Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do you have to let it linger? Things we should've left behind in the last century...


Split Enz has a beef with history.

"History never repeats." - Split Enz
Split Enz, of course, is a band we left behind in the 20th Century, proving that maybe its song has a point.

But for every Split Enz, there's something else that we still have to deal with that should've been taken care of years ago. As the Cranberries (another band we've left behind, I hope) once said, "Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?"

No, you don't have to let it linger, Cranberries. In fact, maybe we all have a duty to try to intervene to stop certain things from lingering. If you don't believe me, just watch the Back to the Future films.

If we can't take care of this stuff, how will we ever have floating cars, robot butlers, and giant domes protecting our cities from alien attacks?

1. Actor/singers - I thought we were done with the actor/singer phenomenon when we finished with Minnie Driver, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Lopez - but just when you think it's safe to visit iTunes again, up pop Scarlett Johansen, Jamie Foxx, and Juliette Lewis.

William Shatner, however: keep on keeping on!

2. Litter - Cigarette butts outside RRC, empty beverage containers strewn along Corydon, random stuff tossed from cars, broken bottles under children's feet, bodies strewn across the dead-end street. If we can't stop ourselves from the most basic insult to the environment - chucking our crap on the ground because we don't want to carry it a block - how will we crack global warming?

3. Self absorption - I'm sorry, what was I talking about here? I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the computer screen and was momentarily distracted by my wonderous beauty.

4. Crappy mainstream movies - While TV keeps getting better and better, mainstream movies keep getting crappier and crappier, right Mudflap and Skids? No more robots, explosions, car chases, wisecracking buddies, or villains bent on world domination, please - unless you're District 9, in which case: more of all of the above.

5. Plastic surgery as a beauty aid - Does growing old gracefully really mean having that puffy, plasticky look of constant surprise? Mary Tyler Moore and Joan Rivers paved the way, Jessica Lange and Meg Ryan followed, and now even a supposed regular guy like Billy Crystal has plastic surgery. As Greg Proops once said of Mary Tyler Moore: "Sure, she looks young. Like the youngest raptor in all Jurassic Park."

6. Ads before movies - There are some places where advertising doesn't work: before movies is one of them. I just paid $50 for a bag of popcorn and a drink: do I really need to watch ads now too?

7. Smoking on patios - It's unsafe for me to inhale second-hand smoke inside, but not on a patio? This beautiful, sunny day is sponsored by Lucky Strike!

8. Cell phone conversations/text messaging during movies - For all that's right and good and decent in the world, let's block those cell phone signals in movie theatres already.

9. Mariah Carey - A post-Glitter Mariah Carey? Who would've thunk it?

10. Outrageously expensive concert tickets - $240 to see Dane Cook? I saw Cook at the Pyramid Cabaret in the front row for $15 no more than a handful of years ago when he was still hilarious. Now he's not as funny and...the prices go up? Who knew that price and hilarity are inversely related?

11. Rudeness disguised as "just being honest" - It's only OK to insult and demean others on the grounds of "just being honest" if you're also willing to listen to what others think of you in return. Just being honest!

12. U2 - I knew "Pride (in the Name of Love)" U2, and "Get on Your Boots" is no "Pride (in the Name of Love)."

13. Lists - Especially ones about things we should've been done with last century.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Apple pancakes and computers, anyone?

Heaven called. It wants its storefront back.

How do you like dem Apples?

Today the Red River College advertising majors and I visited Polo Park to conduct some of the most important market research advertisers and marketers can ever do, but - ironically - they often forget about: personal observation.

Hangin' in "the Mac lab."

Among the questions we hoped to answer:
  • Why do people shop the way they do?
  • How long does it take shoppers to make a purchase decision?
  • What are people buying? Which purchases appear to be "impulse-buys?"
  • Who's in the mall at 10:30 a.m. on a Monday?
  • Who are they with? What are they talking about? Etc...
  • What do salespeople think of their shoppers' behavior?
  • What differentiates the Apple Store from other stores in the mall?
  • Predictions for the Apple Store's future success or failure?
  • Are there any Hilary Druxman - this semester's client - competitors in the mall?
  • If so, how do they compare to Hilary Druxman?

Growing kids need their pancakes.

Technically, the assignment meant that we were stalking store employees and customers, but officially it meant that we were, as I said, "conducting valuable market research."

The good folks at the Apple Store were only too happy to comply; one employee even volunteered to pose for a picture, but I declined his offer on the grounds of "not wanting to look too creepy," which has never stopped me before.

And I do believe that, if my observations of Thor at A&W are on the money, Polo Park registered a drastic uptick in sales during our visit. As the PR cliche goes: "A win-win scenario!"

Gina has her computer encased in solid carbonite.

Last observation: all classes on Monday at 9 a.m. should be at the mall.

Uncut namechecks Young, Winnipeg, and "Calvin" High


Keep on spellin' in the free world!

The latest issue of Uncut - a British music magazine - namechecks "the 69 key players indebted to the revolutions of John, Paul, George, and Ringo."

At number 50 is "Neil Young of Winnipeg," who we find out first sang "It Won't Be Long" and "Money (That's What I Want)" in the "Calvin" High School cafeteria.

Errr....that's "Kelvin," methinks. Great feature, though. Cheers, Kenton.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ten great things about going to last night's Blue Bombers game

1. Sitting in the best seats in the house - the free ones:


2. The fans in the cheap seats sure know how to party:



3. The upper deck has a roof:


4. Sitting right next to "the victory cannon" is a constant reminder that there's a war going on in Afghanistan.

5. My students show up at the game knowing that they're going to have to interview people and write a story. I show up at the game knowing that I'm going to have to eat a hot dog and enjoy a beer.

6. Luke-warm, oddly moist stadium hot dogs remind me of Luke Skywalker, oddly moist moisture vaporators:


7. Despite trying their best, the Bombers actually didn't lose.

8. Free hats!


9. More free hats!


10. There was a game?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm not half the man I used to be. It's Yesterday's fault.


Opportunity knocks for Paul McCartney of Liverpool.


