Our recommended OpEd must read of the week comes from Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, who writes in his New York Times blog about the 3 Myths that Republicans and other Nay Sayers are propagating about the Democratic Health Care Reform bill and documents their fallacies. It makes for a fascinating read, and you can lock into it by pointing your cursor and clicking here!§
Some Random Thoughts on Advertising
Advertising is the art of making a person desire a product that you make or sell. People who specialize in this trade usually work for advertising agencies. These people dream up campaigns to be run in newspapers or magazines, and also on television, campaigns which are designed to make you crave the product they are being paid to tout.
These people live in a world hardly related to the world you and I live in. They deal not in subtleties but in absolutes. Their unenviable task is to convince the prospective buyer that their product, though it might cost more in the short term, will save you money in the long term by working more efficiently. The number one tool they use to hook us into spending our hard earned cash on their product is fantasy, which they use to slip into our subconscious and overcome our resistance thus bringing their product to the forefront of our reality.
The most advertised product sold on television has to be the automobile, which next to your home is the most costly mass marketed product you can buy. Very little imagination and fantasy goes into automobile commercials, as they are expensive and spending valuable time showing anything other than the product itself would be considered a waste of valuable commercial time. As a result most car commercials are usually unimaginative and dull, one shiny car after another whizzing by on yet another highway to nowhere.
Everyone, that is, but Volkswagen. During the 1960’s Americans of all ages had a peculiar pastime, the first person to see a VW Beetle drive by would give his/her companion a punch on the arm. And there were plenty Beetles on America’s highways back then. Well, this is 2010, and in a recent series of commercials VW is trying to revive the pastime, this time a person gives their companion as punch when they see any kind of Volkswagen drive by. The punch dub commercial below is a delight to watch, delivering one punch after another, each with a smile-cracking followup, and especially funny is the celebrity who makes a surprise appearance at the end of the commercial. Enjoy!§
Following close after the automobile would have to be the product that thanks to state responsibility laws is the one that most every automobile driver must have – auto insurance. How do you sell auto insurance on TV? First off you have to pretend that your brand of insurance will cost the consumer less and deliver more. And next, and most important, you have to use fantasy, a chunk of surrealism, to capture your victim’s attention.
Using fantasy and/or surrealism is not easy to do, but Geico does it using an animation of what is supposed to be a tiny, talking gecko (with a slightly English accent), above, which lately has been interacting with the presumed CEO of the company. Before that Geico was heavily involved with a slogan which claimed that switching to Geico was so simple that “even a cave man could do it,” a campaign which had a series of smartly dressed, though terribly sensitive caveman looking types whose feelings would invariably get hurt by every commercial’s end, Geico’s slogan invariably ended up offending the poor fellows. Geico's latest commercial is strange indeed, as we see a darkened house and hear an extremely large family all say goodnight to grandpa. We suppose this is supposed to ring a bell in the memories of those who were raised in large families.
Perhaps equally or more effective is a recently conceived series of automobile insurance commercials by Progressive Insurance in which the product is sold packaged in white boxes with blue lettering, in a mostly white themed store, minded by a white clad, pasty white faced, heavily lipsticked lady who bubbles over with enthusiasm for her product.
She confronts at least one confused insurance buyer per commercial, and ferrets out his/her needs and desires, frequently giving the customer an also white gadget with which he can configure himself a policy based on exactly what he wants to pay for the policy.
Why this completely nonsensical approach to selling a product which indeed has no substance or physical properties works is beyond me, but due to the heavy concentration of the advertising campaign one could only assume that it must be working. And if you haven’t seen one you’re in luck, as a typical one is embedded below.
Just for the record the Progressive Insurance girl whose name in the commercials is Flo, is played by an actress/comedienne named Stephanie Courtney. In the commercial above she appears as the advertising executives envisioned her, an almost completely artificial mask of a human being. If you are curious as to how Ms Courtney sees herself check out the video below which shows her doing one of her comedy routines.§
It takes a brave advertising agency to make a really entertaining commercial. Volkswagen did with the punch dub commercial shown above, but it’s not done very often because the key element for selling a product is based primarily on the commercial’s irritant quotient (which supposedly keeps the product in your memory.) This, of course, is diametrically opposed to its qualities as entertainment.
