Tuesday, April 29, 2008

T minus two days

Only 48 hours until I leave for the airport and there's still plenty to do. Which means things will be pretty quiet here at Super Floss for a few days. (But hey, last week was better than expected, right? Right?)

I do have an update to my LA Fitness story to share with you (it's not very positive for them), as well as some general thoughts from my recent customer service experiences. So get pumped for that.

And feel free to buy my Pathfinder.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yeah, that's how you do it

Any bozo can see a dirty car and write “Wash Me” on it. Yeah, that’s a good one. I’m dying here.

But not you. You recognized this filthy door panel as the opportunity that it is, and you took it to the next level. With a little energy and creativity, you’ve entertained your readers and made a cogent point to the car’s owner. Double-whammy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

When I started doing music posts on Fridays I decided I wouldn’t force myself to always attempt to introduce you, my dear readers, to the latest thing. There are plenty of other sites that do a much better job of that than this one.

With that in mind, today’s song is both new and not new at the same time.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, the “British electro-rap duo” (to quote Pitchfork), have announced that their first album, entitled Angles, will be released on May 12th in the U.S.

The album will include an updated version of the awesome “Letter From God to Man.” I think Le Sac’s work on the new version is great—more intricate and intense. Mister Pip’s performance is good, though I like some of the elements of his delivery on the original better. Whatever, it’s still great. And it's both new and not new because it's a new version of a song that came out last year.

Here’s “Letter From God to Man” by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip:

And you can check out the video for the equally great “Thou Shalt Always Kill” here.

Get out of jail free tweet

Don’t get what the big deal is with Twitter?

Actually, let’s back up.

Ever heard of Twitter? If not, I’m kinda surprised you’re here reading this blog (or any blogs, for that matter). Do you have a Facebook account? That little status item that you update (“Jimmy is working for the weekend”) is essentially all Twitter is. Watch this awesome instructional video, Twitter in Plain English, created by Seattle-based Common Craft for more.

Like many folks, I have a Twitter account, but I rarely update my activities. I’m not alone. But plenty of folks are really into it, and Darryl Ohrt at Plaid is a big proponent of how to do it right.

But in case you missed this story, here’s one big benefit: Twitter could possibly save your life. Or at least get you out of jail.

Short version: UC-Berkeley grad student James Karl Burk was in Egypt covering an anti-government protest when he was arrested. On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and updated his Twitter status to "Arrested." Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his blogger-friends in Egypt were alerted he was being held.

Great PR for Twitter.

I love when technology that was created for one simple thing gets re-purposed for something else.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I’m not your click-through monkey

I get that the business model for Yahoo! and their ilk is based—in part—on providing content to their users, serving ads along with that content, and charging advertisers for access to their users’ eyeballs. It’s no mystery, and I prefer it work this way than the alternative (the one where I pay directly).

Naturally, this model also means Yahoo! can make more money if their users visit more pages.

About a year ago I met a girl who worked for a site I won’t name and she discussed the site’s practice of revising news headlines on the fly in order to increase click-through rates. Maybe you’ve seen this yourself, when an article’s headline changes subtly to something potentially more compelling. No big deal, really.

That being said, this Pacman Jones teaser from yesterday’s Yahoo! main page is kinda ridiculous.

The “To which team?” link is such a blatant “click here” tactic. But this teaser is ridiculous mostly in that it so obviously helps them AT MY EXPENSE.

Sure, it’s a small expense. All they’ve asked me to do is click through and load the article, along with its ads. But the way they’ve handled it makes me feel like a piece of meat, present only to drive advertising revenue.

Why would a company purposely design interactions to make its customers feel this way?

The smaller teaser “Former NFL MVP released by team” is similarly annoying. Why not “Seahawks cut former MVP Alexander”? With both teasers, Yahoo! is intentionally withholding information—very basic information—that might allow users to make informed decisions about whether or not they want to click through to read the articles.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m growing increasingly fatigued with my Yahoo! mail account. The functionality of the latest version seems clunkier than ever. So perhaps I was already annoyed with them when this caught my eye.

