography, which reminds me of the storefront signage, logos, and artwork of the 1960s, most often associated with the hippie movement centered around San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district:

It also puts me in the mind of the new Sunkist logo. Turn on, tune in, drop out - drink up!

Update! And it just keeps getting better - now they've added a Statue of Liberty crown:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Memo to myself: New Year's resolution shortlist

Say you want a resolution.

Hey, so do I! So here's my New Year's resolution shortlist for 2010 - things I hope to reduce or stop doing altogether, though I wouldn't exactly put money down on my ability to do so:

1. Quoting the New York Times: I read in the New York Times that it's irritating.

2. Singing and whistling out loud. Though songs like this one (by Ewarde Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes) make socially acceptable. Right? Right!

3.Thinking about my own personal problems while other people are talking to me about theirs. What was that? I was just thinking about eating a tasty ham for dinner.

4. Laughing at my own jokes. But they're so damn funny! Ahahahahahahahahahahaha! Cough, cough.

5. Saying, "Wah, wah, wah" after something lame happens.

6. Buying CDs. I heard they're available online, for free. I'm going to look into it. I'm skeptical, but I'll get back to you if it's true.

7. Eating chips and pie after working out. On a treadmill, though, what else is there to think about?

8. Having murderous thoughts about the person using the bank machine in front of me. But honestly, are these people applying for mortgages, recording a segment for Speakers' Corner, and ordering takeout, or what?

9. Hand-drumming on desks and table tops. Me waiting for someone at Red Lobster:

10. Cursing like a sailor. But when I'm vacuuming and stub my toe against a table, so few other words seem to fit.

Wah, wah, wah.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The best album cover of all time - a triumph of plagiarinspiration!

Maybe you can tell an album by its cover.

It's the Clash's London Calling - the best punk/rock album of all time with the best cover: a photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass at the Palladium, New York, Sept. 21, 1979. My 12th birthday!

The iconic album turns 30 one month from today. I'll bet we could persuade the King's Head to put it on repeat that night: can't wait for the Death or Glory drunken singalong at closing time, as we spill out onto the streets to go fight each other at the Alexander Docks.

Elvis cover version

The cover was designed by Ray Lowry around a photograph by Pennie Smith. The latest issue of Q Magazine quotes Lowry claiming "plagiarinspiration." Great word!

Proving the adage that intelligence borrows and genius steals, the typography is lifted right off of Elvis Presley's 1956 album cover (another great album, by the way).

There was never an Elvis v. the Clash copyright lawsuit, but even if there was, I think the Clash could honestly claim parody: Elvis celebrates the guitar, the Clash destroys it.

So much for graphic design school.

Take a picture, it'll last longer

Smith's photo of Simonon (paying tribute to Pete Townshend) almost didn't make it. She thought it was too out of focus. Q quotes her: "I ducked. He was closer than it looks."

Townshend: another boring day at the office.

The original, out-of-focus photo has been displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and was named the best rock and roll photo of all time by Q Magazine in 2002.

So much for photography school.

Parodist, be parodied

Fittingly, the Clash's album cover has been subject to hundreds of tributes and parodies over the years, from Tony Hawk's American Wasteland video game to Big Audio Dynamite's F-Punk album - the Clash's Mick Jones reclaiming what is rightfully his - not to mention every accordion and keyboard player who ever put out an album, except, strangely, Weird Al. Get on it, Al!

"I've never landed a move ever!"

"Take that, Gummi Bears!"

"Vista works like crap!"

"I came for the uke, I stayed for the puke."

"For the love of Elton John, put the keyboard down!"


The Clash's Mick Jones called. He wants his artwork back.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The loudest noise in this Minute Rice ad comes from the electric copy


If you need to write an ad with loads of copy, Minute Rice can help.

It's nice to see Minute Rice bringing back long copy in its print ads - Ogilvy style! - by framing the product with a list of hundreds of things that take up time in the day, including: "change a diaper, RSVP for party, practice public speaking, and clean crayon drawing of "Mommy" off wall."

Its simple message in red typeface: "We can help." The Minute Rice website address also appears in red typeface at the bottom of the page.

Of course, ad guru David Ogilvy (not one, but two shout-outs on Mad Men this year) was a fan of long copy; he said the best headline he ever wrote was this very long one for Rolls-Royce: "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."

His argument: it's so rare for someone to actually read anything in your ad, you might as well reward the few who do with copy that actually tells them something and makes them say, "I didn't know that!"

While this ad does the former and probably not the latter, I like that you can read it in a minute, or for 20 minutes, and the message still works.

And now, gotta get back to changing the diaper and cleaning the crayon drawing of Mommy off the wall - though I'm not sure why, since I don't have any kids.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gordon Brown's typos: bad penmanship, poor vision, or disrespect?

In the age of the mangled-beyond-all-recognition text message, it looks like typos still matter.

