I mentioned the other day how I love a series of new ads by GE that are low-key, whimsical and thoughtful. It turns out that they beyond these TV spots, they also have a separate series of short videos each around 3 minutes that are equally wonderful. They're not intended as TV ads, I don't believe, but web-only. I may post some from time to time, but here's one that's a gem. It's about whether one can un-ring a bell.
Boy, sometimes timing really is everything.
The clock just passed midnight to Wednesday as I post this, but I began writing it late Tuesday night. So that means it was just this morning that I wrote about a wonderful GE commercial that uses a renowned scientist, Millie Dresselhaus -- the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering -- as its centerpiece. The point of the ad being what if we treated scientists like we do other celebrities. It's an absolutely lovely spot that has the real Millie Dresselhaus, a gray-haired, hunched, sweet-looking elderly lady, seen in all manner of celebrity settings -- covered on the news eating lunch, stopped for autographs, on t-shirts, walking slowly on stage to cheering crowds and more.
It turns out that Millie Dresselhaus passed away the day before, at the age of 86.
I discovered this by accident. I have a friend who's on the writing staff of a talk show, and I was sending him a note to suggest that they book Millie Dresselhaus as a guest. I wanted to check first to see her age, so that I could include it in my note. When I saw it listed as Monday, I did a double-take and quadruple-checked to make sure I was looking at the right line or that wrong information wasn't included in the wrong space. Unfortunately, it was all accurate.
I'm sorry to learn about it. But I'm so glad that the TV ad had already begun to air and brought her some national notoriety while she was still here to see it.
If you haven't seen the ad yet, do scroll down to yesterday morning's first posting and check it out.
This may be one of my favorite TV ads. I don't mean "of recent years," I mean...ever. (I don’t expect others to feel the same, but it hit me right. I love what it says, and I love how they say it. And what they selected as the center point.)
It’s from GE, which has another ad I love, equally understated and offbeat about a sad "idea" that wanders around the streets, treated like an outcast, avoided by everyone because it's different.
I don’t want to give away the “twist,” but I’ll just say – actually, no, I won’t. Why give anything away. I’ll only say instead that I put "twist" in quotes because it’s not really an actual twist, but a tiny moment and where we discover something.)
There's one thing I'll add. It's probably clear, but just to make certain -- Millie Dresselhaus is real. That's the "twist" I was referring to, the discovery that she is not a fictitious character as some ads might do, but a renowned, legendary scientist.
With a very funny -- and even-more surprising -- nod to Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration, the Unilever company has taken out a two-page ad in several major London newspapers to promote its new Dove AntiPerspirant.
The first page of the ad is full of "alternative facts" about the Dove product, while the second page simply lists a few basic "Real Facts."
That the company felt the news about Ms. Conway's "alternative facts" would be something that would resonate with the British public speaks massive volumes about the impact the Trump administration is having on the whole. That it's something to joke about and have fun with as a marketing tool is even more notable.
Here's the first page. My personal favorite "alternative fact" may be -- "New Dove antiperspirant boosts your Wi-Fi signal."
As long as its Super Bowl Day -- or, sorry, "The Big Game" Day -- here's a Golden Oldie ad, one of my favorites from the Super Bowl archives (as odd as it is...) and little-remembered, since it only aired that one time. This is from 1990, and won a Clio Award, the advertising industries honor -- starring Paul Newman.
Okay, I've made it to CES. The drive from West Los Angeles was a bit less than four hours. The elves taking caring of the homestead were glad to hear I'd arrived safely, though wished I'd quit keep bugging them with the news, preferring to be left alone until I get back.
It was also my first chance to test using Sirius-XM while driving through the Mojave Desert, and it worked perfectly. I switched between various channels, but what stood out was being able to listen to MSNBC. In large part that's because they covered President Obama's farewell ceremony with the branches of the military. If you haven't heard or watched it, do try to track it down. It was very moving. Ostensbility, as I gather, this event was to honor him, but he said at the start that "I am still the Commander in Chief, so I can make the rules. And I want to honor you all here." And his speech was clearly heartfelt and emotional. Not only was it absolutely lovely and meaniful, but it was difficult for me to listen to this and not think throughout, "I cannot even begin to imagine Trump come even close to saying any of this.
On to CES.
