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Old 04-02-2005, 09:18 PM   #481 (permalink)
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I just finished reading the whole thread (can't say there weren't any casualties among the details in the longer articles, but I did my best)... and all I can really say at the moment is that the wheels are turning.

I've been suspect of television, movie and print ads for a long time now, but the biggest surprise to me (by far) while reading through all of this was product placement in songs. To give just one example, it never occurred to me that I know the Cracker Jack brand because of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which I must have sang a thousand times in my early youth. That immediately triggered two other examples in my life:

(1) I also remember reading about Cracker Jack in an Archie comic a long, long time ago... I distinctly remember one of the Archie-Veronica-Betty love triangle stories involving a ring that was obtained as the prize in a box of Cracker Jack; and
(2) I know Colavita brand olive oil (random, random, random) because it's named at the beginning of a song by Phantom Planet (I forget exactly which song) and I choose it over the other similarly priced bottles of olive oil at my local store because I know the name so well from listening to the song a lot.

I made some mental notes on other posts several pages back that I'd like to comment on eventually, but I'm going to have to let my mind settle down a bit before I can add any more coherent commentary. Thanks for starting this great thread, Art!
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Old 04-02-2005, 09:32 PM   #482 (permalink)
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Some paranoia for those New Yorkers out there... if you notice the ads on the subway cars for Courvoisier cognac... the bottle is suspiciously reminiscent of a vagina. I noticed it right away. The text accompanying the bottle is also fair condescending. Also the shampoo ads for Garnier Fructise... the woman pulling down on that long rope of hair.. that's a blowjob look if I ever saw one.
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Old 04-02-2005, 09:40 PM   #483 (permalink)
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Oh, I also wanted to add that I read an article a little while back about another advertising technique, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. It basicly stated that clothing companies targeted influencial individuals who were seen as popular in their circle of friends and were fairly active in the community - and dressed them up for free. They don't have to be celebrities or spokesmen, they just have to be popular. They give them thousands of dollars in merchandise.. and just tell them to run around with it.

The subjects say they get asked all the time "who" they are wearing and it just works to spread the word. Sounds effective.
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Old 04-03-2005, 01:10 AM   #484 (permalink)
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This ad is supposed to show sexual innuendo. There is nothing subliminal in it - if you see sexual acts, then you are seeing what you're supposed to. If you don't, then you've missed the point. The same with the Palmolive ads previously shown.
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Old 04-03-2005, 01:20 AM   #485 (permalink)
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Ads are typically viewed for a few seconds. Most of the information in a visual image that is viewed for a few seconds is not consciously perceived.
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Old 04-03-2005, 01:35 AM   #486 (permalink)
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It is exactly to combat this problem of 'glancing' that these ads were developed - you see something that grabs your attention, so you spend a bit longer looking at the ad to see what it was.

I personally know the creative who developed the 18-30 ad above (I work in advertising myself) and this was one of his prime objectives. Club 18-30 was to be positioned as a place you go to drink beer, carrouse and have sex. All the ads in the campaign play on this - some more explicitly through the use of suggestive copy and no visuals, and others like this.

As I said - if you didn't see any sexual activity in the ad, then you missed the point.
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Old 04-03-2005, 01:43 AM   #487 (permalink)
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These are some of the other ads in the campaign:









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Old 04-03-2005, 03:27 AM   #488 (permalink)
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The mass audience is not nearly so terribly intellectual, visually sophisticated, or unrepressed as those who create media. In an offhand way you're remaking the main arguments referred to in this thread. Thanks.
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Old 04-03-2005, 03:54 AM   #489 (permalink)
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Except that Club 18-30 is actually selling sex, and not in a terribly subtle way. Or do you think that a headline reading, "Girls, can we interest you in a package holiday?" while showing a picture of someone's ample crotch is subtle and subliminal?

Something else to consider is that this campaign was not produced for the US market. Club 18-30 is a British company.

Last edited by DJ Happy; 04-03-2005 at 04:08 AM..
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Old 04-03-2005, 05:10 AM   #490 (permalink)
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Yes. Sex is one the things being sold in most ads. The ads you posted are spot on the spectrum of sexually suggestive advertising and I am very appreciative you posted them here.
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Old 04-03-2005, 05:31 AM   #491 (permalink)
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Well, I'd have to disagree completely. Sex is not something being sold in most ads. That's a sensationalist generalisation that's simply not true.

There is also a big difference between manipulating people's sexual urges to sell a completely unrelated product (i.e. the Air France commercial of about 15 years ago) and using sex to sell sex (i.e. Club 18-30).

Anyway, previously you said that most people wouldn't be able to cognitively perceive the sexually suggestive images in the ads, but now you're suggesting that they would. Are you making a point about the use of sexual subliminal perceptions or the explicit use of sexual imagery to sell a product?
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Old 04-03-2005, 06:35 AM   #492 (permalink)
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My point is these perceptual and conceptual experiences are on a sliding scale - a spectrum of awareness between conscious and unconscious experience. It is not a black or white issue. Each person perceives different amounts of information through focused attention and peripheral awareness.
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Old 04-03-2005, 06:43 AM   #493 (permalink)
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In that case, anything could be considered mind control, depending on the cognitive abilities of the recipient.
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Old 04-03-2005, 06:46 AM   #494 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ARTelevision
My point is these perceptual and conceptual experiences are on a sliding scale - a spectrum of awareness between conscious and unconscious experience. It is not a black or white issue. Each person perceives different amounts of information through focused attention and peripheral awareness.
This is it exactly... there is what you see... simulated sex... and what your mind does with this information.

The conscious mind will probably chuckle. Subconscious mind will deal with it entirely differently.

The fact that your friend designed this creative to play with sexual images... in your face ones at that, is kind of besides the point. You cannot view these ads in isolation from the rest of the mediascape and the breadth of any particular individual's personal experiences. The connections and associations that the subconscious minds makes are beyond our conscious understanding...

The fact that our subconsious is being purposely manipulated is what is being argued in this thread...
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Old 04-03-2005, 07:16 AM   #495 (permalink)
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In that case, no-one has any control over how anyone will react to any stimulus because you cannot predict how the sub-conscious mind will react to consciously analysed material and this thread is redundant.

The fact that the images are "in your face" is exactly the point. They are not designed to be skipped over by the conscious mind only to be randomly interpreted by the sub-conscious.
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Old 04-03-2005, 07:49 AM   #496 (permalink)
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Yes. The reason these images are interesting - and they are interesting (and noteworthy) is because they exist on the lines that are being drawn in this thread. If there were no such things as thresholds of awareness and peripheral awareness, they would lose their reason for being.
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Old 04-03-2005, 07:53 AM   #497 (permalink)
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If you could produce an ad that showed two people fucking they'd also lose their reason for being.

I think you're reading too much into this.
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Old 04-03-2005, 08:01 AM   #498 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DJ Happy
In that case, anything could be considered mind control, depending on the cognitive abilities of the recipient.
that is correct. most people do not ever use ANY critical thinking in their lives. They allow someone else to do it for them and then associate themselves with such personas, groups, tribes, sectors, etc.

could we be reading something into? that possibility has to exist, but the critical thinking, logic and reasoning has to also state that the possibility of this kind of manipulation also exists.
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Old 04-03-2005, 08:23 AM   #499 (permalink)
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Questions about the human mind, perception, cognition, and awareness are the most complex questions we can ask. Personally, I've only begun reading into all this. I'll be continuing to read as much into these subjects as possible. I find them endlessly fascinating.
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Old 04-03-2005, 11:15 AM   #500 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ARTelevision
In terms of marketing self-image, there's no difference between 10-year olds and teenagers. Today's "10-teens" are into the whole not-good-enough-unless-altered sense of themselves that was once the province of the insecure and youth-market dominated teen years. There's less "children" and less childhood these days than there used to be. What's been gained? What's been lost?
I felt like I had to sneak into my sister's make-up case and put foundation and powder on my little face at the tender age of 9. I don't even know what the heck I thought I was covering. Shaving my legs was another big issue that I felt strongly needed to be addressed before I even hit puberty, and it sure wasn't my friends or family putting that in my head. It was commercials and magazine ads for shaving cream that looked a lot like those palmolive ads.

.............

Another term used for this 10-teen age group is "tween" and the hyper sexual make-up industry isn't the only one targeting them. America's Beef Producers have a site called "zip4tweens" targeted at tween girls in an attempt to combat vegetarianism: www.cool-2b-real.com

The language on the site suggests that it's a place that discourages a negative self image:

Quote:
Just be yourself! Chill out awhile and play some games or talk it up with girls just like you!
But then the meat of the site (pun intended) is about encouraging beef consumption. It is, after all, "ZIP 4 tweens"...

Quote:
As of now, ZIP has a new meaning!

It means having fun while doing things to make your mind and body stronger. And it's just for tweens!

It's about getting Zinc, Iron and Protein and other nutrients from the foods you eat so your body and mind can do their thing.

And it's about moving your body - zippin' along here and there - so your body gets strong and you feel good!
In face of the much more powerful message of "you're not beautiful or sexy enough," I wonder how successful this site actually is.
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Old 04-03-2005, 05:12 PM   #501 (permalink)
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My 11 yr old sister just watched "The girl next door" like a week ago...Jesus Christ!
It has all these sexual issues in it... lets see..penis size, popularity, breast size, sexuality...
I hate it. They feed this heap of shit and it makes kids think a certain way, act a certain way, its really horrible.
All these teen movies corrupt the kids.
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Old 04-13-2005, 07:39 AM   #502 (permalink)
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You can't buy this kind of advertising... or can you?
Quote:
TV close-up of hesitant golf ball scores for Nike
By Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY
It was an unforgettable moment that held Tiger Woods and TV viewers in suspense Sunday — and likely made rival golf ball maker Titleist cringe.

A chip by Tiger Woods at The Masters hangs on the edge of the cup at the 16th green before rolling in.
CBS

As Woods' key chip shot rolled toward the 16th hole during CBS' final round coverage of the Masters tournament, viewers got a close-up of his prototype Nike One Platinum ball rolling ever so slowly toward the hole.

The ball poised agonizingly on the lip, then — with the Nike swoosh prominently visible in the close-up — the ball dropped into the cup.

