every party needs a pooper, that’s why you invited *me*…

Here’s the thing.

The Blue Jays.


How great. I mean, it’s really great. I get that. Even though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t give much of a rat’s back-end about sports.

I do, however, like happy people, I like the excitement, the joie de vivre all over the place (on game days), the way revellers make room for traffic. I love us. We deserve this, the winning, the mad happiness. Who wouldn’t love it?

They say this kind of thing brings people together. On game days. And the economy gets a boost. Liquor and beer stores, junk food purveyors. Hotels, TV networks, airlines. You know, the people who need a boost.

Oh, and Rogers Communications. Owners of the Blue Jays dynasty. Apparently their shares have gone up rather noticeably during this period of frenzied winning/not winning/winning. The TSX, on the other hand, went down during the same period. But let us not concern ourselves with negatives.

The Jays are winning!

And we are being brought together as a community.

On game days.

However, in between and especially after the game days are over … it is, sadly, business as usual. That’s to say the homeless (‘boosted’ too by all the Blue Jay excitement) will still be homeless. Children will go to school hungry. If they go at all. Women will be beaten by spouses, some of them sports *stars* high-on-winning  adrenaline, some just assholes, others on welfare, most somewhere in the middle. Old people will still die alone and prisons will continue to fill and the rest of us will still hate and judge and hate some more. No matter how big, how grand or how much money is thrown at sporting events, no matter how exciting or how often we are told these things bring people together… there are no games that have brought the world, or even a city, or even a community, together in a way that sticks beyond the game days. As far as I know, no Olympics or World Series has erased persecution, corruption or any manner of ‘isms’. After the winning, a handful of men will wander off into the horizon with truckloads of gold while the rest of us are scraping cold pizza off our couches. Nothing will be any different. Aboriginal communities will still have undrinkable water and mould on their paper thin walls and the oceans will still be clogged with the debris of our need to turn away, to be distracted by something more pleasant than reality, like the easy god of sports and winning. (Remind me…winning for the sake of what again?)

Oh yeah. Because winning is fun.


I get that. I do.

It just seems so trivial. The players and owners, I understand why they want to win. (And it’s not for the joie de vivre.) But what do we get?

(I know that certain players and individuals contribute privately to various organizations with their time and money… it’s not about individuals. This really is about the owners, the corporate aspect of sports.)

So I was thinking, what if we got something too… what if the corporate aspect, the people that make the ten trillion dollars from our love of the game celebrated each win by donating some of their gold to the community. To feed those kids or build some housing or offer opportunities to people who’d otherwise have none. There are agencies in every city that would gratefully accept a few thousand bucks. A few hundred  thousand, for every game won during playoffs… well, that could change  a city.

Now that would be worth cheering for, winning  for, no?

“Big Sports” (and it’s always ‘male sporting events’) are a powerful vehicle. By adding this element we lose none of the fun. All we do is add ‘goodness’. It stuns me that we don’t demand it.


Just an idea.

From your neighbourhood party pooper.


(p.s. go jays.)

an open letter to tiffany & co.


Dear Tiffany & Co.

The full-page ad in my weekend newspaper, a sketched illustration, has me wondering about your sensibilities… Lovely are the ad’s colours, and the sentiments of giving exquisite gifts in small blue boxes, well, I’m sure it’s never an unpleasant box to receive. But heavens to betsy, your sense of proportion is perhaps a little off.

Here’s the scene as I see it: a woman is decked out in a body-hugging satin dress, a slip of a dress, that threatens to fall off at any moment, while she climbs a step-ladder in five-inch heels to add a bauble to the xmas tree. A fully-dressed man stands and watches, holding behind his back a little blue box, presumably for the satin-bedecked woman as a reward. For what? For decorating the tree? For being able to function in five-inch heels? For choosing a slinky dress that refuses to stay on?

It doesn’t much matter. And this isn’t the issue anyway. (I have every confidence there are as many Tiffany & Co. ads where it’s the guy in tight clothing, arranging baubles from a tippy-toe position atop a ladder while a chick stands there waiting to present him with a little sparkly something or other. Right??)

