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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 Purposeless Pitches

Despite the near blasphemy that it constitutes, I’ll admit it. I’m going to be watching this Super Bowl this Sunday mostly for the commercials. As the year’s greatest sporting event gathers the year’s largest collection of committed eyeballs, the world’s advertisers are once again remiss to pass on the opportunity to have their message broadcast to over 100 million viewers. But the stakes have never been higher. In addition to his annual spectacle having been the broadcast advertising industry’s “Super Bowl” for decades, the U.S. is slowly inching its way out of recession - and relying on a still shaky consumer confidence to lead the charge. As far as the game is concerned, I just don’t have a dog in the fight. As a kid raised in suburban Denver, I couldn’t be much farther from really rooting for a side - and none of the adopted NFL cities I’ve lived in (or close to) since then -- Baltimore, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego -- have placed a team either. I’d have an easier time relating to a team from the moon than the ruddy crowds from Pittsburgh or Green Bay. And so I’m left to the ads. But I’m not alone - over 50% of adults surveyed admit to watching for the same reason. And as a resident of a city with over 15% unemployment and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the county - I’ve got more interest in the economy being the big winner than anyone or anything else. But notwithstanding the staggering marketing genius that will be on display during game breaks - there are somethings that I just can’t be sold. Some things that no matter how much I laugh, recall or even talk about the associated advertisement, I simply won’t buy. And so to celebrate my emasculating admission, here are 3 things I’d never buy, no matter how good their commercials are:

1. American Made Steel. I’ve read all about the comeback, the change in attitude and the return of American dominance of the automobile. I’ve seen the artful bits about American spirit, American pride and inspirational resurrection. And I don’t buy it for a minute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see GM get of the schneid; pleased to watch Chevy restore a little muscle to the American sports car and glad that Ford has endured as the stalwart company its founder imagined over a century ago. But there’s a better chance of me watching a Sex & The City marathon while soaking in a bubble bath and drinking white wine spritzer than buying a car from any of them. For all the things that the government investment was supposed to attain from our storied car makers, there are a few things they neglected to ask for; namely: reliability, innovation and excitement. Seriously, I’ve seen more creative genius in a kindergarten finger-painting class than has come out of Detroit in the last twelve months. Seriously, the Ford Fusion, the Chevy Cruze and the Buick Lacrosse? And don’t even get me started on the abortive disasters masquerading as Cadillacs these days. I don’t know anyone who aspires to drive any one of these - at best they’re considered an economical alternative to the European car they really want. Listen, I don’t need a great story behind a mediocre car, I need a great car, and no matter how inspiring the bits you put on television - your cars still look like something I’ll get stuck with when I get to the rental car counter on short notice. So forget the advertising, and spend those millions of dollars on making your cars not suck.

2. Windows To The World. Listen, I like Bill Gates. I normally can’t stand the wealthy - but Bill Gates is so dramatically and unflaggingly devoted to giving his money away that it’s just impossible to hate him; no matter how tragically he has saddled the world with an inferior and error-prone structure upon which the majority of the world’s computing technology is built. The latest iteration of this disastrous testament to the disaster inherent in spending all your money dressing something up rather than actually fixing what’s wrong with it has been marketed more incessantly than the Kardashians and with more vigor than low-calorie American beers (who hasn’t seen too many of those commercials?). But just like the jacknut teenager who spends thousands of dollars on ground effects, exhaust pipes and exotic lighting, Windows is still very much a Honda in a Mercedes world. Watching Windows 7 repeatedly hang and crash is like watching a kit car made up like a Ferrari (on a VW chassis) take 15 seconds to get to 60 mph. I have to admit, it took me almost twenty years to realize that the pain I was enduring as a Windows apologist was not only unnecessary but foolish. After nearly two years now as a full fledged disciple of the Church of Steve Jobs, I can tell you that no matter how brilliantly they market it, no matter what features they promise and no matter how they purport to have finally bested Apple - there’s a better chance of me waiting in line to see a Twilight sequel than even accepting a Windows PC as a gift. Wanna do something smart with your money, Bill? Buy stock in Apple.