In the above video clip, British PM Gordon Brown apologizes after the mother of a dead UK soldier took offense at Brown's handwritten letter of condolence, where he misspells a slew of words, including her last name ("James" instead of "Janes") and "cumfort" instead of "comfort," even scribbling over her deceased son's name, Jamie.

The original story:

Brown has sent a handwritten letter to the survivors of every soldier killed in action, which is the minimum gesture one might expect from a country's leader, but Brown is also known for his notoriously bad handwriting, grammatical, and spelling skills. Recipe for disaster.

Some are defending Brown, saying that the typos are a result of his being blind in one eye from a teenage rugby accident, but I've never heard of a link between being blind in one eye and being a poor speller. As an instructor, I have to say, "I'll need to see a doctor's note on this one."

Regardless of political posturing from either side, it's pretty clear that Brown should have simply taken some time to write the letter, had someone read it over - hello, PR department? - and then taken some more time to rewrite it again properly. Hey, even Wikipedia has a volunteer typo team!

"There are no good writers, just good rewriters," right? Write!

On Remembrance Day, I always think of Roger Waters' "When the Tigers Broke Free," a moving song about a soldier's sacrifice and the pitiful scroll his family gets from King George in return for his life:
"And kind old King George
Sent mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall, in the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf and all.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp
To remember his majesty signed with his own rubber stamp."
We've taken care of the rubber stamp, now let's take care of the typos.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

KFC: fried chicken looks healthier when surrounded by salads

Seasoned greetings and a happy new heart attack!

I was reading Chatelaine magazine the other day - I like to read it while I watch my stories - and came across this ad for KFC.

Why, it almost makes KFC, the maker of Chicken Bowls, and the all-meat Double Down sandwich (which helpfully replaces bread with meat to the tune of 1,200 calories), look healthy.

It's all part of KFC's Audacity of Hoplessness - I mean, "Rediscover KFC" - campaign in which KFC tries to turn around its image by promoting a healthier lifestyle that somehow still involves eating buckets and buckets of greasy chicken with your loved ones.

According to the ad and KFC website, the boneless, skinless chicken fillets are prepared in store and hand-tossed in 11 herbs and spices - a poor choice of words, perhaps, considering the recent fiasco at Domino's, where there was altogether too much in-store hand-tossing going on.

As Rob Walker once pointed out in Slate:
"In a particularly brilliant maneuver, KFC's press release suggests that you can make its chicken even more healthy by removing the skin. You have to appreciate the comedy of telling people to buy fried chicken and then toss the skin away. I only wish they'd had the guts to go further and point out that you can make your KFC bucket-meal healthier still by removing the skin, and then throwing away the chicken and preparing yourself a nice salad."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hey, Maslow, rank this: the hierarchy of daily workplace communications

"Solitary man, that's what I...oh, sorry, is that me ringing?"

I spend most of my day teaching.

Then, I go back to my desk and check my cell phone, landline phone, blog comments, emails, Tweets, RSS feeds, hand-in basket, mail, and Post-It Notes people have stuck to my desk, computer, and ample (and supple) forehead.

Never before has humankind been so liberated and enslaved by so many potential ways to talk and to be talked to; it's more challenging than ever to not only consider all of the potential ways we can choose to communicate with each other, but to determine the hierarchy of importance for each new bell, whistle, vibration, light, ringtone, bleep, beep, and tweet vying for our attention.

All Maslow jokes aside - and, yes, there are tons of Maslow jokes - here's my hierarchy of daily workplace distractions and communications, in order of most to least important:

1. Birthday cake with a card on my desk: it's my birthday?! Ignore all other messages now! I love cake! Pies too! Powdery donuts are also great in a pinch! I'm not picky.

2. Coffee-run offer: you can offer to buy me a coffee and I will take you up on that offer, and talk to you about anything at all, because I love tasty coffee so much, it makes every conversation wonderfully magical, even the ones in which someone is yelling at me.

3. Cell-phone rings: the first thing that pops into my head is, "How did somebody get this number?!" Since I have precious few friends, family, or loved ones and even fewer with whom I trust the sanctity of my cell phone number. Which means I can watch my stories, read my books, and drink my beers in peace and without interruption. Yay!

4. Cell-phone vibrates: that's an email or text message. I get about a million emails a month and five text messages. So, I give those text messages priority, just like you feed the purple cow first in a field of Jerseys. But, I still text in complete sentences and with impeccable grammar, just to differentiate my brand in a crowded landscape of "wht r u up2s."

5. Landline message-light: someone has left me a message on my landline phone, because he or she wishes to keep me chained to my desk via a chord (some would say, "noose") that stretches a foot or so, giving me the freedom to do nothing but talk.

Usually, a landline call is someone looking for somebody more important than me, but hopes that I somehow have more direct access to that person. Example: "Hey, Kenton, it's Gerry Barrett. Have you got Trevor Boris's phone number?"

