Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Power of Pathetic: Why the 'Power of Print' ad campaign makes me crazy

Have you ever seen an ad in your local paper or perhaps in your child’s soccer banquet program and thought to yourself, “Wow - somebody paid money for that to represent their business.” But then you remember it’s just a small time ad and the lady who owns Honey Donuts was probably too busy and subsequently poor from her husband’s recent, sudden passing to collaborate with a cutting edge ad firm to really make you feel the sweetness of her “award winning honey rolls.” You should also stop being so ungrateful that local businesses care about the community enough to take out a pointless ad which will be seen by like, 40 people at BEST to support your stupid kid’s soccer league. Jerk.

But what about ads by super powerful companies? Considering how much money they pour into advertising, it always stands out when they totally miss the mark or put their name on something terrible. So when five of the nation’s biggest magazine companies unleashed the “Magazines: The Power of Print” campaign, I kind of became obsessed with hating it.

Let me start by saying this - I love magazines. I read several of them. Would I be sad if print media disappeared? Yes. I like to turn the pages. But would I eventually get used to carrying around a little electronic reading tablet thingy like so many people use now? I’d have to. But this campaign! It makes me never want to read a magazine again. It makes me feel both furious and embarrassed. Let’s take a look at an ad from the campaign:

First of all, cool picture. You really had my attention with that iconic image of a man with shorter-than-dude-appropriate shorts and dumb sandals holding a white folder looking at stacks and stacks of brown bags. I’m assuming those bags have coffee in them. Because of the ad copy headline being all coffee related. But I like to think that these are bags of cocaine. And not because I have a Miami Vice inspired imagination. But because it happens.

Also, that headline: “Will the Internet kill magazines? Did instant coffee kill coffee?” I am assuming I’m supposed to answer the second question with a resounding “No!” therefore revealing to myself that the answer to the first question must be the same. But I am not really a huge coffee drinker and don’t really understand the impact instant coffee introduction had on the java economy. So for me, the second question might as well be, “Did the Teamsters kill Jimmy Hoffa?” Then I’d know the answer to both questions was, “Probably, but perhaps we will never know!”

The main part of the ad is pretty text heavy. It has about a zillion more words than most ads. It is also laid out in such a way that it feels like a letter from the magazines themselves. Which gives it a slightly more personal feeling, but not “super nice thank you note from a friend” personal - more like “love letter from somebody you have no interest in ever being romantically involved with, but who you’re still going to have to see all the time because you work together” kind of personal. So many words, but what are they saying?

“New technologies change many things. But not everything.” Those first two sentences are pretty eye opening, right? It sounds like the lazily translated tag-line to a Hindi science fiction film. Thanks for telling me nothing! That vast statement is followed up with, “You may surf, search, shop and blog online, but you still read magazines. And you’re far from alone.” Ok, they GOT me on the “you still read magazines” thing - after all, I DID see this ad in an actual issue of
Rolling Stone. Guilty! Also, when I read magazines, I am constantly fighting back an anxious feeling that I’m all alone. That nobody left on Earth understands my magazine reading. So thank you for including that much needed reassurance. Now if only there were a toll free helpline number included in the ad...

This second paragraph though - that’s where it is at! It is all crammed with facts and stats and compelling information! Right? “Readership has actually increased over the last five years.” If somebody in a suit or lab coat or other authoritative garb said this to me while pointing at a bar graph, I would maybe believe it for a second. But here it’s just all naked and vague and I can’t help but wonder, “Increased from what? Abysmal to slightly less abysmal?” Also, by throwing the word “actually” in there, it shows an assumption that the reader will find this contrary to their current view. I mean, yes a smart person probably assumes that print media readership has gone down since the Internet came into play. But this is America - you’re not selling to smart people. The majority of people who see your ad are the same people that earnestly do their Christmas shopping at the “As Seen on TV” store. If the person who bought
this can't be sold on the idea that magazine readership is up, heaven help the publishing industry.

