Archive for January, 2010

Sun 31 Jan 2010 9:59 pm   //   Posted in: No right to be good, TV commericals

The best tagline in advertising

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.


Tue 26 Jan 2010 7:36 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Face the music

OK, I admit it, I’m psyched about the Apple announcement tomorrow. And I don’t even work in print any more.

Spend any time with people who do and you can feel the excitement like static electricity. Newspapers, magazines and book publishers almost universally expect Apple to announce a new hand-held computer tomorrow that will breathe life into their ailing businesses.

  • Carr: “The tablet represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer.”
  • The Journal: “With the new tablet device that is debuting next week, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs is betting he can reshape businesses like textbooks, newspapers and television much the way his iPod revamped the music industry…”
  • The Times: “With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past.”

Consensus seems to be that the Apple gizmo will do for print what the iPod did for music! How’d that work out?


Fri 22 Jan 2010 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Technology

Blippy: You know, for kids.

When I first heard about Blippy, the site that lets you broadcast, Twitter-style, every purchase you make with your credit card, I reacted like any sane person. “Stupid idea,” I thought. Pass.

A few days later, it occurred to me that this is actually a really smart idea. You see, Blippy isn’t for me. But it’s perfect for college students.

I’m about to generalize here, but I think I’m mostly right. Today’s college students love to use credit and debit cards. (Years ago I remember watching in horror as a student in line ahead of me charged a single bagel. Now I get the sense everybody in every college town buys everything with plastic.) Students also love to share every snippet of information about their lives online (see: Facebook). And above all, they love being in constant contact with their parents, who are often long distances away.

Enter Blippy. It’s about charging everything and sharing everything. And you can imagine its usefulness to parents who want to track how their kids are spending their money. It’s tailor-made for college students and their families!

Why is this good for Blippy? Because college is where many consumers begin forming their communications habits. I entered school in the pre-Facebook, analog-cell-phone era, so I’m still a little bit conservative about what I share online, and even how often I call home. I was groomed to think there’s a meter running whenever I make a long-distance call, ticking off a dime a minute. It’s a powerful feeling to shake, even in the age of unlimited long-distance. People just a few years younger than me have adopted radically different habits. They’re more likely to call home several times a day, rather than once a week. Students who started using Facebook in college are now adults using Facebook at work. (Clutch move, Facebook.)

I don’t know exactly what sort of business Blippy will become, but a real-time data stream of what people are buying has obvious value. Potentially, it’s vastly more useful than Twitter. The hurdle is getting a large segment of the public to voluntarily sign up for it. It sounds like the hurdle could be solved first among college students. Blippy just needs to rope in the kids and bide its time.

Wed 20 Jan 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Stray data, Technology

Thought of the day

“An ocean cable is not an iron chain, lying cold and dead in the icy depths of the Atlantic. It is a living, fleshy bond between severed portions of the human family, along which pulses of love and tenderness will run backward and forward forever.”

—Henry Field, writing of the first undersea telegraphic cables, quoted in The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage.

Tue 19 Jan 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: TV commericals

A very cool car commercial

I like the animation and music in this ad for the Honda Accord Crosstour, a station wagon that otherwise would be of minimal interest.

The song is “Pata Pata” by Miriam Makeba. The ad agency is RPA. Visual effects by a52. More ad credits here.

Sat 16 Jan 2010 2:50 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data

“In shambles” or “a shambles”? “Floundered” or “foundered”?

Ninety-second Saturday afternoon language lesson!

I was breezing through the story about NBC in today’s Times and smashed into a pair of phrases that I’ve never really been sure about. I looked up both in the dictionary, and of course the Times got both right. (Show-offs!) Here’s what I learned:

“Today the network is in shambles…”

Is it correct to say NBC is in shambles or a shambles? People who work at NBC might dispute this, but grammatically both are correct. Merriam-Webster’s offers two similar definitions of shambles (“a scene or a state of great destruction” or “a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion”) and two usage examples (“The city was a shambles” or “an economy in shambles”). Interesting, another meaning of the word is slaughterhouse.