6. Blog-comment alert: means that my most-loyal reader, CreComm grad and blogger extraordinaire Wade Argo, has read my post, and written something even better in response to it. Watch the comments section below to see what I mean.

7. Post-It Note: on a computer screen, it means: "You must ignore the stuff on the computer screen for now, because I've covered it with this Post-It Note." A powerful but temporary distraction - for a greater impact, they should really make Post-It Notes with Krazy Glue on the back. You know it's crazy, because it's spelled with a "K!"

8. Tweet: means that Ashton Kutcher just had Corn Flakes for breakfast.

9. RSS feed/Google Alert: notifies me instantly when someone Googles my name, so I can wonder, "Who is Googling my name at an Australian prison?"

10. Hand-in basket is full: assignments have come in that will take me the next six days to mark. Question: would you rather write one assignment or mark 30? When it comes to homework, there are truly no winners in the educational system.

11. Face-to-face conversation: means that I'm in trouble for having ignored any or all of the above messages. Nine times out of 10, it's because the person confronting me has spelled "Larsen" with an "o" instead of the much friendlier and hygienic -looking "e" in an email. Somewhere, these emails sit, waiting for a response that will never come. Brings a tear to eye, doesn't it?

11. Facebook friend request: someone who rejected me in high school would like to touch base to rekindle those feelings of insecurity and despair that I've been barely hiding beneath the surface for the last decade. OK, I'll be your friend - just stop punching me in the arm, OK? OK!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

USA Today sticks it to the NYT and WSJ in attempt to attract more Jesus ads

USA Today sticks it to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in an ad in yesterday's edition.

Headlined, "The real No. 1 is USA Today and has been for 10 years," the ad is the latest shot in a battle pitting major American newspaper titans against one another as they compete for an ever-declining pool of ad dollars.

Jesus ad dollars! More on that in a second.

Citing the Sept. 30 ABC FAS-FAX Report in the ad's small print, USA Today says it's "No. 1 in daily print circulation" at about 1.9 million copies - "total paid circulation minus electronic editions."

Add electronic editions to the mix, and WSJ is at number one.

The bad news

USA Today leaves out the larger news in the same ABC report, as reported by Editor & Publisher, which is that the newspaper industry is up shite's creek:
"ABC reported that for the 379 newspapers filing with the organization, average daily circulation plunged 10.6% to 30,395,652 - one of the most severe drops in overall circulation. USA Today had earlier announced a 17% hit."
I've always liked USA Today - the short articles and colorful graphics always seemed like a perfect fit for online consumption, and its website was among the first to embrace the idea that a news site should be updated all of the time, even when people are sleeping.

All three newspapers have great online editions and ass-kicking iPhone apps, though the Wall Street Journal just started charging for its app, and the USA Today app - though available in Canada - can't find it in its heart to locate Winnipeg; sadly, its GPS-based weather function tells me that I'm living in Noyes, MN.

Calling all advertisers!

Apart from that, USA Today's ad is notable for drawing the reader - make that "the advertiser" - to its online media kit, where it makes its best pitch for advertising in the paper.

The media kit even makes public USA Today's rate card:

2009 Usa Today Rate Card

It's interesting to know that a full-page, national, color ad in USA Today costs: $231,000; you get a 26 per cent discount for buying $8 million worth of ads and up; and that USA Today's themeline is "We're all in this together."

In what? A declining industry?

Which makes it all the more interesting that the paper, in the same edition, features a quarter-page ad from in its Travel section that explains, "Eight Compelling Reasons why: Christ is Coming Very Soon!," one of which is "Explosion of travel and education."

We're all in this together!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Applebee's Remembrance Day promotion: buy three, get one free!

Pass the freedom fries.

Applebee's Canada is offering Canadian veterans a Remembrance Day promotion aimed at the heart. Yet there's something about it that may not sit well with the stomach.

The promotion: show proof of your military service on Remembrance Day, and you can select one of six Applebee's signature entrees for free.

Seems like a nice idea on the surface, until you stop to think about it: is this simply a nice way to say thanks to veterans, a cynical attempt at building brand image by associating a family restaurant with military heroism, or a little of both?

The devil is in the details: to get the free entree, you need to show military ID, show up in uniform, or have a photograph with you in which you appear in military uniform. Further, the promotion is at "participating restaurants," "from a limited menu only," and "beverages and gratuity are not included."

Maybe I've just grown jaded and cynical in my medium age, but it also occurs to me that, at a time when family restaurants are hurting for business, giving away one free meal for a promotion clearly marketed to families (see the above screen capture from the Applebee's Canada website) is literally the very least you can do to say "thanks" to our veterans.

Maybe it's just me, but I always thought that the best way a business could honor veterans on Remembrance Day is to close for the day. Quaint.