Category Archives: writing

Super Bowl ads and 3 trends to watch

inclusion

For the umpteenth (technical term) year in a row, I asked the students in my BRC328: Media Copywriting class to watch the Super Bowl ads and tweet about them. It’s a great foundational exercise this early in the class. And while I felt I had to apologize to my students for how awful the game itself was, and how many ads proved lackluster, some gems and at least three trends emerged.

Inclusion

The best ad — to me and, seemingly the class — was the excellent Microsoft commercial on inclusive technology for gaming. Take some adorable kids, adaptive technology designed and distributed by Microsoft and more than a little emotion and you had a winner. As some students noted, it really does show that gaming is for everybody (and that, once upon a time, gaming was seen as more of a niche market than it really is). Google scored well with their ad supporting job searches for veterans, a deservedly feel-good, solutions-seeking concept. These were prime examples of moving beyond the generic “let’s all get along” sentiment to showing how creativity and technology really make inclusion achievable.

Takeaway: I think the Microsoft ad especially is going to show that good deeds can indeed equate with good business, and will likely (hopefully?) spawn similar campaigns. Ones that show how their product has a concrete impact on inclusiveness should continue to win.

Crossovers

Budweiser and “Game of Thrones” was the most notable (and gruesome) ad that employed crossover of brands, with quite a twist. (Is this canon, meaning the Bud Knight is no more?) We saw T-Mobile and Taco Bell plus T-Mobile and Lyft merging brands in simpler, funny ways. You also had loads of pop-culture references and cameos from the likes of Pepsi and Stella Artois with varying levels of success, with Walmart putting a lot of money into licensing everybody from KITT from “Knight Rider” to the Scooby Doo gang. And can we expect a Chance the Rapper/Backstreet Boys tour this summer?

Takeaway: It makes sense for brands to work together where the big audiences are. And while no bigger audience exists than the Super Bowl, expect more creative partnerships to come.

Technological dystopia

It was not a good year to be a robot. A creepy baby found out it can’t work as an advisor for TurboTax in what was probably the worst ad on Sunday night (there were a million better ways to get to that point). A smart speaker realized it will never get to enjoy Pringles. A robot learned it can never drink the semi-beer that is Michelob Ultra. And we learned that Alexa is a bad match for a number of situations, albeit played pretty well for laughs. Is this a reflection of how we, as a society, are becoming wary of electronic assistants (who may or may not be eavesdropping on us) and actively resisting transhumanism out of a fear that, expressed in the debut SimpliSafe ad, robots are going to take over the world from us?

Takeaway: Technological backlash is real. Co-worker Jim Kearns astutely shared the New Yorker article “The 2019 Super Bowl ads are a case study in technological dread.” Expect the black mirror reflecting our tech anxieties to show its face more and more.

While the ads weren’t as bad as the game itself or the halftime show, only a few were even worth remembering. Maybe with that $5 million placement fee, companies could have also budgeted hiring some good writers. Unless, of course, the technological dystopia is here and they had already hired robot copywriters.

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‘You need to get out more’

“You need to get out more.”

It sounds like a mild put-down, doesn’t it? Inferring somebody leading a closed, hermetic or even lonely life? It’s kind of my mantra of self-talk lately. I really do need to get out more.

Author stands next to high waves and misty Lake OntarioReal talk: While I’m blessed to work in a creative field that involves strategic thinking, it can be mentally draining. In downtime it can be so easy to give in to sitting on the comfy couch, turning on the TV to absorb some sports or pseudosports on the dozen or so themed cable channels or surfing a never-ending YouTube library. It’s winter, a time for cocooning and hibernation in the natural world.

Going out and about is the opposite. You have to put on pants, and sometimes a coat, hat and gloves too. It sometimes even involves (shudder) interacting with other humans. The easy path is the path that leads nowhere. But, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we do not do these things because they are easy but because they are hard.

This is the kind of thinking that finds one hiking in Sterling Nature Center, standing on a beach while snowflakes fly and a stiff wind off Lake Ontario howls into my face. But it’s a smiling face.