Then we’re hit with the factoid that the precious 18 to 34 demographic “continues to grow.” This is aimed right at advertisers since that’s exactly who they want to sell things like Mountain Dew and Doritos to. Also Axe body spray, Skyy vodka and Trojan condoms. Probably in that order. But that’s not all! “... typical young adults now read more issues per month than their parents.” And
atypical young adults write suicide poems and draw pictures of Satan in the notebook they’re hiding inside that issue of Seventeen they’ve never actually read. Oh wait - that describes typical young adults. Also, if they’re reading more than their parents, does that mean that readership in the parent age group has gone down? So does that supposed young adult increase only serves to cancel that out? I don’t know - I only cried in front of one college professor and that was in my Statistics class.

But even I know this is a pretty weak case, magazines.
One of my favorite things is when somebody tells me an explanation is “fairly obvious” and then backs this up by telling me nothing but vague bullshit. This next paragraph gets a gold medal in this category. The “explanation” for the maybe-not-even-that-great upswing in readership described above is “Magazines do what the Internet doesn’t.” Hmm... The only thing I can think of that I can do with a magazine but not with the Internet is kill a cockroach. The Internet pretty much does everything. It is a never-ending information land that may or may not consist of a series of tubes. Hardly anybody actually understands how it works. It’s literally magical!

Suffice to say, to strengthen the ballsy statement that magazines can somehow do something the Internet can’t, that follow up sentence better be pretty awesome. “Neither obsessed with immediacy nor trapped by the daily news cycle, magazines promote deeper connections.” Wow. You’ve just gone ahead and listed the two things magazines
by design will always be terrible at and laid them out there as if they were your greatest strengths. Well spun, magazines, well spun. Also, what is this “promote deeper connections” business? Between me and the magazine? Between me and other people? Is this because it is easier for the crazy lady on the bus to read a physical copy of Vanity Fair over my shoulder and engage me in a conversation about how she was supposed to be Reese Witherspoon but the government kidnapped her before she could audition for Man In the Moon and forced the director to cast a cyborg fighting weapon robot girl they called Reese Witherspoon than it is for her to see the same article on my iPhone? That’s my best guess.

The last paragraph though, tells us everything we need to know. This two page advertisement is directed at and a cry for help to those who advertise. “Please advertise your products in our magazines, ok? Because we’re terrified that you’re going to stop doing that. We can’t quit you, because that would mean evolving. As you can see from this ham-fisted, desperate ad, we aren’t ready for that yet.” I mean, this ad is TWO FULL COLOR PAGES. To buy that kind of ad space in a high school yearbook is expensive, let alone a major publication. So the fact they’re willing to take up potential money making space with an ad begging people to advertise tells me maybe they’re not as confidant as they pretended to be earlier when they were bragging about their readership numbers. But I suppose that’s just the cynic in me.

So yes - I still love magazines. When
Harper's or The New Yorker or Jugs comes in the mail it immediately makes my whole day better. Browsing the newsstand at a bookstore is my favorite part of the experience. I even love the way they smell. But seriously magazines, your insecurity is grossing me out. Knock it off.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ten reviews of the same record? Yes.

Collapse Board has 10 reviews of the new Cults record. Number 10 is written by me. I thought this might be an exercise in overkill, but instead I've been enjoying reading the different perspectives. I think you'll get more out of reading all 10 of these than if you search the web for 10 different sites. I'm just happy I got to make both a Saint Etienne reference and a joke about Phil Spector. That's a win for me.

Here's the video for the lead off track. A little too literal for my tastes, but certainly one of the best songs on the record.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Collapse Board debut

Today marks my debut with Collapse Board. Go here to read my feature. I am very excited to start writing more for the site, but I am also a consummate professional about this opportunity. I'm not like, reading Everett True's Wikipedia page and getting all giddy like a nerdy fan girl. Who would do that, right?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lasers & Headbands & Smiths Weekend

Two really outstanding shows this weekend. Friday at the Belmont, Lasers & Fast & Shit and Johnny Headband. Saturday, The Smiths United at the Berkley Front. Yes, yes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Music Critics DO Suck

Yesterday I was e mailed the article "Why Music Critics Suck" by Kelly McClure. Aside from the potty-humor related giveaways (those who know me at all know the words "fart sandwich" would never, ever appear in anything I wrote - other than, for instance, to tell you how I'd never ever write that) the piece could have been written by me. Go read it, and then let's talk about it shall we?