I'm no Rockefeller, but I'm a feller who rocks, so I was recently gifted with not one but two Beatles box sets containing every, last thing the band has ever recorded - in stereo and mono, no less.

As it is, I listen to, think and write about the Beatles altogether too much for a normal human. But the box sets have taken my unhealthy love for the band and turned it into a dangerous addiction; you know that something's up when you have a dream that you're directing the movie "Help!" and you wake up angry that Ringo won't take the film shoot more seriously.

Seriously!

You also know that something's not right when every time you see your reflection in a window, you instantly think:
Why she had to go
I don't know, she wouldn't say.
I said something wrong,
Now I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay...
It's pretty incredible that "Yesterday," Paul McCartney's two-minute acoustic ditty buried at the end of the second side of a soundtrack ("Help!" - the film I dreamed I directed!), has the power to take a bright and sunny day and really make you feel crappy. But in a good way!

I think about this song a lot.

What is it about "Yesterday," especially in light of everything that the Beatles ever recorded, that makes it the song with the staying power? I don't know, I can't say. I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay...sorry, got carried away there.

Part of it probably has something to do with the universality of the lyrics - they're vague, which means that everyone can relate or read into them. The song also has an air of mystery, which is the magic ingredient in most things to which we feel loyalty beyond reason.

Even the narrator doesn't know why "she" had to go - and the girl's not saying. So, the guy says something stupid, and now there's nothing left for him to do but remember how it used to be and long for something he can never get back.


Ray believes in Yesterday.


So does Frank.

Musically, "Yesterday" is deceptively simple: Paul sings with a string quartet for two minutes. In reality, it's more complicated than it seems.

Wikipedia, help me out here:
"The first section ("Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...") opens with a positive F-major chord, then moving to E-minor before resolving to its relative A-major and thence to D-minor.

"In this sense, the opening chord is a decoy; as musicologist Allan Pollock points out, the home key (F-major) has little time to establish itself before "heading towards the relative D-minor." He points out that this diversion is a compositional device commonly used by Lennon and McCartney, which he describes as "delayed gratification."
Yeah, and the melody's purty too!

Dreamy, man

It's fitting that I dreamed I directed "Help!" because Paul McCartney dreamed that he wrote "Yesterday," and then he did. Does that mean I have to direct the film now?

Thinking he had "cryptomnesia" - a bogus disease that means you plagiarized someone without knowing it - McCartney asked everyone he knew if they'd ever heard the song.

Once convinced he'd really written it, he wrote the words and called it "Scrambled Eggs." I guess, "I believe in scrambled eggs" didn't have the necessary gravitas he was looking for, so "Yesterday" was born.

Between you and me, I believe in yesterday and scrambled eggs equally. And I believe that Elvis probably did too:



Domingo, Duck, Dylan, detractors

Though not initially released as a single in the U.K., the Guinness Book of World Records says that "Yesterday" is the most-recorded song in the history of civilization at 3,000 cover versions and counting, and Broadcast Music Incorporated says it has been "performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone" by everyone from Domingo to Duck to Dylan:


O Sole Yesterdio!


I believe in Quacksterday.


The Yesterdays they are a-changin'.

The song is not without its detractors; Bob Dylan, even though he recorded the above version of the song, never released it and made it be known that he thought there were better songs "in the Library of Congress."

John Lennon apparently wasn't a fan, nor were George Harrison and Starr, who thought the song was too different from the other Beatles songs to be a single. This may have been the first case of a band preventing one of its members from "going solo;" if only No Doubt and Wham! had considered doing the same, imagine what they could've done.

Then again, they might have done this:


Lushterday...

Cheer up, old chap, the sun'll come out tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Question of the day: how do you spell "Khaddafy?"

If only we could agree on what to call the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, my life would be complete.


How do you solve a problem like Libyan leader Moammar Khaddafy?

Not the guy, just the spelling of his name.

Among our options:
  • Gaddafi;
  • Khaddafy;
  • Qaddafi;
  • Gadhafi;
  • Qadhafi;
  • Kadafi;
  • Gathafi.
  • Muammar;
  • Moammar;
  • Mu’ammar;
  • Mummer;
  • Moamar.
Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope website explains:
"The basic problem here is that (1) there is no generally accepted authority for romanizing Arabic names, and (2) the Mummer's name contains several sounds that have no exact equivalent in English.

"In standard Arabic, the initial consonant qaf is pronounced like a throaty k, midway between the English k and the German ch, as in Bach. The second consonant, dhal--two dhals, actually--is pronounced like a double dh, which is similar to English th, only with the tongue pulled back a bit behind the teeth.

"Regional pronunciation differences further complicate matters. Libyans tend to pronounce qaf like a hard g, which has inspired a whole different set of spellings."
Apparently you can't ask Khaddafy how to spell it, because he doesn't care one way or another (even his personal website spells it inconsistently).

Maybe that's a good thing: take Kim Jong-il, who once sentenced a journalist to six months' hard labor at a pig farm for forgetting to write the last syllable of his name. Suddenly that 50-per-cent-off-your-mark-for-a-typo rule doesn't seem so harsh, eh?

I was going to e-mail Khaddafy to ask him how to spell his name, but the "contact us" button is only "coming soon." Maybe I'll write Prime Minister Steephine Hurphur instead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Warning: Velvet covers may cause drowsiness


Two sure signs that a band is coasting or running out of ideas:

1. The band's main songwriter is sucking his thumb and lying under a desk in the fetal position.

2. The band records a cover version of a song from the Velvet Underground and Nico album.

A classic that didn't sell when it was released in 1967, Wikipedia calls the Velvet Underground and Nico, "One of the most influential and critically acclaimed rock albums in history."

If you're desperate for material, that's not a bad place to start. And, for the sorry entertainer with a hankerin' for some artistic credibility, an added bonus is that people's unfamiliarity with the original songs might even make them think that you wrote them yourself.

Ahhh, instant creativity, credibility, gravitas, authenticity, and karma at your fingertips.

Make sure the candy's in the original wrapper...

