Wednesday, July 30, 2008

MADitorial: Banking On Bad Headline Writing Skills & Helping Thieves

English is my third language, but even now I recall teachers at St. Paul's High School in Karachi, Pakistan, teaching us to be careful in stringing words together. One of my favorite songs, Stairway To Heaven says something about how "sometimes words have two meanings". But, sentence structure can have even more impact.

But, all too often, we see news stories, especially headlines, that can mean the opposite of what the writer intended. And, most often, they are not deliberate puns. I am sure I am guilty of such errors too.

Today's daily email from the Palm Beach Post in my Inbox is amusing.

It states:



Armored-car worker shot at bank near West Palm

Attempted robbery happened this morning Wachovia Bank on Okeechobee Boulevard.

View map of bank | More crime news



First of all, the way it is written, the text suggests that the armored car worker, an armed guard usually, is the one who shot at the bank building or something related to the bank.

Secondly, the sub-heading does not continue logically from the headline itself. For example, it could have conveyed the same information, but tied to the headline by saying something like this, "Shot by bandits during morning robbery at Okeechobee Wachovia Bank" - even using terse verbiage for space-saving reasons.

But, what I find amusing about this reporting is how conveniently the "More crime news" link is placed right next to "View map of the bank"... the better to help the next set of bank robbers plan their getaway perhaps!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Three Blind Mice Or One Boring Politician?

A FaceBook friend of mine, Amanda Bateman, posted a comment on her profile page with an interesting premise - that the three leading anchors on regular TV, Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charles Gibson (plus, one assumes, their networks) are biased against poor Senator John McCain.

Her brief posting, cutely titled, "Three Blind Mice", simply stated, "And the biased media continues...should we be surprised? Probably not."

That was followed by the following three URLs.

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/kyle-drennen/2008/07/17/network-anchors-join-obama-world-tour-little-coverage-mccain-travel

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2008/07/if_a_network_anchor_falls_in_t.html

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/entertainment&id=6274320


Not that the media does NOT have a bias. Of course it does. It always appears biased in favor of whoever you oppose! But I was amused to read the first link. So, I posted a follow up note to Ms. Bateman'sc comment.

I acknowledged that she did make a valid point. But I went on to say that it was amusing to read the first link and have a real pro-Republican blogger quote the... (gulp)... New York Times for an objective comment. :-)

I did not check that blog's previous postings to see what they may have to say about some opinions that Fox News Channel simply is a Republican Party propaganda machine.

This is not to defend the anchors Amanda criticized above, or their myopic lemming-like networks. But, let's not forget that, media bias not withstanding, the media reports things based on interestingness from the public's perspective.

So, Britney Spears' sister having a baby gets on the cover of People magazine but not, say, the Sudanese leader possibly being charged with genocide.

Is that particular choice a show of "bias" against black politicians or world leaders? Of course not - though I am sure some will want to think so. No. We have to look at other possible angles also.

Even my Republican friends, and objective conservative media professionals all admit, McCain has just not been a very interesting candidate or politician in a very long while. He is NOT good at thinking on his feet when an unfamiliar question is posed to him.

(See this video online of him totally lost and clueless http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/mccain_respect_contraception/ ).

He seems uncomfortable with his position. All he can do is appear "resolute" in sticking to the failed policy of the war in Iraq.

People immediately "accuse" me that I must be some extreme liberal, or Democrat, if I dare criticize anything about Republicans. But, in fact, I am a thorough independent.

Ironically, I had been a loud supporter of John McCain for President in 2000 and fully believe we would have been far better off as a nation having him, despite his somewhat loose-cannon personality, as President than the joke of the millennium George W. Bush that fate, and the Supreme Court, foisted on us.

(2004's re-election of George Bush is something Republicans and his voters have to take the blame for and know that history will judge their actions as the most destructive single influence starting America's decline in the world at a time it should have been getting far more loved, respected and emulated worldwide).

So, much that I supported McCain over Bush in 2000, and much that I respected him for being a war hero (as opposed to a war Zero like Bush), I cannot bring myself to support him for President of the United States in 2008. He has served his country ably, well, sincerely, and should be commended and respected for that. That alone is not reason to elect him President.

Does that mean, somehow, that Obama is the perfect candidate. Surely not. Obama can make mistakes, Hillary can still cause trouble enough for the Democracks -- sorry - Democrats to lose the election.

That means McCain can obviously not give up. But, just being a candidate does not a campaign make. He needs to smarten up. He has no momentum at present. He has no great ideas. He is sticking to bad ideas on Iraq. He is not exciting to the populace. Even worse, especially from the media perspective, he is just not interesting anymore.

That is what his campaign in disarray has to focus on. Try to make him be more exciting, interesting, and, yes, more creative and original than he is at present. Can it be done?

What do you think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Economy, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan - Bad News All Around

Everywhere, on every news site, it seems there is nothing but conflict and bad news. The good news is... hold on, I am looking. Nope, I did not find any.

Just the top stories in "MyYahoo" is a litany of bad news, followed by worse.

It appears that the economic crisis we are facing today, with bank stocks melting (don't even ask how much I lost on Citibank alone), hundreds of thousands facing foreclosure, credit cards and others squeezing customers, oil trying to hit $200, is not going to get better any time soon.