In the cold mist of Lake Ontario, birds fly near McIntyre BluffThis place feels soothing, energizing, amazing. It’s not just that Lake Ontario is in my blood. Many a summer evening, the sound of the waves was my lullaby falling asleep. Before I discovered coffee, it was the liquid that got me going in the morning. But the lake is an exemplar of nature itself, and the reality that the world is always changing. The lake is high today. Whitecaps roll crashing in. An icy fog encompasses the lakeshore. Off toward McIntyre Bluff, I see large birds trying to stay aloft. You can sympathize with their struggle.

It’s easy to come here on a summer day. It’s hard — but just as much, if not more, refreshing — to come here in the solitude of a January day. The lake, the wind and the snow paint a palette of harsh beauty but also of a stirring reality. We live here, we get winters … so why not also embrace the tolerable parts? Heck, I even extended the metaphor by falling in my face and getting muddy by not looking where I was going.

Spicy chicken panini with coffee on a diner tableAfter, I went to the Hardware Cafe and General Store and tried something new: the spicy chicken panini (it was delicious). It would have been easier to go home and inhale junk food. This involves wearing pants and interacting with people. And getting over the concept of dining alone, with muddy pants as well, even in a place I visit often.

But ultimately, it was all good. I do need to get out more.

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Days of past and future: Small-town dreaming for a happy 2019.

Meat sandwich of eggs, cheese and bacon

It’s the last day of 2018 and I’m sitting in the Hardware Cafe and General Store on the main street of Fair Haven for lunch. A surprisingly popular idea, it turns out, as the solo server has almost a full house to accommodate. But nobody seems to mind, as we all instead compliment her as she does her best. This was a year where so many of us found ourselves working hard and doing so many things that this seems like an appropriate metaphor … especially as the patrons generally leave satisfied.

I’m not the type to make any grand proclamations or recommendations or resolutions as we leave 2018 in the rearview as we head toward 2019. But I do like to take time at the end of the year to remember and, whenever possible, support things I enjoyed for the year. The village of Fair Haven, which has turned into a sort of adopted other hometown this year more than ever, is a great reason to be thankful.

A little free library in Fair HavenAs I enjoy a plainly titled yet delicious Meat Sandwich (eggs, cheese, bacon between two large slices of bread), I feel blessed that this diner/seller of curios is a place my son and I have enjoyed plenty. Arius is elsewhere today, so he’s not around to charm the population nor make me guess what foods he currently likes, but plenty of other warmth and community abounds. People come in and hug their neighbors or long-lost friends. A woman brought in cookies for the owners, wherever they may be. And nobody’s really in any hurry and never is heard a discouraging word.

After the meal, I will pop across the street to say a quick hello to my friend Bobby in the bank. He and his wife Amy, a teacher in the local school district, opened the Sterling Cidery, purveyor of delicious hard ciders and a convivial atmosphere — it and the cafe are my anchors in a year that saw me visit this village more and more.

Small-town sweetness

Arius looks at a snowman we builtThe latest census counts Fair Haven’s citizenry at 727 souls, although the lakeside community swells in the summer as snowbirds and people in other communities come back north to both modest cottages and homes resembling mansions along the West Bay. When we would spend summers at our camp a few miles down Lake Ontario or the Sterling Renaissance Festival, this is often where we’d come for groceries and modest entertainment. Back then the Fair Haven Register newspaper and my future employer the Oswego Palladium-Times would run stories about the small town’s aspirations to become a year-round tourist destination. Those dreams, like the Register itself, seem to be defunct, but nobody seems to mind that much. Fair Haven’s a gem they are not necessarily in a hurry to share.

While many families have been here for generations, Bobby and Amy are among the new blood. Bobby went to SUNY Oswego, and his history degree eventually found him on the other side of the country working in a museum where he met Amy. She was making hard cider under her sink as a hobby, and their love and an interest in doing more with it blossomed. So when they decided to leave Seattle for a better place to raise a family, Bobby remembered the area and they ended up in Fair Haven, where they have since added two children to the population. Bobby’s parents even moved upstate to join them.

The new year will bring a transition at my favorite cidery, as having day jobs and small children have kept Bobby and Amy plenty busy. They’re in the process of selling to two local couples who have more time and grand plans. Their final weekend of 2018 a few weeks ago saw many members of the community come in as the cidery served its last stock under this ownership — first the blueberry ran out, then the cassis, then standard, then oaken (only the hopped remained when I called it a night). But the inventory and the tidy building will refill in 2019, bringing the populace and their growlers back through its friendly doors.