In any case, this isn’t the issue. It’s the size of these people. He is exceedingly tall, a handsome near-giant who could simply raise one arm and hang the stupid bauble himself from where he stands. She, on the other hand, is oddly small by comparison. Remove the heels and the ladder and you have an oh-so-delicate creature… in a slinky dress that’s about to fall off.

And so I wonder: why???

Not why can’t she buy her own jewellery, or why do we need to see the shape of her buttocks and thighs and bosom through that dress, or even how is she managing to balance on that ladder in those shoes… but why do the chaps in ads never get to star in the honoured role of small and delicate creature?

Some women are tall. Some men are not.

All the best to you, and happy holidays.
May each of your baubles be hung with joy.

Thanks to WikiCommons for the snaps.

humour me

Not that there’s anything wrong with this…

Just wondering how possible it would be for the general population to even imagine as ‘normal’ an ad showing the get-ups done the other way round, i.e. the girl as pirate and the boy as singer.
Easy enough to imagine kids dressing up the other way round… I’m talking about an ad showing this.

And why is that so unlikely, so rare? And what, exactly, is normal? And who says? Who???

And although this is simply an ad in a toy store brochure [and not that big ugly toy store either, but a small, supposedly-aimed-at-cleverness one] and so why make a fuss and question anything… It’s precisely because  this sort of always-everywhere subliminal messaging has an ever-increasing effect on how and what we think of ourselves.

At increasingly younger ages.

While we shrug and say it doesn’t matter.

And maybe little TommyJoe prefers being a pirate and sister JennieJune adores singing or doll collecting or wearing feathery hats, that’s not to say it’s the only scenario that can be played out in advertising. Because for every boy who vrroooms a truck over a carpet, there’s one longing to make sponge cakes with an Easy Bake Oven. And if they have smart families they’ll be allowed to have both truck and kitchen accessories in their toy box. I’d just like to see that broader world of ‘play’ reflected by toy manufacturers… both in packaging and in advertising. And though I suppose strides have been made, take a walk in any toy store or flip through the ads… seems it’s pretty much still about compartmentalization and stereotyping of genders in order to create more effective demographics.

Another name for childhood?

the art of familiar letter writing

Was recently in a lovely hotel. One I’ve been in before, lucky me. On that previous occasion there was a folder that contained stationery, i.e. a few sheets of hotel letterhead, a couple of envelopes, a comment card, a pen, a Things to Do in the Area brochure. I like that welcomey sort of touch. Immediately after unpacking I like nothing better than plonking myself down in an armchair, feet on the coffee table and reading a letter from hotel management that says things along the lines of we’re so glad you’re here, and give us a dingle if you need anything, anything at all and please take your feet off the coffee table.

Makes me feel at home.

Plus, I love free pens.

And I adore hotel stationery.

I have a small collection of pages that goes back years and years, a decade or more some of it. Every now and then I’ll send a letter to someone on one of those precious sheets, sometimes recalling a moment from way back then, or making no reference at all to the place but merely using it as my personal stationery.

I think it’s damn funky.

However, it seems, at this hotel anyway, stationery has been done away with for reasons of “everyone uses email now”. And the ‘welcome’ letter is now a video, because no one watches enough TV already or is in any way tired of looking at screens. That is, after all, why we go on holiday, is it not? To look at different screens or, at the very least, our own screens in a different light, against mountain backdrops, to text in sultry salted air…

Well then, I thought, what to do in that hour before dinner, about three days into the holiday, when the sun is just thinking of lowering itself behind the lake and the patio is still all warm with it and I have a glass of cool sauvignon blanc and a bag of chips in front of me… Seems like the perfect time to write a letter and comment on morning rambles collecting walnuts and stones and finding an owl with its leg stuck in the net of a volleyball court and contacting the local and very wonderful SPCA who contacted one of their staff in the area who was at home and who was only too happy to trade slippers for shoes and come right over to help said owl.