Fri 15 Jan 2010 6:46 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

Need a spot? What’s it worth to ya?

A few years ago, a study found that 45 percent of the traffic in my neighborhood consists of drivers cruising for a parking space. Still, this sight is unusual even by Park Slope standards:

SUV with a sign that says Need a spot? TXT Pam to 95495

This vehicle, badged with bright green posters, has been parked in various spaces around 6th Avenue for a few days. What do you suppose happens when you send a text to that short code? Probably, it returns in an option to pay a fee in exchange for “Pam” coming out of her building and moving her SUV. (I didn’t test it because, despite my burning curiosity about how much that space costs, I don’t want this parking squatter to capture my cell phone number.)

Enterprise trumps neighborliness!

Mon 11 Jan 2010 2:00 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Transit, Typography

Better fonts for a better New York

Sometimes I write posts for this blog, read them over, and then reject them because I think they’re too off-beat or boring. (That post about The Killers and Owl City almost didn’t make the cut.) Recently I wrote a draft of an essay about the signage in the new Flatbush Avenue Long Island Railroad terminal. After I wrote it, I decided it belonged in the round file. Deleted!

Then I got an e-mail from a reader named Amanda pointing out an error in one of my recent posts about subway signage. Based on a book I read, I have been calling the New York City Subway font Akzidenz-Grotesk. In fact, Akzidenz-Grotesk has been all-but-phased out in favor of a custom version of Helvetica. Some of the “buttons” (those colorful circles that represent the subway lines) are still set in Akzidenz-Grotesk, but most of the signage has been upgraded. Amanda even attached a graphic showing the difference between the two fonts…

Helvetica is on the top line and on the left button; Akzidenz-Grotesk on the bottom line and the right button. Note the differences in the cuts on the C and the e. Neat.

Anyway, this feedback convinced me that I’m not the only one who cares about subway signs. And so I dug up the blog post I had deleted earlier. Here it is:


Fri 8 Jan 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Music

Tell, don’t show

If you’ve ever taken a writing class, you’ve probably been taught “show, don’t tell.” We’re supposed to communicate with revealing details instead of broad statements. Strunk and White tell us, “Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.”

But does being specific always serve us well? Is it possible to omit detail to reach some deeper truth—say, in a song or a poem (or an image caption)? I thought about this recently after listening to two songs, one with very strong lyrics and one very weak lyrics. The stronger song tells, the weaker song shows. Do we have this rule backwards? See what I mean…


Wed 6 Jan 2010 8:09 am   //   Posted in: Technology, TV

Nobody wants to see “Jersey Shore” in 3-D

Item! ESPN and Discovery launching 3-D TV networks.

There’s lots of buzz this week about 3-D TVs at CES. I don’t buy the hype. Here are 5 reasons 3-D TV is a non-starter.

1. The Internet. Barring any huge leap forward in technology, 3-D video (which requires a steady, high frame rate) is incompatible with Internet streaming (which adjusts frame rates depending on your connection speed). As such, 3-D TV is a naked ploy by the entertainment industry to push viewers back toward buying DVDs and cable subscriptions, rather than enjoying free online video. It won’t work. Trying to steer the freeloaders back to paid video once they’ve figured out Hulu and Netflix and torrents is pushing water uphill.

2. Glasses. Nobody has solved the 3-D glasses problem. Are you and your buddies going to hang around a sports bar watching football, drinking beer, eating wings, while wearing identical sets of flimsy plastic glasses? No. Glasses are for squares.

3. Production costs. It’s waaay more complicated and more expensive to produce TV shows in 3-D than in 2-D. Amateurs can’t do it. But for years, the trend toward digital video has meant cheaper TV shows, often with user-submitted content. This has been both good (CNN’s iReport) and bad (“Jon & Kate Plus 8”) but there’s no sign that really expensive television is due for a rebound.