Saturday, September 25, 2010

BILLBOARD FAIL: I tawt I saw a fatty cat

This billboard bothers me.

I need to pick this apart. Call it therapy.

I drove by this monstrosity three times before I figured out what it was for.

I thought, at various turns, that it was an ad for an online video gaming service, a bowling alley, or, more interestingly, an online bi-dimensional dating service.

First of all, the composition is horrible. An oversized Tweetie Bird (in disturbing diapers or short-shorts) is apparently levitating on the left-hand side with no connection with the human on the right. She doesn't seem to notice the floating cartoon character at all. She is distracted by the messages she is receiving from the "other side" via her glowing crystal ball.

Secondly, I hate Tweetie Bird. I always have. I always rooted for Sylvester.

Thirdly, the campaign is put out by, one of the vehicles for the First Lady's message to get kids more active, but that message is lost in this jumble-tron.

The tagline on the billboard is "Play One Hour A Day", but it took me several reads before I realized that the "play" to which it refers is used in the sense of "go outside and play", and not "stay inside and play World of Warcraft while eating frozen pizza bites".

But that brings me back to Tweetie Bird, a cartoon character.

From television.

Which generally is inside the house and invitingly close to both couch and refrigerator.

Beyond that, are the kids of today deep into Warner Brothers characters that inspired America's Greatest Generation to win the big war against fascism 70 years ago?

Maybe Tweetie's contract has gone public domain.

(I at least would have picked Yosemite Sam. Then the tagline would have been "Git runnin' outside or I'll plug ya full of lead, ya fat, lazy varmits!")

Is there congruency between the pairing of Tweetie Bird and the she-who-cannot-be-named athlete and the message of "get active"?

I think you can answer that for yourself by imagining some alternate headlines for this billboard. That exercise reveals how un-dynamic this duo is. Feel free to post your alternate headlines in the comment box.

Here's how I imagine the genesis of Billboard Fail...

"Okay," says the campaign manager, "Let's balance our cut-rate cartoon character with a famous professional athlete, like Shaq or Michael Jordan."

"Good idea," the financial guy says, checking some numbers. "Would you settle for a female professional athlete?"

"Well, certainly," the campaign manager says. "We are trying to appeal to girls, and they need positive role models."

"Great," the financial guy says. "How's about if we pick someone who nobody knows, and we make it look like she's holding a glowing crystal ball."

"Perfect!" the campaign manager says. "It'll have that psychic hotline feel we were looking for!"

Then the art direct jumps in, saying he can really mangle it by the composition and then choosing Coca Cola red for the background so kids get hungry AND bored when they see the billboard.

"Trifecta!" the campaign manager yelps. "Let's put it in low-income neighborhoods with a high porportion of households where English is spoken only as a second language."

"Bees knees!" agrees the art director.

What is odd is that the site is actually very clean and cohesive with lots of interesting content. The image shown on this screenshot would have been more effective on the billboard than the one they chose. That photo has energy, positive role models, and no obnoxious cartoon birds.

My hunch is that the "print" campaign was led by a different firm than the web campaign, which in today's age of web supremacy is a mistake.

In fact - and this is only slightly tangential - the web versus print discussion mirrors American partisan politics. On the one hand the traditional print adherents (Republicans, in this analogy) cling to the ideas and formats of the past (heck, the Bible was printed, after all).

On the other hand, webmeisters sail in a glowing sea of imperfection, knowing that content will change and mistakes can be corrected on the fly.

But a frickin' billboard is forever, at least in the emotionally scarring sense.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Plastic Bags and Other Missed Opportunities

California’s proposed statewide ban on plastic bags did not pass, and this post isn’t meant to be a commentary on the value of such a ban. This is a post about missed opportunities.

Like everything else in the public realm now-a-days, the plastic bag issue became another forum for polarization: tree-hugging pro-choice lefties on one side and gun-toting environment-hating righties on the other.
Missed Opportunity #1: Find the Right Mascot
The Morning Edition (NPR) story reported:

“…At a recent rally outside the (California) state capitol, environmentalists
brought a 25-foot blow-up turtle to make a final push for the bill. The giant
plastic sea creature represented the wildlife (that) activists say is most hurt
by a sea full of discarded bags.”
An inflatable plastic sea turtle? Really? At a rally about reducing plastic usage?

Here was the first missed opportunity: Why not a turtle made from plastic bags? Or if the turtle was in deed made from recycled plastic, why not tout that information?

The sea turtle idea may be a moving symbol to marine environmentalists, but that symbol doesn’t resonate with the “swayable” – those folks who are not entrenched in either political polarity. Their collective fondness for a sea turtle is probably on par with their interest in space debris – that is to say, lukewarm.

How about a hemp Lindsay Lohan doll?

Missed Opportunity #2: It’s the Economy, Stupid
The opposition to the bill weren’t saying things like, “We love plastic bags.”
They’re saying things like what they heard in the commercial funded by the American Chemistry Council.
“California’s in trouble: 2.3 million unemployed, a $19 billion deficit. And
what are some California politicians focused on? Grocery bags.”
In fact, Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council said he was worried about “losing 1,000 manufacturing jobs in California if plastic bags are outlawed and the cost to taxpayers who will have to buy canvas or paper bags”.

Okay, so it’s not an environmental issue: it’s an economic issue. If it’s true that state like Oregon and Washington would be next in line to ban plastic bags, wouldn’t there be an expanding market for other types of bags? Could those 1,000 workers be re-trained to operate slightly different machinery? Is there a market across the world for “eco-friendly” grocery totes that might be the catalyst to hire more employees beyond those 1,000 workers?

Missed Opportunity #3: Why is it Always “Paper OR Plastic”?
At the heart of today’s polarized politics is the idea of personal choice versus government control. From abortion to gun control; from immunizations to Obama Care. There doesn’t seem to be enough third options for us.

When the check-out clerk asks me if I want paper or plastic (and assuming I have left my eco-friendly hemp grocery tote in the Prius) do I have no other options for removing my purchases from the store? How do shoplifters do it?

Ingenuity, that’s how. (And stealth.)

Sometimes we just have to create our own third options in order to avoid the “either-or” game that is shredding the fabric of intelligent debate that the U.S. (and hey, why not the world?) needs to tackle some pretty big problems.

My advice: buy baggy pants with really big pockets.