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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Choosing An Announcer

Obama coinSo, you’ve come up with the idea for a new product that you believe is going to tap right into the current zeitgeist and really excite the public. Congratulations. Obviously, you’re going to advertise online, since that’s such a cost-effective medium these days. Are you thinking about running spots on the eye of hell as well? That’s going to increase your costs, but it will guarantee a lot more eyes. And don’t forget that you don’t just have to pay for the time your ad spends on the air. You’ve also got to deal with the cost of production, which is likely to be a lot more than your web development budget.

A big part of that budget is going to go to getting a voice-over artist to read your copy. My advice is to spend the money to get this right. Listen closely to the people you audition. Obviously, you want them to convey the right mood. You want them to be able to get your audience excited about your product. But you also want them to sound like they know what they’re talking about. For example, if your product is powerful, and you want to make sure the public knows the product is powerful, be careful to hire an announcer who can say the word “powerful” without it coming out as “parful.”

Let’s say you’re selling a limited edition, uncirculated inaugural coin, layered in pure 24 karat gold. Sounds good? Well, that depends on how your announcer says those words. Don’t make the mistake these folks did.

Innoggeral? Uncirckalated? Those aren’t words. Laird is a word, albeit a somewhat archaic one, but I don’t think you want your potential customers to think they can buy a Scottish landowner who’s been dipped in gold — not from you, anyway. You’re going to have to deal with an awful lot of returns if you make that mistake.

Let this be a warning to you: if you’re going to advertise in a medium that requires voice-over talent, either choose an announcer who can say your words, or choose words your announcer can say. I don’t think that’s asking too much of you.

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Maverick



I’ve been saying lately that McCain and his campaign have been lying about Obama and his record, but now I’m having second thoughts. After all, they keep telling us what a maverick McCain is. When I hear the word “maverick,” I naturally think of Bret Maverick, that hero of the wild west on the eye of hell. And Brett Maverick was a gambler! From that perspective, it all makes sense: McCain isn’t a liar. He, like that other Maverick, is just bluffing.

To aid you in thinking the right way — the hard drinkin’, hard livin’, all-American gambler way — about Maverick McCain, I’ve created the file below. Just mouse over it and see if it feels right. Oh, and make sure your speakers are turned up.

Brett Maverick McCain

Convinced? Me neither. On second thought, never mind. McCain is just a liar.

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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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Say Hey, Billy Mays

Billy MaysOh, that Billy Mays. What can you say about a fella like Billy Mays?

Billy Mays knows how to say “power,” and Billy Mays knows how to say “full,” but ironically, Billy Mays can’t seem to say “powerful” without it sounding like “parful.” And wouldn’t you know it, many of the products promoted by Billy Mays are powerful, so he has no choice but to keep trying to get that darned word right. Poor old long-suffering Billy Mays.

Billy Mays works in the wonderful world of the eye of hell, but happy, innocent guy that he is, Billy Mays doesn’t understand that that thing they clip to his shirt is a microphone, and that they can control the level of his voice. Instead, Billy Mays screams at the top of his lungs about his various and sundry “parful” products. That silly Billy Mays.

For more about Billy Mays, be sure to check out Billy Mays Mayhem, which features a collection of the sounds of Billy Mays! Sadly, the collection doesn’t include Billy Mays saying “parful.” You’ll just have to take my word for it on that one.

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Viva Commerce! (#15)

Dear freecreditreport.com,

First of all, I have to respect your chutzpah. The free credit report mentioned in your domain name isn’t actually your product, but a little bonus that comes with membership in Triple Advantage, but you bravely branded the whole deal as if the little freebie was the real product, singing the praises of the free credit report and then quickly mumbling that the “offer applies with enrollment to Triple Advantage” right at the end. You could have set up a site at tripleadvantage.com, branded the product as Triple Advantage and mentioned the free credit report that comes with a trial membership, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun.

And it’s not as if you’re ashamed of Triple Advantage. If I want to, I can go to your parent company’s site and use its internal search to get to its official page, or I can read about it on the FAQ page at freecreditreport.com. And while I’m at the FAQ, I can even read about how any US resident has the right to a free credit report each year, without joining Triple Advantage. Clearly, you’re not hiding a thing.

Apart from that, I was hoping we could discuss the ads you’re currently running on the eye of hell — the ones featuring that ironically cheerful troubadour with bad credit, singing to us about his financial difficulties.

Well, I married my dream girl
I married my dream girl
But she didn’t tell me her credit was bad
So now instead of living in a pleasant suburb
We’re living in the basement at her mom and dad’s

Great stuff. I find myself singing that one in the shower all the time.

I’ve got a problem with the other one, though. I believe it’s called “Pirate“. In it, our friend is dressed as a pirate, working in a seafood restaurant, because some hacker stole his identity (and now he’s in there every evening serving chowder and iced tea).

What confuses me is this couplet:

Should have gone with freecreditreport.com
I could have seen this coming at me like an atom bomb

Does that make sense? I mean, is an atom bomb really an exemplar of something one can easily see coming? I don’t think anyone’s ever seen an atom bomb coming at them, actually. For one thing, atom bombs have only come at people a couple of times in history, and both times they fell out of the sky. If anyone had noticed them coming at all, it wouldn’t have been for more than a second before they were incinerated, and since those people were among the first to have an atom bomb coming at them, I don’t suppose that second would have involved them thinking, “Say, that’s an atom bomb coming at me.”

