Friday, July 29, 2011

The 70s - When Laziness Really Got Going

Our house was built in 1979. Apparently in those days, a "must-have" feature in a house in this neighborhood was an intercom system. This is the last one, out on the patio, that I have yet to remove. All four bedrooms had one that I've pulled from the wall, leaving giant boxy holes. They're not repaired yet, just covered with framed pictures, and I suppose they could make great wall safes someday. The "master unit" of this system was in the kitchen, where you could make all the rooms listen to a radio station if you chose. All the units could speak to each other and answer a caller at the door. Now mind you, the house is not that large, which makes the need to talk to someone in the next room via an intercom seem a little ridiculous.

"Dinner's ready!" the mother of this house in 1979 would intone quietly from the kitchen intercom to her children in the far, far reaches of the 2,200 square foot space, then she'd let the Top 40 station continue playing into their rooms. Dad out at the pool on Saturday would hear the doorbell chime. Then he'd grab a towel and instead of just peeking in the patio door through the living room and into the foyer to see the caller at the door, he'd push the "talk" button on the intercom and say, "Yes? Hello?" After no response, Dad would say into the intercom, "You have to push the talk button to talk, then release it to listen." Then they'd talk over each other a little and finally Dad, frustrated, would go answer the door. It was probably the Jehovah's Witnesses. And late at night when the parents were asleep, younger brother could call his older brother in the next room and whisper, "I know you have marijuana. I'm gonna tell if you don't give me some."

I was looking at this stupid contraption on the patio with detached bemusement, disdaining anyone who ever used it, wondering what sort of idiots ever put it to use more than once, just to see the novelty of it. Then I remembered that I've been guilty of calling my own children to the table by texting "dinner" to their phones. And now I'm thinking I might not remove this one. It's sort of a museum piece to me at this point, a relic from another era, a reminder that as we grow more advanced, finding new ways to make life easier, we sacrifice a little something, usually some human interaction, with each forward step.

Crossposted to Radio Free Babylon.

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Was it Racist or Just Plain Retarded? Of Douches and Dummies.

The title of this post is not meant in any way to offend my many mentally challenged readers, so please stop being such fags.

The disclaimer above was not meant in any way to offend my many gay readers. I defer to Louis CK.

The trouble the Richards Group finds itself in over the "Hail to the V" campaign for Summer's Eve is mostly because of the stereotyping of Black and Hispanic women. References to spending time on their hair or leopard thongs have been deemed insensitive. For me, the campaign is just stupid. "We'll have hand puppets mimicking vaginas!" someone told the Summer's Eve people. "OK," said the Summer's Eve rep, "But make sure you have a Black puppet and a Hispanic puppet."

It's got to suck when your agency lands an account like Summer's Eve. Some poor copywriter in Dallas got handed a brief that read, "Make the product appealing to a broad range of women, with emphasis toward Blacks and Hispanics. Client prefers a fresh, humorous voice. Need a campaign title and corresponding microsite that expresses the power and pride of having a vagina." That poor copywriter was probably a white girl and she is probably not putting "Hail to the V" in her book. Any guys working on that account were teased at lunch by the other guys in the shop, "Hey, Alan. You working on the Summer's Eve account, right?" And the whole table explodes with laughter as they repeatedly call Alan a douche.

I think the stereotyping charge, while valid, clouds the broader problem that the whole approach was just off. This is not a product where humor really works. But as long as the issue is that one hand puppet is a Black stereotype and another is a Latina stereotype, let's talk about that. I used to do voiceover (and will still if anyone wants me to) and as far as I can tell, Richards used a Black woman and a Latina for the roles of the talking vagina puppets.

I've probably pointed this out here before, but when will the stereotyping of Italians stop in advertising? Seems every local pizza joint has a mama saying, "Eat, Eat!" or a mafioso wannabe threatening you with violence. Rarely are the actors playing these roles actually Italian. And how about those bad Irish accented ads around St. Pat's day? They all sound like leprechauns. Jamaicans can't catch a break in advertising either, with some dork doing his "mon" voice for an ad for a beach bar. But for whatever reason, those stereotypes persist and no one really gets alarmed.

