Saturday, July 29, 2006

Misspelling Your Business's or Product's Name for Absolutely No Reason

You know. Like Shop Rite. Or Savon Drugs. Or Surgrip. Or EZ Rent.

What we're overlooking I think, when we fail to get angry at names like these, is the hubris. The arrogance. What you need is to take a moment to consider the decision process that leads to a business changing Glow into Glo. Or Park into Parc.

The decision is a marketing one. It's based on sales and profit. Whichever name suggests itself as being the most profitable will be the one chosen. If Black & Decker was selling a new kind of flashlight, and test marketing suggested that "Faglight - The Flashlight That Makes You Gay" would sell the most units, they'd go with faglight. They really don't care. With that understanding, the next step is to wonder how they arrive at a name like Saf-T-Lite.

Well this is another one of my wacky pet theories. I think... that they think... that by taking a word like Light and making it Lite, that on a subconscious level we the consumer will draw this conclusion: "This is no ordinary Light. This flashlight is so special that the English language itself is unprepared to describe it with any accuracy. No, a new vocabulary is needed. A new lexicon that is up to the task of doing justice to a flashlight of this level of unparalleled awesomeness."

Let me put it another way. When you name your health bar PowR-Bar, the unspoken message to the consumer is this: "Look, we wanted to name it Power Bar. We did. Really. We don't think it's our place to intrude into this thousand year old language and start coining words for the sole purpose of selling snacks. That would be a really poor reason to invent a word. We know it. It was really only with the greatest reluctance that we're calling it PowR. But we had to. The word "power", at the end of the day, was just too puny and inadequate to describe the PowR of the energy boost you get from our product. We don't take this step lightly. It humbles us. Please forgive us, and enjoy a PowR Bar."

What it really is is a hustle. No, not the good kind of hustle, like when you're jaywalking. The shitty kind. "You are dumb. You will be fooled by our phonetic variant into believing we offer a product of a higher quality."

Well I don't like it. It pollutes the language. It hurts my eyes. Words like Lite. Like Cleen. And Froot. And Cheezy. I could go on.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a store called "Save Money Buying Drugs Here" or "Fill Your Car's Tank With Gas"? I would shop there. Wouldn't it be nice to see one business, just one, resist the urge to modify the word Quick into something like Qwik or Kwik? "Rowsdower's Quick and Easy Oil Change Shop" Yes, I'd like that.

Not to get bogged down in tangents, but what is Pine-Fresh supposed to mean? That expression is established now. "Wow, that smells pine fresh!" Why is pine inherently fresh? What if you had a moldy, rotting pine log. Would it still be pine fresh? I can accept bakery fresh, or creamery fresh, but that's about it. And what does "Smart & Final" mean? All sales final? It's contradictory. The "smart" means "You'd be smart to shop here." And the "final" means "All sales are final, so if you discover that what you just bought is defective, tough shit." Seems like you're entitled to either the quality boast or the defensive backpedaling, but not both in the same name.

Ah, what's the point. Product names suck. Marketing sucks. Advertising sucks. Everyone involved in marketing is stupid, and they think that you are even stupider. I hate them. Really. I really hate them. I hate these ads that are self-aware - you've seen them - where the ad concept is a bunch of people trying to decide on an ad concept. It's a fascinating but depressing window into the lives of these jerks. It's the commercials where it's a bunch of twentysomething advertising professionals, with the spiky-faux-behead-yet-well-coiffed hair thing, and they're sitting at a conference table throwing pencils at the ceiling, brainstorming a concept for a new Nissan, and it's all so self aware. And they each describe an ad concept and we get a quick cut to what that ad might actually look like, probably involving a bear on a footstool who suddenly goes crazy and sends the camera crew running and screaming, and then it's back to the conference table where there's an awkward silence while the guy who proposed it looks sheepish.

Or those Jack in the Box ads where the ad exec is pitching a marketing concept to Jack for the new ciabatta sandwich, and Jack says "Well why don't you just say it's baked on fresh ciabatta bread and it's delicious?" Or even just the Taco Bell slogan "Think outside the bun." That's a play on Think Outside the Box, which is a cliche from the ad industry, and it's clearly something invented by an ad guy who thought he was being extremely clever.

Marketing is a constant voice in your ear: "You are a moron. You are a moron. You are a moron...." It's all I can do to just keep my sanity.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Potpourri 6

People Who Jaywalk In Front of Me and Don't Hustle

Let me be really specific on this one. I jaywalk - you jaywalk - we all do it. It's fine. All I ask is that if you're going to step into my driving path that you show me just a token amount of hustle. I grew up in New York, where jaywalking is an art form. There, you don't have conscientious drivers who are going to slow down for you - you have cabs. Cabs that can't be bargained, bluffed, or reasoned with. The cabs owned the streets. And if you jaywalked, you'd better know what you were doing. You had to approach the curb, turn your head left, let your eyes adjust focus to the movement of traffic, tip your whole body forward at just the right moment, and then dash across Lexington Avenue. And that's how you did it, and thus was order maintained. You deferred to the traffic. No cab was going to lose its stride on your account.