Incidentally, I refused to click on the Pacman Jones teaser, assuming it was the Cowboys (it was) and knowing I’d get all the details from SportsCenter later anyway. And without feeling like somebody’s bitch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I spy

During last Sunday’s return trip from Portland I saw these two remarkable things and took pictures of them* so I could share them with you.

Picture 1: Ugly bus

What’s the deal with this bus? The back is an ad for some bathroom fixture supplier or something. Hard to say. The side is an ad for Washington Mutual. What ad unit is that? It looks like the band of seaweed on a piece of nigiri sushi. This bus is an advertising media travesty.

(By the way, the grammarian in me struggles with this ad’s headline: “To overdraft is human. To waive one is WaMulian.” Referencing a verb as though it were a noun—just because the word can be both—bugs me. But I’ll live.)

Picture 2: Yellow ribbon

Because of the military bases in the area, you’ll see plenty of yellow ribbon stickers and red-white-and-blue ribbon stickers (or are they magnets?) on vehicles south of Seattle. This one caught my eye for the obvious reason that it’s just a bit different. If the photo weren’t blurry, you’d be able to see that it reads “Question war.”

* Taking photos while driving is highly dangerous. The author does not recommend such activities. Not does he recommend driving while talking on the phone, texting, eating, fighting with your spouse, watching movies on your iPhone, assembling IKEA furniture, darning socks, making shadow puppets, rolling handmade cigarettes or dancing the electric slide.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Radio silence

Sorry, dear readers, but with all the moving plans and stuff that needs to be done in the real world, I'm coming up short on time to update the ol' blog.

I think it's gonna be a little light this week and next, but I'll try to keep it from going completely dead.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

I was (and am) a big fan of Phantom Planet’s 2004 self-titled release, with its raw, noisy production values, aggressive playing, and singer Alex Greenwald’s sometimes mumbling delivery. It’s a record that grows on you and still sounds fresh (and, importantly, distances them from their 2002 sugary mega-hit “California”).

For the past few years I’ve been wondering when the follow-up would arrive. Other than Negatives (originally a fanclub-only release, made public in 2006), Phantom Planet has been off the radar.*

So it was with tentative excitement that I saw their new album was coming out (released this past Tuesday). From the few tracks I’ve heard this week (I’ve been busy, gimme a break), they’ve kept their sound pretty close to what I’d hoped for.

Today’s song of the day is their updated version of “Do The Panic” (which originally appeared on Negatives) from the new Phantom Planet release Raise The Dead, available now.

It’s catchy, but it’s no “California.”**

* Mine, at least
** And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No we without me

I’m no graphic designer, but I really like this logo for the We Campaign.

A great, simple execution that combines the necessary personal involvement (the “me”) into the power of an organized group (the “we”). The green… well they didn’t really have a choice there, did they? But I think it works in black and white, too. And the circle is of course a symbol of completeness, enclosure, and it mimics the Earth.*

The TV spots are fine, but I don’t love them, perhaps because the “We didn’t wait” spot (embedded below) looks too much like all the corporate spots we’ve been seeing so much of. And the Al Sharpton/Pat Robertson spot’s premise is pretty much the same as Coke’s James Carville/Bill Frist spot that ran during the Super Bowl.

But this is a post about that nice logo. Which I like. And their corporate font uses that upside-down m as w throughout.

Check out the site here.

* And M&M’s.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Shout Out: NFL schedule-makers

One of the many difficult parts of being a Browns fan (in addition to witnessing the blown leads, questionable drafts and general bad luck) is not being able to see them play on TV.*

But it looks like the exciting season the team put up in 2007 has paid off. Today, the NFL unveiled its complete schedule for the upcoming season, and the Browns are slated to play on national television five times, including three games on Monday Night Football (and one on the NFL Network, which is kinda like not being on TV at all).

Thanks, schedule-makers. (Though I’m sure I’ll be cursing you later for allowing me to watch what are sure to be painful exhibitions for one reason or another.)

* Unless you wander down to the local Browns-affiliate sports bar to commiserate with other Browns Backers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Half-baked goodness?

