Archive | February, 2012

Checkers Complaint

27 Feb

This is a complaint letter I’ve written to Checkers Hyper in Tokai. I’m hosting it here because the character limit on Hello Peter does not allow me enough room to fully express myself. That short complaint links here. So this is really for the Checkers person, but feel free to use this complaint letter as a template for your own troubles with stick blenders and automaton management styles…

To Whom It May Concern,

I recently purchased a ‘Platinum Design’ stick blender set for my wife’s birthday. I used it once to make a milkshake (noting that milk gets in behind the blade-plate and can’t easily come out), and my wife used it once to try and chop some milk chocolate. It broke instantly, because the drive-shaft exerts all its power on a little plastic rotor less than 1mm thick. All this is to say it’s a stupid product designed only to look like one that functions, and cheap or not, you shouldn’t be selling it. Some things are cheap and good, and some things are cheap and nasty. This item is barely good enough to qualify in the ‘nasty’ category, and its awfulness reflected badly on my present-buying skills and more generally on me as a husband.

This is not yet my complaint with you.

Feeling like a chump, I set out with the kids to return the item and hopefully to replace it with one that is designed with function in mind. Due to traffic and no parking, I arrived as an unhappy customer in a bad mood. Your staff, fortunately for them, offered no objection to me returning the item, but I then suggested a solution to the problem that would have been of mutual benefit: because I bought the item on special, and because I was now going to have to replace my wife’s present at a significant cost increase, and because I had to travel all the way back to you on a Saturday to point out what garbage you sold me, I asked whether your returns manager person would be able to offer me a better price on the upgrade item (which is a lot more than I was hoping to spend). I didn’t ask for something free; I didn’t even ask for something at cost price. All I asked is that I be allowed to spend more money at your unhappy-making store in a way that is mutually beneficial to us both.

In response, she kindly said, ‘Sorry, we don’t do that sort of thing’. So, instead of ‘thinking’ or ‘managing’, she pleaded policy. The-computer-made-me-do-it arguments make me extremely angry, which is why I am writing to you, because having a human brain is supposed to equip us to act with reason and empathy, and brains are supposed to override policies when it is clear that it is in everyone’s interest to do so. I was asking to be made into a happy customer (having already been made into a chump by your low-fi product), and I was asking to spend money in your store. Instead, I got invited to take my money and go. Where do you think I bought the somewhat-too-expensive but much-loved Kenwood upgrade that we now have? Hint: it was not at Checkers Hyper.

And why, I ask you, why annoy me? Why have a manager at all when a policy book will do? Sometimes a refund is not good enough. Sometimes it’s your wife’s birthday present and it worked for 20 full seconds before breaking. Sometimes it’s Saturday and you had to haul two small kids through traffic to return the shameful item. Sometimes you just want someone to do you the credit of listening to how they can help before telling you ‘no’.

Yours Sincerely,

Jordan Pickering

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Steaming Pile of Ads that drive me Nuts

24 Feb

I won’t lie, most ads on TV push up my urge-to-kill-o-meter, so much so that my wife makes us enter the cinema at the last possible moment because I can’t suppress embarrassing outbursts of contempt at the screen when the ads come on. I think I was emotionally damaged like this before I began working in the ad industry, but it didn’t help to see it up close.

There are a whole raft of ads or types-of-ads that get up my nose at the moment, and they’re probably all a bit old because  of how little I can stand to watch TV (we pay our TV licence and yet still rent almost all of the series’ that we watch). Once the newer ones have had a chance to steal a piece of my soul, I might make a new list.

#5 – Unscripted ‘Consumer Advice’ Ads

brandpower_zootSome unholy organisation called the Buchanan Group is responsible for bringing advertorials to our TVs. Companies that can’t afford to pay for real ads that employ actual creativity (such as it is), have some pseudo-celebrity interview an ‘actual’ consumer who provides ‘unscripted’ consumer ‘advice’. We are supposed to believe that someone has been so moved by their recent purchase of coffee creamer that they need to appear before the press to help us experience the overwhelming joy that they experienced.

I have no trouble believing that the ad is unscripted, because that just means that they didn’t bother to pay an expert to write it. Of course the ad is undoubtedly prompted. Behind the scenes, someone says, ‘You have a certificate of completion from VD Drama School; I want you to pretend that you liked this product more than your many illegitimate children. I will give you money if the camera doesn’t detect the shame you feel right now.’

As for ‘facts and value’, you can bet that the only facts expressed are carefully controlled by the people paying for the ad, which makes it different from regular ads only in that it contains less entertainment value.

For once I want to see consumer advice ads where someone says, ‘This product is total garbage. You should rather buy some other thing.’

Look into my eyes. You can trust me... Trussssst.... meeee.....

