Ad Nauseum

As far as I am concerned, the entire advertising industry is a waste of time and money, and I’m sure a lot of people feel this way. Who among us doesn’t fast-forward through commercials on TV, or leave the room, or switch channels when the sponsors invade? What does any of it actually ACCOMPLISH?

Take the current courtesy campaign on the NYC subways. The posters are kind of cute and eye-catching to a captive audience, with their silhouette men and women colored green (for behavior they want to encourage) and red (for things that should be eliminated) engaged in various activities, such as giving up a seat to a pregnant silhouette lady and listening to their music on headphones (green) or hogging the center pole and taking up more than your allotted space with the “man spread” (red). But does anyone actually believe the ads are going to change behavior? And how many millions of dollars did that campaign cost?

Car commercials are the worst. All the cars look the same; they all have one or the other of high MPG or lifetime maintenance plans or cash back (why don’t they just charge less?) or some such bullshit that the manufacturers use to try to distinguish themselves from every other vehicle on the market. It’s “branding”, of course – what’s the brand identity? Volvo is safe, Toyota Prius is environmentally friendly, RAM trucks have towing capacity. (Don’t all trucks have towing capacity? Why would you buy a truck that didn’t have towing capacity?)

And why do we need so much choice? I was walking down the cereal aisle at the local Waldbaum’s the other day and there were dozens of different varieties of cereal, and granola, and granola bars, and organic cookies, and alternative milks and – aaargh! Do we really need so much variety?  I don’t mean to disparage innovation and improvement:  If you build a better mousetrap (perhaps a more humane mousetrap?), you should be able to market it as such to introduce people to your new-and-improved product. But how many different types of mousetraps do we need? “Premium” or store brand, D-Con or Raid – what’s really the difference? Better ingredients? How much better? Enough to justify considerable differences in price? Why should we care? If it kills mice, that should be all that matters.

There are certain uniform government- or industry-mandated standards that every manufacturer needs to meet – why can’t that be sufficient? But no – people have to have bigger, and shinier, and more luxe; or they want something that’s built to last longer (but then why shouldn’t EVERYTHING last as long?). Ultimately, it’s all about status and companies coming up with new ways to separate us from our money, which forces us to earn more money, but there’s always a gap between what we have and what we spend. So we get into debt trouble, keeping the savings and loans and the credit card companies — and yes, the bankruptcy lawyers — in business.  Yes, it’s the cycle of commerce that keeps the economy afloat, but it’s more like a dangerous sink hole. There should be a better model – more sustainability, more efficiency. After all, despite the delusions of some, our resources are not infinite.

I attended an interesting continuing legal education session sponsored by the NYS Bar Association last week entitled “What Lawyers Need to Know to Practice Law in the Social Media Age.” My biggest takeaway from the course was the concept of “The Internet of Things”, which goes beyond the traditional idea of the internet being accessible through your desktop or laptop computer and extends it to everyday objects such as phones, cameras, home security systems and even wristwatches – all capable of communicating amongst each other. It’s fantastic and futuristic, but it’s actually happening now, all around us. The interconnectedness of people and instantaneity of communication and information gathering is an impressive thing. But what is the ultimate end game of all this amazing interconnectivity? More ways to get ads in front of potential customers, of course. Pop-ups and advertisements are already omnipresent on the Internet; they’re so invasive you can’t avoid them no matter how many pop-up blockers and spam filters and scrubber apps you install on your myriad devices. And not only that, but savvy marketers are also using these interlinked everyday devices to gather information about US – about our buying habits and preferences and movements so that they can target their ads to be even more insidious. The ubiquitous advertising creep is literally creeping me out.

Just the other night, in the span of a few minutes, I was bombarded with these bits of inanity in TV commercials: a fish oil pill whose selling point was that it is designed to “reduce fish burps” and an amazing new battery made from a whopping 4% of recycled batteries! Four whole percent!!  A miraculous breakthrough! Then I come on to the computer and I can’t click on a link without being attached by a pop-up ad that I can’t even close, no matter how many times I click on the “X” in the corner. In addition to intruding on my personal eye space, I can’t help but think that all these unwanted ads make me susceptible to viruses and malware, and you’ll have to forgive me for being paranoid but, hey, it’s justified paranoia (see “Computer Dependency,” 4/14/15 blog post).

