Last night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO was wonderful from top to finish. Alas, the show only posts a video of their main story (which actually isn't all that much of an "alas," since it's great that they do so...), but not to worry, we'll deal with that in a bit. And as for that "alas" part, here is the show's fascinating, balanced and often hilarious look at jobs and automation.
A friend sent me an article on thrillist.com that rated all the Super Bowl ads, and he asked for my comments about them.
Though I’ve written TV ads, I’m hardly an expert. But (and this doesn’t make me an expert either), I’m named after a relative who was an expert. Really. Isadore James Wagner, and I’m Robert James Elisberg. That’s why I always write professionally as “Robert J. Elisberg,” as an homage to him. He was one of the “pioneers” in using singing commercials on radio. I have an excellent book on old-time radio, The Big Broadcast, sort of an encyclopedia, which has a section on commercials. They give about a dozen examples of famous radio jingles, and two of them are his. (One was used for many decades and even I got to hear it on TV, the “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon” jingle.) He also gave Studs Terkel his first break on radio – and in Terkel’s two memoirs he always give Iz credit. When I read an interview with him giving credit to “That adman I.J. Wagner,” I ran to tell my mom, and she said, “Oh, yes, I know. When Iz died, Studs spoke at his funeral.”
A story about him and advertising which in a way relates to commenting on Super Bowl ads. Years back I was talking with an elderly screenwriter, David P. Lewis, who used to write ads in Chicago. I mentioned having a cousin who did that, I.J. Wagner. He said he didn’t know him, but worked at the agency where he had worked. The story is that when he got hired there, he was a know-it-all kid, and when he was told that one of their clients was Thomas J. Webb Coffee (very big in the Midwest at the time), and one of Iz’s big ads, David said he went on a know-it-all rant about how he hated the ad because it was so annoying. The supervisor went and got a rate book and let him read it – it showed that the ad was WILDLY successful and incredibly well-remembered. The point being, he realized, that you’re not writing art but trying to get the public to remember your product and then buy it.
(The ad – not one of his singing jingles -- was an annoying woman’s raspy voice calling out, “Morrrrrtimer!! Don’t forget to get the Thomas J. Webb Cofffffffff-eeeeeeeee!!!!”)
Before I looked at what Thrillist wrote, I passed along my two favorites. (I should add that I didn’t think most of the ads were all that wonderful, and there were the only two which, for me, leaped out. I liked others, but in fairness I didn't see all the ads, and the ones I did see didn’t strike me as great ads, just sort of fun.) My favorites were --
The NFL ad, promoting the upcoming documentary on the history of the NFL. It wasn’t really a “product” and didn’t make the point of what it was promoting all that great, but I just loved the ad.
The Microsoft ad for its usability features for disabled kids.
As a special mention, I liked the ad for Bubly soft drink with Michael Buble.
As for the Thrillist article, you can check it out here -- which has the added advantage of embedding all the commercials so you can watch the ones you missed list or check out those you did like again. My own comments aren't comprehensive, so I just skimmed the article, but these are my random thoughts, following the Thrillist order from worst to best.
And first of those is that their comments seem to be that if a commercial isn’t all that funny it should be downgraded. While I understand that to a degree if a commercial is trying to be funny, they seem to miss that the point of a commercial isn’t to be funny but…to sell a product. And sometimes being “too” funny is felt to detract from the product.
While they rated the Jason Bateman/Hyundai commercial as the worst, I thought it was wonderfully produced and great fun. However, I think it was a lousy ad for selling their cars. (In fact, I didn’t remember if it was for Hyundai or Honda.) So, I don’t know if that should make it it high on the list or low -- but definitely higher than "worst."
Their comment about how one of the reasons they didn't like the WeatherTech ad was because they felt the cellphone holider should be higher so that you could actually see the phone was idiotic. The whole point of the product is that so you keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. NO, they don’t want you looking at the phone.