However, for many years the makers of BlueBell ice cream from the friendly little creamery in Brenham, Texas, expanded their Texas based product to mostly Southern states, and by 2004 in spite of being sold in only 18 states nationwide, their ice creams were the third best selling in the nation. Certainly a primary reason for this was their most entertaining TV commercials which were created by a Houston advertising executive, the late Lyle Metzdorf, and they were among the most entertaining on television. They alternated between contented, operatic singing cows and ice cream truck drivers who ate all they could, and then reluctantly delivered the rest to your favorite store. We googled but didn’t come up with one in which the cows were singing opera but the one below will give you a rough idea of a commercial which entertains.
However, as important as their commercials might have been in the successful propagation of the product, the most important characteristic in BlueBell’s case, and the primary reason for its mercurial sales, is its taste. R.W. Apple, Jr. of The New York Times wrote: "with clean, vibrant flavors and a rich, luxuriant consistency achieved despite a butterfat content a little lower than some competitors, it hooks you from the first spoonful. Entirely and blessedly absent are the cloying sweetness, chalky texture, and oily, gummy aftertaste that afflict many mass-manufactured ice creams." In 2001, Forbes named BlueBell the best ice cream in the country. And we close with this trivia note, BlueBell is named for a Texas wildflower which, like ice cream, also thrives in the summer.§
While we’re into commercials let’s not forget that Orbitz fellow whose hovercraft lowers him almost daily to yet another beneficiary of an Orbitz refund check. If that’s not sheer fantasy we don’t know what the hell is, and their latest commercial has some bumbling stranger crawling onto the hovercraft only to have it start up, causing our Orbitz spokesman to ask, “How’s he doing? I don’t want to look.”
As we end our little survey of the advertising business we should mention the newest entity to master the art of selling products. That would be Google, the Little Search Engine That Could (AND DID!).
Google makes untold millions every time you search the internet using its search tool by simply aligning relevant advertisements to your searches. This, of course, turns out to be the most precise product placement tool yet conceived, consequently in the few short years of its existence Google has become both synonymous with internet search (the word “google” is used by many as a verb meaning search) and gargantuan in size and wealth.
And so even though our interests on this day were in several advertisements created for the medium of television, we thought a treatise on advertising would not be complete unless we at least mentioned Google and its unique place in the world of advertising.§
My niece Susannah drives a Prius. After that harrowing television story Monday of the Prius that began accelerating out of control on a highway, and after the driver called 911 a police car driving beside him gave him instructions byway of its loudspeaker as to what to do. A steep incline combined with his turning off the engine plus pressing both the foot brake and the hand brake simultaneously did manage to bring the car to a complete stop with nobody injured.
Subsequently the Tech Blog of the San Francisco Chronicle has published two videos showing how to de-accelerate a Prius which I feel should be of interest to Susannah and to all Prius owners everywhere. A click on the arrows below will activate them.
The Camp of My Dreams
This week I would like to begin reminiscing about the most creative venture I was involved in during my 22 years of working in children’s camps. It was the Teen Camp I conceived for Blueberry Cove. It was certainly far from perfect, I made some basic mistakes in formulating it, and running it was such a strain that I ran out of steam after only a few years, but that said, it was a pretty neat concept if I do say so myself.
As I have repeated oft times during these camp reminisces, my favorite part of working in children’s camps was going on trips. And I seem to talk of little else during my camp memories. I have never said it out loud before but the main reason I moved from Killooleet to Blueberry Cove was because Killooleet’s two trips per summer was set in stone, but Blueberry Cove had three or even more trips per summer if you played your cards right.
However, BBC children outgrew our camp pretty much at puberty, and went to on other camps as they entered their teens. Many BBC campers went to Killooleet, which was where I first heard of Blueberry Cove. I enjoyed working with the younger children of Blueberry Cove, and when Ann Goldsmith and Bob Hellerson and I took over the reins of running the camp after Henry and Bessie retired, I got the chance to act as both associate director and as the counselor scheduling trips. From the prospective of scheduling the trips I began to dream about a camp for older campers, teenagers, which could be held in an unused part of our woods.
I had the idea that the campers would live out in the woods, in tree house type shelters that they would build for themselves at the beginning of the summer, and they would take turns planning and preparing all of their meals on an open campfire.
I recently emailed Ann Goldsmith, my former partner in Blueberry Cove, apologizing for giving out on her after three or so years of running Teen Camp. When I made a disparaging remark about those times she wrote back the following: “The Teen Program that you envisioned and directed for however many years was a great addition to the BBC program. It was so much better than Outward Bound in my view and gave many kids valuable and memorable experiences.