Of course, there are always the exceptions to my sweeping generalizations. Some ad campaigns are funny and some are very effective.  I may have mentioned how fond I am of the NYS Lottery ads and how they have convinced me to shell out $2 a week (“All it takes is a dollar and a dream”; “Hey, you never know”; and my favorite, “You can’t win if you don’t play”) for my best (only?) shot at a sustainable retirement plan.

I can appreciate ads that tell or show me something true and useful that I didn’t know before – almost like mini-documentaries or news show segments – but they are few and far between, probably because they’re more expensive to produce. Another exception is advertisements that are literally ART, like the oversized print ads in my favorite magazine Interview. Half the time I’m not even sure what the product is that’s being advertised but, damn, some of them look so cool.

Then there are those commercials that are so visually arresting that you can’t take your eyes away: For example, tonight during the Rangers’ thrilling win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on NBC Sports Network, there was a commercial that was essentially a mash-up of scenes from the new Jurassic World movie with close-ups of intense hockey players and action highlights from this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. It made me want to watch hockey AND see the movie — ergo, a successful advertising effort! The only problem with those kinds of ads is that, after the first couple of times, they lose their appeal.

You didn’t think I’d go a whole week at this juncture of the post-season without saying something about the Rangers, do you? As of this posting, they have set themselves up for a home-ice match-up in Game 7 on Friday, winner take all for a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Tampa Bay team has been very, very good, and they will be good for many years to come. But they are not as seasoned as the Rangers are; they haven’t gone through the trials and tribulations that the Rangers have. Yes, the Bolts have Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman from last year’s Rangers, who definitely bring that experience to the Tampa Bay table, but for the most part they are a young, untested team. Their coach Jon Cooper is a clever man – a Hofstra grad and lacrosse player, in fact, and an actual lawyer – but there is no way he is going to outcoach wily veteran Alain Vigneault, who has really been a master orchestrator all season long (and deserving of his Jack Adams Coach of the Year nomination, to be sure).

The Rangers had a glorious regular season, spoiling us with their consistency and winning ways, so that we fans had EXPECTATIONS of excellence. I don’t recall ever having such confidence in their ability to win games. But with that being said, they have also, all season, frustrated me (and others) with their inability to put the puck in the net. (They also have major trouble on face-offs most nights, which leads me to believe that it would behoove the Rangers’ centermen to do an intensive “face-off boot camp” this summer, if such a thing exists – and if it doesn’t, it should).

I’m not a hockey analytics person – I don’t understand Corsi or other fancy stats. But what I do know is this, and it has been the most frustrating thing about them this year, and especially in the playoffs: Despite being third in the league in goals per game average, so often they will have “grade A” chances (as AV calls them) and overwhelming zone time but will not be able to finish. The pundits have often said it: Dave Maloney, MSG and Rangers radio color man (and ex-Rangers captain): “The Rangers have difficulty validating their momentum”; Sean McIndoe, Grantland: “There are scoring chances in Rangers hockey. They just don’t go in . . . “; Newsday’s Laura Albanese may have most accurately captured it when she said, of Game 5, that the Rangers had “a teamwide fit of impotence.”

I often visualize the Rangers winning the Cup, and how happy and exhausted Henrik will be as he’s skating around the ice after the final buzzer, ecstatic beyond words, arms raised, hair soaked. I envision the elation at the Garden, and the look of joy on AV’s face as he leaps three feet in the air on the bench, and of course the sunny day-after parade. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I haven’t felt this way for years. There are times – like Sunday’s Game 5, for example – when they seem to be doing everything in their power to disappoint even the most optimistic among us, making us wonder why they can’t push through when no fire is burning at their backs, and why everything seems to be a struggle, even when it looks to us outsiders like it shouldn’t be quite so difficult. But then they put up a dominant performance like they did in the third period of Game 6, and all is right in the world.

On to Game 7 – and beyond?

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