Sunday, June 26, 2011

Double Vision

Every once in a while I will come across an advertisement or campaign that will really catch the eye of the former communications student/aspiring copywriter in me and make me say "wow, that was pretty good". With that being said I find the two recent television spots for Kellogg's Nutrigrain Bars to be subtly brilliant.

The two spots have been running for at least a couple of years, but there's really nothing flashy or buzzworthy, or even outwardly memorable about them. They don't have any gimmicks or jokes and their biggest visual firework is a simple split screen (cutting edge!). Ostensibly the story is about as straightforward as they come, in both commercials you have the unhappy woman on the left who didn't start their day with a Nutrigrain Bar and the happy woman on the right who made the great decision to start their day with a Nutrigrain Bar. Message to viewer: eat Nutrigrain Bars to be happy.

Reading a little deeper into the commercials though, it's impressive how subtly the advertisers put forth what is really quite a powerful message.

First and foremost, the commercial never explicitly states that Nutrigrain Bars are really any good for you; and as someone who ate his fair share of Nutrigrain bars in high school, it's sort of true. On the whole they're just slightly better for you than eating a candy bar. In both ads the first and only time you see the bars is when they are compared with blatantly unhealthy food. A Nutrigrain bar is not the best thing you can have for breakfast but it is certainly better than a chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles or a monstrous pastry the size of your head. That's the only thing the commercials can say about the actual nutritional merits of their product, all the other scenes simply show the general benefits of healthy life choices (taking the stairs, opting for fruit, drinking more water) completely unrelated to Nutrigrain bars.

The commercials manage the clever trick of associating the simple act of eating a Nutrigrain bar in the morning to living a better, happier life and simultaneously shows the quiet sadness and misery that comes with not starting your day with one. They deftly manufacture this fairly impossible correlation between eating these marginally not unhealthy bars and achieving almost every general healthy lifestyle goal. In reality, if starting your day off with a Nutrigrain bar would cause you to make so many healthy choices in your life, you would end up replacing the Nutrigrain bar the next day with oatmeal and fruit. The ads may appear to be geared primarily towards woman, but it has a general appeal that taps into everyone's inherent desire for self improvement, to better oneself whether it be to lose weight, to get a better job, spend more time with loved ones, read more, to live a better life.

It's the subtlety of the two simultaneous scenes that really drives home the message. While they are in sharp contrast to each other neither of them are extreme scenarios. This is far more effective than the hard sell of an infomercial where they give you a totally unrelatable scene of a monochromatic hell of laughably exaggerated horrors where even the simplest of tasks is a surreal ordeal and then show you how unbelievably happy your entire life would be after this one peeve is eliminated. In these commercials there is no exaggeration of the happy or sad lives. One side isn't losing a foot to diabetes while the other side is winning a triathlon. One just has a little bit more pep, a few more smiles, and bit more energy than the other which makes both scenes utterly relatable which makes it far more affecting on a personal level. We can see ourselves in both windows. We've all had days or moments where we felt like we were trapped in the unhappy left side of the screen and that a ticket to the happier more productive right side was just an adjustment or a routine change (or in this case a purchase) away.

This is the all powerful message of improvement that every ad for a consumer product is trying to get through to the viewer; your life will be better for buying this good. With just a simple concept and some effective editing, Nutrigrain bars has managed to associate their product with a universally desired picture of health and happiness while never explicitly saying their product is even all that healthy. Pretty good.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's Like...

Recently I've developed a mild fascination with the above frequently run commercial for Dunkin' Donuts' new Frozen Hot Chocolate drink. For such a brief 15 second spot for a product that would appear to be essentially dressed up chocolate milk (isn't that what a "frozen hot chocolate" really is?) this shouldn't be taking up so much of my attention, that is any of it.