All around town

Arius in a pirate outfitThis village has served up plenty of food, drink and adventures for us in 2018. Arius and I walked in the parade at Pirate Fest, built (sort of) a snowman during Winter Fest and checked out some music during Porchfest. The latter community-wide musical celebration is in just its second year but has already become an annual highlight. The biggest celebration of the year remains its Independence Day celebration, and I was here this year to catch its Mile-Long Parade from the porch of the cidery with a number of people who were strangers just a year or two ago but are now friends.

If you look east from the cidery or north from the cafe, your gaze would take you to Brandon’s Pub + Grille, known as O’Connor’s until fairly recently, where I’ve enjoyed food, beverages and acoustic music this year. Just west along the main drag of Route 104A is Bayside Grocery, where I’ve secured sustenance to accompany my appreciation of fine cider. Bayside shares a parking lot with Big Bo’s ice cream, where Arius will consistently ask for a chocolate/vanilla twist cone. Down the street a few blocks east sits a re-opened Guisseppe’s Sub and Pizza Shop, which has also provided necessary carbs this year.

Posing with seven salmonAlso on the east side of town, you’ll find a playground that Arius enjoyed a few times this year, and down the hill is a small park along the creek that splits the village, where a few months ago I took my kid fishing for the first time. Across that inlet in a West Bay marina is Whitecap Charters, which took Bobby, his father Bob and I on a much more serious fishing trip, where the two enormous salmon I caught were among a large seven-fish haul for the day. A stone’s throw away sits Turtle Cove Marina and Restaurant, where my brother and I plus our families took our mother for her birthday dinner this year.

My 2018 adventures also included Bobby and I checking out the cider and scene at Colloca’s Winery on the West Bay and some non-cider at Little Sodus Inn north of the playground. I also watched the Fair Haven Tree Lighting Ceremony in the town’s Central Park, which at other times hosted everything from the Winter Fest snow-building activities to a live mermaid during Pirate Fest.

Getting out and getting inArius goes fishing

I’m the product of a small town — although at nearly 2,000 people, Weedsport is almost a city compared to Fair Haven. Many of us wanted nothing more than to get out of town when we could. Not everybody did; some have never moved out of town. Others left and never looked back. Others, like me, come back to visit family but don’t necessarily harbor a heap of affection or nostalgia from a place that seemed so small.

So in a way, my continued love of Fair Haven, here at the northern end of my native Cayuga County, is strange. I guess I’ve always loved small-town living but was looking for the right small town for my affection. Housing prices are cheap (tempting), as is the cost of living in general unless you want to drop $200K or decidedly more on a palace on the West Bay.

Calendar of Fair Haven sights and sceneryAnd if Fair Haven never found that year-round tourist activity, things are decidedly on the upswing. Up until a few years ago, Bayside Grocery about the only place downtown you could expect to find open year-round. Then the Hardware Cafe and General Store — which, as its name demonstrates, has been quite a few things over the years — decided to stay open year round and succeeded. Guisseppe’s is giving it a go this year as well. Under new ownership, maybe Sterling Cidery will join them in 2019 or beyond?

We’re on the cusp of 2019, so why not be optimistic? Before leaving the cafe, I bought a copy of a calendar put together by the talented Kyle Meddaugh, who operates his photography business OnePhoto and a gallery across the street from the cafe. A new calendar for what we hope will be a brighter 2019. Thus even if I’m not in Fair Haven, views of the small town and its lakeside vistas hang on a wall for me to enjoy throughout the year.

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I want to help, but: Giving Tuesday is hard to take.

I ran across our provost in the supermarket on Sunday in the cereal aisle. I probably looked tired and mildly overwhelmed.
 
“So many options,” he said perceptively, as I scanned the shelves with my face likely sporting a touch of bewilderment. I replied that I’m sure there’s research to this effect, not thinking fast enough to cite Hick’s Law on how the increasing number of choices can reduce one’s likelihood of making a decision.
 
And in a way, that’s the formula that has made Giving Tuesday almost more than I can take.
 
The idea behind Giving Tuesday is wonderful. I want to feel into it. But instead I feel overwhelmed.