And my first reaction has zero to do with the show itself. Much as I greatly dislike Las Vegas, one of the few things I like about the city, outside of endless buffets..., is that you can go to any hotel and park or free, rather than be gouged. That's because hotels want you to come to their casinos and gamble. Well, apparently that's changing. Not for all the hotels and casinos yet but all the MGM properties and some others are now charging for self-parking. And a substantive amount. I heard a lot of grumbling, and I think this is counter productive, so I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually goes away. But who knows, maybe hotels will only look at the small picture and not the larger one. For instance, if you pay a certain amount for (say) four hours, and those four hours are almost up -- at which point your parking will double, then I can see people leaving to go somewhere else. Or all the local residents who go to hotels for dinner and now have to pay a lot for parking, they might decide to dine at other restaurants instead. (I spoke to several locals, and they were not happy with the change. One said that a reason given is that the places wanted to "be more like Los Angeles and San Francisco. I commented that the whole point of Las Vegas is that it's nothing like Los Angeles and San Francisco...or anywhere. They agreed.)
As for the show itself, it doesn't officially start until tomorrow, and it's largely only press conferences during the day, although there are two events on the schedule that always interest me. One is tonight, Pepcom (also called Digital Experience) that puts companies and reporters together in a big ballroom for the night -- with a buffet. (You may have noticed, I like buffets...) And then this afternoon, there was the Launch-It event put on Showstoppers, one of my favorite groups that also puts on one of those company-report events (and always with an even better, ahem, buffet...), which will be tomorrow. But Launch-It is sort of a competition for about a dozen pre-selected start-ups.
I didn't stay for the whole thing, but a few of the presentations caught my eye. Not that they were all necessarily practical for the mass market, but I admired the creativity and technology even if their application is limited. None are available to the public yet (and may never be, if they don't get their full venture capital investment), but most are reasonably advanced.
Akoustic Arts is a speaker that focuses its sound waves so that it doesn't "bleed" to fill a room, but can only be heard in a confined area. For instance, if the speaker is placed above with the sound beaming down, only when someone walks into that zone will they hear it. (My immediate thought was, oh, my god, this is the "Cone of Silence" from Get Smart come to life!) There are real-world applications for it, though mostly commercial, I think. For instance, in museums or hotel lobbies, that sort of thing. The representative also mentioned use in cars and smartphones, and also for the blind., though that may be more limited.
Cosmo Connected is a connected brake light, mainly for motorcylists who get into a high percentage of accidents when they slow down, and the cars behind them don't see the low-level brake light go on. This attaches to any helmet and a bright light flashes at eye level when the bike slows down. Also, there is an emergency application - the device has a gyroscope built-in, so if the bike and rider fall over, an operator gets a signal and can call a receiver in the device to check on the rider. If there's no response, they'll call an emergency vehicle.
The oddest product was the Foldmiate. This will fold almost any clothing you give to it -- and will remove most of the wrinkles if you buy the add-on (though it doesn't iron). I suppose it's good for a family with a lot of children, though again it's the industrial and commercial market where it probably has its best application -- laundramats, hotels, clothing stores and places like that. It's about the size of an ATM, though the company is working on that. Also, at the moment I think their anticipated price of $750-1,000 is much too high, at least for the home, but that will likely be adjusted, as well.
That's all for now. More to come.
I would have preferred to post this as I saw it on television -- without knowing initially what product it was for, because the reveal makes a fun ad even funnier. But since the only clips of it that I could find online all mention the product the first thing, that option is out the window. It's still very offbeat, clever and a treat. It's also probably the funniest TV ad I've seen for a tax-preparation software. Okay, in fairness, tax-preparation software isn't known for being all that funny, though there have been a few cute ones. (And it seems they tend to be from TurboTax -- for instance last year they had a series for a one-button app that was so easy to use even if you weren't a rocket scientist.) This, though, takes it to another level.
And adding in a celebrity -- and a celebrity you wouldn't necessarily associale with tax preparation software -- makes it all the more unlikely. I'd just love to have been in two rooms: one, where they came up with the idea, and the other, when the ad agency went to the copany and said, "Okay, here's what we have in mind...
The point here isn't that the ad is SO funny. I think it is, but that's all personal taste. The point is that I like people who push the envelope and come up with different ways of doing the norm that are also effective. And this is a different idea for selling tax preparation software.
