Today, my first-year advertising class and I went to Toad Hall Toys in the Exchange District, so students could learn more about the place in preparation of writing their first ads for a real-life client.
OK, it was also to have fun and play with toys. So sue me.
Visiting Toad Hall Toys is one of the great experiences in the Exchange District and life; the class arrived together shortly after 11 a.m., and I staggered out alone just before noon with $65 worth of toys, books, and candy.
What happened over the course of that hour is now a hazy blur of sugar and fizz; were it not for these photos I found on my iPhone, the entire experience might be lost to history:
Publish or perish? Try publish and pig out!
Being dwarfed by puppets beats being puppeted by dwarves.
Dear diary. Excuse me - where was I, diary?
You should never wind up a monkey.
You should never wind up a student.
Squirrel Nut Zippers?
No, Geppetto. There is another.
I'm sorry, I can't hear you - there's a banana in my ear.
What's the scariest thing about performing stand-up comedy?
Ask a first-time comic, and I'll bet he or she will tell you: "I don't want to get heckled!"
It's true: being heckled sucks. But there's something worse than heckling, and it's far more prevalent in Canada: silence.
Take off, eh!
"The heckler" is by and large an American invention, like cars, fast food, and illegal wars.
In Canada, hecklers are a much less-aggressive species that usually fall into one of two categories:
1. The drunk guy (it's always a guy) who doesn't realize how obnoxious he's being.
These guys are pretty easy to shut down. You simply make an alcohol joke, everybody laughs, and he passes out.
2. The guy (see?) who's having such a good time, he wants to"help you out" by shouting out his agreement.
Strictly speaking, this isn't a heckler. Hecklers try to ruin your show on purpose, whereas these fine fellows ruin your show accidentally.
Usually, you deal with these guys by simply shaking their hand or patting them on the head - the physical contact is a reminder that, no, this isn't the Comedy Channel, and, yes, it's time to move on.
It's not really worth an insult, since these guys love you so much, it might damn well kill them.
Killing me quietly
At a stand-up comedy show, Canadians become as introverted and withdrawn as your average Graphic Design class - they really don't want to talk to you, be noticed by you, or be made fun of in any way.
So, they tend to sit further away from the stage if they can, don't make eye contact, and - if a joke doesn't meet with their approval - sit silently until you say one that does.
I've seen seasoned comics - Derek Edwards comes to mind - construct an elaborate pyramid of hilarity onstage, tell one joke that doesn't sit well with the audience, and go tumbling back down to the base.
To a less-seasoned comic, it can be jarring. Canadians are supposed to be so polite: why won't they laugh?
Not to worry: at the end of the show, the Canadian audience will lose its inhibitions, shake your hand, look you in the eyes, and say, "It takes a lot of guts to do comedy!"
I've been swearing more in class this semester, mutha*****s.
I'm not sure if it's a desperate attempt to maintain the attention spans of the ADD generation, my uptight, Protestant, middle-class, white-boy rage at the world, or what Henry Drummond says in Inherit the Wind:
"I don't swear just for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. I think we should all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words that anybody understands."
Just to be clear: I'm not dropping F-bombs in the middle of English Romanticism, though I won't rule it out for later, mostly just describing ads, movies, books, entertainment, and whatever, as "shitty," "bullshit," "shite," and all of the delightful variations thereof.
So few other words seem to fit!
I called myself out on it the other day in the same way Roger Lodge used to apologize on Blind Date for bad dates ("Let's move on..."), but I secretly knew I'd found my new voice in the classroom when I saw an under-desk texter look up for a second in the mistaken belief I was speaking to her.
As my talking G.I. Joe used to say when you pulled his dog tags: "Mission accomplished. Good work, men."
Kawasaki's four simple rules for swearing
In his recent book, Enchantment, Apple Fellow (and fellow) Guy Kawasaki says that swearing should be part of every communicator's vocabulary, because it arouses attention, demonstrates strength, conveys informality, releases tension, and increases acceptance - unless you've got a job teaching toddlers, grandmas, or Mormons.