#4 – Nescafe Find your Inspiration

Be possessed by the lamest poltergeist in the universe

Nestle wisely has neglected to leave any trace on the internet of its ‘Find your Inspiration’ ads, because they truly are horrible. The one that comes to mind involves a jazz pianist who has composed a love song for his coffee. He effectively sits there pianoing and whispering sweet nothings into the non-ear of a glass jar of instant.

I can’t quite tell if the actor is supposed to be acknowledging the stupidity of it all — because it certainly is hard to believe that this concept was approached as unironically as it comes across — but he seems to be suppressing a 25-second cringe beneath his cool jazz exterior. It is certainly as hard to watch as it is to believe.

I don't care how tired you are, singing to your coffee does not count as inspiration

#3 – Solving Non-existent Problems (Standard Bank)

Ever since they promised that they couldn’t speak to me due to ‘high call volumes’ (is that too many customers, or customers complaining too loudly?), and then didn’t call me back, I’ve kind of had it in for Standard Bank. I closed my account with them in protest (I think they got the message).

But now there’s this. It’s one of those ads in which there’s a problem, someone solves that problem in a cute and creative way, and then because of their association with Company X, somehow it’s supposed to reflect well upon the organisation as a whole.

In this version, we see a businessy type getting ready for work. Nothing strange going on here, but… no wait! What’s she doing??!! Instead of businessy type shoes, she’s putting on trainers!! Aah! She’s breaking the mould so hard, I might have to experiment with drugs before the ad ends, just to keep up!

Why would kids think it's crazy? Have you seen how kids dress?

Why is she doing something so daring (and, if you’ll forgive the rhyme, why are all people everywhere staring)? Well, the ad would have us believe that the reason for slow service is impractical footwear. It’s not the queues, lack of staff, or ENIAC computers that they use. It’s the time it takes them to cross the floor to the printer. Yeeeaas…. riiight.

Please bear in mind that this genre of ad trades on the viewer being impressed with the people in the ad, and by association their company. And that is their analysis of the problem. I’d encourage you to let that sink in for a while.

This is why I wish I could do internet transfers to under my mattress.

#2 – Male Entitlement Ads

Advertisers have been doing serious research (i.e. watching sitcoms) and they’ve noticed that the evils of feminism have made men feel stupid and useless. What better way to confirm that fact than to imagine an ‘attaboy chaps!’ ad will successfully salve the male soul enough to sell chicken and beer?

KFC, consistently with one of the worst advertising portfolios on SA TV, has done just that. With men feeling so marginalised lately, what would make them feel better than the idea we can get by just as well with our feet, because our hands and faces ought to be occupied with deep-fried poultry?

You're up against it, Man! Show em who's boss by eating yourself into a grease coma and succumbing to heart disease in your mid-thirties!

KFC at least score a consolation goal by aiming at humour. Carling Black Label gets serious, paying Ruud Gullit for his dignity, and getting him to read a script about champions. To reassert male entitlement and massage the shrivelled male ego, they lay it on in thick about how ‘champion men deserve champion beer’. Realising perhaps that most men don’t feel much like champions because they really aren’t, they set the bar pretty low. Tiny trophies for inner-office ping-pong games is champion enough for this beer. Although even the loser can have one, I’m sure.

You're a champion. Even if you haven't done anything that matters at all. Even if you lost at that meaningless thing. You still deserve our beer. It's that good.

Wait, am I supposed to feel better about being a man or worse?

#1 – Celebrity Endorsement Ads (Mostly Just Radox)

It's tough because of the X.

I never liked Bobby Skinstad. They put him in the rugby team instead of someone humble and far more able, and he played glory boy for 15 minutes before excusing himself to go to modelling shoots. He helped ruin rugby for me.

How pleased I am that he appears in one of the most humiliating ads I have ever seen.

Firstly, it’s a man-affirming product (see above).

Secondly, it’s a product made for women that they’re seeing if they can convince men to buy. To this end, instead of calling it ‘Very expensive soap that does nothing other than the soap you now use except cost more and run out incredibly quickly’, they’ve gone for the very masculine, ‘Radox Man X’. (Why is the letter X so manly exactly?). Rule of thumb: if a product has to tell you on the label, ‘No seriously, you’ll still totally be tough if you buy this’, the opposite is true.

'Experience extreme exhilaration' in the shower? Does it contain rhino horn or something?

Thirdly, according to the ad storyline, after ‘working out with his bros’ he takes an impassioned sniff of the stuff in the store, imagines himself rock-climbing with his muscles, and then after waking up from his hallucination, has some sort of incontinence accident that makes him all wet in the store (did I mention that?).

Then, still dripping from whatever excretions it provoked, he tells his friend, ‘Rob, you’ve got to try this!’