3. Worst Buy. There was a time when I looked at my local Best Buy store like a post-modern hall of wonders, where the latest technological advancements were not only put on display, but were actually available for sale, and tended to by expert technicians who could wield these wondrous devices with a skill and ease that I envied. Those time, unfortunately, are long since gone. The high-level technical sales staff has been replaced by a trudging platoon of mouth-breathers who seem to have endured some kind of hair-gel induced permanent cognitive impairment that forces them to answer all inquires with a minimum-wage stare and ten-minute trip to go “find help.” Find help? You’re supposed to be help! I’ve gotten more reliable help at a mall kiosk than the khaki and blue crew is offering these days. What’s worse, with the rise of internet shopping, the prices at this former shrine of electronic progress are the kind you’d only agree to pay if you’re still afraid that all online transactions result in the global transmission of your credit card number. There wouldn’t be a good deal in Best Buy if Monty Hall was strapped to a chair in the middle of the store. It’s easy to see how they might have the money for Super Bowl advertising - because they surely haven’t overpaid for human resources, and they sell “tech support service” like it’s going to be provided by swimsuit models and include an open bar. No matter how they dress it up, or how happy they show people to be there, there’s a better chance of me front-rowing a Beiber concert than buying something from one of their stores.

* * *

The Super Bowl advertising will no doubt feature some amazing beer commercials (that won’t make their beer taste any better, some snack/fast food commercials (that won’t make their food taste any better), and something by that will be more tired than tawdry. And honestly, if Danica Patrick didn’t race cars, would anyone pay her to sell anything? She’s like the “before” picture in a makeover show. But it is precisely the familiar banality of the products being hawked on Super Sunday which highlights the sheer genius of the marketing on display. There will be nothing new in what we’re being sold, only how it’s being sold to us. And in a world where the media onslaught has become a 24/7 proposition, we are more difficult to impress than at any other time in history. We yawn at painstakingly crafted high-definition graphics, sigh at million-dollar stage productions, and roll our eyes at special effects that make the impossible appear real. And notwithstanding all of this, we will be surprised, amazed and entertained just as surely as we are to be bored, underwhelmed and disappointed by that precious time between gameplay. Because the line between brilliance and bust has never been finer, and that’s what makes it so fun to watch.


Kristina said...

How much of the American Made Steel, is really "American"? And I have to say, I love my Dodge Grand Caravan (I've had a 2005, 2007 and now a 2010) and so do the drunks we usually are carting around!. Well, ok so Dodge isn't WHOLLY American anymore, but it was! :) Ok now that I've spent way too much time looking at the profiles of the American Auto Companies (there are actually FORDS still as officers of Ford, which is pretty cool for a company started in 1903), I think I will read the rest of your article.

As a windows user for longer than I want to admit, I've had to deal with horrible windows platforms, ME and Vista to name a few. But a few things I love about windows, which is why i have a saying "I don't do apple." Windows 7 has only been out just over a year to the public. My Windows 7 is much better than Vista, and I hardly have problems with it. And, I'm a person who HATES upgrading to new software. Another thing i like about my PCs? My kids have laptops, one that was bought in about 1999, and the other about 2005 or so. When something breaks inside of it, we open it, replace it and move on. Unless the MACs I've seen which is so complicated to open and change something, that you HAVE to take it to someone. My Microsoft Zune cost me literally $100 less than the comparable Ipod. OH and when I hit Ctrl-C in just about any program I use, it does the same thing. Thank you Gates. :)

Wow I've babbled for a while now, and I have nothing to say about #3, I don't like going into stores and I think Amazon is a GOD.

Fun thing about the commercials? Trying to figure out what is ACTUALLY being sold! :) Thanks to the internet, I don't have to watch the Superbowl to actually watch the commercials!

Jen and Tonic said...

(1) I had a Ford for ten years that drove like a champion, but I KNOW that was the exception to the rule. I also resent how American car companies always make commercials that attempt to make people feel like urbanized cowboys. The people who slap "built tough" stickers on the back of their cars are usually the first to cry when someone so much as touches their truck.

(2) Windows 7 is a massive upgrade from Vista, but it definitely still lacks the functionality of a Mac. A Windows will NEVER be a Mac. However, I own a Windows simply because I know how to maintain and upgrade a PC on my own.

(3) Don't even get me started on Best Buy. Actual experience at BB:

Me: Where can I find the boxes for Windows 7?
Girl: Windows 7?
Me: Yes, the software for Windows 7.
Girl: Is that, like, a video game?
Me: *facepalm*

As always, GREAT article. Oh, and if I see you in line for a Twilight movie I'll take cover because it's surely a sign of the apocalypse.

Anonymous said...

You're lucky if you even get help at a Best Buy now. They went from the Geek Squad to the Weak Squad.


Hawkman said...

Guess I'll be going back to Best Buy to return the Laptop I got for you.

Matt said...

I guess you've long since forsaken your yellow Mustang. You used to be so proud of it...

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness yes! The YELLOW MUSTANG... I do remember having the priviledge to ride in that hot rod.

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