Archive for the ‘No right to be good’ Category
I bought these mints in the dollar store just because I thought the packaging was so cool.
They’re tasty little mints, too. (Too bad Great Bite’s web site is less persuasive than their tins. What sort of candy company lists “Food Safety and Social Compliance audits by internationally recognised companies” as a callout?)
Here’s one of the greatest success stories in technology: The HP 12C financial calculator. It was introduced in 1981 and is still selling. After a generation of seismic advancements in technology, this weird horizontal calculator has kept its edge. It costs $70 and people still buy it.
Name something else battery-powered that hasn’t changed since 1981. I’ve got nothing. Blackberries and iPhones seldom last two years before better ones come out, yet this calculator could bury us all. Now I don’t work in finance and I’m far from an expert in calculators, so I can’t explain in detail what’s so amazing about this device. But I know calculators are a competitive space. This one’s success can’t just be an accident of history or the result of marketing. It’s adoption isn’t a requirement; surely there are other calculators that fit with today’s business conventions.
It could only have survived this long by being good. Good enough to be deeply loved by exactly the right customers. The HP 12C designers nailed it. They achieved something unheard of in technology: perfection. If we’re lucky, once in our lifetimes we’ll work on a team that does that.
Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires.
That slogan has been drilled into our brains repeatedly since 1985, when ad agency DDB created it. It’s poetry in a tire commercial. Why is it so good? Six reasons.
1. It takes a totally boring product and invents an emotional benefit. What’s riding on your tires? First, the safety of you and your passengers. Secondarily, your job, your social life, and any other reason you need reliable transportation.
2. It’s good writing. The slogan is concise and easy to understand. It has a rhythm that naturally emphasizes the important words so much.
3. It contains a pun that isn’t a groaner.
4. It lends itself to charming commercials involving adorable babies.
5. It’s perfectly suited for the product it’s selling. Tires are mysterious. We only buy them every couple of years, and a layman can’t tell the difference between a good tire and a cheap one. But if you convince us, through repetition of a catchy slogan, that your brand-name tires are better than the cheapo brand, we just might buy them.
6. It contains an implied threat. “If you don’t buy our tires, your children will die and you will live out the rest of your days wracked with guilt, you pathetic cheapskate.” Said with a smile!
Now, here’s the crazy thing. Michelin doesn’t even use this tagline any more. They haven’t for years.
High school bands. Lip syncing. Matt Laurer. Yeah, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is cheesy. Three hours of schlock is hard to take. It fills a lazy block of holiday morning time, when most of us have slept in late and, at best, have just begun to preheat the oven and chop yams. Still wearing our slippers and sipping coffee, we feel sorry for the NBC people who had to wake up early and go to work. Many adults find the parade telecast boring, and it’s doubtful any Pixar-raised child could invest more than 10 minutes in it.
But the Macy’s parade delivers a single, visual quality that towers (literally) over the sloppy choreography and humiliating celebrity appearances. The balloons! Round and colorful, they bob like hallucinations past the flat, stone edifices of the city. Tiny ants at the ends of guylines ease these cartoon behemoths around the corners of Midtown office buildings. The feat has become so routine—this is the parade’s 83rd year—that our eyes miss seeing it for the remarkable spectacle it is.
Some of my earliest, dimmest impressions of New York—before I ever visited the city—are of the Macy’s parade on TV. At no point did I ever imagine being there. As childhood impressions go, New York City was similar to the Land of Oz—vivid, fun and purely fictitious.
Now this is my 8th November in New York. I have never actually been to the parade, since I always travel to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with my family. But I always catch a few minutes of the parade on TV, or I see the photos later. Don’t let familiarity spoil how cool those images are. Balloons and buildings, speaking to one another: A pairing of color and monochrome, soft and hard, fleeting and permanent. The Macy’s balloons are a perfect artistic response to the canyons of Manhattan.
August 12, Rio de Janeiro, on a vacation I felt I had earned.
A banged-up Volkswagen sedan picked me up at the hostel. As I climbed in the back, the driver apologized in part-English, part-Portuguese for the busted rear window, which was stuck open. We turned onto the road that parallels the beach. The air that blew through the car was warm and smelled like the sea.
We followed the coast and passed through tunnels cut into seaside cliffs. I was on my way to go hang gliding for the first time. This is a touristy thing to do, but the gliding conditions were good, and I felt excited.
Oh my God, I’m in love with this cereal! But somebody at Kellogg’s should have nixed that long name and come up with something shorter. Suggestion: “Box o’ Cookies.” Seriously, these might as well be Oreos. I can’t believe we feed this stuff to children for breakfast!
Two items for the no-right-to-be-good file:
- Brad Paisley. I’m not supposed to like country music. I’m not the target demo. In fact, I’m programmed to hate it. Pre-fab corporate schmaltz wrapped in the American flag hits all my cynicism buttons. But for some reason, I enjoy putting a country channel on when I’m cooking or driving, and lately I’ve grown fond of Brad Paisley songs. The other day I nearly teared up when “Letter to Me” came on. Now at this point in the blog, I should get analytical, right? I should be doing research on whatever Nashville machine manufactured it, or parsing what my fondness for this music says about me. But I’m not. I’m just going to say I enjoy it, because it’s good.
- South Street Seaport. Yes, the shopping mall in Lower Manhattan. The one where dozens of coach buses unload hundreds of tourists every day. The one with a Pizzaria Uno and a kiosk where you can have your name etched on a grain of rice. In other words, the most un-New York place in New York, if not the worst place in the whole universe. However, the Seaport happens to be built on a pier over the East River. And in a stroke of genius, there’s a deck on the far side of the complex with what might be the best view in the whole city (easily in the top five). Few things are as relaxing on a summer evening as buying a Coke in the Seaport food court, claiming a chaise lounge on the deck, and gazing out at Brooklyn while boats go by.