I tuned in (online) briefly to a radio station where I was once employed. An ad for a Mexican restaurant was played featuring a very white man doing a very bad and over the top Mexican accent. I wondered who approved it and if the Mexican restaurant was really Mexican owned, because no Mexican should've approved that ad. Cajun accents are imitated badly all over the country in ads, and even a giant and successful chain like Outback Steakhouse insists on having their jingle singers overemphasize the Australian accent as they sing, "Leyts gaueau dayown to thee Owutbayck Stayeakhowyse nowyu!" People don't really  have accents when they sing, unless they're really trying to, like when those chumps Green Day try to pretend they're British punkers.

So when Richards hired the actors to play the roles of the vagina puppets, did the Black woman read her lines and say, "Seriously? You're going with 'spend time on your hair'?" She should have. Did the Hispanic actor tell the copywriter, "I think this leopard thong line is a little stereotyped, don't you?" She should've at least protested the "ayi-ayi-ayi" opening. According the the Atlanta Post,

"The jive-talking black hand depicting an African-American vagina did not sit too well with the feminine products market. Nor did the saucy misrepresentation of a Latina vagina."

Now Richards has pulled the ads and is busy doing damage control, insisting that the ads were not racist. They'll be fired soon by Summer's Eve, I would bet.

Richards took half a step in the right direction by at least using authentic voices, if not authentic words. I'm not Black or Hispanic, so my opinion as to the racism of this campaign doesn't and shouldn't apply. As High Jive at MultiCultClassics has repeatedly said in one form or another,

"When will the culturally clueless of the ad world realize that no one can decide for others whether or not something is racist? To declare that something is not racist demonstrates arrogance of the highest order. In fact, it often makes the person declaring something is not racist actually look like a racist."

The problem, HighJive has always pointed out (as did Larry Woodward in a recent piece) is that minorities are woefully underrepresented in decision making roles in the advertising industry. That's true, but still, you've got to be one stupid White decision maker to have approved what Richards did for Summer's Eve.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Silly Mexican Drug Dealers Chopping off Heads and Ruining it For Everyone

Since I won't be in this company's service much longer, let me share with you some "feedback" from one of the "stakeholders" on a current job.

We are really trying to push the family aspect of Cancun. We have been told that many people are fearing Mexico at this point and the more family imagery we can push the better.  

You have been told? Someone had to TELL you this? You're never going to lose the "Assistant" prefix to your title of Marketing Manager if you don't start figuring this stuff out. Now I'm sure Mexico is fine, by and large, but it's hard to avoid the stories coming out of that country. When someone is considering a vacation these days, "possibility of beheading" is not what they're looking for in a destination. But I like how you solved this problem of "people fearing Mexico", Assistant Marketing Manager. Let's "push family imagery" to allay those silly fears.

Yes, the poor anonymous person working for the anonymous company quoted above is just trying to sell what he/she's been told to sell, so please don't jump to his/her defense or to the defense of marketing in general. The point I am making is that there is, or CAN BE, I should say, a very sleazy side to this business.

The image below is called "Pinche Gringos - Cozumel, Mexico" and is the latest from my Saturated Street Scenes gallery.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Kenny Powers Means for The Future of Advertising

By now you've seen him, the brash, arrogant and hilarious Kenny Powers, new spokesman for K-Swiss athletic footwear. Kenny berates, cajoles, swears a blue streak and promotes K-Swiss "Tubes" like they were the most innovative product since canned ham. Kenny is of course the creation of Danny McBride and the main character on McBride's HBO series Eastbound and Down.

