So Good You Can’t Even Tell

Warner Bros logoI finally got around to watching The Dark Knight on DVD last night. Fairly impressive, but I’m not here to write about the film itself.

I was struck by a promotional video that ran before the feature, right after the god-awful reworking of Casablanca into a warning not to pirate movies (Shame on you, Ilsa).

The promo featured big, impressive, immersive shots from some big Warner Bros. movies, including A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Goodfellas, V for Vendetta, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Batman Begins. For the most part, these were shots intended to make the audience go “oooh,” like Neo stopping a barrage of bullets (ooh), or the Houses of Parliament exploding (ooh).

The voice-over that went with these big visuals went as follows:

Something has come along that changes our movies.

It changes the way you see them, hear them, feel them.

It changes the experience.

It opens our eyes to something new.

We invite you to dig deeper, to find things that you’ve never experienced before.

This is the difference between watching our movies and living them.

Experience our movies on Blu-ray.

This is how our movies are meant to be… lived

Blu-ray logoOK. It was a promo for the glory, the splendor and the majesty that is Blu-ray. Fine. But it raised a few questions for me.

As I’ve already mentioned, these were big, impressive images. I was watching on a standard DVD, on an eye of hell that’s neither HD, plasma, giant, or even flat, with the sound running through a stereo that’s about 30 years old — well, the speakers are only about 10, but there are only two of them. And I got the message that I was supposed to be impressed by these images.

So if I’m impressed, how are they supposed to sell me on ditching all of my equipment and getting a Blu-ray setup? Obviously, they can’t show me how a Blu-ray image is better than what I’ve got if they’re showing it to me via what I’ve got. Maybe they should have lowered the quality of the images they showed me, like I was watching on a pitiful portable picnic player, as little Alex might point out. Then they could have told me that if I wanted to experience the true gorgeousness and gorgeosity of the pictures and properly hear the angel trumpets and devil trombones, I’d best upgrade.

Or I suppose they might have added a few lines to the voice-over (I think it might have been Kiefer Sutherland, using his “this is America” Bank of America voice rather than his “tell me now or you’re dead” 24 voice, by the way), like

Do these scenes look good to you? Then you’re an idiot. This stuff is pure crap. You can’t see how good these scenes really are, because your hardware is shit.

There needs to be some comparison if I’m to be convinced that what I don’t have is better than what I have. Remember the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati? The first few bars were engineered to sound like AM radio, and then it opened up to something fuller, so even though you were listening to the whole thing through a tiny, tinny monaural speaker, you could hear the difference. You got the message that AM radio sounds like KRaP.

And there’s that last line in the promo: This is how our movies are meant to be… lived.

Is it really? Have they forgotten about movie theatres, many of which still have bigger screens and better sound systems than the average living room? Are they suggesting that this is what the filmmakers had in mind?

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Viva Commerce! (#20)

Mercedes logoDear Mercedes-Benz,

Your latest spot for the C Class on the eye of hell opens with the following:

300 horsepower is fast.
400 will take your breath away.
That’s why we gave it 451.

Sorry, but I’ve just got to ask: why exactly did you give it 451?

Do you want me to lose control of the vehicle and get myself killed?

Are you trying to belittle me? Oooh, I don’t think you should buy this car. It’s much too powerful for little old you. You might hurt yourself.

Maybe it’s your idea of a dare: I just bet you can’t drive this car without killing somebody.

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Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

No, this post is not about Mao, or even Billy Bragg. Rather, it’s about an advance I have to admit I’d waited for all my life, and had frankly given up on seeing come to fruition. Why? Because it’s an advance on the eye of hell, where things change pretty damned slowly. In fact, the advance is in advertising on the eye of hell, where things, for the most part, don’t change at all.

I wrote a couple of years ago (yikes! I’ve been blogging for two years!) that words like “period” and “menstruation” had finally started replacing “time of the month,” although such things are still visually represented by blue fluid. This is easily as big as that.

Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing bottleI think I was about 10 or 11 when I first noticed the problem. I’d see ads that spoke of a special little town called Hidden Valley, where the kids never complained about eating their vegetables, because they all came with a thick coating of mayonnaisey spoodge that made them oh-so-tasty. I’d be watching these packs of kids happily downing their dripping broccoli, and it occurred to me that they were all white! The happy town of Hidden Valley was restricted!

Well, this week I saw an ad for Hidden Valley in which the veggie-lovin’ local kids were crowding around what looked like an ice cream truck, which in fact, served cones of salad drowning in the glory that is ranch dressing. And among those kids, I was astonished to see one or two of African descent! At last, these children were being judged not by the color of their skin, but of the content of their salad cones! It was beautiful.