As sports fans discussed Woods' fourth Masters win on Monday, Madison Avenue was abuzz about one of the best product placements since E.T. and Reese's Pieces. Nike launches the One Platinum in the fiercely competitive $4-billion-a-year golf market next month. Countless replays of Woods' magic moment have been the kind of exposure money can't buy. "It was a hole-in-one," says Mitch Kanner, a Los Angeles-based product placement expert.

With Woods' chip shot taking 17 seconds to bounce and roll into the hole, the footage seems ready-made for use in a 30-second TV spot. Chris Mike, director of marketing for Nike Golf, said Monday he's working on several possible commercials.

A possible sand trap? The footage is owned by Augusta National Golf Club, the notoriously finicky owner of the Masters, not Viacom's CBS. "We have a great relationship with the folks at Augusta National. I just got off the phone with them a half-hour ago, and they were great," said Mike, who declined to elaborate.

Woods earns an estimated $25 million a year to endorse Nike Golf, which has challenged established golf ball and equipment makers such as Callaway, Taylor Made, Cobra and Titleist the past three years.

The swoosh got its money's worth in the 2005 Masters. An estimated 15 million U.S. TV viewers on Sunday saw Woods win with the new 460cc Nike Ignite driver, Nike irons and the One Platinum. Mr. Nike also was clad head to toe in his signature Nike golf duds.

"It was one of those magical moments you can't script," says Mike, who points out Woods used a 60 degree Nike wedge to hit the historic shot.

Mike predicts the "Tiger Effect" will boost sales for the One Platinum, which will have a suggested retail price of $54 per dozen. After Woods smashed a 3-wood 300 yards at the Ford Championship in March to beat rival Phil Mickelson, Nike's fairway woods "flew" off the shelf, he says. "We expect there will be a lot of pent-up demand for One Platinum" says Mike.

But Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report questions whether the chip heard round the golf world will translate into any more sales. "Was there anybody watching who doesn't recognize the Nike swoosh? Or know that Nike makes golf balls? These things can get overstated."
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Old 04-13-2005, 07:55 AM   #503 (permalink)
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Quote:
GM to put corporate badge on its vehicles
By Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY
DETROIT — George Fowler is ready to get out his heat gun and start making some adjustments.

GM will be placing these chrome badges on some of their 2006 models.


Fowler, who owns a Pontiac, Buick and GMC dealership in Dearborn, Mich., is sick of all the shiny metal badges attached to the cars he's selling. So he wasn't thrilled to hear Tuesday that General Motors (GM), which makes those three brands, plans to add two more chrome logos to the side of new cars.

The new badges are simple boxes advertising that the car is made by GM. The carmaker is attempting to make consumers aware of all the brands it manufactures and will put the badges on some new cars starting this month.

"It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of in my life," Fowler says. "These cars have enough badging on them now. People want clean-looking vehicles. They don't want cars that are badged up."

GM says people want to know who makes their cars. GM sells eight brands in the USA: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab.

"Research tells us that many of our most outstanding segment-leading vehicles are not associated by the customer to be part of the GM portfolio," Mark LaNeve, GM's North American vice president of sales, service and marketing, said in a statement.

GM has been struggling to figure out how to encourage buyers to purchase its vehicles without big rebates. The carmaker has heavily relied on large cash rebates since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The strategy has lost its effectiveness over the past year, and GM's sales are down 1.3% this year.

The company said its research shows a growing desire among consumers to know more about the companies behind their favorite products. Its recent "Only GM" commercials highlight its OnStar technology, which connects drivers to a live operator when air bags are deployed or when someone pushes a button inside the car.

The announcement runs counter to what GM has said its marketing plans are. The company has said it plans to do a better job differentiating its brand lines.

Eric Noble, president of consulting firm The CarLab, says consumers have a hard time juggling two brand names for one product.

The GM badges are "the sort of strategy that makes sense when viewed from the inside," Noble says. "Consumers operate in a world where time is their scarcest resource. You're lucky if they can remember one of your brands. To hope or plan for them to remember two is unrealistic and, therefore, a bad use of resources."
Badges badges everywhere... the make of the car, the model of the car, the special edition of the car, the dealership... how many more badges need to be put on there?
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Old 04-13-2005, 05:10 PM   #504 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DJ Happy
I think you're reading too much into this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Charlatan
The fact that our subconsious is being purposely manipulated is what is being argued in this thread...
Creating awareness is not necessarily 'reading'... I don't think awareness is an arguement - this whole thread from my understanding is about awareness. Something I have been aware of for some time now. This very thread is the reason I did a complete U-turn on society... I wanted to head to the hills to escape all this saturation. Ultimately, it exists and I exist, to hide from it is unreasonable - my struggle is to exist within it yet not get lost in it, this is my challenge.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cynthetiq
that is correct. most people do not ever use ANY critical thinking in their lives. They allow someone else to do it for them and then associate themselves with such personas, groups, tribes, sectors, etc.
This was another reason for me to run to the hills... it is very prominent in my area. But again unreasonable...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ARTelevision
Questions about the human mind, perception, cognition, and awareness are the most complex questions we can ask. Personally, I've only begun reading into all this. I'll be continuing to read as much into these subjects as possible. I find them endlessly fascinating.
The heart and core of my own hunger - I share an affinity with your inquisitive nature, and I really appreciate being able to view your thoughts. Thankyou.
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Old 04-15-2005, 06:31 AM   #505 (permalink)
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Quote:
HEADLINE: RIGHT GUARD TIES WITH MTV SHOWS

BYLINE: By Samuel Solley

BODY:

Right Guard Xtreme is aiming to broaden its appeal to include 16- to 24-year-olds and is making its TV sponsorship debut by backing MTV's Dumbass programming strand.

The nine-month deal will support the recent update of Right Guard's deodorant and body spray packaging, which included the addition of a side trigger on its Total Protection variant, enabling an upward spray.

The Gillette-owned brand will run start and end credits across the Dumbass shows, which include Jackass, Wildboyz and Punk'd, using the strapline 'Nothing's worth sweating over'.

Gillette developed the vertical spraying system for its deodorant cans last year. Earlier this year, Right Guard's Total Protection and Xtreme won one of the inaugural Product of the Year awards (Marketing, 9 February).
Shedding some light on how tightly media and advertisers make and create.
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Old 04-15-2005, 09:38 AM   #506 (permalink)
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I stumbled upon this. I haven't read the whole thing but it's very interesting on first pickup.

Quote:
Moss Kendrix was a public relations pioneer who left a lasting legacy and a major imprint on the way African Americans are portrayed through the power of advertising.

During his lifetime, he designed countless public relations and advertising campaigns that promoted African-American visibility for news organizations, entertainers, and corporate clients including Carnation, the Ford Motor Company, and the Coca-Cola company.

He educated his corporate clients about the buying power of the African-American consumer, and helped to make America realize that African-Americans were more complex than the derogatory images depicted in the advertising of the past.
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Old 04-21-2005, 06:47 AM   #507 (permalink)
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Quote:
HEADLINE: CONSULTANT'S CORNER: THE TIVO EFFECT

BODY: Dem pollster Mark Mellman writes in The Hill, political
advertising "is based on a principle well known to con artists
worldwide: bait and switch." Viewers turn on their TVs to watch
"CSI" and "we pull a switch, giving them a political ad
instead." By '08, "if not before, technology is likely to
render that model obsolete." People may dislike the ads, "but
they use them. ... However, their impact has already begun to
wane." The options available with cable and satellite, as well
as the remote control and "our national penchant for
multitasking" have limited advertising's influence, but "these
changes are nothing compared to the 'big one' about to hit."
DVR's like TiVo "are taking off." One of the chief reasons
people buy DVRs is to skip commercials. Only 5% of households
have them now, but the phenomenon "is growing exponentially."
Estimates suggest that 40% of Americans will have DVRs in 4
years. "Empowered viewers can elude bait and switch. ... Many
will only see the political ads they want to watch, while
avoiding those we want them to see" (4/18).

In a follow up Mellman writes that advertisers are
responding to this challenge by focusing on "three dimensions:
ubiquity, quality and targeting." Ad makers are "struggling to
make their work interesting enough that viewers actually want to
see it. They are then putting it in every possible channel from
the Internet to word of mouth." And they're using "the superior
targeting capabilities of cable to focus their resources on
audiences most likely to yield results." BMW, the "most
celebrated success of the new marketing paradigm," spent $15M on
short films. Campaigns spend $18K or less on the average
positive spot. It's possible to make compelling films cheaply,
but "it doesn't happen very often." Also, product marketing
begins with an audience that wants a product and is interested
in the brand. "The parts of our base we need to mobilize ..
are, almost by definition, not interested in politics." In the
next 10 years, "we will likely see more changes in campaign
communication than we have in the past four decades combined"
(4/20).
Interesting statements about people arming themselves to not watch commercials and what the industry is pondering to do about that...
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Old 04-21-2005, 07:58 AM   #508 (permalink)
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Trends like the TiVo effect are probably why companies like GM are becoming ever more annoying with their advertising tactics... like slapping badges all over their cars. I wonder what other kinds of companies are doing to combat the TiVo effect. Not all companies have the luxury of attaching big, extraneous hunks of metal to their product in order to advertise.
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Old 04-21-2005, 08:19 AM   #509 (permalink)
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a few things going on in the industry at the moment...

Tivo has started "billboard ads" which when you fast forward will pop up another small computer generated ad. It only will do this if they advertiser has paid for it to Tivo, so it's not a blanket thing where it's on all adverts.

Cable channels are combating this in two ways. First is product placement endorsement. Direct placement within the show or even about the show. How much of Victoria Secret's Lingerie Show was commercial and how much was really show? Children's TV is very much one big long commercial advertising toys.