I like the Stella Artois ad, though because I've never seen Sex in the City, and don't think I've seen The Big Lebowski in 15-20 years, I didn't quite get all the references, but I thought it was well-done and fun. And think that Thrillist missed the point of why it worked. And I liked, too, the quick but great use of "The Most Interesting Man in the World" -- not just because it was a nice addition and a tweak to another beer company, Dos Equis, but I suspect there was a bit of joyful comeuppance by the actor, Jonathan Goldsmith, who had been let go by the ad agency for being too old.
I didn't think the Pepsi ad with Steve Carell ad was all that effective in selling the product especially well, but I thought he was great fun in it.
Though I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I thought the Bud Light crossover ad with the TV show. was AWFUL. Not just because the two styles didn’t mesh, but Budweiser thought it was a great idea to have one of its iconic characters, the Bud Knight, get killed in a battle and then decapitated. Seriously????
I thought the Alexa ad was well-produced and fun, but thought it lost its focus on what it was selling. What I think they were trying to sell was how great and versatile Alexa is, and that it can do SO much, though some efforts were misguided because Alexa shouldn’t be used for that. A good point in theory, but it doesn’t come through properly, instead it looks like they’re saying Alexa doesn’t work well.
How weird that they describe the Mr. Peanut ad as “it’s all pretty stupid,” but rate it as #15.
I dislike the Verizon ads that have been running for the last few weeks – with the First Responders, and the tag line about how “They save everyone, and we make sure they got the call.” The ads themselves are good – but I hate the tag line. If the ad was the same and they ended with “Verizon salutes those who put themselves out to save others,” then that would be just fine. But to suggest that Verizon deserves to be part of the First Responder “team” and deserves part of the praise and thanks, simply because they connect the phone call is bothersome. Furthers, as far as I know, there isn’t an issue with any other service not being able to connect to 911 and First Responders. Besides which, how do we know that in these cases the call to the First Responders was made using Verizon service?? Maybe it was, but maybe not. Either way, though, they are NOT part of the team.
I can’t say that that Bo Jackson commercial for Sprint was very good, and they even say so, too, yet make it #11 best simply because they like seeing Bo Jackson!
Thrillist saying that “Obviously, it’s hard to get too outraged over a clip of Andy Warhol eating a burger” misuses the word “outraged.” I thought the ad was fairly effective in getting your attention, which is a critical aspect of any ad, though I can assure you there were people at our group who were indeed close to outraged by it, thinking it boring, a bit creepy and inexplicable. But at least them making it #4 made my point to those “outraged” folks that the ad was effective in getting attention and being remembered.
Okay, two of my favorite three made their top three, so I can’t complain about that – the Microsoft ad and the one for Bubly. Though I wouldn’t have put the Bubly ad #1. But – but – they completely ignored and left out the NFL promotional spot. Perhaps because it was just a “promotion” and not a tradition ad per se, but so what? It was great. And even if one didn’t like it, you at least include it!!!
And that they thought the avocado ad was the second best is bizarre. Among other things, it didn’t do much to sell avocados (focusing mostly on the unrelated, goofy antics of the humans) …which is the point of an ad.
Well, it’s all personal taste. And I admire that Thrillist took the leap to rate them all in order.
I think your recommended tag line for the Bob Dylan “Blowin’ in the Wind” ad is a perfectly good one for commenting on Dylan’s song, but not an especially good one for selling the product.
I'm not exactly sure what to make of this article. It all may be completely above board -- or at least dicey, if legal. But if the expression, "Where there's smoke there's fire," holds, then former Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Governor John Kasich (R-OH) are in a lot of trouble, because there appears to be smoke billowing out of every crevice of the house.
The article is from investigative journalists David Sirota and Andrew Perez for Capitol & Main in conjunction with MapLight. The headline and sub-head give a good indication of the substance of the tale --
"Ohio, New Jersey Pension Funds Invested $625 Million in Hedge Fund That Controls National Enquirer Parent. Under Republican governors, two states pumped hundreds of millions of dollars of pension cash into a high-risk hedge fund that took control of the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc."