When one band covers another band's song, it might make for a pleasant diversion, make you chuckle at its clever irony, and even earn some money for the original artist. But the best version of a song is almost always by the person who wrote it.

I love Ray Charles' "Yesterday," for example, but Paul McCartney's is better, because he's the dude who thought it up and called it "Scrambled Eggs." Sorry, Ray. Or do I just apologize to Jamie Foxx now?

I once saw a Bob Dylan concert with a family member who said, "He played "Blowin' in the Wind" wrong." Uh, no he didn't: he wrote it, which makes the version he just played the definitive version.

Applied to the Velvet Underground, the law of diminishing returns is laid bare. As one of the greatest albums of all time, is there really something that we're missing in "Femme Fatale" that only Duran Duran can bring to the fore?



Didn't think so.

Bad cover version

Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker sings of disappointment in the aptly named "Bad Cover Version:"
Such great disappointment when you got him home
The original was so good; the one you no longer own.
It's not easy to forget me, it's so hard to disconnect
When it's electronically reprocessed to give a more lifelike effect.
It's worth noting that Pulp's biggest hit, "Common People," got covered by William Shatner - and it's actually pretty great. But Cocker may just as easily have been talking about Bryan Ferry's version of VU's "All Tomorrow's Parties:"



Or Simple Minds' lame version of the same:



At its worst, a bad cover version can be so bad that people may not even recognize it as your composition. In the case of Billy Idol's "Heroin" dance remix, it may be a blessing:



If nothing else, it's nice to know that an ability to make great music isn't a prerequisite to liking it, which might explain why there's a need for a band like OMD to cover VU: to prove that they're not the synthy sissies we might otherwise think them to be (say that fast three times):



Good cover version

Perhaps the best Velvet Underground cover of all time is by the VU's own drummer, Maureen "Moe" Tucker, who does a hypnotic take on her own band's "I'm Waiting For the Man." Perversely, the song isn't available on YouTube or even the Internet, it seems, but you can download a 30-second sample here.

Tucker recorded the song with Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale, otherwise known as - you guessed it - the Velvet Underground:



For a complete list of Velvet Underground covers, check out the Velvet Underground Covers Project.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Robin's Donuts: Can I get a little service over here?

Touched by a Robin's employee: apple fritter and cinnamon bun.

Old joke:
Restaurant customer: "Hey, can I get a little service over here?"

Server: "I'm already giving you as little as possible."
The joke could be about Robin's Donuts on Provencher - a place where, from time to time, my Dad and I have met for Sunday morning coffee and donuts - and that has among the most consistently clueless customer service I've ever seen; that is, when a rare customer does dare enter the mostly empty establishment:

Does this look like "Service Veritable" to you?

The reason I use "clueless" instead of "terrible" to describe the service is that the staff is almost charming in its consistent lack of concern for the poor schmo on the other side of the counter; with alarming regularity, the employee's fingers pierce the (stale) donuts before he or she plunks them onto the (clean?) tray, sans tray liner.

The added pleasure of having your server "go to the back to get change" - disappearing for 10 minutes at a time - is the icing on the donut.

On a recent visit, I also noted a higher-than-usual number of unencumbered "sneezing incidents" that made me wonder whether Winnipeg's swine flu outbreak would come to us in the form of a chocolate eclair.

It would almost be funny if it didn't have the feel of watching someone's livelihood go down the toilet in slow motion. To get customers and maintain a business, you have to do certain things: like offer a quality product and treat customers like they matter.

Otherwise, all you've got is grumpy people serving stale food; and where's the competitive advantage in that?

Hate versus just clownin' around: a tale of two covers

The latest cover of New York gives Obama a makeover...

...while Time's cover gives Beck some tongue.

Racist haters or silly billies?

There appears to be a slight blip between viewpoints when you compare the latest covers of Time and New York magazines, perhaps the result of increased media fragmentation and the need to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comforted" to attract a niche, but regular stable of readers.

(Remember: part of Newsweek's latest strategy is to attract fewer readers, which I wrote about here.)

Personally, I find it hard to downplay Obama posters featuring Hitler mustaches, swastikas, and whiteface as "just clowning around," but Time prefers to look on the sunny side of life by writing a virtual love letter to conservative commentator Glenn Beck - the guy, you'll recall, who calls Obama a racist.

Time Magazine does call Beck a "pudgy" and "weeping" phenomenon, but only as a lead in to compare him to Oprah and Dr. Phil and to congratulate him on being a "gifted entrepreneur."

"Time" for a change

Regardless of what one might think of the content, the article is a path well trodden for Time magazine. "Is Glenn Beck bad for America?" it asks.
  • Or when it gave Ann Coulter the cover in April, 2005, and called her "Ms. Right."
  • Or in December 1995 when it gave Newt Gingrich the cover as "Man of the Year."
Here, Glenn Beck gives himself credit for predicting the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City - and preparing his family for when it happens again:



"Gifted entrepreneur" or "the enduring rot in American politics?" Hmmmm....tough call!

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to pluck your career in television



What the pluck was he thinking?

Here's something you don't see on the TV news every day: it's New York WNYW anchor Ernie Anastos dropping the F-word, and smilin' away, like he doesn't know what he's just said.

The expression on the face of co-anchor Dari Alexander says it all: "Kill me, please!"

Anastos apologized on tonight's newscast, though he didn't say what he'd really meant to say, which was either "plucking" or the word he actually did say.

Either way, this clip is likely to live on YouTube and online forever more. Poor guy - he's plucked!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Contempra Signs: proofreading's extra, then?

I'll take an "E" and an apostrophe, Pat.

In the course of any given day, I see roughly 10 signs or more with typos.

What makes the sign pictured here even more special than the nine others I see is that it's located on the fence at Contempra Signs, a company that designs and manufactures signs for its customers.

C'mon, Contempra, when you're a sign company, every sign on your property is an ad - for you. All you need is a paintbrush, red paint, and a dictionary, and all will be right with the world.

"Your" welcome.

Is it art, political statement, shelter, or all three?