The second method is via the banner or bug adverts on the bottom 1/3 of the screen. I've got good information that those things that you see advertising the new hot show coming up next or next week, is going to start being normal product advertising. It's just a matter of time and acceptance.
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Old 04-24-2005, 12:39 PM   #510 (permalink)
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Living The NASCAR Life

The brand loyalty of NASCAR fans is well-known, well-researched, and well-documented in the ad industry. Nascar fans are three times more likely than fans of other sports to buy products of sponsors. If NASCAR still exisits on the periphery of your consciousness, it will be encroaching quite soon toward front and center. NASCAR just ran it’s first prime-time race last night, covered flag to flag by FOX Sports. And it has sewn up contracts with suppliers of just about everything to be on the long list of NASCAR-licensed products.



http://www.sportingnews.com/experts/...20050418b.html

Living the NASCAR life
April 18, 2005

Matt Crossman
Sporting News


Just past midnight, in the wee hours of Friday morning, I started to doubt the wisdom of basing my entire existence on using nothing but NASCAR products. Bristol Motor Speedway is a long way from my house in St. Louis, and I was sick of driving, even though I was riding in style in a tricked-out 2005 Ford F-150 (official pickup truck). Making matters worse:

I was 530 miles into a 500-mile trip.

I was lost.

I didn't have a map.

And my cell phone was dying.

As I white-knuckled the mammoth truck through a switchback, I remained intent on proving my hypothesis: Over a race weekend, I could eat, wear, consume and buy nothing but NASCAR products.

It would be just like "Super Size Me," only without the health risks and weight gain.

I finally found my Best Western (official hotel), and the next day I started the NASCAR routine. For the next four days, my mornings consisted of putting on Old Spice (official deodorant), using an Oral-B toothbrush and toothpaste (official oral care products), shaving with Gillette (official shaving products) and putting on a NASCAR golf shirt and Levi's (official jeans). To answer your next question, Fruit of the Loom is a sponsor for Robby Gordon.

Because there is no official NASCAR milk and I didn't want to put Powerade (official sports beverage) on my Kellogg's (official cereal), I ate breakfast at McDonald's (team sponsor) every day. Leaving the F-150 at the hotel, I drove a 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (official pace car) to and from the track.

If you learn nothing else from this story, learn this: I'll do anything for freebies. No, wait -- learn this: NASCAR is not what it used to be.

The days of the sport being solely sponsored by beer, automotive and tobacco companies have been gone for a long time. NASCAR's move to the mainstream was accelerated even further when Brian France became chairman and Nextel became the title sponsor.

It seems quaint that, a year and a half ago, a cigarette company was the title sponsor of NASCAR's top circuit. Nicorette is a sponsor now, and 1,100 companies are involved either with NASCAR or a team. Of those, 102 are Fortune 500 companies.

The cars steal the show

On the way from the hotel to the track on Friday, I filled up at R&S Sunoco (official fuel) in Abingdon, Va. Whatever bad mood lingered from the night before evaporated while I was at R&S. It sounds silly, but this five-minute stop (and two subsequent visits) brightened my trip. You know you've found a good place when the sign outside says, "Coming April 1, Free Gas. Inquire inside."

Raymond Hurd, the owner of the station, was impressed by my Monte Carlo. Did I mention it was painted like the No. 99 Busch Series Best Western car? Trust me; if you want to draw attention to yourself, drive a car that looks like a racecar.

The car represented my most blatant partisanship. Other than that, I didn't favor any one driver, unless you count my Tony Stewart belt, Mark Martin Velcro wallet and just-in-case Dale Earnhardt Jr. flashlight with Duracells (official alkaline batteries).

I drive like a maniac when I cover a race, just like golf writers whisper and baseball writers take steroids. To help, Hurd suggested places to open up the Monte Carlo. Abingdon is in the Appalachians, with highways full of twists, turns, inclines, declines and cops.

Because I would drive the 144-mile round trip from Abingdon to Bristol three days in a row, I needed to know about the local law. A cop wouldn't bust me in this fake racecar, would he? "Not unless he's by himself," Hurd said, "or with somebody."

Thanks, Raymond, but I'll handle the jokes around here.

My NASCAR-logoed vehicles were great icebreakers all weekend. The Ford F-150, customized NASCAR style by American Specialty Trucks, got this: "That's one pimp-ass truck, for real," from a tongue-ringed guy at a Chevron (team sponsor) in Indiana. Dave Baker of Fremont, Ohio, who saw me pull the Monte Carlo up to the hotel, told me he painted his wife's 1987 Thunderbird like Davey Allison's Texaco car. I gave two guys a ride to the track in the 99 car after they hooted at me. They said to call them "two nitwits from New Hampshire." As those Nextel (official series sponsor) commercials say: Done.

Fully vested

Friday was qualifying day, which doesn't get much attention at most tracks. Bristol is not most tracks. It's the Lambeau Field of NASCAR, only more than twice as big.

On race weekend, eastern Tennessee is a NASCAR petri dish. I was living the NASCAR life on a lark -- I mean, a Serious Journalistic Investigation -- but many fans live the NASCAR life, too, albeit on a smaller scale.

They wear drivers' shirts and hats and use the products drivers endorse. The result: endlessly ringing cash registers. NASCAR says the sport's average fan spends $700 a year on tickets and merchandise. And that's just the NASCAR stuff. Fans line up in front of drivers' merchandise trailers week after week.

NASCAR and the sponsors won't say how much an official sponsorship costs, but one source puts the figure at $3 million to $5 million. The numbers are elusive because sponsors don't want competitors to know how much they're spending. And NASCAR protects its privacy on these matters like a cornered Little E fan protects the last Budweiser (official beer) at the Sunoco APlus (official convenience store).

More is known about how much sponsors pay to be on cars. The cost varies depending on the team and driver, with more prominent teams drawing bigger fees. The major teams -- Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson -- get up to $20 million each from their primary sponsors.

The sponsors pay those fees for exposure -- and access to fans' Velcro wallets. The fans' loyalty, to the sport and to drivers, is legendary. NASCAR says its fans are three times more likely to buy a sponsor's product over a nonsponsor's. "I will not drink a Coke," a Gordon fan told me. "If I go to a fast food restaurant and they do not sell Pepsi, I get water." When she buys gas, she rounds off cents at 24, Gordon's car number.

You won't hear me diss fans, but I will speak truth in love. NASCAR fans buy some stupid things. NASCAR has many official, licensed and sponsor's products that make the world a better place, such as the Domino's (official pizza delivery) pepperoni pizza I ate Friday. But there are a ton of items carrying the NASCAR logo that make you wonder.

Take talking NASCAR bottle openers, which are sure to cause the collapse of the U.S. economy. Talking NASCAR bottle openers are a lot like puffy vests, the kind made famous by Robin Williams in "Mork & Mindy." Just as there's absolutely no reason to buy a coat with no sleeves, there's absolutely no reason to buy a talking NASCAR bottle opener. If you buy either, you have too much money and you're just spending it willy-nilly. That kind of spending always leads to an economic crisis.

These boots are made for hawking

The Busch race at Bristol was rained out Saturday -- April in Tennessee is supposed to be lovely, but it was freezing. I never thought the weather would be so bad, so I didn't have a NASCAR winter coat. At least my feet stayed warm and dry, thanks to my Timberland PRO boots (Busch Series team sponsor).

NASCAR has no official shoe, and there are no major teams with a shoe sponsor. I had never heard of Timberland PRO's deal before, and neither had several NASCAR people I asked as I tried to find shoes.

Jim O'Connor of Timberland says it doesn't bother him that his sponsorship gets little attention; it's more important to him to leverage his NASCAR relationship with retailers. When Timberland PRO runs a big promotion, the retailer is more likely to give it prime space because of the NASCAR tie-in. Similarly, one of the goals of Checkers/Rally's (official burger and drive-through) is to attract franchisees through its connection to NASCAR.

Best Western also multi-tasks its NASCAR relationship. The company sponsors a Busch car, has business-to-business deals with other sponsors and runs numerous programs targeted at race fans, including a website (bestwesternracing.com). Says David Scholefield, vice president of North American sales and motorsports marketing: "You can't enter any sports marketing relationship and pretend to play."

Other companies use NASCAR to promote specific product lines. While getting ready for the weekend, I suggested to Levi's that my regular Levi's would suffice. A few days later, six pairs of Levi's Signature Series arrived on my doorstep.

Free chocolate, bad. Fruit, good.

Saturday brought the weekend's toughest temptation: free food in the media center. Cookies, brownies, all kinds of sugary goodness were laid out in front of me. But eating media center food violated the spirit of this story, so I came prepared to stand against the devil's chocolaty schemes -- with a NASCAR-licensed cooler full of Dasani (official water), Planters peanuts (promotional partner) and even fruit. Yes, NASCAR-licensed fruit.

Jack Bertagna works in sales and marketing for Castellini Group, owner of the fruit and vegetable license. One part of Castellini's NASCAR effort is to sell branded produce at every Wal-Mart Supercenter within 150 miles of a track on race weekend. Before the Daytona 500, during a late-night visit to a Wal-Mart, Bertagna found his bins of potatoes and onions nearly empty. Neighboring bins were full. An incredulous clerk pointed to the NASCAR logo. "The dadgum thing is working," Bertagna says.

If NASCAR-licensed fruit sounds like the new NASCAR, how about a driver shilling hair products? Garnier Fructis sponsors driver Brian Vickers. A Garnier stylist does Vickers' hair before every race so he looks good for appearances. So I had my hair done, too, and I spent the rest of the day finely coiffured ... and in fear that Cale Yarborough would find me and beat the crap out of me.

On Monday, I checked out of the hotel, paying with my Visa (official card). The return drive home went much better. I didn't get lost. The truck drew more praise, first at a Chevron in either Kentucky or Virginia (still no map -- NASCAR has licensed atlases; I was too dumb to get one) then at a Subway (team sponsor) in Illinois.

My driveway was the start-finish line. As I pulled in, I didn't take the checkered flag, and there was no celebration and no crew ready to welcome me. In that way, the end of living the NASCAR life was nothing like the end of a race. But in another way, it was exactly the same: I had a ton of sponsors to thank.



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http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke%5C21597.html

An obsessive loyalty

By David Harrison


NASCAR inspires its fans to collect every possible item connected in some way to their favorite drivers.

Like many NASCAR fans, James Martin was initiated early. He remembers sitting outside listening to the races on the radio with his father in Salem when he was 5 years old. His father died when he was 12, but by then, Martin's fascination with auto racing had taken root.

"That's one of the best memories I have is him and me hanging out listening to the races or him taking me to the races," Martin said.

Back then, races were less tightly controlled, drivers were more accessible and ticket prices were lower.

"Back then, one driver would wreck another one and the two would get into a fistfight in the infield and nobody said anything about it," said Martin, 29, who now lives in Vinton.