Here in Vegas the jaywalking culture is all fucked up. First of all, the streets are wider and the traffic is faster. Second of all, everyone - drivers and pedestrians alike - are all just a little drunk. Not a good recipe for orderly jaywalking. Here, the pedestrian attitude seems to be "I'm just going to walk me across this street, and we'll see if anyone has the balls to hit me." And so every day when I'm on the road there'll be at least one individual - tank topped and unwashed - who makes a point of strolling casually into my trajectory. I stare at him with fresh surprise every time - does this guy want to get hit? Is he going to see me and then realize he has to hustle?

But the hustle never happens, and I have to break stride. What we need here are some New York City cabs to put the fear back into the pedestrian heart. We need to set a few examples and restore the culture of hustling.

DVD Hoarding

I admit that I'm no stranger to the desire to "collect". To amass. To stockpile and hoard. But DVDs? Why? Do you know people (and I know several) who have been infected with this urge to own every single DVD in existence? People with DVD collections in the upper hundreds, or even thousands?

And no, they aren't movie buffs, that's the weird thing. Most of their collection sits on the shelf, still in the plastic shrinkwrap. They own movies that they have no interest in ever watching. These DVD hoarders make no internal distinction between cinema classics and complete garbage. And it makes sense that they don't: it's not about movies, it's about movie ownership.

I believe this whole DVD hoarding phenomenon is only two or three steps removed from the whole cat hoarding disease. Like clockwork, about once a month, you'll see a news story about some neighbors who called the cops because of an ammonia smell coming from a downstairs apartment, and the fire department breaks down the door and finds this scene. I think that if DVDs could poop, reproduce and go blind from malnourishment then it would basically be the same thing.

I had a friend at my old job who spent every available dime he had on DVDs. Tuesday, as any collector knows, is DVD day, and he'd be off to Fry's every Tuesday after work to pick up, I don't know, the latest Ashley Judd thriller, An Officer and a Gentleman and the remastered Tron. His TV room was lined, wall to wall, in DVDs stacked 2 deep. He carried around handwritten notes on his latest purchases and his upcoming want-list. His two toddler girls would sit on the floor and eat dry cheerios for lunch while dad watched American Pie or Final Destination.

The thing about hoarding DVDs as opposed to baseball cards or pez dispensers, besides the excessive cost, is that these people are in denial of a few basic facts. One is that nobody is impressed with their collection. Two is that it has no logical endpoint - the availability of new product will forever outpace your ability to acquire it. And three is that DVDs are well on their way to obsolescence. They will soon be fully worthless. Everyone always wondered what new media format would replace the CD. And the question has been answered without everyone fully realizing it. The CD is being replaced by the mp3. The DVD too is about to be replaced. But not by Blu-Ray or anything like that. That's a red herring. No one is going to rebuild a movie collection from scratch just for Blu-Ray. What will eventually replace DVDs will be electronic files. You'll carry an enormous movie collection around on a keychain, just like your music.

The whole idea of a movie collection lining your den wall is about to die. The DVD hoarders need to refocus their compulsion on something more benign. I recommend state quarters.

Bill Gates, An Ugly Man

Maybe this is just mean - in fact it certainly is mean, but it's too bad that Bill Gates, the world's wealthiest citizen and greatest philanthropist, has to be so physically off-putting. He's just a seriously unattractive man.

He's not exactly fat, not exactly pasty or pudgy - there's just something... off about him. His hair always seems to look like some kind of compromise. Like if someone challenged you to craft the best look you could using only aquanet and your own hands. His glasses do not inspire. His smile, while obviously genuine, makes me wants to take an instinctive step backwards. And his face... it's hard to describe. Is it normal to look at a face and think "Wow, you can hardly tell he was in that fire."

Not that I'm any blue ribbon hog myself, but hey, he's the richest man in the world. He should be able to take a little criticism.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Being Ordered to Buckle Up in the Backseat

Now here's a good challenge, since I know that virtually nobody agrees with me on this. Can I convince anyone of my absolute correctness on this issue? Everyone I've turned to for support so far has basically said "Yeeaaaah, it's irritating to get told by the driver to buckle up, but it IS the driver's prerogative. Plus it's the law."

You know what? I reject that prerogative. I deny that authority. What? Cause it's your car? Cause you're driving? How exactly does that give you the right to override my own voluntary safety choices?