House of Representatives, I presume?
"And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may say to yourself, "Well - how did I get here?"- Talking Heads
I'm now officially a home owner!

Just kidding. I was walking down McDermot Street today, and came upon this weird shanty - or is it art? - made of wood and political signage.

It's not clear what this place is or who lives here, but he or she is clearly not choosy when it comes to Canadian political parties, and - if the sign in the neighboring window can be believed - he or she wants us to help "Save the Alphabet House."

Discuss.

The Apple Store: a lifetime pass at the Polo grounds

Learning at the Apple Store is fun and yellow!

Come to shop, return to learn.

This Saturday, the Apple Store opens at Polo Park, and it looks like it'll be hammering its way into our market with some good, old-fashioned public relations.

When you peruse the Polo Park Apple Store home page, you see "community relations" - a classic PR "app" - everywhere:

1. Apple Youth Workshops: where families can learn how to compose a song, make a movie, photo album, or presentation.

2. Apple Store Field Trips: take your class there today for an "unforgettable learning experience."

3. Hands-On Workshops: where you can get personalized instruction to learn more about the iPod, iPhone, and Mac.

4. The Genius Bar: where you can make reservations to get help with your Apple product.

Of course, if you need a sign-language interpreter, there's an app for that. Or if you need assistance learning about going from a PC to a Mac, there's an app for that too.

Retail meets education

I recently asked the question, "Could the retail revolution be an educational revolution?"

I'd just swung by the Apple Store on North Michigan Ave. in Chicago and was surprised to walk into a computer class in progress at the back of the store. As I said at the time:
"My eyes and apple-shaped heart lit up at the very possibility that with a little thought and promotion, this setup could really work - for the store and for eduction; instead of bringing the students to the school, you could bring the school to the students, wherever it is they happen to be."
Classes at the Apple Store? Wouldn't that feel more like a social outing than a class?

I would certainly hope so. My attitude would be "who cares," as long as students still show up for class, are engaged, and "learn about how they're learning" as part of the curriculum.

It would be a natural fit for an advertising, marketing, or PR class, but maybe not as good a fit for something like - oh - religious studies.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt Apple to brand that attractive logo into the hearts and minds of children, teens, and adults everywhere, who would continue to love (and buy) Apple products for the rest of their lives.

You don't need the Genius Bar to tell you that this is a smart strategy and a neat trick: providing great customer service - because it's the right thing to do - while getting your customers to believe in your brand - to love it beyond all reason! - without even realizing how it happened.



Neil Diamond comin' back for one, more bite of the apple (Store?).

Let's restore the Swine Flu brand to its former glory!

A logo worth oinking about: from NBC Nightly News.

It's no Nike swoosh, but it still makes me want to "Just Do It!"

Last night, NBC Nightly News flashed this old-school Swine Flu logo from 1976.

I love how the artist takes something nasty - the Swine Flu - and "dresses it up" to make it look like something you might actually want to consume. Mmmmm.....tasty and nutritious swine flu!

I think I may have found the modern-day equivalent:

"Ain't no tuition for having no ambition..."

**Update: I was loathe to forget to point out that the Swine Flu logo is clearly a tribute to Coca-Cola. And just as refreshing, I'm told.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The thwee Ws of wude: Wilson, Williams, West


Question of the week and our times: whatever happened to class?

All bad things come in threes.

How else can you explain Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West: the thwee Ws of wude, the tyrants of tempestuousness, the sultans of sore losers?
  • Wilson yells at Barack Obama in the middle of a speech: "You lie!"
  • Williams has a temper tantrum on the tennis court that would make John McEnroe blush: "I'll shove this ball down your throat!"
  • West grabs the mike from 19-year-old Taylor Swift at the VMAs: "BeyoncĂ© had one of the greatest videos of all time!"
A blip at the end of a long summer, or a larger reflection of society today, and the end of civility as we know it?

  • Is Wilson wacist?

I had a debate with my hairstylist last week (yes, I have those three strands of hair styled), and argued that Wilson's outburst went further than simply showing disrespect to Obama.

My hairstylist disagreed, so I felt more than a little vindicated when Maureen Dowd and Bill Maher later agreed with me on the basis of a damning backstory.

Says Dowd:
"The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president."
That Wilson's outburst was unprecedented and universally condemned hasn't stopped him from vowing to continue to "speak out." Like a dirty comedian who thinks that no one is laughing because "my jokes are too edgy for you prudes," Wilson mistakes the condemnation for his being too hip for the room.

Out of touch and obnoxious: talk about your dream ticket.

  • Is Williams a waging lunatic?

Williams' anger is easier for me to understand, because I suck at sports.

I have golfed twice in my life: the first time, I was struck with beginner's luck and did better than anyone could have guessed. Thinking that I was a golfing prodigy, I went golfing the following week and could barely hit the ball. I'm embarrassed to remember that I threw a club and yelled out the f-word on the last hole. Of course, I was only 15 years old at the time.

In Williams' defense, I'm sure that I'd be even worse at tennis, and would likely throw that racquet right across the court at the first sign that I wasn't going to win: the tennis equivalent of throwing the Scrabble board and yelling, "I quit!"

Williams' behavior was out of character, so it's sad that it took her two apologies to really apologize:
"I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately and it's not the way to act -- win or lose, good call or bad call in any sport, in any manner. I like to lead by example. We all learn from experiences both good and bad, I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result."
In tennis, could it be that "love" means never having to say you're sorry?

  • Is West for weal?

Imagine Annie Hall winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1978, and C-3P0 grabbing the mike from Diane Keaton and yelling, "Star Wars is the greatest motion picture of the 20th Century (Fox)!!"

No, even droids know that there are times when you're going to lose, and that means sitting down and shutting up while the winner takes a bow - even when you think that the winner is full of crap.

Hell, even ABBA knows that:


To Kanye, love Agnetha.


So, when West jumped up onstage and stole that winning moment from Taylor Swift, he might've thought he was celebrating Beyoncé, when - in fact - he was being boorish and rude to the person to whom the moment belonged.