Still, Martin has remained loyal to the sport as it's grown into made-for-television family-oriented fare drawing millions of fans and turning top drivers into household names.

"I love cars," he confessed one day last week, as the area revved up for today's Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway. "Just the roar of the engine and the intensity. Driving 190 miles an hour, you know, bumper-to-bumper, is wild."

It is people like Martin, people whose blood is cut with motor oil, that make up the bulk of the market for NASCAR paraphernalia. For some reason, NASCAR can inspire in its fans an obsessive drive to collect every possible item connected in some way to their favorite drivers, said Doug King, manager of the Caution Flag, a NASCAR memorabilia store on Williamson Road in Roanoke.

These include but are not limited to model cars, T-shirts, boxer shorts, jackets, caps, shoes, shoelaces, cereal boxes, board games, commemorative knives, car covers, life-size cardboard cutouts, framed photographs, rugs, bottles of barbecue sauce and soda cans. And if these items are slapped with the corporate logos of the car's sponsors, that makes them that much more authentic.
Die-cast model cars, a staple of any NASCAR collection, cost roughly $60 each but rarer models can run into the hundreds of dollars. Sales of die-cast cars and other NASCAR-licensed products hit $2.1 billion in 2004, said Andrew Giangola, NASCAR's director of business communications.

"It's booming," thanks to Internet marketing and distribution deals with drugstores, department stores and the home-shopping television channel QVC, Giangola said.
But NASCAR still trails the National Football League, which last year generated roughly $3 billion in sales of NFL-licensed merchandise, according to Mike May, spokesman for SGMA International, a Florida-based sports marketing trade association.

However, NASCAR drivers are more accessible to their fans than many other athletes, said King. And that, in turn, breeds the kind of loyalty that sells thousands of collectibles.

"They [the fans] can relate to these stars better than they can in some other sports and they can get closer to these stars than other sports," King said. The drivers, he added, "still remember who's paying their paycheck."
Martin owns about 60 model race cars at one twenty-fourth scale, some of which are exact replicas of winning race cars, complete with all the dents, scratches and tire rubs that were on the original car when it crossed the finish line. He also has 20 to 25 collectible action figures of drivers, NASCAR-themed jackets for him and his wife and other assorted items related to racing. He's working on gathering replicas of cars from the early 1980s.
"I'm trying to collect the ones me and my father used to see," he said.

Originally a niche sport for blue collar workers in the Southeastern states, NASCAR's popularity has since grown so that today it counts doctors and lawyers as fans, King said. But those blue collar roots have cemented the bond between fans and drivers, he said.

"It's part of the heritage," said Leo Ingram, 45, a Roanoke resident who's been following the sport for about two decades. "It's good old Southern heritage."

But Ingram has a more practical reason for his collection, which includes model cars, jackets, caps, commemorative knives and other items.

"Down the road, I got grandkids, and some of this stuff is going to be worth quite a bit of money," he said. "I see it as being a good way to finance college."

Shirley Williams, a 63-year-old widow from Bedford County, owns what may be one of the most comprehensive collections of NASCAR collectibles, mostly devoted to her two favorite drivers, Kasey Kahne and Bill Elliott. Her father introduced her to NASCAR and to the legendary Richard Petty when she was "a little itty-bitty thing" and she's been following Elliott's career since 1985.
"You accumulate a whole lot of stuff in that length of time," she said.

Highlights of her collection include 300 shirts, about 50 model cars, 30 jackets, a full-size replica race car with no engine, a glow-in-the-dark rug, pictures, clocks, mugs, hats, pins, shoes, shoelaces, a ball, a six-pack of Coke, a bottle of barbecue sauce, place mats, scrapbooks, notebooks, towels and a car cover. Most of these items are Bill Elliott themed.

"My son says Bill Elliott lives in this house," she said. "I couldn't part with nothing. It would kill me."
Her collection is so vast, she has to keep some of it in storage.
"I can't help it," she said. "I love my guy."
………………………..

NASCAR is more than a mere collection of related memes. It is a total way of living.

NASCAR is perhaps the first totally commodified environment.

It’s coming for us and it’s gaining ground…
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Old 04-24-2005, 08:43 PM   #511 (permalink)
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Kudos on the fantastic thread, Art and everyone. What interests me about all this media savvy, is not so much it's broad scope individual successes, as it's penetration.

I'm talking about the fact that I can mention something like, The Quicker Picker Upper and _everybody_ knows what I'm talking about. This ubiquity is what really blows my mind! Like you could ask that of some ridiculous percentage (99%) of Joe Anybody USA and he'd be right on top of it, more or less, right?

It's just good old homogonized american life that we all know and love. We're all living minor variations of this tried and true, beloved and functional method.

Don't get me wrong, we the people are still squeezing some blessed life between these habitual operations.

But we all have this same information about these products, as well as our news, and we're getting it all from these ever-combining mega corporations. I believe this sort of information control and publishing led us into our big war.

I think an enourmous american population that all hears the same thing all the time leaves a very large hole in the idea of diversity of opinion. If we all know that Pert Plus is great, and all want an iPod but are of the opinion that those planes hit those towers because the people who did it 'hate freedom', we are grossly underinformed and led en masse in chosen directions.

Ubiquitous advertising, marketing, mass media in general are our eyes and ears on the world, and if we're ALL locked into this one perspective, we can't see anyone else's side.

Sorry to move this thread towards this delicate issue, but I see them as interlocked and at the more important end of the spectrum.
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Old 04-25-2005, 11:36 AM   #512 (permalink)
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I didn't even begin to think about product placement on food shows. I did of course think of the obvious untensils, but not the food itself.

Something to chew on.... literally.


Quote:
The Sponsored Chef
LINK
And our special for the day is... a deal with a veal group. More big chefs are getting paid to pitch everything from shrimp to raisins -- and not telling their customers. Kelly Crow on dining for dollars.
By KELLY CROW
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 22, 2005; Page W1

At the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass., one typical East-West fusion offering is "Miso Risotto with Shrimp Mousse and Roulade of Seared Monkfish." With its fancy name and $28 price tag, diners might expect the seafood is all fresh off the boat.

But the shrimp that gourmet chef Ming Tsai uses in that entree and others is frozen. And that's no coincidence: Mr. Tsai cut a deal with a big supplier of frozen shrimp, which pays more than $550,000 a year to sponsor both of Mr. Tsai's TV cooking shows. The company also sells him frozen shrimp at "below cost." Under the deal, the underwriter asks that Mr. Tsai features shrimp on two or three episodes.

"For me, frozen is a tastier shrimp," says Mr. Tsai, who on occasion buys shrimp fresh from other vendors. "Fresh is not as fresh as frozen, I think."

MEAL DEALS




Famous cooks are increasingly accepting money and freebies from food-industry trade groups and manufacturers in return for promoting their products. Below, some chefs and menu items where the sponsor's food appears0.



And now, a meal from your chef's sponsors. Some of America's most respected culinary stars are signing contracts with trade groups from raisin farmers and avocado growers to canned-good promoters -- and getting cash, discounts and freebies in exchange for using their products. New York chef David Burke pockets $5,000 from a major beef lobby every time he cooks veal on the "Fox and Friends" morning show. In Salt Lake City, chef Ty Fredrickson's restaurant group gets $10,000 a year from an Alaska seafood trade group -- just for putting the word "Alaska" in front of the king crab and halibut dishes on the menu. Charlie Palmer, the high-profile restaurateur, says he is in early talks for a marketing deal with an American caviar maker, and has asked to get paid in fish eggs.

In an era when celebrity chefs sell themselves as artists with unique passions and new approaches in the kitchen, they're also serving diners some old-fashioned marketing techniques. Some could be featuring a food item because a trade group they're working with wants the chef's customers to shop for the item later, or recommend it to friends. On television programs, chefs often cook with appliances and products supplied by sponsors. While there's no outright deception here -- it's more an issue of omission -- some diners who hear about the arrangements say they leave a bit of a bad aftertaste.


Chef David Burke


Helen Stone, a food lover who runs a trade group for landscape architects in Las Vegas, says she "would feel better if there were some kind of disclosure," in cases where chefs are being paid to promote certain foods and products. Betsy Rosen, a regular at Blue Ginger for seven years, only recently learned that Mr. Tsai's kitchen is filled with ingredients and tools from his sponsors. She brought up the matter with Mr. Tsai's wife, but has concluded that Mr. Tsai is just being entrepreneurial. Still, she says, "I was just totally clueless that that kind of thing went on."

Frozen Shrimp, No Labels

Indeed, consumers rarely know about the deals. For instance, Mr. Tsai never uses fresh shrimp on his PBS cooking show, "Simply Ming," and all of his frozen shrimp comes from sponsor Contessa Premium Foods -- with the labels peeled off. He also doesn't mention the sponsorship deal while cooking. (The company's name appears in the credits at the end of the show.) Destin, Fla., chef Tim Creehan, whose upscale eatery emphasizes seafood, also puts up to four pork dishes at a time on the menu, including such cuts as pork belly and pork butt. Not included: the fact he's a paid representative for the National Pork Board. And then there's chef José Andrès, of Washington, D.C., who since signing up with the California Avocado Commission has increased the number of dishes with avocado in them on his menu to eight from two.

Chefs say they only make deals with manufacturers whose products they believe in or that they already use. "We would never put our name on a substandard product just because it's basically free," says Mr. Tsai. "I mean, my livelihood is sitting on the plate." Mr. Creehan says he's always been a pork fan, but "I became more educated on pork, so I'm more apt to use pork now than before." Mr. Andres says he cooked with avocado for years, even before hooking up with the California commission.

French haute-cuisine chef and author Jacques Pepin, the star of the TV cooking show, "Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way," agreed last year to add the Canned Food Alliance as one of the show's sponsors. (The Pittsburgh trade group represents the tin-plate industry.) Since then, Mr. Pepin has featured such dishes as a dip made with canned beans on "Fast Food" and appeared at promotional lunches to talk about how canned foods are healthy and easy to use. Says Mr. Pepin, "They asked, 'Do you have anything against cans?' and I said, 'Not at all.' I've tried them all, and I'm not a snob." He adds that he doesn't consider the arrangement an endorsement, since the Alliance's check doesn't come to him personally.