This is the ad for TurboTax that features Oscar-winner Kathy Bates. If you can, try watching this from the perspective of not initially knowing what product it's for...
For the record, TurboTax has developed a series of similar-offbeat ads this year, including one with "Big Poppy" David Ortiz, the Designated Hitter of the Boston Red Sox who just retired at the end of the past season. It too is pretty funny, though I single out the one with Kathy Bates because it's SO odd and unexpected. You can at least see the connection to David Ortiz and the thinking behind it. But the Kathy Bates ad just comes totally out of left-field from another universe.
But for the sake of continuity, here's the ad with Ortiz.
Though this isn't unknown given its legendary status, it still falls far under the wire as far as widespread awareness goes. And holiday recordings just aren't holiday recordings without Stan Freberg's classic "Green Chri$tma$." It's still funny and pertinent about the commercialization of the holiday after over 60 years. And just plain wonderful.
Yes, this is a vent. It is also the tale of an experience that I suspect many people will go through themselves at some point, so it's always a good thing to be forewarned and forearmed. It's long, but so detailed because I want to be as objective as possible and completely fair in the telling.
A couple months ago, after my father passed away, I shipped some furniture back from Chicago across country to my home. It wasn't what one would traditionally think of as antique, but at 50 years ago and from Europe, it was not off-the-rack. And it certainly has family meaning.
When it finally arrived, five pieces were damaged. Some of the damage minor, most more than that, and one chair was, to put it bluntly, demolished. I remember one of the movers starting to unpack the chair, scrunching up his face and asking, "Did you ship it this way??" Er, no, I said.
As you might imagine, I was not a happy camper. That's the polite term. Hey, five pieces of family furniture had been damaged, some of it badly. I filed a claim with the company, United Van Lines, through one of their local subsidiaries, Hollander Moving. And from our first communication, it seemed like it would be a less than ideal experience ahead.
The problem was that they recommended one particular furniture repairman. My initial concern was that someone like that had a first loyalty to the moving company, making sure their price was low enough to get repeat business, rather than having their interest being with the client and repair. (Indeed, the claims adjuster noted how good the fellow's prices were. That was wonderful to know -- for the company. It was of little concern to me.) The other problem was that I searched everywhere online and could find zero customer reviews for him. Not on Yelp, not on Angie's list, not even on his own website. None.
The claims adjuster said not to worry, people only post negative reviews anyway. Actually...no, that's not even remotely true, I explained, from my 18 years writing about technology and the Internet. And from reading websites. And from doing product searches for years. And from reading comments on my own Amazon pages for my books, full of praise (happily). The claims adjuster also said how impressive it was that the vendor listed companies on his personal site that he did business with over 30 years. Actually...no, I said, there were only six listed. And as good as the names were -- they were just names. No indication of if the work was done 25 years ago, or if the client liked the work and gave repeat business. Or used the person once, was unhappy and stopped. Just names, a list. And only six in 30 years.
Still, I agreed to let him come and do an estimate. He seemed knowledgeable, noted how bad the damage was and thought he could fix it all. I still wanted some customer comments though -- as I would for any service I used, especially of this importance -- and asked if he could send any testimonials he had in his files. Surely he had a lot over 30 years. He said he would.
Later, when I traded emails with the claims adjuster, she said she'd spoken with the vendor, and he wasn't going to be sending me any of the "private information" I was asking for. Say what?? I didn't ask for any "private information." I wasn't even asking for any critical comments. I asked him to send me testimonials (of his own choosing) which he had in in files, which most certainly would only be positive. And he wouldn't send anything?? And claimed I was asking for "private information?" Perhaps he thought I wanted to call his clients -- I wasn't, though that's hardly unheard of. He could have even blocked out the names, for all I cared. I only wanted a paragraph from a happy customer saying how great he was.
I had another option. I could track down a furniture repairman on my own. I would have to submit an invoice, and United/Hollander would pay whatever they chose to cover. You took your chance that they would cover everything. I suspected that the vendor they used was good, maybe even very good. Even though he likely got United Hollander's repeat business because of good prices, if he generated a lot of complaints they probably wouldn't have kept using him. And the before/after photos he put on his website looked good. Certainly they were his best samples, but I still felt he was probably fine.
