Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stupid Commercials

Time once again for a look into the folly that is television commercials. Let's see who's making news:

If you despise those "male enhancement" ads, you'll love this. Ol' Smilin' Bob ain't smiling anymore. He, or rather Enzite, has been found guilty of fraud and money laundering among other sins. I don't know if this will take the spring out of Bob's step right away or not, but one would hope we won't be seeing his leering mug every five minutes on late night TV any more.

Also on the pharmaceutical front Pfizer said on Monday it was pulling television ads for Lipitor featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik. According to Reuters, Democratic lawmakers had voiced concern that Jarvik's qualifications were misrepresented in the ads. They said Jarvik seemed to be dispensing medical advice even though he is not a practicing physician. (I'm not a real doctor, I just collect a check to play one on TV.) Seems a U.S. House of Representative committee is looking into celebrity endorsements of prescription medicines, so maybe Sally Field will soon have to stop telling us about her healthy bones, as well.

I like Honda. In fact, I drive an Accord. But their current TV spots featuring the Electric Light Orchestra chestnut Hold On Tight to Your Dream is just another example of a commercial using a pop song for no apparent reason. Repeated exposure to this spot only makes one sick of the song which features a verse in French that, if translated, would make the brass in Tokyo toss their sushi.

But my favorite is the Cottenell bathroom tissue ad. You know, the one with the cute puppy telling us how rough life is on bottoms. Among the gluts abuses we witness is a shot of a man sitting down on the front nose of a classic Volkswagen Karmen Ghia. The puppy exclaims for the man to look out, that's hot! The man sits for a second before jumping back up in surprise. All of this implies, of course, that the car's radiant engine heat is the source of the man's discomfort to his derriere.

Uh... guys?

The Volkswagen Karmen Ghia is a rear-engine car.

Calgone, take me away!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Three Coins in the Fountain

Today's post is inspired by three seemly unrelated articles I've read today. The first has to do with a technical whoopsie at MSNBC during the first minutes of Monday's Hardball where a picture of Osama bin Laden flashed on screen when the subject was Barak Obama. Yikes! According to AP's television writer David Bauder,

The mistake was made by someone in the network's graphics department whom MSNBC would not identify. The network did not explain exactly how the mistake was made nor detail the punishment for the employee.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I have a feeling that CG person is now working the overnight shift on Weather Plus.

The second article is about American Girl closing its live shows in New York, LA, and Chicago. Quoting the Chicago Tribune,

"Management felt that the time was right to find new entertaining experiences for our guests," Julie Parks said, a spokeswoman for the American Girl company.

Yeah. OK. But the message boards have a different theory. Again quoting the Trib,

In New York, the production was hit by a strike in 2006, when actors involved in the shows attempted to join the Actors Equity Association, even after management turned down a request by the union to meet with them. That dispute flared up again in late last year, when actors again voted to join the union and American Girl charged that Equity had unfairly influenced the voting.

In other words, if you folks want to go union, fine. You can wear your union badges in the unemployment line. Perhaps the next American Girl doll should be Equity Annie.

And third there's a piece in today's New York Times that should be required reading for any aspiring author for young readers. Little, Brown & Company, publishers of James Patterson's Maximum Ride series are asking (the NYT's word for it) booksellers to commit to keeping the new “Maximum Ride” book at the front of their stores as long as Mr. Patterson’s adult titles usually stay there, in the hope of luring more adult buyers. The "request" also includes placing Patterson's “The Dangerous Days of Daniel X,” due out in July, up front as well.

Nice deal. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, “Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports” sold 192,000 copies in hardcover. And, quoting The New York Times, according to market research conducted by Codex Group on behalf of Little, Brown, more than 60 percent of the readers of the “Maximum Ride” series are older than 35. Yeah, those Maximum Ride books are languishing sitting next to "Bridge to Terabithia."

Patterson makes a good point when he says women - Moms - make most of the book buying decisions. But if that's true wouldn't Mom head straight for the children's and YA shelves when shopping for their offspring as opposed to picking something stacked right next to the latest from J.D. Robb?

I don't have a thing against James Patterson working a front-of-the-store deal. I want to see top-selling YA books get the star treatment. In that vein, the third Inheritance book will be greeted with midnight parties ala Harry Potter. Bring it on. After all, Patterson is simply voicing the same nagging annoyance all young adult authors feel when they find their book at the back of the bookstore with the Berenstain Bears.

What I do object to is the lack of credit to his co-writer on the series, Gabrielle Charbonnet. Whassa matter, Jim? Afraid to admit you need help turning out more books in a year than most authors write in a decade?

And that brings me to the one thread that links the three news stories of the day together: somewhere, somebody working hard behind the scenes is getting the screw.

Ain't that America?

Monday, February 11, 2008

What's In A Name?

I believe it was William Shakespeare, or maybe it was Erma Bombeck, who wrote that a septic tank by any other name would smell as sweet.

But in a world of 200 channels and 20-second sound bites names mean everything. And titles carry a good deal of weight when it comes to marketing a book. Think about it: how many times have you found yourself intrigued by a book's title to the point of picking it up and at least scanning it?

I recently received the latest copy of the Sisters in Crime Books in Print catalog for 2008. Compiled by Vicki Cameron, here is a list of the mystery titles in current publication by members of an organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of female writers in the mystery genre. It's a list of titles, and this makes for easy browsing at the breakfast table. And even a quick browse reveals one of the reasons I'm drawn to mysteries: the titles are a hoot.