Jacques Pepin


Industry groups and manufacturers who line up chefs say the deals are good marketing -- and less expensive than paying for big advertising campaigns. For example, Contessa says the mere fact that Mr. Tsai uses frozen shrimp on the program helps show its product can be used in gourmet cuisine. "Part of our mission is educating consumers in being more confident to cook seafood at home," says a Contessa spokeswoman. (The company says Mr. Tsai is not contractually obligated to use the shrimp at Blue Ginger.) Similarly, the pork, veal and avocado organizations say that consumers pay more attention when they see big-name chefs serving or using their products.

The marketing can even be used to counter negative publicity. After some critical studies on farmed salmon appeared in January 2004, the fish's sales dropped 22%, according to Salmon of the Americas, a lobbying group. Alex Trent, the group's executive director, decided to enlist some chefs to influence public opinion and to use its products at industry events. One of the first big names he approached was Chicago's Rick Tramonto, the chef of Tru, who has submitted a few recipes to the salmon group's Web site. (While mulling the offer, Mr. Tramonto says he asked the salmon organization for 500 free farmed salmon filets to use at an industry dinner for other chefs.)

The group also signed up chef Graham Kerr, the former "Galloping Gourmet," to vouch for the fish during public appearances and television interviews. Now, according to Mr. Trent, sales are back to $3 billion annually in the U.S, the same as they were in 2003. He credits the efforts of Messrs. Tramonto and Kerr. "We need our chefs to re-educate consumers," says Mr. Trent. "They give us reach and credibility."

Contracts with chefs don't generally create the outright conflict of interest that arises, for example, when television "experts" take fees to mention a company's products during news interviews, without informing viewers of the business relationship. Such arrangements violate journalistic ethical guidelines, under which viewers expect their news to be unbiased. Instead, the arrangements are more like product placement on commercial TV shows or the marketing tactic that has become widely known in Hollywood -- where actors take free clothes from designers in return for buzz and exposure.

Emerging From Behind the Stove

The culinary contracts really got their start with the rise of the celebrity chef. As some big names emerged from behind the stove, industry groups figured they could tap into the glamour quotient, and use the chefs to help their products stand out. Just last year 5,311 specialty-food products were introduced, up 38% from 2003, according to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. At the same time, a new crop of business-savvy chefs are looking for new sources of income, especially as the $164 billion full-service restaurant industry struggles with growth in the 2% range.


Ming Tsai


"When something comes my way, when it's something I love and when it gets me a little extra money, I'll do it," says Mr. Andrès, who is currently considering marketing proposals from 20 food companies.

Some chefs have become such huge celebrities they actually get commercial endorsements, much like sports stars, singers or other celebs. Emeril Lagasse is now endorsing Crest toothpaste, Nobu Matsuhisa is pushing Calloway golf clubs, and Mario Batali is promoting plastic wrap. These sorts of deals are relatively new. Just two years ago, when Chicago chef Rick Bayless accepted $300,000 to appear in a Burger King commercial, he was widely criticized by his peers for working with a mass-market food company -- and he eventually donated the money to charity. "We're trying to forge a new area of business here," says Mr. Bayless. "You learn by trial and error what's the right thing to do."

Not all chefs embrace the food-industry sponsorships or endorsements. Julia Child, for example, never cut financial deals with trade groups to use their products or made commercial endorsements, says Geoff Drummond, who produced her PBS show, "Cooking with Master Chefs." Mr. Drummond says Ms. Child, who died in 2004, turned down everyone from fast food chains to butter makers. "She wanted to be tied to food," he says. Chef Roy Yamaguchi, the owner of the national Roy's Restaurants chain, says he won't cut deals with any food companies because it reflects on his creativity as a chef (though he recently accepted a free Sub Zero refrigerator, worth $6,000, from the manufacturer). For its part, PBS has guidelines that require chefs to either remove or obscure the labels of products provided by sponsors, says Suzanne Zellner, head of the television system's sponsorship group.

Sometimes, the mutual back-scratching has limits. Though Mr. Bayless accepts underwriting from V&V Supremo, a Mexican cheese-maker, for his PBS cooking show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time With Rick Bayless," he doesn't use the company's products at his restaurant, Frontera Grill. When Supremo executives asked him why, he said he preferred artisan cheeses. Now, Supremo has a new artisan-cheese line, but Mr. Bayless still hasn't incorporated the new cheese into his menus. Supremo executives did not return repeated interview requests.

Whether or not chefs are up front about their marketing deals isn't an issue for all diners, of course. Tom Provost, a Los Angeles screenwriter says he doesn't need much truth in menu -- just good food. "I'm a capitalist, so it doesn't irritate me that chefs could be making a little extra money," he says. "If I don't want it, I just won't order it."
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Old 04-26-2005, 10:50 AM   #513 (permalink)
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while I don't think it makes you smarter per se, it truly depends on the content. There's lots of mental junk food out there.

Quote:
April 24, 2005
Watching TV Makes You Smarter
By STEVEN JOHNSON

The Sleeper Curve


SCIENTIST A: Has he asked for anything special?
SCIENTIST B: Yes, this morning for breakfast . . . he requested something called ''wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.''
SCIENTIST A: Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties.
SCIENTIST B: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?
SCIENTIST A: Those were thought to be unhealthy.
— From Woody Allen's ''Sleeper''

n Jan. 24, the Fox network showed an episode of its hit drama ''24,'' the real-time thriller known for its cliffhanger tension and often- gruesome violence. Over the preceding weeks, a number of public controversies had erupted around ''24,'' mostly focused on its portrait of Muslim terrorists and its penchant for torture scenes. The episode that was shown on the 24th only fanned the flames higher: in one scene, a terrorist enlists a hit man to kill his child for not fully supporting the jihadist cause; in another scene, the secretary of defense authorizes the torture of his son to uncover evidence of a terrorist plot.

But the explicit violence and the post-9/11 terrorist anxiety are not the only elements of ''24'' that would have been unthinkable on prime-time network television 20 years ago. Alongside the notable change in content lies an equally notable change in form. During its 44 minutes -- a real-time hour, minus 16 minutes for commercials -- the episode connects the lives of 21 distinct characters, each with a clearly defined ''story arc,'' as the Hollywood jargon has it: a defined personality with motivations and obstacles and specific relationships with other characters. Nine primary narrative threads wind their way through those 44 minutes, each drawing extensively upon events and information revealed in earlier episodes. Draw a map of all those intersecting plots and personalities, and you get structure that -- where formal complexity is concerned -- more closely resembles ''Middlemarch'' than a hit TV drama of years past like ''Bonanza.''

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down. And yet you almost never hear this story in popular accounts of today's media. Instead, you hear dire tales of addiction, violence, mindless escapism. It's assumed that shows that promote smoking or gratuitous violence are bad for us, while those that thunder against teen pregnancy or intolerance have a positive role in society. Judged by that morality-play standard, the story of popular culture over the past 50 years -- if not 500 -- is a story of decline: the morals of the stories have grown darker and more ambiguous, and the antiheroes have multiplied.

The usual counterargument here is that what media have lost in moral clarity, they have gained in realism. The real world doesn't come in nicely packaged public-service announcements, and we're better off with entertainment like ''The Sopranos'' that reflects our fallen state with all its ethical ambiguity. I happen to be sympathetic to that argument, but it's not the one I want to make here. I think there is another way to assess the social virtue of pop culture, one that looks at media as a kind of cognitive workout, not as a series of life lessons. There may indeed be more ''negative messages'' in the mediasphere today. But that's not the only way to evaluate whether our television shows or video games are having a positive impact. Just as important -- if not more important -- is the kind of thinking you have to do to make sense of a cultural experience. That is where the Sleeper Curve becomes visible.

Televised Intelligence

Consider the cognitive demands that televised narratives place on their viewers. With many shows that we associate with ''quality'' entertainment -- ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' ''Murphy Brown,'' ''Frasier'' -- the intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen. They say witty things to one another and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom cliches, and we smile along in our living rooms, enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we're bright enough to understand the sentences they're saying, there's no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a viewer. You no more challenge your mind by watching these intelligent shows than you challenge your body watching ''Monday Night Football.'' The intellectual work is happening on-screen, not off.

But another kind of televised intelligence is on the rise. Think of the cognitive benefits conventionally ascribed to reading: attention, patience, retention, the parsing of narrative threads. Over the last half-century, programming on TV has increased the demands it places on precisely these mental faculties. This growing complexity involves three primary elements: multiple threading, flashing arrows and social networks.

According to television lore, the age of multiple threads began with the arrival in 1981 of ''Hill Street Blues,'' the Steven Bochco police drama invariably praised for its ''gritty realism.'' Watch an episode of ''Hill Street Blues'' side by side with any major drama from the preceding decades -- ''Starsky and Hutch,'' for instance, or ''Dragnet'' -- and the structural transformation will jump out at you. The earlier shows follow one or two lead characters, adhere to a single dominant plot and reach a decisive conclusion at the end of the episode. Draw an outline of the narrative threads in almost every ''Dragnet'' episode, and it will be a single line: from the initial crime scene, through the investigation, to the eventual cracking of the case. A typical ''Starsky and Hutch'' episode offers only the slightest variation on this linear formula: the introduction of a comic subplot that usually appears only at the tail ends of the episode, creating a structure that looks like this graph. The vertical axis represents the number of individual threads, and the horizontal axis is time.

A ''Hill Street Blues'' episode complicates the picture in a number of profound ways. The narrative weaves together a collection of distinct strands -- sometimes as many as 10, though at least half of the threads involve only a few quick scenes scattered through the episode. The number of primary characters -- and not just bit parts -- swells significantly. And the episode has fuzzy borders: picking up one or two threads from previous episodes at the outset and leaving one or two threads open at the end. Charted graphically, an average episode looks like this.

Critics generally cite ''Hill Street Blues'' as the beginning of ''serious drama'' native in the television medium -- differentiating the series from the single-episode dramatic programs from the 50's, which were Broadway plays performed in front of a camera. But the ''Hill Street'' innovations weren't all that original; they'd long played a defining role in popular television, just not during the evening hours. The structure of a ''Hill Street'' episode -- and indeed of all the critically acclaimed dramas that followed, from ''thirtysomething'' to ''Six Feet Under'' -- is the structure of a soap opera. ''Hill Street Blues'' might have sparked a new golden age of television drama during its seven-year run, but it did so by using a few crucial tricks that ''Guiding Light'' and ''General Hospital'' mastered long before.

