Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day - Then and Now

I used to hate Valentine's Day. Way back when I was single, I found it to just be a really annoying reminder that I was alone. It was as if the whole "coupled" world was having this little private love fest, thumbing their loved little noses at those of us who were partner-free. As if walking into a lonely apartment at night or sleeping in an empty bed wasn't enough of a reminder. I was very public about my hatred of the day, telling anyone who would listen - and several who tried hard not to - that if you were in love, every day should be Valentine's Day, and if you needed a separate day to remind you to profess or express your love, then, well, you were simply a bad partner.

Then, somehow, this awesome woman saw through all that venom and fell in love with me.

I have to admit, now I'm torn. I like the "holiday" much more these days and enjoy celebrating it with my beloved wife. Despite my bitterness in the past, I'm actually a full-blown romantic at heart. This year included 7 cards for her (one for each year we've been together), homemade brownies with love-notes iced on top for me, and curling lessons (in LA!) for us (well, mostly me) - sublime. Lyena and I are, ironically, exactly one of those couples I would have hated during my acrid single years. One of those disgustingly gooey two-fers that leave sticky, treacly love-gunk trailing behind them.

However, I still kind of feel like Valentine's Day is a bit of a sham. While it is nice to have a built in excuse to lounge around and do something nice for ourselves, I still feel like we, as couples, shouldn't need Hallmark to give us permission to do so. And I still really sympathize with those singles - my peeps of yesteryear - who have to suffer the constant media and advertising barrage of "Are you in love? Then PROVE IT! And if not, what's wrong with you?"

Maybe, instead of the day being about couples celebrating in a little love-vacuum, it should be about sharing love with everyone.  Maybe it should be about telling those in our lives who may not hear it enough that we love them and that they aren't walking alone. After all, those of us lucky enough to be in relationships have 364 other days a year to buy cards, make brownies or go curling.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's Alive!

I like anthropomorphizing so much, it may actually be a pathology.

It seems wrong to me that only certain things should be allowed to have personalities or humanity.  And I'm not just talking about animals - as far as I'm concerned, the idea of an "anthropomorphized animal" is just redundant.  Nor am I talking about stuffed animals - let me be clear... if you have a stuffed animal for longer than 5 minutes and it doesn't have a name, you don't deserve it. I'm talking about things like electronics, food, clothing and body parts (mostly my wife's).

For example...

My Subaru is named Ru and loves the rain.  During a storm I can hear her calling to me to come out and play in the puddles, and if I'm too busy, I rightly feel like a bad human being for neglecting her.

My wife's car is a Toyota Camry Hybrid named "Briddie" or "Brid" for short.  I like to greet her with a cheerful "Hi Brid!" when I see her. She's a great car and takes wonderful care of my wife and I. And, after reading about the Toyota recalls, I'm getting worried she might have a congenital disorder that is going to require surgery.

I'm typing this on my computer Mackey, named less after the brand (Mac, of course), than because I was watching a lot of The Shield when I got it and was scared if I didn't name it after Vic Mackey, Michael Chiklis might pound through the door and bash my skull in.  Plus, this little guy totally kicks ass.

I have a favorite shirt named Max.  She's soft and warm and can't wait to wrap herself around me, but she's also very manly (she's flannel), thus the gender neutral name.

My three TiVos, like a benevolent Borg, are all connected and of one collective mind, and therefore simply referred to as The TiVo (or sometimes The Beloved TiVo).

My new HDTV is starting to get pissed that he doesn't have a name yet - though I think I've settled on "Larry Gelbart" both in honor of the game-changing MASH writer and because the TV brand is LG.

We have a juicer that Lyena is quite fond of that I've named James (or, more often, Jimmy the Jolly Juicer - I like alliteration).  I don't personify it too much since then I would have to come to terms with the fact that the mouth is where the stuff goes in and the, well, other end, is where the juice comes out.

Several things in my house are named "Bob" - my go-to name - including Bob the pillow, Bob the computer mouse, Bob the knife sharpener, Bob the big-red-excersize-ball, and pretty much anything else that I relate to on a more occasional basis.

And then there's basically everything else, which, if it doesn't have a name, it's simply because it hasn't yet spoken to me, but doesn't mean I don't recognize it's sentience.

These are my friends, my companions, my clan.  Mess with them and you mess with me.  And you don't want to mess with me.  I'm a little bit crazy.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Te-Bow Incident: Terrible Ad, Brilliant PR

Over the last couple of weeks a political storm has been brewing over an ad that the pro-life/anti-choice group Focus on the Family was going to air during the Superbowl.  In case you have somehow been blessed enough to not have heard anything about this, here is an excerpt from the FotF press release...

The 30-second spot from the international family-help organization will feature college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. They will share a personal story centered on the theme of "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life."

Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, said the chance to partner with the Tebows and lift up a meaningful message about family and life comes at the right moment in the culture, because "families need to be inspired."

What the press release doesn't mention - and the reason this ad became a lightning rod - was that when Tim Tebow's mother Pam, was pregnant with the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner she was forced to make a choice that no woman wants to have to make.  After getting ill while on a missionary trip to the Philippines, she was told that her pregnancy threatened her life, and was advised to terminate it.  Pam made the difficult choice to move forward with the pregnancy instead, giving birth to her fifth child, the once-and-future quarterback.

Knowing this (and FotF's frequent anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-anything-they-don't-deem-to-be-Christian rhetoric), several pro-choice groups made the assumption that the ad was going to be a politically charged, anti-choice polemic.  They rallied against the ad and FotF, and slammed CBS for allowing such a controversial "advocacy" ad from one political group while denying controversial ads from other organizations.  They cited CBS's denials of an ad for the gay dating site ManCrunch, a gay-football-player ad from GoDaddy, and an ad from the United Church of Christ that welcomed gays into their congregation (hmm, I'm sensing a theme here).

FotF meanwhile stayed mostly silent, refusing to show the spot before the game and pretty much just saying "watch the ad" whenever asked about it.  This, of course, only fanned the speculative flames even further until "the Tebow anti-abortion ad" was pretty much the only commercial anyone was talking about before the game.

And then it aired. And the world said, "What?!"

If you haven't yet seen it, here is a link...

Now, I'm sure there are some out there who would say this ad is "cute," but strictly from an advertising standpoint, this spot is terrible... and I mean TERRIBLE.  Let me count the ways...

1) It's all context and no message - Pam Tebow speaks a lot, without actually saying anything. What is the ad's message? Something about being tough? Parents worry about their kids?  I've seen the ad probably a dozen times now and I still can't honestly tell.

2) It says nothing about the organization it is supposed to be representing - Even if the ad's message was a clear "Families need to stick together," there is no indication about how this relates to FotF.  It could just as easily be a spot for a health insurance company.

3) It has a visual metaphor that is completely antithetical to the words that are spoken - My mom loves me so much... I TACKLE HER! If FotF's message is that we are supposed to love and cherish our families, how does the image of a son throwing his mother violently to the ground support that?

4) It inaccurately features someone famous doing something they're famous for - Ads that show famous people doing things they're not famous for can be wonderfully effective if done correctly (think the ad featuring Betty White playing pick-up football).  However, an ad showing someone doing something inaccurately close to what they're famous for is just confusing.  If Tim Tebow ever has to tackle someone in a game, the rest of his team is doing something really wrong.

5) It breaks the cardinal sin of advertising - It's boring. Other than the inexplicable mom-bashing at the end (which is at least exciting, if disturbing), it's just a big yawn.

You may think I'm just overanalyzing the ad and that no one else would analyze it like this, but you'd be wrong.  Like it or not, advertising is the life-blood of business (virtually all industries live and die by it) and you don't spend $3 million on a 30-second spot and not analyze every single thing about it. Believe me, I'm not the only one looking at these things and coming to the conclusion that the ad sucked.

Without all the hype building up to it, if it were remembered at all, the ad would have only been remembered as "that weird commercial where Tim Tebow tackled his mom as she talked about how much she loves him."

But that's where the PR brilliance comes in.

By allowing such a firestorm over what they knew was going to otherwise be a non-event, FotF managed to use their opponents to turn an otherwise blah ad into exceptional visibility.  If the spot were better, this wouldn't be possible because there would be some element to take exception to.  However, since the ad says virtually nothing, FotF gets to say, "See, we're just a benign organization trying to, what was the line again? Oh yes... Celebrate Family."  In addition, with the opposition groups voicing their protests so loudly, FotF also gets to say, "And look at all those meanies over there who bashed us without ever even having seen the ad."

And they get to do all this without ever saying a word.

The pro-choicers got played on this one - and played but good.  To say, "It was a stupid ad," begs the question then why did you make such a fuss in the first place?  To say, "The ad still shouldn't have run," begs the question if it's so stupid, why not?

The only real ground to stand on in this case is to take the position that CBS (like pretty much all the other networks) has no coherent, open guidelines for what makes an ad controversial enough or offensive enough to be censored.  Which is why it is so easy to believe CBS was playing favorites when they agreed to air an ad from FotF (whatever the content) while denying an ad for a gay dating site or that features a gay football player or that promotes a church open to accepting gays.

At the end of the day and in light of the actual ad, however, even that argument feels forced and it's best to just admit defeat and let the Te-Bow Incident die with the news cycle.
© Dean Purvis - All Rights Reserved
If you would like to use this material for any reason or purpose, you must receive written permission from the author.

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