And no, it's not the law. In fact, as of right now (July 2006) there are only 9 states where you can get pulled over for having an unbuckled adult in the backseat. (hmm... Oregon, Washington, California, New York... biiiiig surprise)

But hold on. Let's back up. It was 10 years ago now that this happened to me, and I still rank it as one of the most exquisitely annoying moments in my life. Even now, the bile rises easily at the merest thought of it, so obnoxious it was. Five of us in the car. All adults. Headed off to a movie. Me in the backseat.

"Is everyone buckled?" asked our driver.

I wasn't buckled. I generally don't buckle in the backseat. I kept silent.

"Rowsdower, would you buckle your seatbelt please?"

I was caught completely off guard. The entire idea of instructing an adult human being when and when not to wear a seatbelt in the backseat is so utterly foreign to the way I think that I just didn't understand that this woman was being serious. She was telling me I had to wear my seatbelt.

Like I was five years old. Like I was incapable of making my own choices. Like she knew what was best for me. Like when I climbed in her car I was entering some kind of dictatorial bubble where it was anything goes with (and I'm being charitable) her warped, unstable mind.

When I am commanded to do something in a situation where I believe the choice is entirely mine, my will steels itself into complete rigidity, and it becomes my sole desire - no matter what my previous preference was - to do the opposite of whatever it was the other person wanted me to do.

So what did I actually do? After a short and tense argument, I buckled. Literally. I am ashamed. I wish I could go back and stand my ground. I don't even remember what movie it was. Austin Powers? Air Force One? What was I thinking? Was the movie really worth it? Wouldn't it have been better to get out of the car instead, slam the door behind me and breathe the free air? Well, never again will I buckle on command in the backseat.

Is it safer to have your backseat passengers buckled? Not just for their own safety but for everyone in the car? Yes! Sure! I admit it, it's safer! But who gives the tiniest flying fuck!

It's a question of magnitude and scale. Look, 42,636 people died in car accidents in the US in 2005. The US has about 300,000,000 people. Let's assume for argument that the average American takes one ride in a car per day. That's 365 x 300000000 = 109.5 billion annual car rides in this country. This means that on average, your chances of dying on any particular ride is around 0.00000045. And if we further stipulate that the driver is sober, and you are buckled, the chances obviously drop even lower. Now if me in the backseat being unbuckled raises your mortality rate from 0.00000045 to 0.00000049, then honestly, who cares? Isn't there a threshold of extreme safety consciousness that, if you cross it and insist I follow suit, I can justifiably squint into your face and say "Leave me alone you fucking insane nazi!"

I mean, do I have to sit here and list dozens and dozens of other choices that you make in the car that jeopardize the safety of your passengers much more - I mean several orders of magnitude more - than ensuring that everyone in the back is buckled? Like if the driver who told me I had to buckle then went on to have a cellphone chat for the duration of the drive, am I not then completely vindicated? I'm sure that just deciding to drive on a rainy day puts your passengers in 10 times more danger than the remote chance of my unbuckled carcass bouncing around your cabin.

But you know, this isn't really about safety. If all this debate was was a friendly discourse on the merits of buckling then I wouldn't be talking about it. It's about more than that. It's about being insulted. It's about these people who need to take power trips. We know who these people are. They live for the opportunity to tell someone what they HAVE to do. And when I accept a ride in their car, this gives them the tiniest, flimsiest, barest scintilla of an excuse to exercise a little authority. Oh, how they love their authority. They savor the opportunity to enforce the most marginal of rules. To tell you either what you can't do, or what you need to be doing.

You know these individuals. But in case you're not sure, here's the litmus test to judge if you're dealing with one. Just go up to them and express any strong, affirmative sentiment. Say... "I love reading these articles about how good coffee is for you. It seems like every month there's some new study pointing out a new benefit of drinking coffee." A normal person hears that and says "Hmm." or "Yup." or "Like what?" or "Wow, really?" Lots of possible responses. The power tripping, bossy asshole can't respond that way because she doesn't think like that. If I state any kind of conviction, no matter how bland or neutral, and she doesn't share that conviction, then it's as if I've challenged her very existence. The bossy asshole will say "No diuretic is good for you." or "Caffeine is addictive, and it's not healthy to be addicted to anything." or "Actually, my brother drinks a lot of coffee and it makes him hyper and unhappy." etc. etc.