Maybe it's just me but the more I watch it the more I'm convinced that the white man and woman on the other side of the table are totally high (I do often tend to jump to conclusions about characters' drug use). Right off the bat you have poor man's Lizzy Caplan way too emphatically describing her drink as an "iceberg volcano" while even poorer man's Ryan Gosling quickly interjects with equally unnatural zeal that it's like "lightning in a snowball". When the afroed straight man dryly tells them that it's like Frozen Hot Chocolate they bust out into a completely genuine and un-ironic expression of wide eyed amazement (If someone could go ahead and make me an animated gif of that brief scene, it would be much appreciated) at his normal observation . Our big haired protagonist reacts to all this with a look of perplexed disgusted as if he's asking himself "why am I hanging out with these ridiculous degenerates?" Even the final tagline for the commercial "It's like Frozen Hot Chocolate" sounds like it was written by someone totally baked.

I do feel a bit sorry for the main protagonist. When he's not wasting his weekends with these goobers, as seen in this recent Zyrtec ad he gets plenty more of this idiosyncratic nonsense at work (also what happens when you mix juice and Allegra, does it turn into mustard gas or something?). So it would appear that he is forever doomed to hang out in parks as the black third wheel to a quirky white couple.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Bear-ly News

I noticed that the most popular story in Yahoo! News today was the the following Reuters article with the attention grabbing headline: "Flying Bear Kills Two Canadians in Freak Accident"

Now I don't want to make light of a tragic car accident that leaves two people dead, but I expected a far more interesting story if it was going to lead with such a sensational headline. I mean essentially the car hit a bear while traveling at a high rate of speed. It's obviously an appallingly unlucky break for such a collision to lead to fatalities and the unusual manner in which the bear's body ended up entering and exiting the car could be considered freakish in its uniqueness but to categorize the bear as a "flying bear" is just irresponsible journalism.

Many animals involved in a drive by collision are technically "flying" for varying periods of time. If I hit a deer or a moose or a possum at the right angle, I can claim to have been accosted by a "flying" variant of that species. If I pulled a hit and run on a drifter "I Know What You Did Last Summer"-style, would that be considered the vehicular manslaughter of a special flying man? The next time I see a headline about a bear that slips the surly bonds of Earth it better have been piloting a Piper Cub or was accidentally shot out of a cannon in a terrible circus mishap, or was the first of a new and terrifying breed of winged ursine.

The Foot Fist Way

The main subject of this post may be a little belated, but i figured better a late post than no post at all.

For those who haven't been aware already, last Sunday June 5th marked the twelfth anniversary of the infamous on-field fight between Chan Ho Park and Tim Belcher where Park unexpectedly attempted to jump kick Belcher in the midsection. Sure it's at best a minor footnote in modern MLB history, and probably even a footnote in modern MLB on-field brawling history (its obscurity was quite apparent when I could only find one mildly racist clip of the fight in a foreign language on some random website); but it will always have a special place in my memories of Chan Ho Park.

The current MLB baseball season is the first since I started following baseball around 1994, coincidentally Park's rookie year, that he isn't in the majors. As the first South Korean player in major league history, for years Chan Ho Park was South Korean baseball and as a fellow Korean and long time fan, I have thoroughly enjoyed rooting for him and watching his funky pioneering seventeen season journey through the big leagues from the good (his successful early years with the Dodgers, 2001 All Star Selection, becoming the winningest Asian pitcher in MLB history) to the bad (his bust Texas Ranger years, giving up 2 grand slams to Fernando Tatis in the same inning, seeing him in that Phillies uniform) and everything in between.

I think the fight falls somewhere in the "in between" category. As supposedly bad-ass as jump kicking someone in a on field fight sounds and the impressive look of the still frames; as the video shows he was sort of sloppy kicking while running away and it really didn't connect too well (it definitely wasn't Liu Kang's bicycle kick). As one would suspect with a fight between two pitchers, the whole affair was brief and mildly lame with Park at best claiming a tie with Belcher. Still, when I first heard about it and saw it, I couldn't deny a slight bit of pride at the whole thing. Sure it reinforced stereotypes about Asians, but I totally dug the fact that it was the lone Korean player that was breaking out the jump kick on Tim Belcher (who looked like a bit like a cracker and allegedly incited Park with racist comments), straight representing on Sports Center.