I saw a new TV spot for SunChips yesterday. It has the look of one of those corporate, earth-friendly ads, the kind we’ve seen from Chevron, GE, Subaru and others. The spot ends with the voiceover, “Now SunChips from California are made with solar energy.”

My first reaction was positive. Of course SunChips should be made using solar energy! It’s totally right for them, completely on-brand. Nicely done.

Then I did some investigating.

Watching the TV spot again, via the SunChips website, I caught that voiceover. “Now SunChips from California are made with solar energy.” What’s with the “from California” part?

One of the print ads is a bit more specific. “As of April 22nd, one of our plants is using solar energy to help make SunChips snacks.” Ah, so one plant is using solar energy. Out of how many plants?

The website offers this additional detail:

“Have you ever had an idea that seemed like such a good idea, such a bright idea, that you couldn't believe you hadn't thought of it before? For us, that idea was using solar power. Seems obvious, doesn't it? We make SunChips® snacks, after all. So we've started using solar energy instead of fossil fuel to help make SunChips® in our plant in Modesto, California. And although Modesto is only one of the eight plants we use to make SunChips® snacks, for us it's a small step in the right direction.”

OK, so one plant out of eight. My guess is “from California” is a mandate from the legal department, a reference to the Modesto plant.

My problem with all of this is that I get the sense SunChips is trying to get more credit than they deserve.** No, that’s not right either. It’s that this advertising claims more than is necessary. I agree that it’s a small step in the right direction for them to use green energy in manufacturing their product. But why make a vaguely inflated claim about it? (Or in the case of that print ad, tout a claim and then diminish it one line of copy later.)

It’s a real disappointment when the more you learn more about something, the less you like it. And this is exactly the sort of thing that leads consumers to distrust advertisers.

What would have saved this for me is a statement about plans for further employment of eco-friendly energy sources, something like “We’re committed to being 70% fossil-fuel-free by 2010.”

More companies should employ green energy. We’ve pretty much all come to accept this as fact. Perhaps years from now, we’ll look back and see SunChips as one that helped lead the charge.

Unfortunately, I now see them as a brand that’s promising big and delivering comparably little—but the problem isn’t in what they’ve delivered, but in what they’ve promised.

* According to a New York Times article from last month, the solar farm at the Modesto plant provides “up to 75 percent of the energy needed to produce the product.”

** Thankfully, while there are numerous examples of advertisers that spent more telling the public about their noble activities than was spent on the activities themselves, this does not seem to be the case with SunChips, whose financial outlay for the solar farm exceeds their campaign spend.

See the SunChips ad campaign elements here and here, and possibly here (note the accusations of fakery in the comments section).

What Not To Wear, MLB edition

I was glad to hear the Kansas City Royals were bringing back the powder blue uniforms this season. Then I caught sight of them on SportsCenter last night. What the?

Hey guys, those are supposed to be an alternative to road grays. You don’t wear them at home.

Ditch those white pants and try again.

Like this.

(Side note to the San Diego Padres: That khaki option you’ve been wearing for years blows, as does the camouflage.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

Mark Kozelek is not in a hurry. Meditative, pensive and expansive, Kozelek’s songs tend to unfold over time, and over repeated listens. His understated hooks often escape identification on first listen. But for me it’s their very subtlety that makes his songs stand up to repeated listens.

Never has Kozelek’s restraint been more apparent than on April—his third album as Sun Kil Moon—released last week. Five of April’s tracks spread out over more than seven minutes, and nearly absent are the hummable melodies of songs like “Glen Tipton,” “Gentle Moon,” and “Pancho Villa” (from 2002’s fantastic Ghosts of the Great Highway).

Instead, April strikes me as a return to the realm of his final Red House Painters album, Old Ramon, with an emphasis on mood not melody, on repetition not hooks.

My early favorite is the nearly eight-minute “The Light,” with a solo break featuring two guitars playing entirely separate leads at the same time. The song is reminiscent of the Crazy Horse-esque “Make Like Paper” from Songs For A Blue Guitar but with a more melodic riff.