Bochco's genius with ''Hill Street'' was to marry complex narrative structure with complex subject matter. 'Dallas'' had already shown that the extended, interwoven threads of the soap-opera genre could survive the weeklong interruptions of a prime-time show, but the actual content of ''Dallas'' was fluff. (The most probing issue it addressed was the question, now folkloric, of who shot J.R.) ''All in the Family'' and ''Rhoda'' showed that you could tackle complex social issues, but they did their tackling in the comfort of the sitcom living room. ''Hill Street'' had richly drawn characters confronting difficult social issues and a narrative structure to match.

Since ''Hill Street'' appeared, the multi-threaded drama has become the most widespread fictional genre on prime time: ''St. Elsewhere,'' ''L.A. Law,'' ''thirtysomething,'' ''Twin Peaks,'' ''N.Y.P.D. Blue,'' ''E.R.,'' ''The West Wing,'' ''Alias,'' ''Lost.'' (The only prominent holdouts in drama are shows like ''Law and Order'' that have essentially updated the venerable ''Dragnet'' format and thus remained anchored to a single narrative line.) Since the early 80's, however, there has been a noticeable increase in narrative complexity in these dramas. The most ambitious show on TV to date, ''The Sopranos,'' routinely follows up to a dozen distinct threads over the course of an episode, with more than 20 recurring characters. An episode from late in the first season looks like this.

The total number of active threads equals the multiple plots of ''Hill Street,'' but here each thread is more substantial. The show doesn't offer a clear distinction between dominant and minor plots; each story line carries its weight in the mix. The episode also displays a chordal mode of storytelling entirely absent from ''Hill Street'': a single scene in ''The Sopranos'' will often connect to three different threads at the same time, layering one plot atop another. And every single thread in this ''Sopranos'' episode builds on events from previous episodes and continues on through the rest of the season and beyond.

Put those charts together, and you have a portrait of the Sleeper Curve rising over the past 30 years of popular television. In a sense, this is as much a map of cognitive changes in the popular mind as it is a map of on-screen developments, as if the media titans decided to condition our brains to follow ever-larger numbers of simultaneous threads. Before ''Hill Street,'' the conventional wisdom among television execs was that audiences wouldn't be comfortable following more than three plots in a single episode, and indeed, the ''Hill Street'' pilot, which was shown in January 1981, brought complaints from viewers that the show was too complicated. Fast-forward two decades, and shows like ''The Sopranos'' engage their audiences with narratives that make ''Hill Street'' look like ''Three's Company.'' Audiences happily embrace that complexity because they've been trained by two decades of multi-threaded dramas.

Multi-threading is the most celebrated structural feature of the modern television drama, and it certainly deserves some of the honor that has been doled out to it. And yet multi-threading is only part of the story.

The Case for Confusion

Shortly after the arrival of the first-generation slasher movies -- ''Halloween,'' ''Friday the 13th'' -- Paramount released a mock-slasher flick called ''Student Bodies,'' parodying the genre just as the ''Scream'' series would do 15 years later. In one scene, the obligatory nubile teenage baby sitter hears a noise outside a suburban house; she opens the door to investigate, finds nothing and then goes back inside. As the door shuts behind her, the camera swoops in on the doorknob, and we see that she has left the door unlocked. The camera pulls back and then swoops down again for emphasis. And then a flashing arrow appears on the screen, with text that helpfully explains: ''Unlocked!''

That flashing arrow is parody, of course, but it's merely an exaggerated version of a device popular stories use all the time. When a sci-fi script inserts into some advanced lab a nonscientist who keeps asking the science geeks to explain what they're doing with that particle accelerator, that's a flashing arrow that gives the audience precisely the information it needs in order to make sense of the ensuing plot. (''Whatever you do, don't spill water on it, or you'll set off a massive explosion!'') These hints serve as a kind of narrative hand-holding. Implicitly, they say to the audience, ''We realize you have no idea what a particle accelerator is, but here's the deal: all you need to know is that it's a big fancy thing that explodes when wet.'' They focus the mind on relevant details: ''Don't worry about whether the baby sitter is going to break up with her boyfriend. Worry about that guy lurking in the bushes.'' They reduce the amount of analytic work you need to do to make sense of a story. All you have to do is follow the arrows.

By this standard, popular television has never been harder to follow. If narrative threads have experienced a population explosion over the past 20 years, flashing arrows have grown correspondingly scarce. Watching our pinnacle of early 80's TV drama, ''Hill Street Blues,'' we find there's an informational wholeness to each scene that differs markedly from what you see on shows like ''The West Wing'' or ''The Sopranos'' or ''Alias'' or ''E.R.''

''Hill Street'' has ambiguities about future events: will a convicted killer be executed? Will Furillo marry Joyce Davenport? Will Renko find it in himself to bust a favorite singer for cocaine possession? But the present-tense of each scene explains itself to the viewer with little ambiguity. There's an open question or a mystery driving each of these stories -- how will it all turn out? -- but there's no mystery about the immediate activity on the screen. A contemporary drama like ''The West Wing,'' on the other hand, constantly embeds mysteries into the present-tense events: you see characters performing actions or discussing events about which crucial information has been deliberately withheld. Anyone who has watched more than a handful of ''The West Wing'' episodes closely will know the feeling: scene after scene refers to some clearly crucial but unexplained piece of information, and after the sixth reference, you'll find yourself wishing you could rewind the tape to figure out what they're talking about, assuming you've missed something. And then you realize that you're supposed to be confused. The open question posed by these sequences is not ''How will this turn out in the end?'' The question is ''What's happening right now?''

The deliberate lack of hand-holding extends down to the microlevel of dialogue as well. Popular entertainment that addresses technical issues -- whether they are the intricacies of passing legislation, or of performing a heart bypass, or of operating a particle accelerator -- conventionally switches between two modes of information in dialogue: texture and substance. Texture is all the arcane verbiage provided to convince the viewer that they're watching Actual Doctors at Work; substance is the material planted amid the background texture that the viewer needs make sense of the plot.

Conventionally, narratives demarcate the line between texture and substance by inserting cues that flag or translate the important data. There's an unintentionally comical moment in the 2004 blockbuster ''The Day After Tomorrow'' in which the beleaguered climatologist (played by Dennis Quaid) announces his theory about the imminent arrival of a new ice age to a gathering of government officials. In his speech, he warns that ''we have hit a critical desalinization point!'' At this moment, the writer-director Roland Emmerich -- a master of brazen arrow-flashing -- has an official follow with the obliging remark: ''It would explain what's driving this extreme weather.'' They might as well have had a flashing ''Unlocked!'' arrow on the screen.

The dialogue on shows like ''The West Wing'' and ''E.R.,'' on the other hand, doesn't talk down to its audiences. It rushes by, the words accelerating in sync with the high-speed tracking shots that glide through the corridors and operating rooms. The characters talk faster in these shows, but the truly remarkable thing about the dialogue is not purely a matter of speed; it's the willingness to immerse the audience in information that most viewers won't understand. Here's a typical scene from ''E.R.'':



[WEAVER AND WRIGHT push a gurney containing a 16-year-old girl. Her parents, JANNA AND FRANK MIKAMI, follow close behind. CARTER AND LUCY fall in.]
WEAVER: 16-year-old, unconscious, history of biliary atresia.
CARTER: Hepatic coma?
WEAVER: Looks like it.
MR. MIKAMI: She was doing fine until six months ago.
CARTER: What medication is she on?
MRS. MIKAMI: Ampicillin, tobramycin, vitamins a, d and k.
LUCY: Skin's jaundiced.
WEAVER: Same with the sclera. Breath smells sweet.
CARTER: Fetor hepaticus?
WEAVER: Yep.
LUCY: What's that?
WEAVER: Her liver's shut down. Let's dip a urine. [To CARTER] Guys, it's getting a little crowded in here, why don't you deal with the parents? Start lactulose, 30 cc's per NG.
CARTER: We're giving medicine to clean her blood.
WEAVER: Blood in the urine, two-plus.
CARTER: The liver failure is causing her blood not to clot.
MRS. MIKAMI: Oh, God. . . .
CARTER: Is she on the transplant list?
MR. MIKAMI: She's been Status 2a for six months, but they haven't been able to find her a match.
CARTER: Why? What's her blood type?
MR. MIKAMI: AB.
[This hits CARTER like a lightning bolt. LUCY gets it, too. They share a look.]

There are flashing arrows here, of course -- ''The liver failure is causing her blood not to clot'' -- but the ratio of medical jargon to layperson translation is remarkably high. From a purely narrative point of view, the decisive line arrives at the very end: ''AB.'' The 16-year-old's blood type connects her to an earlier plot line, involving a cerebral-hemorrhage victim who -- after being dramatically revived in one of the opening scenes -- ends up brain-dead. Far earlier, before the liver-failure scene above, Carter briefly discusses harvesting the hemorrhage victim's organs for transplants, and another doctor makes a passing reference to his blood type being the rare AB (thus making him an unlikely donor). The twist here revolves around a statistically unlikely event happening at the E.R. -- an otherwise perfect liver donor showing up just in time to donate his liver to a recipient with the same rare blood type. But the show reveals this twist with remarkable subtlety. To make sense of that last ''AB'' line -- and the look of disbelief on Carter's and Lucy's faces -- you have to recall a passing remark uttered earlier regarding a character who belongs to a completely different thread. Shows like ''E.R.'' may have more blood and guts than popular TV had a generation ago, but when it comes to storytelling, they possess a quality that can only be described as subtlety and discretion.

Even Bad TV Is Better

Skeptics might argue that I have stacked the deck here by focusing on relatively highbrow titles like ''The Sopranos'' or ''The West Wing,'' when in fact the most significant change in the last five years of narrative entertainment involves reality TV. Does the contemporary pop cultural landscape look quite as promising if the representative show is ''Joe Millionaire'' instead of ''The West Wing''?