Tune in next April when the Chan Ho Park nostalgia tour will cover the two year anniversary of his overly frank explanation of his 2010 opening day pitching problems.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Victor's Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix '11

I hope everyone out there enjoyed or is still enjoying all the standout tracks of my personal best of birthday mixes compilation from yesterday. For me it was as fun to list as it was to listen. However, it is an undeniable truth that a standout track cannot exist without other lesser tracks for it to stand in front of. While I, for one, will be the first to admit that almost every time I make a mix I can't help but think that it's my most greatest mix yet with every song a home run (now this may be the case, I have only received limited feedback about my mixes over the years), such masterpieces are extremely rare if even existent. So, in the spirit of equal time and comprehensive coverage that have always defined this blog (that and my mild obsession with making 8track mixes right now) I've decided to compile a smaller 10 track supplemental mix comprised of what I consider the 2 weakest tracks off of my 5 birthday mix CDs.

I just want to preface that none of these selected tracks were objectively terrible. I didn't go through any deep critical analysis or anything, just personal first blush impressions; songs I recalled just not having positive reactions to (actually if you want to get all deep about it, maybe the weakest songs should be the enjoyable middle of the curve songs that are neither memorably positive or memorably negative). Also, note that since I was working with a 2 song quota for each mix, even an absolutely flawless mix would have had to give up 2, or if one is viewing it the other way, even the worse mix only had to give up 2 (I'm not going to say whether either was the case). Finally for the mix authors and for folks who may want to make mixes for me in the future, these selections should have no influence on future mixes you make for me. If I singled out a certain artist, or genre, or sound, etc. do not hesitate to put that same artist, genre, sound, etc. on a mix in the future. Mix free and unfettered, I would rather be challenged than pandered to...well maybe a little pandering is nice (however if you're going to put on any song over 6 minutes, you better be confident in it, I do acknowledge a slight bias against them):

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Victor's Ultimate Birthday Mega Mix '11

I just want to start off with a grand formal final thank you to everyone who acknowledged my birthday last month from those who actually brought me gifts or hung around with me until the wee hours at the bar to those Facebook friends who I have never met nor talked to but still manage to post a birthday greeting on my wall every year like clockwork and everyone in between (don't think I didn't forget you, automatic emails from internet sites I've registered with). If I had to spend a whole day being reminded of the depressing, immutable truth of my mortality I guess there were worse ways to have spent it.

One of the most notable things about this year's birthday was the unexpected motherlode of birthday mix CDs I received. In my largest haul yet, I got five fully loaded CD-Rs comprising of over 120 songs and individual artists (although there were two Ash songs, the only repeat artist throughout). Fortunately I had just recently started a job that involved about a one hour driving commute (personally, I believe driving on a highway is the single most ideal position for listening to music) round trip so it all oddly serendipitous. So after finally making my way through all the CDs, getting around to uploading them, and giving them a week or two of perspective I decided to make a 20 track compilation mix of my own to share with everyone featuring my top 4 selections from the 5 mixes.

Now these are by no means the most definitive of rankings. All of this is basically based on first impressions and maybe further listens down the line my tastes will change. However until then, just in time for summer, it's Victor's Ultimate Birthday Mega Mix '11 (a note on ordering: I tried to stay true to the original track orderings of the mixes; surprisingly there were only a few overlaps):

Now while you're enjoying the sweet tunes good reader ponder a question that I as a long time mix enthusiast have often pondered while listening to and making mixes: who is the mix reflecting? If you're making a mix for someone is it a reflection of yourself, the mix maker, with your tastes, personality, and preferences being represented in the music and arrangement that the listener is interpreting? Or is the individual receiving the mix finding something out about themselves from listening to a mix made specifically for them? Or is the mix you are making a reflection of what you think the mix listener's reflection of you is? This line of thinking can basically go on forever like one of those infinite recursion effects. I think the answer (as with all such questions with unsatisfying answers) lies somewhere in between. It's one of the enduring charms of the mix, both sides are getting perspectives on each other by uniquely interpreting the same list of songs (at least with a well crafted mix that someone actually put the work into, if you're going to dump 20 random songs together without any context or meaning you might as well be a psychopath mimicking human emotions and empathy).