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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

On Advertising Humor

It pains me to no end how many commercials on TV try, try so very hard, to be funny, and fail utterly. I pay more attention to commercials then I should, and I think I have some advice for would-be advertising comedians.

You can’t be funny and pitch a product at the same time. That’s not to say you can’t do them both in the same commercial (all these ads try), but you can’t do them both simultaneously. Most commercials go for a comedy-ad-comedy approach. Since, as they say, comedy is all about timing. This doesn’t work. For example, which joke is funnier?

What did the snail say when he rode on the turtle’s back?
Weeeeeeee!

-or-

What did the snail say when he rode on the turtle’s back?
I just found this great website, where you can do all this cool stuff.
Oh, by the way, he said Weeeeeee!

Whether or not you think that’s funny (it is from a certain high school chem teacher), the former is clearly more funny. The mid-joke pitch does not work.

Awkward humor is hard. You know the sort of joke I mean, where a situation is so awkward that it is funny. When it’s done well, this can be really funny, but even among comedians its hard to do well. Among amateurish advertisers it’s near impossible. (Add in a pitch in the middle of the joke, and you have definitely ruined it) Awkward commercials don’t do much to sell me your product.

Homemade commercials aren’t funny. If you’re trying to be funny in a homemade commercial, STOP. You have already made one huge mistake – making a homemade commercial – and you are about to compound it further. We might laugh, but we will be laughing at you, not with you, and it will not attract our business.

Does this all mean that comedy must be entirely banished from advertising? No! I wish more people would put humor in their ads. However, it has to be done right. Doing it right goes back to the first rule: you can’t pitch and humor at the same time.

Do them separately.

I think Comcast (whether or not I like their company, which is another post altogether) has it right. Like this classic.

Stupid? Yes. Funny. I think so. And the pitch doesn’t get in the way, though the humor does get my attention. Right on.

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About two weeks ago, I was looking for a good goat image to use in Etchstar‘s custom image engraving service. (A gift for a friend, if you were wondering.) Thumbing through Google’s image search, I learned an unsettling truth: many goats are ugly, and those unfortunate goats who aren’t, have ugly pictures taken of them.

Shoot, I thought, maybe I’ll have to get her something else. Or I might even have to draw an image myself.

It was just then that I stumbled across an adorable illustration. Perfect! Now, the practical ethics of tracingĀ  over or drawing over a photo I found might be questionable (when does a derivative work become a work unto itself?), but if I was going to use someone else’s drawing, I knew I aught to ask them. No problem, since this is, after all, the Internet, home of copyfighters, open-source heros, and generally lots of people who are just happy to have someone paying attention to them (like me!). I shot off an e-mail as quickly as I found the “contact” page and went to bed, confident I could place my order in the morning.

Or not.

Instead, I had a sternly worded e-mail explaining to me that the artist had worked very hard and generally starved quite a while to get to the point where she could actually demand payment for her work, and now that she had, she wasn’t going to let people trample on her rights (I’m paraphrasing, of course – she was a little nicer then that actually).

Who exactly had I e-mailed? Back on her site, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Turns out she’s a cartoonist for the New Yorker. Well.

It turned out, there was a slight misunderstanding. She had thought I was Etchstar, asking to use her work (for free) to print and sell lots of engraved notebooks to other people. No small wonder why she said no to that. I would have too. When I explained the truth of the situation (I’m just some dude, making only one, and at no profit) she was more understanding. Ultimately, we worked out an arrangement very similar to the one under which I am showing you the goat below (that is to say, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).

An adorable goat, no?

An adorable goat, no?

Of course, I’m grateful that she let me use her work without compensation. She would have been entitled to ask for it, regardless of how I was using her image. Instead, though, she let me off with the promise that I would do what I could to let people know it was hers. Which is what I’m doing.

Her name is Carolita Johnson. You can look at more of her stuff here, buy some of it here, or follow her blog here. So go, look at her stuff, and buy something! Tell her Zack sent you. And thanks again, Carolita!