If you're going to swear, though, he says you need to follow these f***ing rules:
1. Swear infrequently - If you swear every other word, it loses its power.
2. Swear only when exposing hypocrisy, arrogance, intentional inaccuracy, and dishonesty - Does being offended by a "bad ad" count?
3. Swear only when the audience supports you - If they don't, they'll hate you more.
4. Soften your profanity - "Crap and suck" are seemingly outrageous, but not really outrageous, and get the job done.
Lastly, he counsels us to never swear to intimidate or humiliate, and points out the double standard: a man who swears is cool, a woman who swears is a modern-day Jezebel.
His advice: "The best way to destroy a double standard is to defy it."
One of my favorite classes of the year is the one in which the ad majors return to grade three arts and crafts to create mood boards.
The occasion: getting set up for this semester's advertising client, C3A and its Ultimate Events Calendar - found on channel 88 of MTS Ultimate TV Service.
A mood board is a visual representation of a brand. It can be the creative springboard on which your campaign is based, or you can use it to present and sell your ideas to your clients, who also love mood boards, because they love grade three art class too.
The mood board is a collage on a foam core board. It encompasses symbols, feelings, moods, relationships, textures, ideas, colors, palettes, words, brands, logos, design, architecture, celebrities, and style.
But a mood board is more than the sum of its parts. The process of cutting, sorting, sticking, and pasting takes the creative mind on a journey down a path of discovery that may not be apparent until the board is actually complete.
Then, you take a step back, let the visuals wash over you, discuss what you see, and the ad-campaign concept, theme, and color palette begin to gel in your head (head gel?).
Sometimes the mood board gives you the flash of creative inspiration that will ultimately become your campaign's big idea.
So: gaze into the mood boards. You are getting sleepy. Now write, old woman, write like the wind!
Over the last decade, it's become standard for employers to stop giving a salary range in job ads and start asking applicants for "salary expectations" along with their resume and cover letter.
It wasn't always this way, but I know why it is now: it puts the question of salary on the shoulders of applicants who know they must put "challenges above salary" in an effort to underbid the competition, look "giving," and land the job. The more desperate (I mean "giving") the employees, the lower the salary the employer has to pay.
The way I recommend dealing with "salary expectations" is to do as a candidate what employers used to do in job ads: give a range, starting at the salary you want to be paid and going higher for things like "working odd hours," "managing staff," and "doing windows."
If you already work in the industry, you probably have a pretty good idea of what the job pays based on title, job description, and common knowledge. If you don't, all you can really do is take your best guess.
Who are you - who who who who?
The mystery salary has a new friend: the mystery employer.
Lately, more and more job ads are featuring a "confidential employer" - though you can sometimes figure out who it is based on the description:
"A major fast-food retailer seeks a drive-through employee who doesn't mind dressing up like a clown."
Clearly, it's an ad for a journalist at a Rupert Murdoch newspaper.
The reason for keeping the employer secret probably has something to do with entitled job candidates suing potential employers for any manner of real and imagined offenses, including - but not limited to - looking at them funny, getting in their faces, and giving them the stink eye.
So, the employer hides behind a recruiting company and doesn't have to worry about lawsuits.
The trouble: who can really get excited about applying for a job with Employer X? No one, not even people desperate enough to apply for anything, who are going to make up the bulk of the candidates who go for these positions.
You can't research the company beforehand, you can't explain in your cover letter how much you love it, and you can't answer the question at the interview, "Why do you want to work for UNNAMED EMPLOYER?"
"I don't know. I'm a loser?"
Show us the love
The problem with employers leaving salary up to applicants is that if
you price yourself out of the competition, the whole process is a waste
of time from the get-go, for employer and applicant alike. Leaving out the name of your business is just - rude?
Saying who you are and stating a
salary range in the ad just seem like nice things to do in order to
attract the best employees with the best training, who only want to give their blood, sweat, and tears for a company that's as transparent, open, and honest as they're expected to be.