Of course, salad dressing is just one example of the long list of products that have been segregated on the eye of hell all these long years. For decades, Madison Avenue has tried to convince us that separate detergents, fast food establishments, shoes, and pet foods could be equal. Those days may at last be gone.

eHarmony logoThink about dating services. For as long as they’ve advertised on the eye of hell, they’ve demonstrated their successes by showing us couples who always just happened to share ethnicity along with chemistry. Was it a decades-long series of coincidences, like the coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? I doubt it. I don’t know if they ever had rules regarding interracial couples, and if they did, I don’t know when those rules changed, but on the eye of hell, it had always clearly been a strict “no miscegenation” policy.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for eHarmony (one of the first, I believe, to do without the presence of Dr. Neil Clark Warren) in which a black man was shown next to a set of three thumbnail images of women, apparently representing the choices picked for him by their computer. Two of them were black, but one was white.

Then, just last week, I saw a spot for the service that showed three happy couples, two of which were of mixed ethnicity. Wow.

I have to wonder what the cause of this long-delayed advance might be. I suppose it’s possible that the fact that we’re (hopefully) on the verge of electing our first mixed-race president might be an indication to the ad execs that we just might be ready for such a radical concept. I really don’t know, but I’m glad to see it finally happening.

Next up: gender roles and sexuality. Don’t hold your breath.

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Another URL Thought

I wrote some thoughts last month about how we choose to communicate URLs to people — what’s essential to getting the message across, what’s not, and what may be changing with time.

Tonight, while waiting for Gary Indiana to finally give the Clinton campaign the coup de grâce (Updated: OK, not quite, but really close), I saw a spot for a certain flower company. It is almost Mother’s Day, after all. “Which flower company was it, qwerty?” I hear you ask.

1-800-flowers logoIt was this one. And there’s the URL, right in the logo (assuming you ignore the flower growing out of the dot). You can read it out: “one dash eight hundred dash flowers dot com.” But you watch the commercial and there’s the founder of the company and his daughter (shades of Frank and Jim Perdue?) referring to it as “one eight hundred flowers dot com.” No dashes. Why are there no dashes? In my line of work, I advise people not to get domains with dashes, and a big reason for that is because it’s harder to communicate. But in this case, the dashes are there in the branding. Are they assuming people will think of the logo and know that when they think of “one eight hundred flowers dot com” they should remember that there are dashes in there? No, that can’t be it.

This is from the site’s About Us page:

Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, INC., opened his first retail store in 1976 and successfully built his own chain of 14 flower shops in the New York metropolitan area. In 1986, he acquired the 1-800-FLOWERS phone number and continued to grow his business under the 1-800-FLOWERS® name. His immediate focus was to create a reliable brand name built on trust, and over the next few years he achieved this through his understanding of his customer base and market. The next logical step was expansion, and McCann successfully expanded his business into other retail access channels-going online in 1992 and opening a web site in 1995. Today, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM® has a well-known web site (www.1800flowers.com), and maintains strategic online relationships with a number of online services, including America Online, Microsoft Network (MSN), and Yahoo!.

So whatever they were called from 1976 to 1986 doesn’t matter much. In ’86 they branded the company based on that phone number, 1-800-flowers.

The way we communicate phone numbers has certainly changed over the years. I believe everyone in the US has been on a system that requires them to dial 1 at the beginning of a long-distance call since the 1970s. We no longer say “area code” before announcing an area code. And it’s probably been thirty or forty years since one would identify an exchange (the first three digits after the area code) with two letters and a number, which was itself a streamlined version of naming an exchange for a place, followed by a number. Wikipedia notes that the Ricardo’s phone number on I Love Lucy was MUrray Hill 5-9975, which would later be referred to as MU5-9975, and later 685-9975. I remember this commercial from my misspent youth (spent in the glow of the eye of hell):

There was another hotel with ads that included a phone number with a full on “Murray Hill” exchange, but I couldn’t find that one.

But I digress. The point is, we know how to say a phone number. Even with all the changes that have taken place over time, we’ve never had to actually say “dash”. The hyphens were in there just to make the printed version of the number easier to parse. So if we know that 1-800-flowers can be read “one eight hundred flowers,” the people marketing the web site feel that we can look at that logo with its hyphens and hear the domain name spoken as the phone number with a “dot com” tacked on the end, and not have our heads explode.

Beyond that point, here’s the real point, courtesy of my pal the WebBug:

If I request http://www.1800flowers.com, the server returns the following:

HTTP/1.1 302 Object moved
Location: http://ww21.1800flowers.com/

A “temporary” redirect, but I end up at a domain without any dashes.