All done? Ok. I appreciate McClure's honesty when she makes this point:
"... when I sit down to type out a 150-200 word review, my primary goal is to show the reader how funny, cool, and clever I am. If they also come away with a rough idea of what an album sounds like, then whatever, I guess that’s cool too." Haha! It's funny because it's true! Have I been guilty of this myself as a music writer? There's no doubt. But to be fair, I think I'm way too much of an earnest nerd about music (and more importantly a nerd in general) to let that be my primary objective. So maybe I'm doing it wrong. Regardless, it certainly does seem to be the primary objective for a whole lot of music writer types.

In "Why Music Critics Suck" McClure does a little exercise where she flips to a review and critiques it. Because she encourages the reader to do this along at home, and because I like to follow instructions, I have done this as well. My review is of the new Panda Bear record
Tomboy from the newest issue of Rolling Stone with Adele (who I totally don't get - but that's a whole different topic) on the cover. I figured this review would serve the purpose well since I've heard some of Panda Bear's music but nothing from this new record. Let's look at the first two sentences, shall we?
"Noah Lennox makes music swathed in so much synth noise, ambient voices and ricocheting stereophonic WTFs, it can feel like you're swept into a tidal wave of bong water. But life can feel that way too." Hmm. Yes. There is not a single part of that lead sentence that doesn't read like a first person account of a horrific drug induced seizure. It makes me feel sweaty and like I'm going to throw up. Oh, but now with that second sentence, you've opened it up into a metaphor about life. Well - now I get it. We can all relate to those bong water tidal wave days, right? I mean, how many of us haven't had a day that left us feeling like we were being washed away Katrina-style by a stagnant, stale, smoke scented wave of putrid liquid? This is life, people! And we're living it!

What about the rest of the review? Who cares. I already have a direct association between Panda Bear and bong water that will last me the rest Noah Lennox's career. Nice aversion therapy work,
Rolling Stone. But I don't think the blame lies solely on the shoulders of the reviewer (in this case a Mr. Will Hermes). An editor - maybe even more than one editor - at Rolling Stone read that and said, "Yes. Let's print this in our magazine." Cool choice, editors.

Toward the end of her piece, McClure writes: "I personally can barely find it within myself to care about the memories and feelings of my closest friends, yet alone some critic who lives god knows where and looks like god knows what. Don’t tell me how an album makes you 'feel,' you jerkstore, just tell me how much it costs and I’ll figure out the rest." I agree with this sentiment, but would insert "tell me what it sounds like" for her "tell me how much it costs." I've never once looked to a review for price information. I have read a lot of complaint and criticism about reviews that compare a band or record to other bands or records, and I've never really understood why that's so wrong. First of all, forgive me, but since virtually everything had been done a hundred times before, nothing being created today is so amazingly unique as to allude any comparisons. Secondly, I really don't want to read more of your self-important overly-thesaurus reliant review than I have to. So the more I can get out of it with a cursory glance, the better a review it is. "Something, blah... blah... Trompe le Monde era Pixies meets Bad Brains..." Ok! Let's listen to that! "Something, blah... blah... meandering melodies with superfluous smokey overtones swirled with ether..." Jesus Christ. NEXT!

I'm pretty excited about this Collapse Board business though. I think we'll get along well.
Go to there and see what you think...

Monday, May 2, 2011

This Saturday - THIS is where you should be.

Read my interview with the bands over at the Metro Times Music Blahg. I'm really proud to be a part of this - not in a bragging way. Ok, kind of in a bragging way. I think that's acceptable.

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