Some are suggesting that West, who once said that "George W. Bush hates black people," is guilty of "hating white people" for knocking Swift and heralding Knowles. I chalk it up to West's narcissistic belief that anything he has to say by definition trumps what anyone else has to say.

Speaking of "trumps:" so boorish and rude is West, he's even being condemned by the boorish and rude Donald Trump himself, who is calling for a boycott of anything Kanye-related, including - I presume - those goofy shutter shades.

The big winners of last night were Swift and Knowles; in this time of unprecedented rudeness, they could take their good-sportsmanship shtick on the road together.

"All the single men (put a sock in it)!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How do you sell priceless? The Hilary Druxman advertising campaign challenge!

Hilary Druxman's airport location: a diamond in the rough.

A visit to the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport? $10.

The chance to advertise and promote Hilary Druxman's airport location? Priceless.

This semester, Red River College's advertising majors will be putting together individual advertising campaigns for Hilary Druxman’s second Winnipeg jewelry store (the first is in the Exchange District, just a couple of blocks away from the college's downtown campus).

The students' aim is to drive people to that location and - like any ad campaign - increase sales and awareness among members of the primary, secondary, and tertiary target audiences.

Tomorrow morning, I meet the advertising majors at the airport, where we'll meet our client; in a nice bit of overlap, the marketing and store manager of the airport location is Creative Communications grad Christa Mariash.

(Afterward, I'm hoping the students surprise me with a free trip to Europe. A guy can dream, right?)

After our visit, the students have just over a month and a half to put together and present a series of recommendations for implementing an Integrated Marketing Communications campaign strategy with creative (including new media, of course) as its backbone.

Hilary and her team will choose five of her favorite campaigns (in "plansbook" form), and these students will present directly to her at the end of November.

Hilary Druxman is a great client (as a store and a person); I met Hilary (the person, not the store) at last year's Red River College Directions Business Conference, where she spoke about embracing risk, commitment, and adaptability as an entrepreneur.

I attended her presentation thanks to a tip from a longtime (and very picky) friend, who told me that Hilary Druxman is the only store from which she would ever buy jewelry. According to this article, Renee Zellweger, Cate Blanchett, the Desperate Housewives, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger agree.

I wrote about the Business Conference and Hilary opening the airport location shortly thereafter right here.

There will be some challenges inherent in putting together this campaign, which is part of the reason why I like it so much as an assignment:

1. How do you drive Winnipeggers to check out a store at the airport? Will it only happen as part of a trip to pick up or drop off passengers, or can you make the case that "it's worth the trip?" (Thank you, Steinbach and Stan Kubicek).

2. The jewelry in the store is affordable, but there is no price on anything; to find out the price, you need to ask, "How much is this piece?" That's a challenge too. How do you keep people in the store before they flee from the (imagined) prices and perceived embarrassment at not being able to afford them?

3. The store is located right next to Winnipeg's only Harvey's/Swiss Chalet location; without insulting Harvey's clientele, let's just say that they're "different" from Hilary's.

4. The advertising has to be clean, professional, and suit the brand. It may be harder to sell "upscale" than anything else, because there's a fine line between self-actualization and snooty.

5. When business people from other places travel, they pick up gifts for people back home because they feel bad that they've been gone so long (which explains my entire collection of G.I. Joes). How do we tell people - coming and going on airplanes - that this store exists?

6. How does new media tie in with all of this?

7. Marketing wise, what is possible - and not possible - to do at the airport? Encasing jewels in liquid and gels is, I presume, not a great idea.

I look forward to seeing what the ad majors come up with! I'll be posting some of the - ahem - gems right here.

*Photo update from this morning's visit:

Christa Mariash answers the tough questions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rogue critic turns newspaper into social media

Marshall McLuhan, eat you heart out (click to enlarge).

A rogue writer at the Starbucks on Academy has single-handedly turned the Globe & Mail into Facebook.

What I expected to be a perfunctory trudge through old news at Starbucks this morning turned into one of the most entertaining reads I've had in a long time, thanks to a mystery media critic who had handwritten pointed responses to articles in last Thursday's edition of the Globe.

Pictured above is just one of his insights, in which he calls film producer and columnist Robert Lantos a "liar & asshole."

Ironically, Lantos' article is headlined "There's justice, and then there's propaganda," in which he accuses writer Naomi Klein and filmmaker John Greyson of propaganda and censorship.
"Their brand of censorship is at odds with our society's fundamental values: freedom of expression and freedom of individual choice."
Included in these fundamental values, presumably: the hard-fought right for all of us to refer to each other as "liars & assholes."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What I've done to prepare myself to get into school - 15 years later

Tools of the marking trade: a pencil and a Larry David mug.

Evaluator, mark thyself!

One of my duties here at Red River College - other than teaching and drinking my volume in Tim Hortons coffee - is to mark the essays potential students must write to get into Creative Communications.

(They do this in addition to writing a test, assembling a portfolio, and showing up in person for an interview.)

The essays are usually some combination of "your autobiography" and "what have I done to prepare myself to get into the Creative Communications program?"

It's a challenging essay to write, as anyone who has applied to get into the program knows, mostly because the candidate has to focus all of his or her experience into one coherent essay, and because the word "nothing" only takes up eight spaces on the page and isn't a very impressive answer.

I enjoy reading and marking these essays because they say a lot about the candidate: generally speaking, an essay that starts with "I was torn from my mother's womb at birth..." or contains the line, "I met my soul mate at age 12" is going to make for some interesting reading.

It's also interesting because I had to write the same essay to get into the Creative Communications program some 15 years ago. I had a little bit of experience - not a ton or even a metric tonne - a BA, and a dream.

I recently came across this essay in a folder, and laughed out loud when I found it. I kind of wish someone else would have found it, submitted it to me for marking, then surprised me by telling me it was mine after I gave it a C+.

No such luck. I probably would've figured out something was up when I saw the namechecks for Bob Newhart, Danny Kaye, and Dick Van Dyke...

The essay:

What have I done to prepare myself to get into Creative Communications?

Over the last two years, since I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts, I have thought about my skills and interests and tried to determine the field in which I might make the best use of them.