(A quick note to would be, er, “friendly borrowers”: The arrangement Carolita agreed to with me was a personal favor, and I can’t say she would do the same again with that or any other piece of her work. At most I can tell you that anything on her blog falls under the Creative Commons license above, unless she changes her mind in the future. So if you like her stuff, then buy it, and if you can’t buy it, ask. Politely. )

(Another quick note: I find this whole story pretty hilarious, because really, the internet is so packed with amateurs and hobbyist who would do anything to get linked, looked at, or lauded, that it’s bizarre to remember that anyone successful actually uses this inter-tubes thing. Good lesson for the future though: before you e-mail someone to beg off their work, take five seconds to scan their site and figure out who they are.)

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There’s been a lot of talk about water boarding, and I haven’t really brought it up. I’m not certain how pertinent an issue it still is. That said, for anyone on the fence about the “Is it torture or not?” issue, I recommend the following experiment. It’s really easy to do and I think rather effective, despite actually being a rather poor analogy for the actual interrogation technique.

The next time you take a shower, bring a washcloth with you. Make sure it’s really good and wet. Then lean your head back a little, as if you were looking up at the stars. Inhale. Lay the washcloth over your face, and exhale slowly. Feel the warm cloth billow out a little, filled with your breath. It probably feel pretty nice.

Exhale all the way, and then inhale deeply.

Then, draw your own conclusion: is it torture? Please comment.

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Barack Obama On Race

I’m not going to claim to be politically neutral here, because I think you’re smart enough to make your own decision regardless of what I say. With that in mind, I hope you caught the recent Daily Show episode with clips of Obama’s speech about the recent Reverend Wright commotion. Besides living up to the Daily Show’s usual standards, Obama is amazing (especially at around 5:00). I can do little better then to parrot Jon Stewart and say, in summary, that “at eleven o’clock AM, on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults.”

Here is the full speech, worth the watch.

(Oh, and no, my support of Obama and his stance on race issues is not some sort of April Fools joke. But enjoy it anyway! Don’t be an April Fish!)

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On Advertising

The short story, of course, is that advertising sucks: it is a carefully crafted way to separate you from your money. It makes you feel uncool, afraid, or in need when you aren’t, and then tells you what you can consume to make it better.

The long story is a little more complicated. Not because advertising has great redeeming virtues (I don’t think it’s even as funny as it used to be anymore), but because I would be doing you an injustice without mentioning some ways to avoid advertising’s influence.

The most obvious, of course, is to cut yourself off from it. If you don’t see it, it can’t effect you. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t an option. I know I am not willing to make the sacrifices I would need to make. So what can you do?

One way is to become a savvy consumer. I didn’t realize it until I recently read this article on Get Rich Slowly, but I think my parents did a fairly good job of preparing me. Learn a little about economics and advertising. Think critically about commercials, at least occasionally. What are they selling? How are they selling it? Quite often, thinking about it is enough to break the control. You’ll question, and usually advertising’s arguments can’t stand up to questioning (unless it’s a genuinely good product). I know I feel good every time I notice what the advertiser didn’t say about a product. One guess why that car commercial didn’t mention fuel mileage? Or safety features?

Viewing them as humor works too. Frankly, a lot of the commercials out there are funny, but not for the reasons the advertisers intended. One recent car commercial, for example, explains that recent research showed that cup holders are the top priority when most women choose a new car. The commercial then goes on to deny that as silly and explain how big the engine is. I’ve got to hand it to them, they are apparently experts at alienating their demographic.

Perhaps the best way to fight advertising, though, is to keep personal goals in mind. If you know what you want, and how to get there, you wont be as easy to sway. Before you buy another new TV, remember your financial goals. Before the Oreos, remember your diet. Advertisers typically don’t sell you on a product, but on what the product will do for you. Not cars and diet pills, but popularity and a sexy body. If you already know what you need and how to get there, you wont even hear those commercials.

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