But -- I was still bothered by him having zero customer comments online, and him being unwilling to send any testimonials from 30 years of work. And I especially was bothered by having the company that damaged five pieces of furniture say "Trust us" and try to force a repairman of their choice on me. He might be wonderful. I didn't know, and they had not remotely earned my trust. Their damage is why I was looking for a repairman in the first place.
I checked out a few places online from various sources, and particularly loved what I read about the Rene Guzman Studio, which had one of the highest A-ratings on Angie's List from over 100 reviews. (Gee, apparently people do leave comments of praise online. Go figure...) My concern was that because the quality of his work was so high, his prices be, as well. But it turned out to be very fair, much less than I thought. I passed along his estimate to the United/Hollander claims adjuster.
In fact she knew of Rene Guzman, which I can only attribute to his reputation for such good work. Alas, the amount she offered to pay for the claim was an amount about $450 less than his estimate. (Keep in mind that there was a lot of work to do, so the repair was expensive, even for the person they themselves recommended. Therefore, this difference in actual cost and offered settlement was not great, though it would have been out of my own pocket, for damage they caused.)
A slight, but related digression.
During this process, I received a form letter from Hollander asking about my experience with the move. But it was unlike any such customer service letter I've ever received. All it asked for -- literally, the only thing -- was a push to tell them how incredibly great they were. And no, I am not exaggerating. One typical paragraph read: "So, if we have met your expectations and if we deserve your trust, please do us this one kindness: Just Say Yes by clicking the following link YES in your e-mail now or email us at Yes@HollanderMoving.com." Now, of course, it's fine to ask for praise, as aggressive as that drive for a YES was -- the problem was...there was no "NO" link in the email. Only requests for praise, even subtly-guilting you by making it personal, like, "If you would like to mention any of our Hollander staff members by name that went beyond the call, we would love to hear that from you, too!" Nothing anywhere about wanting to hear of any problems. Not one word. (The closest the letter came to not asking for raves and backslaps was when the last paragraph noted I was free to send "any feedback.") As you might imagine, I wrote back to explain that my move was not as gloriously positive as their letter was soliciting. The point here is how telling it is that this was hardly a way to get an honest, full-rounded reaction about the customer experience.
Back to our tale.
I decided to go with the highly-rated repairman I had found, Rene Guzman Studios. His work was backed by significant, objective letters of experiences, and he was a pleasure to deal with. I knew it would be an uphill battle to get United/Hollander to pay the $450 difference, but I made my case to the claims adjuster why their initial refusal was such a shortsighted decision, and hoped she'd reconsider for the reasons I gave. I also wrote a letter to the woman at Hollander who had set up the move and had said initially how distraught she was at all the damage and would help out.
To condense what took place over the next couple weeks, the short version of what I expressed over several exchanges was --
Though all my emails had been pointed but very polite, I said she must not take the politeness as something to dismiss and must understand how truly angry I was that five pieces of family furniture had been damaged.
I also thought it was inappropriate for them to rely on a single estimate from a vendor whose best-interest was to keep his prices low as a "favored nation" to get repeat business from the moving company, and not have United/Hollander provide other vendors for me to consider for comparison.
And though all the furniture could ultimately be repaired, even their own chosen-repairman asked if I wanted that demolished chair (and a couple other items) to be fully-replaced. It was in that bad shape. And had I chosen to replace it, the cost for that one item alone would have far-exceeded the $450 difference.
But mostly...I wrote that for such a small difference -- given how much I paid in the first place to move all the furniture halfway across the country, and how much was being approved to repair some of it -- it would seem to me that the company would WANT to make good, would WANT to make the client happy from a very bad experience that they themselves caused. And it was incredibly shortsighted not to do that. Indeed, as I explained: I was very upset at this old family furniture being damaged. Allowing me to select who I personally wanted to repair it at least would give me some solace. And if it turned out there’s a problem with the repair…the problem would be on me, because I selected who to do the repair. On the other hand, forcing me to either use someone I didn't want or accept less money needed for the repair to pay myself out of pocket would only reinforce my highly-disappointed reaction to the experience. And if it turned out that the work by their suggested repairman wasn’t done well, then the responsibility would be on United/Hollander, only increasing my displeasure. And causing additional problems. And all that could be resolved for only $450.