I believe that my experience in education and work, as well as my interests and personal qualities, would lend themselves well to the communications field.

I have been interested in writing since I was a child. At an early age, I was successful in school spelling contests and enjoyed having fun with words; I recall admiring Danny Kaye and the classic Court Jester routine, "the flagon with the dragon has the pellet with the poison, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."

When I was six, I published a story about my father in Canadian Lawyer magazine, for which I was paid $5.

My favorite classes in school involved creative thinking and writing. I read a lot and I admired TV shows like the Bob Newhart Show for their clever scripts. My parents remind me that one of my earliest ambitions was to be a comedy writer like the characters in the Dick Van Dyke Show.

In high school I was editor of the school paper, and I worked on layout and printing. I also enrolled in an elective broadcast course, where I wrote news scripts and read them on air.

At university, there were no courses in communications, so I chose courses in which I had an interest and I felt would improve my skills. I majored in English and minored in Philosophy. The English courses helped me to improve my writing skills through the numerous essays that I wrote, while the Philosophy courses taught me to think abstractly and how to debate a topic from different points of view.

I am now working at a bank. It's not the type of work I'd want to do for a lifetime, but the experience has been important in allowing me to develop skills that I think could be an asset in the communications field.

I am in charge of specialized investments, a position that has allowed me to work under high pressure, and in which accuracy and efficiency are essential. My daily use of a computer has given me a technical competence I didn't have before, and helped improve my keyboarding skills. I have also, in my day to day dealings with customers, gained confidence and an ability to deal with people from all walks of life in a professional manner.

***

My love of books and writing perhaps isn't surprising, given my family background. Although my grandparents attained no more than a grade eight education, they are avid readers.

I have always enjoyed great literature, and I continue to read the classics. I just read "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis, and "Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson. I have added them to my ever-growing book collection, which includes movie scripts, plays, reference books, and collections of song lyrics.

I continue to write short stories for personal satisfaction, and keep in touch with pen pals and relatives by letter. I have recently been involved in writing film scripts with a friend I met while taking Film Studies at university.

***

I believe that the personal qualities I possess would be conducive to Creative Communications, and that one of my best qualities is my ability to work hard and achieve my goals. On my last annual job performance, for instance, I was rated as having exceeded the goals and performance expected of me.

I think that this is indicative of the fact that I consistently aim to do more than is required of me, and I have thus far managed to succeed in attaining my major goals.

I believe that I am creative and quick thinking, I have good people skills, and I enjoy learning new things. I wish I had more experience in writing than I have, but what I may lack in experience seems to me to be made up of my lifelong interest in the written word and my general enthusiasm for life.

I feel confident that I have what it takes to pursue a successful career in Creative Communications.

***

- C+. Cheers, Kenton

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is today the beginning of the end for the album?

Still playing.

09/09/09: the day the Beatles thrived and the album died.

As every Beatles fan (which is to say "everyone") knows, the Beatles: Rock Band video game comes out today, in addition to two CD box sets representing the entire Beatles' catalogue - remastered in stereo and mono.

(I wrote about how much I love the Beatles here. Yay for the Beatles!)

We're getting very near the end

But there's a dark lining around this silver cloud.

These box sets are probably the compact disc's last hurrah - a victim of the newest format, which is "no format:" the invisible, intangible digital download featuring no jewel case, no album sleeve, and no liner notes.

While I'm sure that the Beatles will just as handily conquer iTunes, the online world is for singles, the compact disc is for albums.

When the CD dies, will the album die with it?

In his recent review of Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy, Chuck Klosterman says:
"Chinese Democracy is pretty much the last old media album we'll ever contemplate - it's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file."
In other words, there may be more albums in the future, but we're not going to be caring about or perceiving them the same way we used to, if we even perceive them at all.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

The Beatles helped usher in the album in the 60s; they not only wrote great hit singles, but conceived of them as part of larger musical works with rewarding concept albums like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road, the White Album, Rubber Soul, and Revolver.

Remarkably, these were the days of vinyl, when listeners would curl up on the couch and ponder album covers and lyrics - only to have to get up, walk over to the stereo, and flip over the record every 20 minutes.

By today's standards, that's suffering for your art or worse: suffering for someone else's art.

Not only did the songs matter, but so did their sequence and context, so that the whole album somehow became greater than the sum of its parts.

Just listen to Sgt. Pepper's "Good Morning Good Morning" and "Fixing a Hole" in the middle of a playlist, or "When I'm Sixty Four" without the "Ahh-ahhhh-ahhhh...." segue into "Lovely Rita." Even worse, listen to the title track on shuffle. It cuts off just as "With a Little Help From My Friends" is supposed to kick in. Arrgh.

These are crimes against humanity that can only be remedied by joining the album tracks together in iTunes - all of them.

You say goodbye, and I say hello

Of course, there are those, like Steven Hodson, who say that the album died a long time ago, when artists stopped making good albums.
"As the years passed and vinyl changed to cassettes which then changed to CDs, that fair exchange of money for quality music began to shift. Eventually it got to the point where you were lucky if there were two or three songs on that CD that you just paid $20 for were any good. If the musicians want to make more money then they need to start producing better music and less garbage."
I suppose that's true too. Thanks, Oasis.

But sometimes it's not the artist, it's the listener. When I was a kid, the first album I ever bought by the Beatles was Magical Mystery Tour. I taped my favorite song, "Strawberry Fields Forever," and listened to "Strawberry Fields" forever - over and over and over.

I even sped the song up to 45 rpm to better hear John Lennon mutter, "I buried Paul" at the fade out (never mind that he actually says, "I'm very bored").

Five or six years later, I played the Magical Mystery Tour album in its entirety, and noticed a song after "Strawberry Fields Forever" that I'd missed the first 1,000 times I played it: a little ditty called "Penny Lane."

Then I realized that John Lennon's wacky costume on the album cover had something to do with a great song called, "I am the Walrus." Goo-goo-ga-joob!