A welcome evolution on this record is added dimension of back-up singers Ben Gibbard (what won’t he stick his nose in?) and Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonny “Prince” Billy) in place of Kozelek doing them all himself, as has historically been the case. There’s also the surprising banjo on “Unlit Hallway” and the mild country twang of “Like The River.”

Paste says April is arguably Kozelek’s best album. I won’t go that far. I’m too much a fan of Ghosts of the Great Highway and Songs For A Blue Guitar. And it’s simply too early for me to tell (see the first paragraph again). But it is very good.

That Kozelek’s songs are subtle and often take time to appreciate means this is almost certainly the wrong venue to introduce one from the new album. But that’s not going to stop me. Here’s “Moorestown” off April.

One final note: Fans should purchase the physical CD, as it comes with a bonus disc of alternate versions of four album tracks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Radiohead continues to be awesome

In celebration of (and/or to help promote) the release of “Nude” as a single, Radiohead has made the song’s individual elements available for remixing… by the general public!

Just buy the song’s “stems” off iTunes, import them into GarageBand or any other compatible music studio software, and turn your inner Fila Brazillia loose. You can even add your own parts to the mix. When you’re finished, you can post your remix to the Radiohead Remix website (which is as simple and awesome as the In Rainbows download site) and let others listen and vote. You can also download a widget that allows you to post your remix to your Facebook or MySpace page and counts votes you receive there toward your total.

This is genius. Much cooler than what Arcade Fire did with "Black Mirror."

Check out the site and listen to the remixes already posted.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The future's so bright...

The April issue of Spread ArtCulture magazine features selections from an awesome photo essay by Andy Green entitled Ozone Friendly Spaceman. Green's photographs depict humans in shiny silver haz-mat suits engaging in playfully mundane activities within barren post-apocalyptic landscapes. The juxtaposition of the everyday with the mind-crushing desolation and emptiness absolutely kills me. In a good way.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Yeah, he's skipping stones in that last one.

See the entire photo essay here and Andy Green’s website here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Co-branding insanity!

I’m not a fan of Geico’s celebrity translation spots. They all come off as terribly stiff and not at all funny, partly because most of the “celebrities” aren’t very good on camera, and partly because the customers look so awkward when they’re just sitting there not talking.

I just saw this one the other night. Um, what?

On a somewhat related (but now dated) topic, I already commented on the Semi-Pro/Bud Light co-branded spot from the Super Bowl (which I’d still argue is just a spot for Will Farrell). But the more recent Semi-Pro/Old Spice work had me scratching my head. It’s the same spot with a different product.

Seems like some of the value of the partnership would diminished by that, no? Besides, the new Old Spice work already succeeds in delivering wacky, offbeat humor. They don't need Farrell.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Yeah, that's how you do it

So what if your ride is a piece of crap. That shit doesn’t define you. Hell no! You’re a rebel, a risk-taker, one who does not toe the line. If your grocery getter doesn’t jibe with that story, customize it. Get some flames on that bitch. Can’t afford the paint job? That’s why God invented the spray can.

Now we’re talking. Drive on, brother.

Photo taken on Sixth Avenue South, near Royal Brougham.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Thank God it’s Friday’s song of the day

If you’re a fan of both Grizzly Bear and Björk—which should be most of you—today is your lucky day. Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste has teamed up with Final Fantasy (a.k.a. Owen Pallett) to cover “Possibly Maybe” for the Stereogum compilation Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk's Post.

According to Droste, “Covering Björk is a scary task because, as both Owen and I discussed, so much of what makes her music amazing is distinctly her voice, and nobody, nowhere can ever really recreate it ... So attempting to was a challenge to say the least.”

I’ve heard some not-so-good Björk covers. This one is a great melding of the haunting yet intimate Grizzly Bear sound, Pallett’s beautiful string work, and Björk’s fantastic original. I love how Pallett imitates the opening telephonic sounds of the original.

Here’s “Possibly Maybe” by Ed Droste and Final Fantasy:

Check out other tracks from the Björk tribute here.

