Monthly Archives: October 2011

“In dreams begin responsibilities,” or so they say. In my case it’s more like, “My responsibilities begin in dreams.” Despite being a kinda-sorta creative person during my waking hours, my sleeping mind has the personality of an accountant. Or a to do list.

Other people, at least some of the time, get to spend their evening hours riding atop unicorns or evading vampires. I get this:

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I dreamed the season 5 premiere of Mad Men.

Let me clarify — I didn’t dream that the show was on, or that we were watching it. I dreamed the episode itself.

It opened with a slow, steady shot of 1980s (yes — 80s) New York City, closing in on a sign reading “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.” Inside the building, young ad execs flitted around in snappy Reagan-era suits. The camera slowly moved towards a back office to find a now gray Don Draper and Peggy Olson.  Peggy closed the door.

Peggy: They’re moving forward with the Adidas account.

Don: What? Those idiots.

(He pauses, then looks up)

They’re making a huge mistake.

(He reaches for the phone)

Peggy: (Places her hand on the phone to stop him)

Wait- they’re just looking for a reason to get rid of you. It’s not worth it.

Don: They’re wrong.

(He lights a cigarette)

After that, the focus shifted to a group of yuppie ad executives, and sort of morphed into Mad Thirtysomething. Peggy and Don (and Betty and Peter, too) were there, but they were marginal side characters. Don had long since married and divorced several times over, and was primarily known to the young staff protagonists as being “an old alcoholic.” Peggy had carved out a niche as a copywriter, surviving several rounds of layoffs over the years, but had never ascended any further up the career track.

Yeah…it was kind of a downer. But I think as far as dream scriptwriting goes, it wasn’t too bad. There’s something to be said for shaking up the ol’ plot a bit, even if that means trading Lucky Strikes for Lucky Charms.

Although I’m pretty sure if I was ever actually responsible for a geriatric Joan the masses would probably have my head.

Dearest Wayne’s World, even though it’s been almost 20 years (ye god), you still hold a special place in my heart. In addition to the family tradition of singing, “we got five thousand dollars” in response to even a small windfall, you introduced us to Queen, the AMC Pacer, and Noah Vanderhoff.

Yes, Noah Vanderhoff. Remember him? He was the clueless business guy who owned Noah’s Arcade. (Fun fact: Vanderhoff was played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who is Bill Murray’s brother. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

I found myself thinking of Noah recently when a kind friend sent me this direct mail piece, as an early Christmas present for Marketing Mayhem. The postcard comes from a marketing firm that specializes in producing campaigns for colleges and universities.

Description: a hologram postcard showing a hand model fondling an iPad.

Ahem. Let’s count the trends:

1) Flashy, nontraditional, non-biodegradable, bizarro plastic paper stock. “Can we print on this cafeteria tray and bulk mail it? Sweet!”

2) Hologram graphic. “3-D! Like Avatar!”

3) An iPad. “The kids love those, right?”

4) On the back side, a QR code. Or as I like to think of them, a shortcut to lameness.

I term them “lamecuts.”

That’s a lot of tacky for one postcard. Taken together, it’s such a fabulous pastiche of inept youth marketing that it seems like Noah himself was sitting in the art director’s chair. Even though this postcard isn’t designed for young people — it’s for the higher-ups tasked with attracting said young people — their pitch is clear: insert flashy youth trend in a traditional ad and watch the cash roll in. What could go wrong?

(The joke’s in the first clip, but if you’re jonesing for some 90’s nostalgia feel free to watch the whole reel.)

In summary: Slapping an iPad on everything is to marketing to young people in 2011 as old white guy rapping was to marketing to young people in 1992. It’s like a really awesome strategy…if you want everyone to think you’re a total poseur.

I must confess, the wisdom of developing iPad marketing apps in general is lost on me. Who would download a college viewbook app that looks and smells like an ad when you can check out Wikipedia, the official website, anonymous review sites, or just Google it?  Even though a lot of viral content marketing is cliche — I’m looking at you, subservient chicken — at least it acknowledges the top reasons why people use the Internet: to look at funny videos, facebook-stalk high school people, and read blogs about food. In other words, to be entertained.