I even developed a taste for "Flying," the instrumental credited to all four of the Beatles, and George Harrison's "Blue Jay Way," one of his many inscrutable songs that has nothing to do with Toronto's baseball team.

And in the end...

I suddenly realized what I'd been missing five years earlier: the other songs. I'm not sure what's more disappointing: that we may not get the other songs anymore or that musicians may not even try to write them.

Meathead meets masthead

That's no small moon. It's a space station!

You may have noticed my new blog masthead featuring an unnamed celestial orb - it's an illustration by talented RRC Graphic Design grad Hayden Sundmark.

Hayden sketched it a few years ago - when he was a student - during a class in which I taught nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. He presented it to me at the end of the class, and I've kept it ever since - a memento of his artistic talent and my inability to make nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs interesting.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So begins the great blogging experiment!

A whole new world (Aladdin sold separately).

Starting this week, first-year Creative Communications students at Red River College will be setting up their own network of "professional blogs" in PR class, where they can post their assignments, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and recipes (which I hope they will make and bring to class to share with the teacher).

I'll link them to my blogroll on the right of this page as soon as they're all set up - everyone should have one by this Friday.

We'll do do a similar scheme for second-year advertising students; the media-production folks are planning on streaming the weekly student newscast, and - as I've suggested before - I think there's a huge demand out there to see me eating a bagel at my desk at lunchtime.

Having a blog is becoming more of a requirement in the industry, especially in the advertising and PR fields; my ad major co-instructor Audra Lesosky has made it be known that her agency, McKim Cringan George, likes to see a blogging and social-media presence from any candidate fresh out of school, looking for a job at the agency. Of course, that's in addition to the standard hard-copy portfolio, which still has a place too.

Blogging roundtable

To help kick off the assignment, I'll be holding a blogging roundtable discussion this week in the regular Thursday speaker slot.

Our esteemed panel will include the good people behind Progressive Winnipeg, Message Communications, Endless Spin Cycle, and PolicyFrog.

I'm looking forward to it. Should be a great discussion!

The assignment:

Every communications professional should have a blog.

“Blog” is short for “weblog;” it’s a website that functions as a live journal or public diary. You update a blog regularly with news, information, analysis, and criticism using original writing, reporting, links to other blogs, video, pictures, sound, color, design, and “gadgets.”

Unlike Facebook or social networking sites, blogs are not used to stay in touch with friends; rather, you use a blog to express yourself publicly and participate in a community conversation.

What makes the blog “professional” is that it gives potential employers a sense of how well you write on a regular basis, your “voice,” style, design skills, analytical skills, interests, sense of humor, anxieties, etc.

Blogging is also a good opportunity to learn about how to attract an online audience, how to measure it with services like StatCounter, and even how to make money from your writing by using Google AdSense.

Blog pointers:

* Blog with a purpose: have a focus and a target audience in mind, and be relevant to that audience by providing useful information, not just ads. While you do want to provide links to other web content that could interest your audience, make sure you also provide your original thoughts and insights.

* Don’t include “inappropriate content,” which is anything not appropriate for a potential employer. If you don’t know what that is, always err on the side of caution. Remember: anyone (including your mom and future employers) can read your blog, so make sure your writing puts your best foot forward. Also, Red River College’s “respectful college” guidelines pertain to both the in-person and online worlds.

* Allow people to comment on your blogs and encourage “dialogue” whenever possible. If someone posts something abusive, you can remove it.

* Read other blogs to see what works.

* Show your personality. Don’t be boring – be “you.”

* Promote your blog by e-mailing the address to your family and friends and using Twitter to let your "followers" know when you've posted something new. There’s nothing worse than writing something that nobody reads (just ask your local poet - Har, har).

What happens after you set up your blog?

1. Post assignments to your blog as directed.

2. Start posting other original entries to your blog regularly. Regularly updated blogs get more hits, and are listed higher on Google searches, leading to even more hits. Generally, your readers will expect to see a new entry every weekday. Hits tend to drop on weekends, when people aren’t trying to kill time at work.

3. Start linking your work to outside sources. Most, if not all, of your posts should contain links to articles, words, images, pictures, and discussion of outside sources. Original photographs and visuals are also great, if you have them.

4. Start commenting on your classmates’ - and other writers' - blogs.

This assignment is a mandatory part of Creative Communications, and required to continue in the program.

***

That's the assignment, minus some of the details, including the setup steps we'll do in our PR classes this week.

Next comes Twitter and how to link a website measurement service.

How does it look?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Singing the TV theme's swan song

Who can turn the world on with a smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Why, it's the TV theme song, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement to show it:



For many people, this theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show is as great and as memorable as the actual show. Just try to get it out of your head the next time you walk down Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis - it's more impossible than ever, thanks to the Mary Tyler Moore statue at 7th Street.

Let it be said now and for all time: if there was no Mary Tyler Moore theme song and Minneapolis montage, there'd be no statue.

It's already been about 15 years since the big networks started pulling the plug on TV theme songs. Blame the remote control's dominance in the 90s: the thinking was that the TV theme song was a an opportunity to flip that the networks couldn't afford.

The sitcom most credited with killing the theme song is Frasier, which took that "tossed salad and scrambled eggs" song and put it at the end of the show while the Jack Russell terrier ran around the set:



No wonder they didn't put it at the beginning of the show - it sucks. Thanks, Frasier.

The upshot is that now theme songs are few and far between, and not even close to as good as they used to be. HBO has made some decent attempts - most notably, the Sopranos' theme ("Woke Up This Morning"). But the song, by Alabama 3, wasn't written for the show. As any theme-song connoisseur knows, that's cheating.



So, thanks for trying, HBO, but your shows and too many others are trying a bit too hard for my liking. Top marks for production, but too arty and trendy by half.

If you want to get to the great TV theme songs, you've got to go to back to the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when they knew that the intro to a show had to feel like my comfortable velour shirt, which is to say: exactly like "wearing a hug."



The Cheers theme is so great, it made viewers nostalgic even when the show was first aired, leading them back to a particular point in time in their own lives. Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" tries to do the same thing, but we know which song is better, right?