I think it does, but to answer that question properly, you have to avoid the tendency to sentimentalize the past. When people talk about the golden age of television in the early 70's -- invoking shows like ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show'' and ''All in the Family'' -- they forget to mention how awful most television programming was during much of that decade. If you're going to look at pop-culture trends, you have to compare apples to apples, or in this case, lemons to lemons. The relevant comparison is not between ''Joe Millionaire'' and ''MASH''; it's between ''Joe Millionaire'' and ''The Newlywed Game,'' or between ''Survivor'' and ''The Love Boat.''

What you see when you make these head-to-head comparisons is that a rising tide of complexity has been lifting programming at the bottom of the quality spectrum and at the top. ''The Sopranos'' is several times more demanding of its audiences than ''Hill Street'' was, and ''Joe Millionaire'' has made comparable advances over ''Battle of the Network Stars.'' This is the ultimate test of the Sleeper Curve theory: even the junk has improved.

If early television took its cues from the stage, today's reality programming is reliably structured like a video game: a series of competitive tests, growing more challenging over time. Many reality shows borrow a subtler device from gaming culture as well: the rules aren't fully established at the outset. You learn as you play.

On a show like ''Survivor'' or ''The Apprentice,'' the participants -- and the audience -- know the general objective of the series, but each episode involves new challenges that haven't been ordained in advance. The final round of the first season of ''The Apprentice,'' for instance, threw a monkey wrench into the strategy that governed the play up to that point, when Trump announced that the two remaining apprentices would have to assemble and manage a team of subordinates who had already been fired in earlier episodes of the show. All of a sudden the overarching objective of the game -- do anything to avoid being fired -- presented a potential conflict to the remaining two contenders: the structure of the final round favored the survivor who had maintained the best relationships with his comrades. Suddenly, it wasn't enough just to have clawed your way to the top; you had to have made friends while clawing. The original ''Joe Millionaire'' went so far as to undermine the most fundamental convention of all -- that the show's creators don't openly lie to the contestants about the prizes -- by inducing a construction worker to pose as man of means while 20 women competed for his attention.

Reality programming borrowed another key ingredient from games: the intellectual labor of probing the system's rules for weak spots and opportunities. As each show discloses its conventions, and each participant reveals his or her personality traits and background, the intrigue in watching comes from figuring out how the participants should best navigate the environment that has been created for them. The pleasure in these shows comes not from watching other people being humiliated on national television; it comes from depositing other people in a complex, high-pressure environment where no established strategies exist and watching them find their bearings. That's why the water-cooler conversation about these shows invariably tracks in on the strategy displayed on the previous night's episode: why did Kwame pick Omarosa in that final round? What devious strategy is Richard Hatch concocting now?

When we watch these shows, the part of our brain that monitors the emotional lives of the people around us -- the part that tracks subtle shifts in intonation and gesture and facial expression -- scrutinizes the action on the screen, looking for clues. We trust certain characters implicitly and vote others off the island in a heartbeat. Traditional narrative shows also trigger emotional connections to the characters, but those connections don't have the same participatory effect, because traditional narratives aren't explicitly about strategy. The phrase ''Monday-morning quarterbacking'' describes the engaged feeling that spectators have in relation to games as opposed to stories. We absorb stories, but we second-guess games. Reality programming has brought that second-guessing to prime time, only the game in question revolves around social dexterity rather than the physical kind.

The Rewards of Smart Culture

The quickest way to appreciate the Sleeper Curve's cognitive training is to sit down and watch a few hours of hit programming from the late 70's on Nick at Nite or the SOAPnet channel or on DVD. The modern viewer who watches a show like ''Dallas'' today will be bored by the content -- not just because the show is less salacious than today's soap operas (which it is by a small margin) but also because the show contains far less information in each scene, despite the fact that its soap-opera structure made it one of the most complicated narratives on television in its prime. With ''Dallas,'' the modern viewer doesn't have to think to make sense of what's going on, and not having to think is boring. Many recent hit shows -- ''24,'' ''Survivor,'' ''The Sopranos,'' ''Alias,'' ''Lost,'' ''The Simpsons,'' ''E.R.'' -- take the opposite approach, layering each scene with a thick network of affiliations. You have to focus to follow the plot, and in focusing you're exercising the parts of your brain that map social networks, that fill in missing information, that connect multiple narrative threads.

Of course, the entertainment industry isn't increasing the cognitive complexity of its products for charitable reasons. The Sleeper Curve exists because there's money to be made by making culture smarter. The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing. Meanwhile, the Web has created a forum for annotation and commentary that allows more complicated shows to prosper, thanks to the fan sites where each episode of shows like ''Lost'' or ''Alias'' is dissected with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars. Finally, interactive games have trained a new generation of media consumers to probe complex environments and to think on their feet, and that gamer audience has now come to expect the same challenges from their television shows. In the end, the Sleeper Curve tells us something about the human mind. It may be drawn toward the sensational where content is concerned -- sex does sell, after all. But the mind also likes to be challenged; there's real pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns or unpacking a complex narrative system.

In pointing out some of the ways that popular culture has improved our minds, I am not arguing that parents should stop paying attention to the way their children amuse themselves. What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk food and what is genuinely nourishing. Instead of a show's violent or tawdry content, instead of wardrobe malfunctions or the F-word, the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind. Is it a single thread strung together with predictable punch lines every 30 seconds? Or does it map a complex social network? Is your on-screen character running around shooting everything in sight, or is she trying to solve problems and manage resources? If your kids want to watch reality TV, encourage them to watch ''Survivor'' over ''Fear Factor.'' If they want to watch a mystery show, encourage ''24'' over ''Law and Order.'' If they want to play a violent game, encourage Grand Theft Auto over Quake. Indeed, it might be just as helpful to have a rating system that used mental labor and not obscenity and violence as its classification scheme for the world of mass culture.

Kids and grown-ups each can learn from their increasingly shared obsessions. Too often we imagine the blurring of kid and grown-up cultures as a series of violations: the 9-year-olds who have to have nipple broaches explained to them thanks to Janet Jackson; the middle-aged guy who can't wait to get home to his Xbox. But this demographic blur has a commendable side that we don't acknowledge enough. The kids are forced to think like grown-ups: analyzing complex social networks, managing resources, tracking subtle narrative intertwinings, recognizing long-term patterns. The grown-ups, in turn, get to learn from the kids: decoding each new technological wave, parsing the interfaces and discovering the intellectual rewards of play. Parents should see this as an opportunity, not a crisis. Smart culture is no longer something you force your kids to ingest, like green vegetables. It's something you share.




Steven Johnson is the author, most recently, of ''Mind Wide Open.'' His book ''Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,'' from which this article is adapted, will be published next month.
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Old 05-05-2005, 12:09 PM   #514 (permalink)
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I read this awhile ago and am only posting it now. I do wonder at what point folks will decide that we are headed ineluctably toward a situation in which the title of this thread is the only way to describe the content of our experience.

It's just a short stretch from the implications of this story:

.................

Brain chip reads man's thoughts

The 'chip' reads brain signals
A paralysed man in the US has become the first person to benefit from a brain chip that reads his mind.
Matthew Nagle, 25, was left paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair after a knife attack in 2001.

The pioneering surgery at New England Sinai Hospital, Massachusetts, last summer means he can now control everyday objects by thought alone.

The brain chip reads his mind and sends the thoughts to a computer to decipher.

Mind over matter

He can think his TV on and off, change channels and alter the volume thanks to the technology and software linked to devices in his home.

Scientists have been working for some time to devise a way to enable paralysed people to control devices with the brain.

Studies have shown that monkeys can control a computer with electrodes implanted into their brain.

It's quite remarkable

Dr Richard Apps, neurophysiologist from Bristol University

Recently four people, two of them partly paralysed wheelchair users, were able to move a computer cursor while wearing a cap with 64 electrodes that pick up brain waves.

Mr Nagle's device, called BrainGate, consists of nearly 100 hair-thin electrodes implanted a millimetre deep into part of the motor cortex of his brain that controls movement.

Wires feed the information from the electrodes into a computer which analyses the brain signals.

The signals are interpreted and translated into cursor movements, offering the user an alternative way to control devices such as a computer with thought.

Motor control

Professor John Donoghue, an expert on neuroscience at Brown University, Rhode Island, is the scientist behind the device produced by Cyberkinetics.

He said: "The computer screen is basically a TV remote control panel, and in order to indicate a selection he merely has to pass the cursor over an icon, and that's equivalent to a click when he goes over that icon."

Mr Nagle has also been able to use thought to move a prosthetic hand and robotic arm to grab sweets from one person's hand and place them into another.

Professor Donoghue hopes that ultimately implants such as this will allow people with paralysis to regain the use of their limbs.

The long term aim is to design a package the size of a mobile phone that will run on batteries, and to electrically stimulate the patient's own muscles.

This will be difficult.

The simple movements we take for granted in fact involve complex electrical signals which will be hard to replicate, Dr Richard Apps, a neurophysiologist from Bristol University, the UK, told the BBC News website.

He said there were millions of neurones in the brain involved with movement. The brain chip taps into only a very small number of these.

But he said the work was extremely exciting.

"It's quite remarkable. They have taken research to the next stage to have a clear benefit for a patient that otherwise would not be able to move.

"It seems that they have cracked the crucial step and arguably the most challenging step to get hand movements.

"Just to be able to grasp an object is a major step forward."

He said it might be possible to hone this further to achieve finer movements of the hand.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4396387.stm
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Old 05-08-2005, 04:32 PM   #515 (permalink)
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I can see that there are good intentions of those developing this technology but I wonder where else this could go...

My first impressions, as if we are not already saturated by the matrix, now we can 'plug into it'...

Although helping these individuals regain some control over the aspects of daily life in simple tasks, will we come to rely on this sort of technology to resolve moods or get quick fixes? Interesting.
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Old 05-11-2005, 11:28 AM   #516 (permalink)
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Yes - it all seems quite inevitable to me.
As you know, I think it has always been thus.

There is still a great deal of attachment to the quaint notion of our individual liberty. I'm sure the all the "noble" struggles to oppose the psycho-cultural imperative will continue. It feels so empowering to think of oneself as a champion, after all.
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Old 05-17-2005, 01:26 PM   #517 (permalink)
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Quote:
http://www.calendarlive.com/cl-et-go...,3132771.story

May 17, 2005 Los Angeles Times THE BIG PICTURE

The doctor of audience-ology
Kevin Goetz, head of screenings and qualitative research at OTX, is the Dr.
Phil of Hollywood focus groups.