Day after day

I suspect it seemed like a natural progression when it started: You had Black Friday where people stampeded poor associates and other shoppers for bargains. Then they could go online and act tech-savvy and dignified with Cyber Monday. After all that, helping a good cause on Giving Tuesday could assuage any guilt for conspicuous consumption.

But even in the “good old days,” there was an economic construct that could deter Giving Tuesday success: Money is a finite resource. Yes, you might have “saved” $10 or $20 or whatever on Black Friday deals, but if you spent $100 or $200, that’s the only concrete figure on the balance sheet. Although most of that went on credit cards, so one could say paying later can enable doing some good while feeling good about one’s savings.

But this year I just feel like I’ve been overrun without walking into a shopping center on Friday. I feel digitally displaced without even clicking a Buy button on Monday. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have taken over the month of November, and it’s not cool.

Too much

I don’t even remember when the first pre-pre-pre-Black Friday marketing email descended upon my inbox, and I’ve lost track of how many retailers have “generously” expanded Cyber Monday into Cyber Week (the emails feel more like an army of Cybermen deleting my sanity). To say that I received hundreds of emails from marketers in the past week related to shopping would not be an exaggeration, and that’s despite unsubscribing from several.

And don’t even get me started on retailers using “Giving Tuesday” as a pitch line, because that stuff’s in bad taste.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen so many great causes promoted by friends and colleagues and various institutions of higher learning. Part of me wants to support all of them. But …

… they are indeed all worthy. So I’m finding it difficult to find the time, let alone have the money, to support all the ones I want. A lot of fundraising happens in November anyway: In the past few weeks, I’ve already donated to multiple causes and am coordinating our building’s SEFA/United Way food drive. And that’s not counting all the stories, social media posts and other content worked on to help a range of charities.

I say this not to congratulate myself but to try to convince myself I’m not an awful person for not getting into the spirit of Giving Tuesday. If you have and supported causes important to you, that’s wonderful. If you’re a fundraiser and your efforts have influenced others to make a difference, fantastic!

I don’t want to give up on Giving Tuesday, but please forgive me if my will gives out until I can regain the holiday spirit.

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Respect the sport: This ain’t no fish story.

The author fishing

If you’re going to get up around 4:30 in the morning on a holiday, it should be for a good reason. The adventure of spending Labor Day on my first fishing charter seemed a pretty decent reason.

My friend Bobby Malo, who co-owns Sterling Cidery with his wife Amy, had reached out because his father (Bob) had booked a charter with White Cap Charters and there was room for me to join them if I was interested. It sounded exciting, so I replied in the affirmative. I didn’t ask about the whole we-need-to-get-up-way-before-dawn thing til later, but it’s not like I sleep in that much, holiday or other.

And so around 6 am, Bobby and Bob and I departed Bayside Marina with Mike, the captain who runs White Cap Charters, and John, his first mate who sets in all the gear. Having watched more than my share of “Deadliest Catch,” I realize there’s nothing particularly simple about fishing from boats of any level of sophistication. And while pursuing salmon from Lake Ontario on a beautiful (if somewhat hot) September day is not exactly hunting crabs in between winter storms on the Bering Sea, it’s no picnic either.

John set out the lines and downriggers and we had a rotation that Bob would take the first strike, then Bobby, then me. The fish seemed to take a couple hours to bite, but thien it was on like Donkey Kong. Bob’s first one managed to break free, and then Bobby brought in a really big king salmon. Then I waited and watched until the telltale pull on one of the lines meant it was my turn.

Folks, I’ve never charter fished before, let alone fished for anything bigger than a Nerf football, so this was quite a thing. Mike and John coached the noob through the basic rules of engagement: when the fish hits, let it run to tire itself out; once it stops running, first pull the pole up as much as you can; then start reeling and lower the rod quickly until the reel stops clicking; then raise the rod slowly as vertical as you can and repeat the process. That first fish felt like an eternity, but then I finally saw it on the surface and repeated the pulling and reeling until John had it in the net. It was all quite thrilling.

We ultimately made it around three times, with Bobby landing big fish on all three of his turns. Bob got one big and one smaller. On my next attempt, one hit and started running and we eventually lost it (certainly because it was about 300 pounds, or so goes my fish story). On our final attempt of the day, I got the reel on a cast that was more than 300 feet away and did a lot of pulling and reeling and repeating. It fought to the end, but eventually we pulled in one that was even bigger than my first.