It's not that they actually feel that way about coffee. It's that they derive a special comfort in asserting superiority, and the easiest way to do that is to find fault with anything you say. There was this girl in college who corrected me and said the sun was a planet, not a star, and nothing we could say would make her change her mind. She agreed that the sun was like all the other stars, but that technically, it was still a planet. Her desire to be right was so strong it outweighed anything else, like having an actual encyclopedia opened in front of her, with fingers pointed at the applicable sentence. There was another woman I worked with at my last job who insisted the pronunciation was "Andre A-gozz-i", like the "gos" in gosling. So I asked her: "Then why is it that every sportscaster, announcer, commentator and Andre himself has always pronounced it 'AGa-see' every time, my entire life?" Her response: "................................. It's A-gozz-i." This is the mindset. These are the people who need you to buckle in the backseat. They're asses, all of them, and we should not comply with their "demands". We should not humor their fevered whims, because there will only be more.

We have to always be thwarting these people. Confound them at every turn! Drop soda cans in the regular trash while they're looking! Take all you want, but do not eat all you take! Do not take a pre-shower before the pool! Shop at Walmart conspicuously! Deliberately use words like bum, midget, mulatto - just politically incorrect enough to annoy them, but not bad enough to get called on. And smoke dammit, smoke! Smoke like the wind!

And do not buckle in the backseat! Even if it's your preference to buckle back there - it's more important to show them who's making the call. (And honestly, who IS buckling back there? Isn't it always a little weird to see someone groping around for that middle lap belt? What's their problem?)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

PowerPoint Clip Art

Well, I've gone and done it. Once again, through no fault but my own I've invited a lot of bullshit into my existence. It's these powerpoints. "Sure," I thought, "I'll go to business school. I'll learn 'business' and then I'll make lots of money! I can't lose!" Turns out that a major component of 'business' is making, listening to, and occasionally giving powerpoint presentations.

And I guess I can't complain, this is what I signed up for after all. But it is worth pointing out: nobody likes making powerpoints, actually sitting there at the computer and assembling slides. No one likes presenting powerpoints. And this last one I can guarantee most of all: no one likes listening to them.

I mean, what are we listening to? Sales? A revenue report? A forecast? Some kind of motivational thing? Who gives a SHIT? There's only a handful of people who really need to look at that revenue data: just send them the numbers privately and spare me. To the extent I need to know any of it, put it in a shared folder that I can double-click. That's it. I mean jeez, I check the stock price, what more do you want?

Is it about fostering community and teamwork? A powerpoint can't do it! It's counterproductive! There's only one way to foster cross-departmental teamwork and morale, and it's called hot catered food. If I'm standing in a group, holding a black plastic plate piled high with ziti, then, and only then, will morale be built.

So you have these powerpoints, which are black holes of boredom - these sleep inducing yammerfests where the only excitement is wondering how the next bullet point will arrive: will it fly in from the left or will it be a diagonal wipe? Maybe a dissolve? You're sitting there, mind quickly numbing, and then you get the insult. The slap in the face. It's these idiotic clip-art people who exist in some sublime state of business-world bliss. I've sat through so many powerpoints now, in school and on the job that I've become fairly familiar with the whole stable of Microsoft PowerPoint clip art people.

The clip art people annoy me in two, unrelated ways. First, it's their boundless good humor and can-do attitude. And second, it's because they don't have any hands or feet. Here's an example:

One of my most deep seated fears has always been becoming an amputee. Losing my hands or feet is something I have nightmares about. So how do you think it makes me feel to watch these slides with these faceless yet happy can-do go-getters in the background who don't seem to mind that their limbs all terminate in these little wispy stubs? It freaks me the hell out, that's how.

There's also a second class of powerpoint business guy, who's not as bad. He's the big, buff silhouette guy with a small head. He works hard, he thinks big, and clearly he takes care of himself in his personal time.

Although what do you think of this one:

The small headed buff guy is on the go. He's moving. He's busy. But he also has one freakishly large hand and apparantly is enjoying a game of earthketball. There are so many questions here. Historically, how has evolution treated species with a 15-to-1 hand to head size ratio? If he's going to do that to the earth, shouldn't he set down his briefcase? Why the treasure map style dotted line and arrow at the bottom?

Was this clip-art picture born out of real need? Did someone write to Microsoft and demand some new clip that perfectly fit the mood and subject of the presentation? And this is what they got?

Because don't kid yourselves. Some of the clip art gets pretty damn wacky. Come with me and enter the twilight zone of the clip art people.

Yes, don't be afraid. Fly away with me into the bizarro world where hands and feet are unwelcome distractions, where ties that dangle way below the beltline are welcome, where you will be able to interact with enormous dollar bills - big, flexible dollar bills with high tensile strength. Come with meeeeeeeee...

We have arrived. This is what we think of feet here. Big. Clunky. Useless. Aren't you better off without them?

We have few laws here, but when they are disobeyed, punishment is severe. (psst, don't tell him he can slip the shackle off his stump!)

Le Petite Prahnce?

This powerpoint guy keeps having the same dream. What could it mean?

This may look unusual, but powerpoint guys have almost unlimited asshole-elasticity. Nothing to be alarmed at.