You really shouldn’t be getting a bigger reaction from sniffing your soap than your prescription nasal spray.

Lie To Me, Honestly?

16 Feb

lie to meWe’ve been watching Lie To Me lately — which I understand is already cancelled, and so my comments here are not exactly topical (I have kids, give me a break) — and in the absence of any more seasons of House to watch, I’d have to say that this is a decent low-Cal version of that.

A show that revolves around catching people out at lying was probably always doomed to have a short shelf-life, because you can only say, ‘Ah, you twitched just there,’ so many times before the audience feels perpetual deja vu. It also tends to patently explain itself to the viewer far too much, and it does have sequences given over entirely to Tim Roth’s exaggerated swagger.

These crimes are fairly widespread in the TV world and I can usually overlook them. But I suspect one of the reasons it got cancelled is also why it features on this site. That is, Season 2 is a terrible liar.

Season 2 seems to think we’re about to accuse it of being boring, and deep down it agrees with this judgement that we’ve not yet made. Flashes of shame in the corners of its eyes give it away. Instead of owning up, the entire season is an exercise in distraction tactics. Each episode therefore tries ludicrously to be The Most Exciting Thing On Television. (Some spoilers to follow) it has so far featured:

  • Multiple Personality Disorder
  • A murder accused taking the office hostage (in which Cal almost gets killed)
  • Cal getting kidnapped by a mobster (in which Cal very nearly gets killed)
  • Cal joins a mission into Afghanistan against the Taliban (in which he comes startlingly close to getting killed)
  • A man trying to blow up the CBD with a tractor full of dynamite (in which Cal might have been killed)
  • A UFO sighting and a psycho serial killer (by whom Cal is partly killed)
  • A car bomb, an apartment bomb, and a confrontation with a UK terrorist bent on revenge against Cal (in which Loker, Foster, and Cal all flirt with being killed)
  • A high-profile court case after the murder of a billionaire (in which Cal inexplicably becomes a cocky, clowny, annoying witness for both sides,  landing in jail for contempt, but still being allowed back into court; he doesn’t nearly get killed, but you wish someone would)
  • Another serial killer, complete with summer camp genesis (in which Cal ducks just in time to avoid being killed)
  • Volatile drug gang leader tries to avenge his dad’s death (in which no-one knows how Cal avoids being killed)

In short, the storylines are just a little over the top. I haven’t seen the last disc of the season or Season 3, but I can only assume that Cal continues to rack up more danger pay than Jack Bauer, an impressive feat for a scientist. I know he’s contracted to the FBI, but about half of those plot threads aren’t even related to FBI cases.

What’s wrong with that?

I’m all for unhealthy levels of excitement, but the assumption seems to be that more explosions and more shouting pistol stand-offs and the occasional suggestion of lesbian experimentation will keep us from noticing that they really have little idea what makes characters interesting. Revealing a bit of back-story is not the same as depth. Insisting on your leading man’s infallibility might preserve his ‘coolness’ but at the expense of his development. Tim Roth does admirably well at being both loveable scamp and sneering smart-alec, but he and his fellow cast-members chase the action and go nowhere.

It’s still a good show, but it promised to be so much better. In their efforts to get Cal Lightman to star in every blockbuster ever, the makers of the show have sacrificed their characters, ironically making them more boring. I can only assume that Season 3 isn’t an improvement, seeing as there isn’t going to be a number 4.

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Edit: started the last disc last night, and the characterisation was actually quite good… Also, Cal didn’t come all that close to dying. On the other hand, another cast member got shot three times in the chest.

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Stupid-scene highlight

Special mention must also go to an episode about Iraq-war-based post-traumatical stress disorder, in which Foster, the psychologist, is revealed to have invented a functioning virtual reality device for use in therapy. In her spare time. And just for the purposes of this episode. To help this soldier remember, the VR machine replicates the relevant location in Iraq, generates battle-ready enemies, weapons, and vehicles in real time as the soldier barks out his recollections of the battle. Five keys get tickled, and there’s a virtual-reality Warthog plane flying a realistic route overhead, providing cover. Another button, and insurgents appear just in time to rocket-launcher a Hum-Vee.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when you have to imagine the writers saying to you, “OK, for this next scene, pretend you’re a complete idiot and that you believe computers are magic!” It kind of ruins the experience.

Th Abbrvtn Mst Stp Pt II

10 Feb

A colleague emailing about assignments seems to have valued brevity over dignity, once more choosing ‘ass’ as the abbreviation of choice, with surprisingly un-self-aware results. My favourite paragraph:

Ethics 3 essay (major ass) is due when presented in term 2.  If not presenting, essay is due 16 May but that is close to Ben’s big ass.