(And in other exciting news for Grizzly Bear fans, they’ve been named as openers for Radiohead’s upcoming North American tour.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

When less isn’t more

Every coffee shop in Seattle seems to offer free wi-fi. Actually, that might be specific to the independent shops. I have no idea if Tully’s and Starbucks charge for wi-fi* or not. Suffice to say, it’s very common. So close to ubiquitous as to not be questioned.

Which is why these sandwich boards—put out by a small coffee shop called Cyberspace Coffee near my house—seem so ridiculous to me.

This ad message is horribly wrong on two fronts. First, it promotes an offer most people already assume exists: free wi-fi. They might as well advertise that they serve coffee. Second, it announces a limit on that offer—one that none of their competitors impose—and does so as if it were a generous benefit.

When you name your coffee shop Cyberspace Coffee, you’re telling people you’re all about the internet. It’s an implied claim that elicits certain expectations from consumers, most obviously the expectation of unlimited wi-fi and caffeinated beverages.

When you put out an advertising message that contradicts your very name, what that ad really says is “We don’t know what we’re doing and can’t be trusted.” (I don't mean to pick on the little guy here. Big brands do this as well.)

And what’s with the phone number? Am I going to call them to order a latte?

* A quick Google search led me to a recent article on the New York Times tech blog that talks about Starbucks beginning to offer two free hours of wi-fi to customers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What I'm dealing with

I've been hitting refresh on my craigslist NYC apartment search non-stop for the past few days. This item just came up tonight. Totally spot on.

I was well into it before I realized it was a joke.

Well-played, hous-627005254.

Feel the burn

I’m moving soon, and so in addition to quitting my job, selling a few things and donating a bunch of my stuff, I’m canceling my gym membership. This last item may prove to be the most difficult task of the bunch.

To cancel a membership at LA Fitness* one must send “written notice at least 30 days prior to your next billing date.” If the notice is postmarked less than 30 days prior, one more billing cycle may (read: will) occur.

Now, a regular 30-day notice seems acceptable to me. I give notice, and 30 days later my membership is canceled, with any partial months of membership prorated.

But LA Fitness doesn’t prorate. So because I requested cancellation on April 29th and my billing occurs every month on the 25th, I’m going to get charged twice more. Five days earlier and I would have saved an entire month’s dues. And don’t even get me started on the mandate of “written notice.”

This system is completely wack. It’s not based on any technological shortcoming or customer service issue. It’s simply a way for LA Fitness to get an extra month of dues from their soon-to-be-ex-members.

And according to their annoyed ex-members, it’s even worse than promised. Google “LA Fitness cancel” and you’ll see pages of horror stories. Apparently LA Fitness has a history of claiming they didn’t receive cancellation requests, and of continuing to draw funds for months following the cancellation. These kind ex-members also recommend sending the cancellation request via certified mail, which I would not have thought to do.

What other company (or industry) fleeces its customer base like this? They show little or no regard for consumer word-of-mouth. Little or no interest in reacquiring lost customers. Little or no business ethics. What successful company gets so little trust from its own customers that third-party proof of receipt of communication becomes a necessity?

This got me thinking about two items I saw recently:

First, a recent post on Seth Godin’s blog about business deception, specifically online scams. Seth wrote “It's so much more work to create a spam site or a deceptive come on, so much more work to deal with the angry customers and be hiding from them.” And he summarized with the line from a restaurant kitchen sign: “If you're not proud of it, don't serve it."

Second, a post (positive rant?) on Gary Vaynerchuk’s blog praising Web 2.0 as a tool that may just lead to good people winning and bad people losing.

The days when people willingly but cautiously did business with disreputable companies are ending. There’s simply too much transparency, too many choices. Companies can’t afford to burn their customers because the Internet is a megaphone large enough to reach the world.

I have a hard time believing the muckety-mucks at LA Fitness (or their staff in general) are proud of the company’s snaky reputation. And if they aren’t working hard to solve this problem, I hope they get their just desserts.

* Incidentally, I did not join LA Fitness—they bought the gym I was a member of. Yet another gripe. Did I have the opportunity to not become an LA Fitness member? Take a guess.