Ya give a little love, and it all comes back to you:
One of the oldest rules of comedy usually holds true, but only once in my long and checkered, I mean distinguished, career as a stand-up comic did a joke defy this law.
The joke - a mildly risque observation about Mr. Fantastic - would get laughs at the end of the setup, but when it came to the punchline? Nothing. Nada. Zip.
I enlisted the help of my comedian friends. That didn't work, so I got the help of my non-comedian friends. That didn't work, so I asked my enemies. They just beat me up.
So, with that in mind, here is the joke with a blank where the punch - the funny - should be.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be a superhero. Not just any hero. I wanted to be Mr. Fantastic, leader of the Fantastic Four. Mr. Fantastic was cool, because he could stretch any part of his body into whatever length, width, or shape he desired. So he did what any guy with that power would do. He fought crime.
Oh, come on. If I had that power, I'd be hanging out at parties. Just waiting for people to inevitably ask, "Why do they call you Mr. Fantastic?"
And I'd say (casual pose, holding mock drink), "I'm standing here talking to you, right? Well, three blocks away, I'm ___________________. (Take sip of mock drink.)
Probably my favorite discarded punchline is, "Doing it with Betty and Veronica." Nope: that didn't work either.
Any ideas? Remember: I don't work blue (aka "dirty") and we're aiming for "Ha, ha, ha!" not "Ewwww...." Do tell.
When the Winnipeg Jets sold out 1,000 corporate tickets, 13,000 season tickets, and 8,000 spots on a waiting list for more (for $50 non-refundable fee), you can bet the marketers were watching and learning.
(The first lesson of semester one advertising: "the marketers always win.")
Sure, the marketers were "happy." But they were also kicking themselves, because they could have charged more for everything, extended the "membership agreements" long past three, four, and five years, and still been unable to fill the insatiable demand.
(The second lesson of semester one advertising: "Low supply + high demand = ka-ching, ka-ching.")
Weeks later, the Bombers sold 17,000 season tickets in preparation for the team's move to its fancy, new digs at the University of Manitoba - and you can bet the ticket prices and long-term lease agreements will go along with them.
I realized that the days of sports as low-cost entertainment for the family were gone when - in the long winter of our Jetsless discontent - I drove to St. Paul two or three times to see the Wild.
The tickets were strangely expensive. The seats were strangely comfy. The spectators were strangely well-groomed and "rich-looking" - under their jerseys, they wore shirts, ties, and Cosby-style sweaters. Their kids had expensive haircuts.
They'd also hidden away the hot-dog stand to make room for a chef carving a big slab of prime rib and serving it up on a real plate.
I knew that if and when the Jets returned, they would come along with air-conditioned corporate suites and skyboxes far above the "cheap seats," which would actually be expensive seats. And with them would come a whole, new era of entertainment pricing strategies.
Cash: the final frontier
I once saw Green Day play Le Rendez-Vous for $10 - which explains why 15 years later, I can't justify paying $200 to see William Shatner on a speaking tour.
As a guy with 8,000 CDs and 1,000 ticket stubs, I can say I've never been shy about dropping large chunks of disposable income on entertainment - but that's just under $1,000 for a family of four to see T.J. Hooker.
It's hard to believe that in the movie Festival Express, about the 1970 train tour across Canada by some of the most popular musicians of the day, the then-mayor of Calgary openly called for the tour promoter to open the gates and "let the kids in for free."
The ticket price to see Janis Joplin et al. in 1970? $10 at the gate and $9 in advance.
How much longer until we have a "presale password concert club" for $100 (non-refundable, of course) a year? Oh - it sold out? Do I hear $200? Screw you, kids!
The skyboxification of culture
Recently, author Michael J. Sandel bemoaned what he called "the skyboxification of culture" in the New York Times.
"Not long ago, the ballpark was a place where CEOs and mailroom clerks sat side-by-side, and everyone got wet when it rained.
"Something similar has happened throughout society. Rich and poor increasingly live separate lives.
"(If I were president) I would invest in an infrastructure for civic renewal. It would draw us out of our skyboxes and into the common spaces of democratic citizenship."