By Patrick Goldstein
Times Staff Writer

When New Line Cinema had its first research screening of "Monster-in-Law"
last fall in Westlake Village, the air was thick with the jittery anticipation that accompanies the unveiling of a key summer film before a real audience. The romantic comedy, which opened at No. 1 with $23.1 million at the box office this weekend despite pans from many critics, was something of a gamble. The film, about a young woman whose romance is nearly wrecked by her boyfriend's shrewish mother, teamed Jennifer Lopez, still on the rebound from "Gigli," with Jane Fonda, who hadn't made a movie in 15 years.

Having seen a rough cut of the film in the editing room, New Line production chief Toby Emmerich was especially nervous. "I knew there were things that still didn't work, but I'd be lying if I said that I knew how to fix them."

Enter Kevin Goetz, the Dr. Phil of Hollywood focus groups. Unknown to the outside world, Goetz is a familiar figure in the veiled world of movie business market research. The 42-year-old head of screenings and qualitative research at a company called OTX is one of a handful of experts who provide studios with market research about trailers and TV spots as well as tracking information about audience interest in upcoming films. After 16 years at NRG, the industry's best-known research company, Goetz joined OTX in 2003, where he and the company's chief executive, Shelley Zalis, have played a pivotal role in making the company a formidable NRG rival.

He doesn't look the part. Research geeks are supposed to be frumpy and dour from too many hours in front of the computer. Goetz is always in high gear, radiating the amped-up enthusiasm of an actor auditioning for a road company production of "Rent." After "Monster-in-Law" was over, Goetz oversaw a focus group of 20 carefully selected moviegoers who spent roughly half an hour critiquing the movie.

Under Goetz's careful questioning, it soon became apparent that a big chunk of the group found Fonda's character unlikable, and nearly everybody had problems with the ending of the movie. "I never tell studios how to fix the film - I simply interpret what the audience is saying," Goetz explained later. "The movie played well, but it was obvious that the energy started to dissipate at the end. With a comedy, you really need to end in a big way, almost with a punctuation mark."

Persuaded that the film needed work, New Line spent a hefty $5 million doing 10 days of reshoots this January. To make Fonda's character more sympathetic, she is now seen being fired from her job as a Diane Sawyer-ish celebrity TV interviewer; in the original version, she quit in disgust. In the original film, she attempts to poison Lopez, who is allergic to nuts, by putting almond paste in the gravy at dinner. The new footage has the gravy being spiked by accident.

The film's new ending has more emotion and more laughs, with Fonda being humbled by the arrival of her own imperious mother-in-law, a new comic character played by stage veteran Elaine Stritch. Instead of tearing each other's dresses up, Fonda and Lopez share a teary female-bonding scene. When the studio tested the new version this February, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The ending got an enthusiastic response.

"Kevin's role in helping us find a better ending was invaluable," says Emmerich. "It really makes a difference when you actually hear people say 'I got bored at the end' or 'It didn't feel emotional enough.' "

Even though studios still rely on raw numbers for many of their decisions, there is nothing like the visceral reaction of a focus group - the ultimate jury of a movie's peers - to shape studio thinking about a movie's commercial potential. "The Amityville Horror," released last month, reshot its ending after a focus group voiced dismay that there was no big scare at the film's end. In "American Pie 2," the focus group so vehemently disliked a new character, played by Chris Penn, that the studio essentially cut him out of the movie.

After seeing "Bad Boys 2," an action film that ran a bloated 146 minutes, I asked producer Jerry Bruckheimer why he couldn't get director Michael Bay to cut the film. He said that when the focus group was asked if they felt the movie was too long, too short or just right, they said just right. End of discussion.

In recent years, focus groups have gotten a bad rap. Partly that's because they are often filled with Harry Knowles-style knuckleheads, eager to compare every movie to their favorite Tarantino film. (When I observed an OTX focus group recently, I agreed not to critique the film, yet Knowles' Aintitcoolnews.com posted a review of the screening five hours after it was over, clearly written by someone who had been in the focus group.) But the process has also been undermined by studios who suggest leading questions - "Don't you think the hero could be more likable?" - to pressure filmmakers into buffing away any rough edges in their films. Tom Cruise once introduced a research screening of "Mission Impossible" himself, making it a lot less likely that anyone in the focus group would say, "Geez, Tom Cruise's quips felt a little ... lame."

Goetz insists he is not easily manipulated - or intimidated. Knowing indie filmmakers are especially suspicious of research, he went to Sundance this year to demystify the process for young filmmakers. He and Zalis have been in Cannes this week schmoozing with filmmakers and overseas clients; one of OTX's strengths, along with its Internet research, is its overseas box-office tracking.

The courtship process has paid off. "The talent asks for Kevin by name, which is a real tribute to him," says DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press. "For filmmakers, the first preview can be a terrifying experience, so having someone like Kevin, who delivers bad news authoritatively but with compassion, can make a filmmaker feel there's hope instead of being plunged into despair."

Goetz's affinity with talent comes naturally. The Brooklyn native was a child actor, appearing in innumerable commercials and stage plays before getting an acting degree from Rutgers. "I was the Domino's pizza boy for two years," he says with genuine pride. He also did off-Broadway theater before moving to Los Angeles in 1986. While he was at NRG, he ran a theater repertory company in San Luis Obispo and produced a number of TV movies.

Even when overseeing a focus group, he remains a performer. Normally journalists are verboten at these events, but New Line let me see Goetz in action at a recent research screening for "Domino," a Tony Scott action thriller that stars Keira Knightley as a Beverly Hills brat turned bounty hunter. After the film was over, Goetz steered a group of 22 young viewers to the front of the theater, where their every breath was closely observed by Scott, the film's producers and the New Line brass. It felt both uplifting and vaguely unsettling to see everyone so apprehensive about the opinions of moviegoers who, by themselves, are at the mercy of every cynical sales tool the industry has to offer but as a group wield considerable power.

Goetz wore a suit with an open shirt and untinted glasses, explaining, "They need to see my eyes so they know I'm sincere and trustworthy. I want them to feel that I'm their best friend." A focus group is supposed to be qualitative research, telling the studio not just what the audience liked or didn't like but why they felt that way. But watching Goetz probe and parry, I felt as if I was watching a therapy session, plumbing the subconscious mind of 22 moviegoers. Goetz's first words to the group - "give me a word that best describes your experience" - seemed less of a question than a hypnotic command.

To all appearances, the calmest person there was Scott. Having made commercials for years, he knows the value of satisfying an audience. But as a final-cut director, he has the freedom to trust his instincts.

Personally, I'm a skeptic about the industry's over-reliance on research - you wouldn't want a focus group dissecting an Almodóvar film. But watching one assess a mainstream movie was an intriguing experience, if only to see how savvy audiences are about modern-day cinematic storytelling. Confronted with a visually striking film - and "Domino" is nothing if not striking - they were eager to embrace its originality.

Goetz was careful not to let any one member overly sway the group, quickly interrupting any long digressions. "If I only get one or two complaints, that I can discard," he says. "But if I get seven or eight people who agree on a problem, then we've got an issue, because you can be pretty sure the entire audience feels that way." Goetz consciously picked focus group members who didn't love or hate the film, but had mixed feelings. "You want people who hesitate, who have something keeping them from rating the film as excellent. That gives us something to solve."

Afterward, Goetz huddled with Scott, offering a brisk instant analysis. It's not surprising that filmmakers would look to Goetz as the therapist with a soothing explanation for their darkest fears. "What I do is diagnostic," Goetz says. "I'm the doctor saying to the patient, 'Here's what you have, and here's what you can do about it.' I think filmmakers appreciate it that I'm an artist first, a business person second. I understand the angst they go through."

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
it's really interesting to see just how much is at stake...
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Old 05-17-2005, 03:46 PM   #518 (permalink)
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The question of course is how EFFECTIVE the manipulation is.

They might fill an add with all the sexual innuendo in the world, but I'm not a big believer in the subconcious. If you don't see it, you don't see it, and the effect is lost. This is a long thread and perhaps I missed some proof of these adds being effective, but there are limits.

If the media were 'in control' fully, Bush would not be president. Obviously most people can still make up their own minds despite spin and manipulation.
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Old 05-17-2005, 06:06 PM   #519 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cynthetiq
it's really interesting to see just how much is at stake...
I think this is really interesting..

I enjoy seeing a movie that challenges me, whether it's the story line, the direction, the ending.. if it's something that's not familiar, it usually scores higher in my books.

If movie producers rely to heavily on a 'focus group', I wonder how much creativity will be stifled.. what if that focus group only has a limited perception of what they wish to see in a movie? Are these focus groups, consisting of only a few people, merely perpetuating something that has been introduced and has been successful in the past?

Goetz's careful direction of these groups also imply that the focus group can be manipulated.. who is actually the director/creator of a movie?
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Old 05-17-2005, 07:18 PM   #520 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seeker
I think this is really interesting..

I enjoy seeing a movie that challenges me, whether it's the story line, the direction, the ending.. if it's something that's not familiar, it usually scores higher in my books.

If movie producers rely to heavily on a 'focus group', I wonder how much creativity will be stifled.. what if that focus group only has a limited perception of what they wish to see in a movie? Are these focus groups, consisting of only a few people, merely perpetuating something that has been introduced and has been successful in the past?

Goetz's careful direction of these groups also imply that the focus group can be manipulated.. who is actually the director/creator of a movie?
good critical thinking.

I've been part of these growing up and still attend some of them here in NYC.

They fill a theater with a diverse group of people, they try to get age/sex during a prescreen when distributing tickets. During the movie, someone is walking about watching the reactions of people, taking notes, sometimes after the show, they have a questionaire, some multiple choice, some open write in. Sometimes they have full cuts of the movies sometimes with special effects (Flight of the Intruder had some blank screens with (Insert Special Effect Here - and a description of the effect), sometimes different cuts for different groups. When I saw The Marrying Man, it was something like 3 hours long and some of the funniest parts of the movie didn't make the released version.

Sometimes they hold back a hand picked group to ask even more questions.
.
But sometimes, the screener is just for creating "word of mouth buzz"...
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