The story centers on the over-half a billion dollars of state pension money for retirees invested in a high-risk hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management, which controls American Media Inc, the parent company of the National Enquirer. You will no doubt recall that it was recently revealed how AMI's CEO David Pecker -- one of Trump's oldest friends and associates -- was granted immunity by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Chatham hedge fund is run by Anthony Melchiorre, a large GOP donor who the article says "reportedly met with the president and AMI CEO David Pecker at the White House soon after Trump took office."
According to SEC records, then-Gov. Christie's administration initially invested $300 million into the high-risk hedge fund in 2013. Then, last year, a few months before Christie's term in office expired, New Jersey sent an additional $200 million to another Chatham fund.
As the article notes, "In 2013 and 2014, an Ohio pension system partially controlled by Gov. John Kasich’s appointees committed $125 million to Chatham."
The connections between Trump, Republican officials, the National Enquirer and hush money payments aside -- which is a great deal to put aside -- what's most troubling for the pension funds is how incredibly risky the investments were. AMI has had major financial difficulties in recent years and been in desperate need of cash. (In fact, there have been suggestions that that could be a major reason David Pecker agreed to flip, knowing that his company couldn't withstand a government lawsuit and could collapse.) Indeed, the hedge fund is so profoundly high risk, that Chatham investment material warns entities thinking of getting involved that they “may lose its entire investment in a troubled company.” Earlier this year, one of the country's biggest equity investors, Blackstone, dropped Chatham from one of its investment funds.
This is not the sort of venture that retiree pensions tend to invest in... Which raises questions about why in the world the massive investments were made.
“If asked to vote, I can assure you I will be voting for us to divest,” said said Tom Bruno, a state union representative who is the chairman of the New Jersey pension board of trustees and who serves on New Jersey’s State Investment Council, which oversees the pension system’s investments. “I cannot talk on behalf of the entire SIC, but I will be doing everything in my power to convince a majority to vote the same way.”
As I said, for all I know these investments were perfectly legal and financially sound. Or if not, perhaps Chris Christie and John Kasich were completely isolated from all decisions to put so much pension money in such incredibly high-risk ventures. I have no idea. But it seems from the story that this is only the beginning of the tale. You can read the whole article here.
Longtime readers of these pages might recall an odd piece I wrote five years ago. It was an out-of-the-blue rumination unlike any I think I'd written before or since, wondering why on earth Papa John's used its founder and CED John Schnatter was their spokesperson in TV ads, since he seemed to me one of the most unlikely people I've seen promoting a product. You can read the piece here. I end it by noting that what promoted me to write the commentary was that I'd felt that way for a very long time and just saw a TV ad that was too creepy that I couldn't take it any more. I closed by writing, "He had his arm around some kid, trying to look like just a regular guy, and all I could think of was yelling at the screen, 'Run, kid! Run!! Run for your life before he snaps and strangles you!!!'"
I bring this up because, after having been forced to resign as CEO for racial comments last year, he was just forced to resign as Chairman of the Board for additionally racially crass words.
I wish I could say I was prescient -- five years ahead isn't too shabby -- but I have a strong feeling that I wasn't alone in thinking how creepy he seemed. But I'm certainly glad I wrote it back then and that it's time-stamped...
Samsung released a new ad mocking the iPhone for its throttling issue. It's a very valid point - but a very risky one for Samsung, of all companies, to make. That's because it leaves them open for Apple releasing an ad, "At least our phones haven't burst into flame. Or gotten banned on planes"
I've been running around the last few days, so Ii haven't had much time to catch up in detail on all the news. As best I can tell, there is a lot of meltdown and angst around TrumpWorld and in the GOP. The most galling story, yet one which hasn't received much press attention, is that Trump's Inspector General has sent his findings -- that former acting FBI-director Andrew McCabe was "less than candid" with the FBI -- to the Department of Justice for possible criminal charges. From what little I've read, it seems unlikely that criminal charges will actually be filed. But -- 1) they could be, 2) what a chilling effect it must have on the entire department, and 3) what a fascist thing to do, try to undermine other voices of authority.