I was so distracted by this faulty Noah’s-Arcadian logic that I nearly missed the crown jewel of this piece: the marketing company’s name? “Creosote.”

Creosote. That stuff that causes chimney fires.

Unless it’s a family name, I’m assuming they chose it on purpose for its association with..danger? Hotel fires? Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

At least they resisted the urge to use the tagline “Get Fired Up!”

I live with what some might describe as a moderate level of anxiety. Case in point: on our fridge is a handmade list of things to check before I leave the house.

Ensuring that the stove, coffee maker, and dryer are off are rookie compulsions. Having to check that my cats have water every time I step out because I obsessively worry that I will kill my beloved pets with negligence, I recognize, tips the balance towards “novice.”

But is worry always a bad thing? The optimist might say yes; bad things happen pretty rarely. You probably did lock the door, or turn off the stove. So why get all worried about it?

For realists, one simple fact remains: people really do burn their houses down all the time, using a combination of carelessness and items as mundane as smelly scented candles, overextended power strips (find me a single person out there who isn’t overextending their power strips), and crumb-filled toasters. I have come to understand that there are several approaches to this fact:

Not Good: Burning down the house because you’re a laid-back dude who doesn’t fret about turning off the stove before taking off for the long weekend.
Dysfunctional: Leaving movie theaters after 20 minutes to drive home and check the stove (that you turned off).
Functional: Checking the stove before you leave the house, thus removing the risk of both 1) burning the house down and 2) worrying over burning the house down.

And thus the leaving-the-house list was born.

As I’ve now outed myself as an “anxious realist,” I should clarify that I take the “realist” part very seriously; I’m not afraid of anything that doesn’t merit actual caution.  So, as a public service to the too-afraid and the not-afraid-enough, I present:

When To Be Afraid, When Not To Be Afraid: A Guide

When Not To Be Afraid: Mice

Despite being so cute as to inspire countless animators of children’s movies, a great number of people are really, really afraid of mice. Where’s the risk? They’re hardly bigger than a roll of dimes and they eat, according to an article on the Internet, “fallen fruits and seeds and garbage.” Sure, they aren’t perfect – all animals can carry “disease” (as can children, or dentists, or anything for that matter), and a mouse invading your pantry is definitely a major pain in the ass. But reacting to a single mouse like a peasant in plague-era Europe? A little out of proportion. Instead, save your fears for….

When To Be Afraid: Spiders

I have a healthy fear of all spiders because of the simple fact that some of them are dangerous. And I don’t mean regular dangerous – more like necrosis dangerous (fair warning: gross). So just avoid the dangerous ones, you say? Here’s the problem:

Safer just to stay away from  all of ‘em, I say.

When Not To Be Afraid: Bears

Living in a rural yet partially suburban part of the world, it’s only a matter of time before displaced wildlife gets into somebody’s garbage bins. Annoying, perhaps… but pee-your-pants scary? I just don’t get it; avoiding bears seems like a fairly straightforward task, particularly since there’s no need to ever approach one and they lack the opposable thumbs necessary for picking locks. See a bear? Close your car door and don’t feed it. Problem solved.

And it’s not like bears can appear, like lightning or muggers, in basically any situation. I ask you: what do each of these potentially vulnerable locations have in common?

Answer: The impossibility of a bear attack. In fact, there’s only one situation where I can imagine a loose bear inducing serious fear…

When To Be Afraid: Camping

Humanity came up with the concept of shelter based on an understanding that the natural world has some inherent hazards. Communing with nature by going building-free may remove some of the more unpleasant aspects of the modern world (smog, work emails) but it also strips away the protections offered by timber frames and deadbolts.  In addition to lightning and falling tree limbs, sleeping with nothing but a piece of polyester between you and the wilderness seems like an open invitation to carnivorous wildlife and Deliverance-type crazies.  Here a little bit of caution seems well-placed but, unlike suburban bear panic, no one seems all that worried.  Some fear, provided it is the kind that impels bringing along a cell phone or a can of mace, may not be a bad thing.

Just remember to check the stove before you leave.