While all seven salmon will be eaten at some point over the coming months, a part of me felt bad about the whole killing thing. But most of these are not very far from spawning and heading up river to die; they’re not exactly buying green bananas is what I’m saying. And it’s a large population and a thriving local industry, if the 20 or so other vessels also circling over the holes and chutes of Lake Ontario are any indication.

Mike said this is his final week of the season. The salmon are just one warm rain away from catching wind of the Oswego River and spawning upstream, there to be met by the throngs of fishermen in the lucrative fall salmon run. They are fresher and more sport at this point.

And when I say “sport,” the precision of the labors of Mike and John as well as the sheer effort we put into trying to land each one — my man vs. fish rounds felt about 10 to 15 minutes, although they were likely less — explains why charter fishing is so appealing and thrilling. To say nothing of the veritable feast that comes with it.

We finished the day with a late lunch at Turtle Cove, during which the skies opened up and scattered everybody else eating on the deck. But our group of three stayed out under the table umbrellas through the torrential downpours and steady rain that led us back to sunny skies. We’d just had an adventure on the high seas (or lake anyway), so enduring a bit more nature seemed only appropriate.

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All the lonely people — let’s help them all belong.

Cloudy morning over campus

I was on campus tonight for quick stop (saying hello to the 2018-19 Oswego women’s hockey team — go Lakers!) but a walk while killing time brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of starting college.

I saw a number of people sitting by themselves, maybe by choice, maybe not. I gazed out the window toward the bus stop where one student looked like he wanted to join a conversation but wasn’t sure how. I saw people who, in an exciting new environment surrounded by thousands of people their age, paradoxically looked a little lonely.

In essence, I saw myself in those people.

When I went away to school at Brockport, it should have been the most exciting time in my life. But it was the most lonely and discouraging first couple of weeks. I was a shy, skinny, awkward, pimply kid with bad hair. I didn’t know why all these kids who were better looking, cooler and richer than I would even want to hang out with me. I wouldn’t say I was homesick so much as just missing a place where I felt I belonged. Fortunately, I decided to wander down to the student newspaper, The Stylus, and found my tribe, including friends who remain to this day.

But what I’m saying is it’s not easy for a lot of people. They’ve left their usual friends, their routines, their comfort zones. They might be homesick. They might be unsure of what to do. They might be lonely.

One of the more gratifying parts of my job is working the incoming student social media communities, in essence trying to facilitate connections for our students before they ever reach campus. I’m blessed to work with staff and students to create content to help with the transition. And many of them find roommates, classmates, friends. But it’s not a perfect science. I met some nice people when I started college but didn’t click with them. That person who seems like an awesome roommate on social media may not in fact be a good match in real life, leaving people drifting.

I can only hope the lonely people looking for their fit can be as fortunate as I am. But even if we can’t make all the connections for them, we can do our part. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be willing to help. It’s the least we can do.

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An old camera, a new perspective

Arius takes a selfie

Arius takes a selfie

A photo of Arius taking a selfie, then the selfie he took.

My 5-year-old son Arius was digging through some drawers recently and found my old Sony CyberShot DSC-W110. Decent for photos and some video but got outmoded. Did it still work? Could the battery still charge? Yes and yes.

He showed considerable interest in it right away, and started to learn how to use it off what I could remember and his own trial and error. I was happy to see him fascinated with it and making a creative outlet of it. Hadn’t used it in several years, even before selifes were a thing (the good ol’ days) but he somehow figured out how to take seflies with it. And use the timer. Clever kid.

Arius takes a selfie

Arius figured out how to set a timer and take a selfie. I took hundreds, maybe thousands of photos on this camera and never learned how.

Moreover, I just found the experiment interesting: What does a 5-year-old find interesting exactly? His dad. The family cat. His surroundings. They aren’t the most technically advanced, although something about the spooky lighting in some of them is compelling.

Other than a nice diversion, it also reminded me about the importance of appreciating others’ perspectives. What I might find as mundane, Arius sees as fascinating. Things I think of as old can appear new to him. Whatever our line of work, it’s a reminder that our perspective, our knowledge or our point of view is not the same as our customers or collaborators or even our competitors! It’s good to see how somebody else views the world once in a while.

The author with backlighting

A cat with backlightThe author and cat with some scratching and purring

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