I also saw that Trump was dancing little jigs about the release of the FBI's Comey memos -- despite the reality that the memos pretty clearly support Comey and show Trump to be a pathetic sleazeball. All that without even getting into the fact that the memos should never have been released because they were evidence in an ongoing FBI investigation, but several top Republicans in the complicit House put on their fascist hats and were whining and bellowing for the documents.
And more, and more.
But what stood out to me among them all was, in most ways, a lesser story. But one that is utterly fascinating and especially telling about Trump. It was a long, detailed and very readable article in the Washington Post by Jonathan Greenberg. He is a reporter who back in the 1980s worked for Forbes magazine and was involved with putting together the initial "Forbes 400" lists of the wealthiest Americans. And the title of the article says it all -- "Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes."
What's so notable about the article is that many of the relentless specifics come from off-the-record conversations that Greenberg had, many with Trump himself posing under one of his pseudonyms of "John Barron," as well as conversations with Trump's lawyer and mentor, the disgraced Roy Cohn. However, Greenberg feels comfortable revealing this conversations because, as he writes -- "Although Trump, posing as Barron, asked Forbes to conduct the conversation off the record, I am publishing it here. I believe an intent to deceive — both with the made-up persona and the content of the call — released me from my good-faith pledge."
But the most notable thing about the article is, as the headline of the piece notes -- the tapes. Greenberg recorded many of the conversations with both Trump and Cohn, and has embedded them here. So, you can now hear Trump as "John Barron" clear as day, and lying through every orifice and body part. And it's blatantly Trump. Even from the distance of time, and him putting on a thicker New York accent, it's Trump. Clear as a glass window.
Even if you don't read the whole article, at least listen to the tapes. And in the end, what this article does is demonstrate -- in text and audio -- the beginnings of Trump's public flim-flam to try to con the American public about himself.
I was really surprised to see the new ad campaign from Pepsi. It's point is that Pepsi has long been a beverage which everyone for generations has love. Not just today, but your parents loved it and even your grandparents drank it. There's Cindy Crawford's son -- and Cindy Crawford drinking it a decade earlier. There's Britney Spears drinking Pepsi back in 2001. There's Michael Jackson dancing and drinking it in the 1980s. There are your grandparents on a date drinking it. And that's a lovely message, and all well and good --
Except that Pepsi made its BIG breakthrough with "The Pepsi Generation." That it was the cola for today, for the young and hip. Not that old soft drink that your parents drink and people have been drinking for decades. It's a new world, it's the Pepsi Generation!!
And now -- drink Pepsi because your grandparents did???
(And yes, you get bonus points if you recognize the singer there as Joanie Sommers.)
But it's not like they just used that slogan in the '60s. Here's an ad from the 1970s, making the exact same point. That if you're young and hip, you're in the Pepsi Generation.
And the 1980s were the Pepsi Generation, too. And not just the generation of young people, but really young people. Like toddlers.
And then Michael Jackson came along with the latest Pepsi Generation, filled with young kids, the very hippest kids, dressing and dancing like Michael in the streets, making Pepsi the drink of their generation.
And on and on and on, through Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford and more, always the Pepsi Generation of the young -- and very young. And the most hip around.
Until this latest ad, where that's all out the window, and it's now suddenly the soft drink of your mom and dad and your grandparents.
Products change their ad campaigns all the time. And Pepsi has held on to theirs for a really long time, Since the 1960s. That's amazing. So, there's absolutely nothing wrong or even surprising with them doing so. It's just that I don't recall a product coming up with a new campaign that not only says the exact opposite of its previous campaign, but the exact opposite of how it's iconically identified itself for half a century.