In many cases, TV shows became popular simply because of the song. I give you: Welcome Back, Kotter.



I still maintain that John Travolta owes his entire career to John Sebastian. The song, called "Welcome Back, Kotter" doesn't actually name "Kotter" in the song - but it hit number one in 1976 and it was a hit again in 2004 when rapper Mase covered it as "Welcome Back."

In the days before the VCR and digital box, the TV theme was also the warning that your favorite show was about to start. Bob Newhart's phone would ring, and I'd yell to my Mom and Dad, "Bob Newhart's on!!!!"

By the time the show started, everyone was in position.


Bob Newhart Show Opening Theme - Click here for more free videos

I love how Lorenzo Music's song starts off brash and confident and ends rather introspectively, with Newhart trudging home after another fruitless day of trying to cure Mr. Carlin. Thank God there's a beaming Suzanne Pleshette there to meet him, or Bob might've decided to end it all.

The Rockford Files also started with a ringing phone and a new answering machine gag every week before segueing into Mike Post's brilliant song (note the tribute to Mary Tyler Moore when Jim Rockford hangs out at the meat freezer). "Mom, Dad: Rockford's on!!!"

Rockford Files Season 1 intro


For many shows, like Green Acres, the Odd Couple, Star Trek, the Brady Bunch, and Gilligan's Island, the theme song neatly explained the premise of the entire show, which is probably why we always knew what was going on with Gilligan and why we still don't have a clue about what's happening on Lost:



Some shows were terrible, but still had a great theme. Like Barney Miller - a boring show that kicked off with a great blues jam and one of the most memorable bass lines of all time. As a kid, I used to watch the theme, shut off the TV, then go to sleep feeling satisfied (dirty connotations not intended).



Gospel rave-ups were also big in the 70s. To this day, it's impossible to move into an apartment without singing this little ditty from the Jeffersons:



Maude had such a great theme song that it was difficult to tell if it was about Maude or Bea Arthur herself. When Arthur died earlier this year, journalists found it impossible not to quote from the song:


Maude TV Opening Theme - Funny videos are here

Perhaps most alarming is that without the theme song, we're being deprived of finding out whether our current batch of TV actors can also sing. House, Monk, and Chuck are wimps compared to Mr. Rogers, Alice, Frasier, Archie and Edith, all of whom sang their own songs.

To this day, All in the Family's theme, off-key as it may be, is most often ranked as the best theme song of all time:



Those were the days.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy first week of school! I need a nap.


"Hey, teacher: leave them kids alone!" Hurtful.

Happy first week of school to all and to all a good night!

The first week of school is always filled with fun, energy, excitement, exhilaration, surprises and goodwill by the bucketload.

It's also exhausting. For students and instructors alike, it's like discovering a gigantic boulder and realizing that you have until April to push it to the top of a mountain. You'd better keep pushing that sucker, or it'll roll over you and everyone else on its way back down.

This is the one week of the year that I have trouble sleeping and mostly get by on adrenaline, Tim Hortons coffee, and pluck. Like a kid who can't sleep the night before Christmas, I think about my classes, and invariably concentrate on the things that could - or did - go wrong. Not exactly "visions of sugar plums dancing," but what are ya gonna do?

If instructors have opening-week jitters, I'm sure it's nothing compare to what students must feel. For many it's not just the first week of college, it's the first week of a turning point in their lives. 

If that's not enough pressure: first week also means that there are long lineups at the bookstore and Student Services Centre - made worse this year by a recurring power outage - the long wait for that student loan to be deposited into the bank account, and the stress of finding your classrooms and meeting 100 new best friends.

To help ease our first-year students' transition into their new home away from home, today we brought in four former Creative Communications students from last year's graduating class (one per major: advertising, PR, journalism, and broadcast) for a "success seminar." It warmed my heart to see these freshly minted professionals speaking with confidence, style, grace, and class and dispensing advice like old pros.

I was also delighted to see our new first-year students asking thoughtful questions at the seminar and mingling with our distinguished speakers afterward; it was like having a class reunion on the third day of school.

I shouldn't be, but every year I'm surprised that I've lucked out again and got some great students: interesting, smart, outspoken, idealistic, and eccentric: the recipe for classroom success. Creation, cooperation, and collaboration: here we come.

But first: I need to lie down.


"I can tell that we are going to be friends." Better.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cobain launches new career as rapper in Guitar Hero 5


Cobain in Guitar Hero. Heroin sold separately.

Courtney gives love a bad name.

At a time when the Beatles' legacy is being handled with care by Ringo, Paul, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, Nirvana's legacy is being slowly but surely sold out.

In just a matter of days, the Beatles' first foray into videogames comes out with the release of The Beatles: Rock Band - the New York Times reports on the great care and time it took to "recreate and re-imagine...not just stepping stones in the career of a band but transformational shifts in the history of popular music."

Meanwhile, Courtney Love has sold Cobain's name, likeness, and songs to Guitar Hero, but apparently the deal didn't come with a guarantee that Guitar Hero honor so much as a whiff of the importance and seriousness with which Cobain regarded his music.

Rolling Stone says there's blame to go around:
"Not only did Cobain’s widow Courtney Love have to sign off on behalf of the estate, so did former drummer Dave Grohl and Primary Wave Publishing, which administers the Nirvana catalog."
It's doubtful that Cobain, who wrote "Rape Me," would approve of this abomination, which re-imagines him as Britney Spears, singing the hits of Billy Idol, Bon Jovi, Bush, and Flavor Flav-era Public Enemy, hip-hop moves and all.

Equally scary is that Johnny Cash apparently makes an appearance in the game. Whether he's as adept a rapper as Cobain is anyone's guess.

Update:

On the way home today, not moments after publishing this post, I ran across this forlorn Kurt Cobain action figure in the window of Red River Book Shop along with his plea to "Stop downloading. Buy my CD."

The man has spoken.

Mini Kurt Cobain in the window of the Red River Book Shop. Poor feller.

Update - Sept. 23:

Did mini Kurt Cobain break this TV? If not, he certainly saw who did...