Item one, at least on my view of "Top News from Reuters", is a report saying the government is mulling taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. What that means is that despite recent claims by their management, and top Bush economic officials, that the organizations have enough money, they in fact are preparing for a bailout. What that means for the rest of the economy, and for the American tax-payer, remains to be seen.

The second item shows that the Russians, still following the policies of Mr. Putin (whose eyes and soul apparently Mr. Bush seems to know intimately well), are actually using the recent Iranian missile tests as a reason for the USA NOT to deploy a missile shield. I am not quite sure I understand the "logic" of the Russians. I can understand them not wanting the US to deploy weapons systems that negate Russian military power, but using the (fairly) successful Iranian missile tests as a reason against that defies logic.

Wait, there is good news. The new iPhone is being snapped up by customers around the world. Great news. But, much that I love Apple and the iPhone, in the grand scheme of things, and in the serious issues we face, it is kind of silly for that news item to be displayed at par with the economic meltdown in America, the Russian military grumbling and the roar of Iranian rockets and potentially soon, Israeli jets.

The next item has me scratching my head. The Mexican government, which does not want to take back its 12 million illegal immigrants (including the many criminals and gang members they sent over), nor wants us to build a fence to keep these illegal hoards out of America, is taking us to court! And, not even our courts, but the 'World Court', where they are fighting to save five Mexican criminals from execution for deadly crimes committed in the USA! So, not only are we supposed to welcome their illegal riff-raff with open arms (doing which both Obama and McCain are falling over each other to show love for illegals), we are also supposed to welcome, and allow to roam free, those among them who commit murder or heinous crimes. Amazing.

For a second, my attention was caught by the next item - which could qualify as good news. Lebanon may be able to form a unity government. Whether that is good news or bad depends on which side of their internal strife you are on.

But, before I could dwell on that item, the last news item in that list of six top stories was just more bad news on several fronts.

Things in Afghanistan, the place where Bin Laden and his henchmen hid and planned their attacks on America, are getting worse. The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, and we are losing soldiers in Iraq. The Afghan government is getting weaker and Bin Laden is nowhere to be found, and we are preparing for an attack on Iran.

And, what did we just manage to do? Our mistaken bombing just killed 47 civilians there, including women and children. Surely not a sign of success in winning hearts and minds. Bad, very bad, news.

With Bin Laden still out there, the Taliban attacking us and our allies more and more, Iraq still a morass, our economy in meltdown, and oil aiming for $200, what is a President to do... why, start a new war of course! Hello, Iran. Hello, $300 oil. Hello, total economic meltdown.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MADvertising: Old Stereotype Underlies Sports Authority Under Armor New Prototype

Generally, I am not a big fan of people or organizations that see, or cry, racism, or sexism, or something-ism or the other, in almost anything, even if none was implied.

However, I also strongly believe that, regardless of the (low) merits of political correctness, it is imperative for businesses, especially those in communications or consumer industries, to be cognizant of how their work(s) may be perceived. Sometimes, a racist, or bigoted, or sexist, person may deliberately create advertising, or TV characters, or movie situations that play up stereotypes. Other times it is sheer cluelessness that leads to the same results.

The latest example of such, most likely clueless, MADvertising came into my Inbox just now. It is a Sports Authority electronic promotion for Under Armor brand sportswear.

Madvertising_SportsAuthorityUnderArmor.jpg

What amazes me about this image is the deliberate or inadvertent combination of racism, sexism, stereotyping as a big, strong, and apparently determined Black male is seen running after (or behind) an obviously weaker (single?) white female. Even worse, look at the expression on her face. She is not out running in a determined manner of an athlete. There is almost an expression as if she is concerned and stressed, and looking for shadows on the ground to see if someone is coming after her.

Yes, I can be accused to seeing imagery that is not there and imagining these issues where none were implied. But, that is the whole reason I call it MADvertising. Smart communicators and marketers avoid such potential pitfalls to the best of their abilities. This particular ad surely could have been done a lot better.

What do you think?

===

PS. This comment generated a lot of comments, as you can see below. I am quite amazed, and amused, by some of them, but displaying them regardless of the personal attacks. As can be seen, everyone's comments have been posted.... even the ones from the same 'anonymous' using the same computer a few minutes apart. :-)

It is also interesting to see many people completely miss my referring to this as most likely an example of clueless advertising (the world is full of more examples than just this) or MADvertising.

I think people also miss that I am personally sick of political correctness (or of pandering to particular races that a lot advertising is now doing). I am also sick of having to squint my eyes to read English instructions on product packaging because half of the space has been given up to Spanish. I detest having to choose between English and Spanish when I call banks or other companies' phone numbers. This is America. We speak English. I feel if an organization has so many customers of a particular language or ethnic group then they should set up a separate 800 number for them instead of making their (most likely) 90%+ of English speaking customers to have to select what language to speak in their own country.

But, that does not mean I can claim there is no racism here. (I will be accused of being racist for the above comment, while being accused below of seeing racism where it does not exist!)

I do raise eyebrows when I see particular ads where, for example, the likelihood of seeing Black models tends to be higher if the ad depicts some sort of stupid behavior. Again, it is not only Blacks shown doing stupid things. There are plenty of ads showing stupidity (in the name of humor) with models who are white males, females or even groups of people. (I will post something about those separately later).

But, everyone's comments are appreciated and posted here. Thanks!

Imran