Brash and arrogant spokesmen are nothing new. There is in fact a glut of them at present. They are over-the-top confident, beyond macho to the point of wink-wink caricatures. Most Interesting Man, Old Spice Guy, Keith Stone, the smug asshole who does the stand-ups for another shaving cream, the name of which escapes me. Even DQ is in on the act. The Fabio vs. Old Spice Guy manufactured "war" commencing today on behalf of Old Spice is an example of taking it way too far. The fact that I'm aware of this stunt shames me. Full disclosure: I myself created a character about a year ago named Ronnie Reed, a redneck landscaper with no shortage of confidence, and also multiple children by various women. (He's still looking for a gig, so call me, John Deere.)

K-Swiss is taking it beyond over-the-top to a different place, a place where we all live. In short, they allow swearing. And not just swearing of the mild variety. This is Kenny Powers type swearing; prolific, masterful and again, hilarious. The TV commercials for McBride's K-Swiss videos are toned down, but what makes this campaign so different is the willingness on the part of K-Swiss to embrace the full power of the Powers character, as seen in this "uncensored" video.

I think this represents a major shift in the culture of advertising. I can't think of another brand that has gone to this length to embrace and reflect the current comedic trend. Not that cussing is new in comedy, but surely you've noticed that the network censors are a little less stringent these days with what gets bleeped and what remains. (I think I heard the word "dick" on a network show not long ago.)

If a brand tried this approach a decade ago there would be boycotts, backlash and instant resignations, followed by a rapid descent in sales. Today, I think the opposite is true. I don't have sales figures to back that claim up, but maybe a commenter can come along with some data. If nothing else, the videos are a hit. K-Swiss has broken ground here and allowed itself to be associated with the strange and funny cultural phenomenon that is Kenny Powers. I hope other brands don't see this success and try to copy it. They will though. A decade from now this approach will be mainstream.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Is This Thing On?

Some will not have noticed I was gone, but it’s been a few months since I put this blog on what I called “indefinite hiatus.” I took a leave from what started to become a burden, that of entertaining you ungrateful and slothful people who are supposed to be working, but instead troll the wires looking for laughs and oddities, anything but that dreaded task you’re supposed to be toiling over, the one that saps your soul and makes you long for a real job; something like a lumberjack or a crab fisherman. But then you remember there’s no WiFi out in the middle of the North Pacific and you settle back into your dimly lit cube, with your Starbucks and your iTunes and your Bose® | QuietComfort® Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones and you say to yourself, “Life could be worse. I guess. Whatever.”

When we last parted, I was seeking full-time work and I needed a roof. Since then, I found a serviceable assignment as a contractor with a large corporation specializing in hospitality and travel. (There is little else here in Orlando.) This assignment enabled me to get that roof. Now we don’t cringe every time it starts raining at Casa de Jetpacks. But style guides and communication guidelines don’t often leave much room for thinking outside the PDF, so I kept busy on some other side interests. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re familiar with my series "Coffee with Jesus", (54 of those to date), Saturated Street Scenes (the latest is called "Pinche Gringos - Cozumel, Mexico"), and hopefully with other aspects of what is happening at Radio Free Babylon, an 11-year old endeavor/passion/mission that I’ve always fantasized would someday employ not only me, but hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. (Not really, just me.) To date, I think we sold a mug on cafepress once.

The contract mentioned above is expiring, they told me this morning, in early August. They have hired a full-time staff employee. They would like for me to train my replacement. I’m thinking of training her all wrong. There are other irons in the fire, and as I wait for them to heat up, I thought it was a good time to fire up the old jetpack blog and see if it had any kick left for me. I already like it again, I think. (And I'm blogging from work! Shhhhh!)

So, put this blog back in your RSS readers if you deleted it, like RFB on Facebook, Link-In with me and comment here when something pleases you or pisses you off. We writers are a needy lot, just like anyone else who makes their living in the “arts.” Designers, musicians, actors, hell – even jugglers and mimes – we all crave that little morsel of recognition. You don’t get paid to blog in most instances and you can’t hear any applause or booing, so comments are like the little fish tossed to the trained seal at Sea World. (Sorry, I meant SeaWorld® Theme Park.)

If you have actual little fish to toss my way, send me an email and I’ll give you my address.

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