Nothing wrong about that at all. Just surprising and worth noting.
For the past 10 years on Bill Gates' blog, "Gates Notes," he and his wife Melinda post their annual letter about their huge foundation. This year, for the tenth anniversary they did something different, and it's very interested. The each separately answered the "10 Toughest Questions We Get."
And the questions are good, and blunt. I don't think they're as "tough" (as in difficult to answer) as they are blunt, but they certainly aren't softball.
Here are the questions:
• Why don’t you give more to the United States?
• What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?
• Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?
• Are you imposing your values on other cultures?
• Does saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?
• How are President Trump’s policies affecting your work?
• Why do you work with corporations?
• Is it fair that you have so much influence?
• What happens when the two of you disagree?
• Why are you really giving away your money–what’s in it for you?
You can read their individual responses here.
To draw attention to this, the couple appeared on Good Morning America. And then answered questions, as host Robin Roberts took questions from the studio audience.
Not long ago, I read an article on the legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau, and she talked about the famous scene in Truffaut's Jules and Jim, when she sings a song, "Le Tourbillon de la Vie." (The Wheel of Life.) She mentioned how the song was actually written for her years before by someone she had been in a relationship with, but she now associates the song with the movie, rather than as having been written for her.
Here's that scene from the 1960 film. Without a translation and context. it's sweet, though a bit sing-songy. But still enjoyable in its charm. I post it here, though, for a particular reason, which I'll get to down below.
To make things more comprehensible, though, here is an English translation -- or if you just want to sing along. (The song has a lot of verses -- a lot -- though goes quickly, only about two minutes. But if you want to skip the lyrics, just scroll waaaaay down to the video. Otherwise, ici, les mots -- )
She had rings on every finger
Tons of bracelets around her wrists
And then she used to sing with a voice
That, immediately, seduced me.
She had eyes, eyes like opal
That fascinated me, that facinated me
The oval of her pale face
Of a femme fatale who was fatal to me
We met, we recognized each other,
We lost sight of each other, we lost sight again
We met again, we heated up each other,
Then we separated
Each one is gone
In the whirl of life
I've seen her one day at night, ouch, ouch, ouch,
It's been a long time now ( x 2)
To the sound of banjos I recognized her.
This strange smile that was so appealing to me.
Her voice so irresistible, her beautifull pale face
Moved me more than ever.
I got drunk listening to her.
The alcohol makes forget time.
I woke up feeling
Kisses on my burning forehead
We met, we recognized each other
We lost sight of each other, we lost sight again
We met again, we heated up each other
Then we separated.
Each one is gone
In the whirl of life
I saw her again one night ah!
She fell into my arms again
When we met
When we recognized each other
why lose sight,
And lose sight again?
When we find each other
When we warm again each other
Then both, we got back
Into the whirl of life
We kept on turning
Both of us interlaced
Both of us interlaced
Ahhh, but as I alluded to above, there is a reason why I mention this and post the song -- and it's because of this video below that I came across. It's the French singer-songwriter-actress-model Vanessa Paradis, who sings "Le Tourbillon de la Vie" at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival -- with Jeanne Moreau sitting in the front row.
I'm guessing that there was an event that night honoring her. And what makes the video special is that Moreau has a microphone herself who sings along, and it slightly builds a bit from there.
And just for a fun bonus -- I came across this by accident while tracking the others. Here is Keira Knightley singing the song and accompanying herself on guitar in a commercial for the Chanel jewelry line that was released only three months ago, this past November.
(And what the heck, I throw in an addition connection -- the aforementioned Vanessa Paradis is a Chanel model, as well...)
Yesterday, I mentioned the note I got from Jack Moline about how the Interfaith Alliance he's president of had consulted with Toyota about their Super Bowl ad for the Tundra. The commercial was shown during halftime, and if you missed it, here it is. He was right, it was a fun one --
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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