I get that you needed a rhyme for “com,” but why couldn’t you go with something like

  • I could have gotten a big loan just like my buddy Tom
  • Then I’d complete my collection of the films of Herbert Lom
  • I wouldn’t have to borrow money from my dear old mom

Just trying to be helpful.

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Give It To Me Straight

Remember this?

At about 2:05 into the video, Cronkite says,

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time — 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

“President Kennedy died”

I bring this up because I got up this morning, fed the cats, made myself some coffee, booted up the old ‘puter and switched on the eye of hell to see if there was anything in the news. That’s when I heard Heidi Collins, her hair done all wrong today (hey CNN hair people — it doesn’t help to make her head look like a rectangular prism) announce that “Henry Hyde has passed.”

“Henry Hyde has passed”

The moment I heard that, I remembered Cronkite from 44 years ago. Actually, as I remembered it, Cronkite had simply said, “President Kennedy is dead.” (N.B.: I was four months old when Kennedy was assassinated. Obviously, I didn’t remember it from seeing it live. In fact, my mother tells me that when the news of Kennedy’s death was announced, I was in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn, playing on a patch of grass.) But my point remains the same: he gave it to us straight.

Whether that particular phrase was in Collins’ script or she said it of her own accord, it just makes me wonder why journalists on the eye of hell have decided it’s better to feed us euphemisms. Is it their place to soften the blow when they bring us bad news? Not only does “passed” sound softer than “died,” to my ultra-sensitive atheist ears, it’s tied in with passed on to something else — that is, it’s tantamount to Collins announcing, “Henry Hyde is in Heaven, sitting at the right hand of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Hyperbole? Well, duh. I’d like to think that an anchor on any channel other than CBN would be fired if they took things that far. But the point stands. It’s the news. Give me facts, and don’t dilute them with the kind of language you use around children to keep from upsetting them.

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Viva Commerce! (#14)

Honda AccordDear Honda,

I just caught your latest spot on the eye of hell, in which you ask the question, “Just how new is the all new Honda Accord?”

Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of smart-ass question is that? Haven’t you been paying attention?

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Taken by Surprise by a Trio of Roguish Ads

I wrote last year about the way Nissan was going a tad far in product placements on Heroes.

On Heroes, Hiro and his friend are renting a car and Hiro is absolutely insistent that it must be a Nissan Versa. Ostensibly, this is because that’s the car they rent in the comic book that’s predicting his future, but does it actually name the car in the comic, or is Hiro just an expert at picking out the model of any car he sees? Keep in mind that Hiro is from Japan, where if the Versa is even sold, it probably goes by a different model name. And of course, there’s an ad about the car on the show’s home page, and a commercial or two for the car during the broadcast.

Nissan RogueThey’re at it again, but this time it may be going even further. In the season’s premiere episode, Claire’s father gives her a Nissan Rogue (the fabulous new crossover the commercials for which whore out the Clash). That episode was presented with “limited commercial interruption” by Nissan, which included three Rogue commercials in a row. One of the features they push about the Rogue is its “intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket.”

In episode two, Claire’s car gets stolen. She goes to the copy shop where her father is working and admits what’s happened, taking the blame by indicating that she forgot to lock it. She forgot to lock it? But it has an intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket. I know it does, because the nice people at Nissan told me so. Three times.

I’m predicting that in next week’s episode, we’re going to find out that the car was taken by someone with special abilities. Maybe Sylar’s already found Claire and he took the car for a joyride before slicing her head open. I don’t know. But it can’t simply be that some normal human just opened the door and drove off. They couldn’t. The Rogue has an intelligent key that never has to leave your pocket.

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Bill Maher on Religion and Politics

Have you seen this yet? Skip to about 2:30 (around 3:55 on the countdown timer) for the relevant part.

Maher makes some great points, one of which I pointed out early this year when Mitt Romney responded to someone saying he’d never vote for a Mormon.

One of the great things about this great land is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions, and I’m convinced that the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country.

Translation: you may not like my religion, but at least I’m not an atheist.

A few of Maher’s points don’t quite work for me, however. I don’t know where he got his data, but I don’t think nonbelievers (atheists and agnostics combined) make up 20% of the voting public in the US — or to be more precise, I don’t think enough nonbelievers would admit they are to bring our numbers up to 20%.

But the main problem is that, if as he points out 70% of Americans believe it’s important to have a president with strong religious beliefs, then you simply can’t compare nonbelievers (or “rationalists,” as he prefers to call us) to other minority groups. If a politician makes a point of telling the African American community that s/he’s on their side, that does not automatically equate to not being on the side of white people. You can support women without losing the male vote. There are enough straights who support gay rights that you can come out in favor of at least some semblance of equal rights for the GLBT community without losing the support of everyone else.

But about as close as you can come to supporting nonbelievers is one of those namby pamby statements about how the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have one. You can’t say that there’s nothing wrong with the idea of an atheist president, although we’ve undoubtedly had some. If a candidate dared say they weren’t religious they’d be dead. It was only this year that a single member of the House, Pete Stark of California came out as a nontheist, and that’s after being in office for some 34 years.

Sorry Bill, but supporting us means losing support from the majority. That’s just the way it is.

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