If I request http://www.1-800-flowers.com, the server returns the following:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Wed, 07 May 2008 05:31:28 GMT
Server: Apache
Cache-Control: no-cache=”set-cookie,set-cookie2″
Set-Cookie: JSESSIONID=0000UzUSX5tGcqe8AriacpxKyf7:120mbebeh;Path=/
Set-Cookie: ShopperManager/enterprise=d7b1c7dc-1bf6-11dd-b18b-cbe10af70195;Expires=Mon, 25-May-2076 08:45:35 GMT;Path=/
Cache-Control: no-cache
Pragma: no-cache
Expires: Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT
X-Powered-By: 1800Flowers web server
X-AspNet-Version: 1.21.366
Connection: close
Transfer-Encoding: chunked

No redirect. So both versions get me to the site, but excluding the dashes from my request does require the server to take an extra step. Should I take that to mean that the version with the dashes (the one that the logo looks like the domain name would be) is the default and the one without them (the one that you hear when they say the name) was set up to catch errors and keep the competitors from getting control of mistyped traffic?

One last thing to note, now that Clinton’s “apparently” won Indiana, according to MSNBC: In the footer of the site’s home page they’ve got links to other sites they run. Among them are 1-800-Baskets and 1-800-Greetings, with links anchored by “Greeting Cards” and “Gift Baskets” respectively. And the targets of those links? 1-800-Baskets is at http://www.1800baskets.com/ and 1-800-Greetings is http://www.1800greetings.com/. And just for fun, what happens when you add the dashes so the URLs match the company names on those two?

http://www.1-800-baskets.com/ returns a 301 redirect to http://www.1800baskets.com/ and http://www.1-800-greetings.com/ returns a proper 200, but the news isn’t quite as good as it appears. If I request http://www.1800greetings.com/ I get a 301 to http://1800greetings.cardways.com/cp001/clientinterface/creategiftcard.asp?cltid=121&returnid=0 (an affiliate deal, apparently), which looks like this:

Screen capture of 1800greetings.com

And yes, a request for http://www.1-800-greetings.com/ returns a 200, but it looks like this:

Screen capture of 1-800-greetings.comThe wrong site.

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Wes Anderson, I’m So Disappointed in You

Wes AndersonRemember a few days ago, when I wrote about AT&T’s “decidely stupid” new advertising campaign, but noted that it probably wouldn’t last long, since they would soon be premiering a series of new ads directed by Wes Anderson? Well, I was sort of wrong. The decidedly stupid ads are the new ones by Wes Anderson. I should have guessed by the Brechtian staging that they were his, but since they’re so decidedly stupid, I guess I never imagined he could suck so much.

You can see all five of them (hopefully that’s all there is at Goldenfiddle.

I’m so disappointed in Anderson. I loved the Amex spot he did. I just hope The Darjeeling Limited is better than this nonsense.

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Cingular No More

crossed out Cingular logoIt’s finally happened.

I wrote back in May about the path the “new” AT&T was taking to rebrand itself away from the Cingular name. They’d already gone from “Cingular is now the new AT&T — your world, delivered” to “Cingular’s name is now AT&T.”

With their latest (decidedly stupid) campaign, they’ve switched the tagline to simply “the new AT&T works in more places” — no more mention of Cingular (although the mobile page on their site still tells us that “Cingular is now the new AT&T”).

And it seems this (stupid) campaign is to be fairly short-lived. AT&T has already announced that Wes Anderson is going to be directing some new corporate spots with a new theme: Your Seamless World

AT&T Inc said on Tuesday it was launching a new corporate advertising campaign, with ads designed to convey a younger, edgier style associated with wireless.

The company’s “Your Seamless World” corporate ad campaign features situations that “speak to the on-the-go lifestyle of today’s consumers and businesses.”

The campaign includes six television spots overseen by Wes Anderson, director of films including “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

AT&T also said it will now use orange as its primary corporate color. Ads, company signage and its Web site are undergoing a “color makeover,” the company said.

“The new initiatives are designed to highlight how AT&T helps connect people to their worlds wherever they live and work,” AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said in a statement. “We want to ensure this message is reflected in our brand.”

AT&T logoSo we can expect an orange death star in the near future. Joy. Actually, I think we can hope for them to drop that awful Oasis song. Anderson’s known for his use of music, and he has better taste than that.

I suppose the next step is to drop the “new” from “the new AT&T,” but I have a feeling that they’re going to be reminding us that they’re new for quite some time, letting “new” get very old on us, because that’s the youthful and edgy way to do things.

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