In fact, I even suggested splitting the difference. For just over $200, they could address the problem and satisfy the customer.
Instead, United/Hollander stood their ground, and didn't pay enough to cover the repair of their damage. Nor split the difference. Nor did I ever heard back from the first person at Hollander Moving who had expressed such sadness at all the damage and had offered help. It left a terrible residue of feeling for dealing with United/Hollander. The company was looking at saving $450, rather than making an extremely-upset customer happy after the company itself caused so much damage to five pieces of valuable family furniture.
During the exchange of emails, I got a short note suggesting I could arbitrate this if I was unhappy. But I had no intention of arbitrating it. The amount was certainly meaningful, but the hours spent arbitrating $450 was hardly worth my time. And it just reinforced how short-sighted the decision was for United/Hollander not to make up or even split that comparatively small difference (given how much had been spent on the very move itself) and actually make a customer happy. For damage the company caused.
In the end, I understand a company wanting to save $450. Or even $225. What I don’t understand is a company not wanting to “make whole” the actual damage it caused that would satisfy a customer on so many levels — and all for such a reasonable amount, especially with an offered-compromise and most-especially after having been paid so much already. Instead of creating long-term good will over damage it caused, and turning a bad situation into a positive, the company exacerbated the problem by counting its pennies.
What I suppose is that the company, perhaps like many that are short-sighted and not as focused on customer service as they like to present, wanting instead to push how "YES" great they are, figures the job is done, the customer isn't likely to need a cross-country move again, they have their money, here's our offer to settle, take it or leave it -- and most people take it. Or take the repair service the company offers. But then most people don't type for a living, have a website, a column on the Huffington Post, and Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote them -- and follow-up with the organization that recommended them which provides so much business.
Happily, there's a good addendum to all this.
The work by the Rene Guzman Studio was tremendous. And well-worth paying the extra amount to get old family furniture back in wonderful condition. His price was not cheap but extremely fair. But then he even refinished a table on his own for no charge. Most importantly, his work was a gem. It took longer than expected because he had a couple of emergency jobs -- and I was in no rush and told him I was fine with the delays -- and also I was so pleased with his early work that I added a couple of pieces which could use refurbishing. Through it all, he continued to be a pleasure to work with. If I had one quibble with him, which I did politely chide him about, it's that he's not great about answering emails. He acknowledged that this wasn't his strong point and said he would work on getting better at it. A small quibble for such impressive work.
Remember that picture above of my demolished chair? (Scroll back up to remind yourself, if necessary.) Here's how it ended up and looks now.
Rene Guzman Studios, at the very least, is highly recommended for those who live in Los Angeles. You can find the company here.
As part of my whirlwind day yesterday, as noted here earlier, I made a slight detour to head over to a little restaurant called Taste Chicago, which is in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley (Slight digression: years ago, a guy I knew came up with one of my favorite lines. He said he didn't like to go to the Valley because he didn't think God's fingers reached that far.)
Taste Chicago is far from high end, or even middle-end. It’s got about a dozen tables, and you go up to the country to order and pick-up your food. It’s most notable for being owned by the actor Joe Mantegna and his wife, and the place is decked out in Chicago sports memorabilia, and focused on Chicago foods. Vienna hot dogs with poppy seed buns, Italian beef sandwiches, and the beloved deep-dish pizza, so difficult to find in Los Angeles, that sort of thing. I've only had the pizza -- if I'm going to make that trek, and not often, I want to get something that's especially hard to get here. The pizza probably would be mid-range back in Chicago, but it's perfectly tasty, and the place is nice and fun, For all the memorbilia of Chicago teams, it's the Cubs material that leaps out, since Mantagna is an esspecially big Cubs fan. (He's been the "guest conductor" at Wrigley Field to lead the crord at least once every season for years.
So, I get to the place, park in their little lot and see this. God love ‘em –
The Cubs flag to the left aside, as even many non-sports fan have probably seen by now, that's a replica of the banner the Cubs fly over Wrigley Field after every game the Cubs won For many decades, it didn't get flown a whole lot.
By the way, inside, among all the memorabilia, there's one item that problably doesn't get much attention in the small, wood-paneled building. Just one more piece on wall -- but it may be the most valuable thing in the whol place.
Among all those signature are four players who are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame -- Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. That there is one rare home plate.
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, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. 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.