“When Richard (Tomlinson) took it over it was well established and he added another dimension. Particularly brilliant was the practice of having the kids build their platforms down in the woods for their home base and then striking it all at the end of the season. That was your idea, right?”
That well known camp Ann mentioned called Outward Bound would leave teen agers out in the wilderness on their own for several days using their ingenuity to persevere. Our camp partner, Bob Hellerson, had attended that camp and told many stories of its challenges.
My idea was to create a camp that rather than challenge, would engross our campers completely in the daily routine of living. For me it was the antidote for the prevalent teenage practice of the time of refusing to do things around the house for fear of having to do them in perpetuity. In teen camp virtually nothing would get done unless somebody did it.
Teen Camp would not have existed if it had not been for our storage building, which Bob Hellerson led a group in building during one summer, and which was named the Moxie after their favorite drink while building it. (Moxie is a native New England drink tasting slightly like medicine, but which can become very addictive.)
The building housed no persons or activities. It was our storage building with a freezer for our frozen food, refrigerators for our produce, and shelves to house dried food. Other parts of the building housed gear that campers did not want to leave in their shelters, and our packs and the like. And it also housed a water heater for the outdoor showers around back.
We began the summer with each camper, usually partnering with another of their choice, building what would be their home and shelter for the summer. Taking wood that was stored under the Moxie, the campers selected their trees and each group built what was for them their ideal tree house, with a floor and a roof, and some protection along the sides against heavy rains.
Most platforms were placed just off the ground, although an occasional lone wolf type would build his high up in the tree. Counselors in addition to helping campers with their projects, built their own shelter right alongside the campers. And the idea was at the end of the summer all of the shelters would be taken down to again be stored under our building for next year’s campers, and the woods that we had lived in for the seven weeks would return to the state it had been on before the summer. The camp was designed to be an earth friendly exercise in ecology.
Under my scenario the campers prepared their own meals at an outdoor campfire, which was covered by a tarp in case of rain. Taking turns, campers would get a chance to do everything from menu planning, and meal preparation, to cleanup after meals. No more would a teenager in our group act in the prevailing teenage way of avoiding work whenever possible. In our woods it became instantly clear that if you wanted something done, you would have to do it yourself.
There were activities, but they would be rather limited in nature, for we had few resources at our disposal, and our staff was only five including me. Activities included fishing and rowing, arts and crafts, and a few other things campers and counselors would dream up spontaneously. A lot of camps run activities primarily to keep their campers busy. Our activities were special because they were so few and far between.
Knowing me it was not surprising that the primary focus of the summer would be on the trips. After the practice we got in outdoor living at the main camp, any discomforts connected with trips completely disappeared. After all, we lived like that all the time, and so on trips we could put all of our focus on the beauty of the place and the task at hand before us. Bob Hellerson had gotten us a retired school bus which served as our vehicle for transportation.
The trip program began with a three day practice climb of Tumbledown Mountain, and the summer’s trips would also include a four day island trip, a five day canoe trip on the Moose River in Northern Maine, and the climax of the summer was a ten mile walk along the Appalachian Trail with a climb of Mt. Katahdin at the end.
At Katahdin we would split into two groups, with one group being taken by boat over a lake to start on the trail walking away from the mountain, and the rest of us starting where we had parked the bus which had taken us there, and we walked the trail towards the mountain, passing the other group midway, and ending up at the lake where the boat which ferried the other group would meet us and ferry us over to where we could join the rest of our group.
After being reunited we slept in a campground overnight and spent the next day climbing Katahdin. The climb up the mountain served as the climax of the summer activities. The day after our climb we would seek out the Sliding Rock and make many trips down the slide, before beginning the long journey back to camp. The trips were neat, especially Katahdin, but we were always glad to return to our own custom built camp homes.
Our usual teen camp enrollment was around fifteen of both sexes, although boys did outnumber girls. Each of the trips had it’s own characteristics, and in future blogs I will attempt to describe some of the highlights as best I remember them, as well as describe some of the kids who attended the camp, and what life was like at the home base.§
And so we wind our way to the end of yet another Little Eddy Blog. It is time to pull apart our tree house and store the wood under the Moxie for next week’s camping group. What is most important is that we leave our living area as much like we had found it as possible.
We’ll be hammering and sawing away among our memories again next week, and we sure do invite you back at any time during the week to find out what new nonsense crosses our blog. Meantime, have a good week, and as those wonderful old union songs used to sing, “take it easy, but take it!”§