I'm currently reading Casey Daniels' Don of the Dead and finding it loads of fun, but I must admit I was lured into the Pepper Martin series not only by the idea of a woman connecting with ghosts and solving a crime, but also by the alluring cover art... and the drive to read the third book in the series bearing the title Tombs of Endearment. I just can't resist.

I'm not sure exactly when mystery novels starting getting black humor titles. It might've started with Edgar Allen Poe and The Tell-Tale Heart. That Poe had quite a sense of humor. Or maybe it started when us Yanks began retitling Agatha Christie novels. Hickory Dickory Dock became Hickory Dickory Death. Oh yeah, that sells it. Then again, the British have a weakness for the hyperbole in their titles as well. Go on. Ask J.K. Rowling - she of the "Deathly Hallows." (Been watching old Doctor Who videos again, have we?)

Personally, I think it's a holdover from the heyday of pulp fiction.

Oh, how far we've come since then. I mean just look at this! It's an insult to the intelligence. Everybody knows "Hillbilly" is one word.

From the Sisters in Crime Books in Print catalog, here are some of my favorites.

Food is a common theme in mystery titles. We'll spice things up with Susan Wittig Albert's Agatha nominated Thyme of Death. If you're running late for breakfast you can grab Janet and Ron Benrey's The Final Crumpet. Of course we can all agree with Vinnie Hansen that Tang Is Not Juice. Tamar Myers offers a full menu of titles including Hell Hath no Curry, and Between a Wok and a Hard Place. And if that last one made you queasy just remember according to Selma Eichler Murder Can Spoil Your Appetite.

Animals play a large role in the mystery genre. Cats solve mysteries all the time, but Cynthia Baxter wants to know Who's Kitten Who? Dog lovers get equal time in Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis Series including Hounded to Death and Chow Down. For some reason Dachshunds have a rough time of it in mysteries. According to Selma Eichler Murder Can Depress Your Dachshund, and Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund in Blaize Clement's novel.

Not to be left out, birds are the thread in Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries including No Nest for the Wicket, Owls Well that Ends Well, and if this is getting depressing just remember We'll Always Have Parrots.

If you're still with me, plants get in on the act in Kate Collins Flower Shop Mysteries including Acts of Violets, Dearly Depotted, and remember you can always Slay It with Flowers. FTD is not amused. Neither are antiques dealers due to Gilt By Association in Tamar Myers' Den of Antiquity series. Oh well, So Faux, So Good. I guess it's just between The Ming And I. OK, I'll move on.

The delightful Rhys Bowen drops more H's than an Eastenders' marathon in her Snowdonia-based Constable Evans series including Evanly Bodies and Evan and Elle. I'm reminded of an old Scottish tune when I see J.S. Borthwick's My Body Lies Over the Ocean. And perhaps Hemingway will return from the grave to seek his revenge for Jeffrey Cohen's For Whom the Minivan Rolls.

Finally... pause for the big finish... there's one title I think needed a rethink. Lois Greiman's Unzipped, winner of the Toby Bromburg Award, tells the story of a cocktail waitress turned psychologist who is accused of murdering a client with an overdose of Viagra. The title is OK, but if it had been my book I would've named it Hard Up.

Goodnight, folks. You were wonderful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ad Nausium

It's Super Tuesday, and the mudslinging is at a fever pitch - not among the politicians, but from the voters. "I'm sick of politics!" cries the voter as we face only the second month of a presidential election year. Maybe it's more than a coincidence that Super Tuesday landed on Fat Tuesday. Everybody's going to need a few days of quiet after this is all over.

If it seems like the election seasons get longer every time, you're right. Primaries and caucuses keep getting moved earlier until one fears we will soon be in a state of perpetual politicking. This only adds to the political fatigue that falls over much of the country year after year where presidential elections are followed by special elections followed by state congressional elections followed by another special election followed by the election to decide if the touch screen voting machine will actually count my vote or take me to a porn web site. In Indiana political ads seem to rule the TV 11 months of the year.

These ads crack me up. The advisors who cook these things up assume anyone of any intelligence is reading the newspapers and the candidate's web site and following the election process through sources that offer more than a 20 second sound bite. Therefore, TV ads need only to appeal to the lowest possible denominator. Notice I said lowest possible denominator, not common denominator. These guys don't even try to take the pulse of the TV viewer; they just assume we're all brain dead. As a result Indiana viewers are subject to a bevy of political ads featuring the candidate standing in a cornfield holding a basketball. No, I am not being facetious. Check it out yourself. Every Indiana political ad has the candidate holding a basketball. I think it's the law over there or something.

Ohio is not much better. I was once informed through a TV ad that I should vote for someone because he was the captain of his high school wrestling team. Other candidates make similar claims showing blurry home video of the winning touchdown they scored. Now I'm not suggesting heading a wrestling team is trivial, but I'm not sure how this experience was meant to instill in me any confidence that this candidate was ready to make decisions regarding Ohio's budget.

If we're going to judge our candidates based on their high school records I'd much rather vote for the kid who washed out in every sport in the school. He's the guy who aced the poli-sci final and wrote a term paper in history class on the U.S. economic policies in the 20th century. He could balance the state's budget and figure out how to fund our schools on his home computer. I'd love to see this guy's TV ad.

Hello Ohio, I'm Smedly Nerdwuss. I never dated a girl the entire time I was in high school.

I'd vote for him in a heartbeat.