Stationery would have been nice, but we’ve gone over that. Instead, I tore pages from a notebook and that worked well enough, even better because of the lines—saves the recipient having to turn the paper at an angle to read. And when I asked the front desk for an envelope, they had one, a hotel one even. The young woman apologized for the logo and I said, no, that was great, that was perfect! I don’t think she quite understood my euphoria given how she was not yet born when the art of familiar letter writing was in its heyday. It occurred to me only much later that they probably also had sheets of paper with the hotel logo, although not offered because no one knew what they were for.


So I’m writing this lovely hotel, where I spent a lovely few days. I’m writing them on my own stationery. With a pen. A stamp will be involved. Feet will take me to a nearby mailbox. I will breathe en route. I will ask if they foresee a time when the art of letter writing, if only from hotel stationery, might be revived. I will mention a very exquisite spot in Newfoundland where I had the privilege of staying a few years ago and where I was mightily impressed with many things, not the least of which was a postcard (or two), pre-stamped and featuring a nice shot of the inn and environs. Smart marketing, that. And they’ll mail it for you too.

I’ll update this post with said hotel’s response. Which, with a bit of luck, will come on hotel stationery.

More handwritten thoughts:

the postman brought all that

pocalogging to my own tune

dear mr. postman

the reason i like mail

call it what it is

Dear Hudson’s Bay Company:

Your cosmetics brochures. Every month or so when they come out it’s the same thing: a striking, artistically rendered cover, showing the manipulated face of a woman (manipulation including use of, not only the products listed in the brochure, but lighting, air-brushing and computer magic—standard tricks to achieve the ‘effect’).

All of which is fine. However none of it equals beauty.

Beauty would be the un-manipulated face of the models.

But if this ‘artistic’ rendering is what you prefer, then at least consider that your title is inappropriate and misleading. A more realistic title might be, for instance, ‘Makeup’.

There are other suggestions of course, but I’m trying to be helpful.

While I understand that the subliminal message being sent is important for your bottom line, I feel it’s equally important not to further confuse real beauty with manipulated appearance—given how young women and girls, especially, are already confused about what beauty is. A company with your clout could go a long way to make things better in that regard and still achieve a living wage bottom line. Or you could make it worse and continue to be part of the problem.

Just a thought.

Your choice of course.


this is not a review: confessions of an advertising man, by david ogilvy

In my ongoing search for the meaning of life, the universe and the great white light, I recently stumbled across Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy. Published in 1963 (by Dell), the cover on my copy shows the man himself sitting in a large wingback chair decked out in a three-piece tweed, cradling a lit pipe. You can see the smoke curling away from his lips. He looks every bit the successful, ultra confident, middle aged man who is either on his way to or returning from a double martini lunch where, among others of his ilk, clients or colleagues, he no doubt elegantly chortled his way through a sirloin steak, baked potato and oh-so-many-bon-mots lunch. For what is an advertising man if not a chap full of gin and bon mots?

And it was a chap’s world in them days. Girls (there were no women at the time) were for fetchin’ coffee and lookin’ cute, whether it be while fetchin’ coffee or in ads or—as evidenced by the Laura Petries, Samantha Stevens and possibly Betty Drapers of the world—while preparing perfect hors d’oeuvre to soak up yet more booze consumed by (male) clients and/or colleagues in perfect living rooms with Pledge polished veneers, before serving perfect meals of yet more red meat.

The book outlines Ogilvy & Mather’s beginnings, with, essentially, Ogilvy coming over from the U.K., starting an agency and taking Madison Avenue by storm in his own quietly dignified way. In a style that comes off relaxed and conversational, like he’s smoking that pipe while dictating to some gal in a cashmere twin-set, he offers advice on how to get and keep clients, use illustration, write copy, build campaigns, when to get rid of clients you’ve lost faith in (“I also resign accounts when I lose confidence in the product. It is flagrantly dishonest for an advertising agent to urge consumers to buy a product which he would not allow his own wife to buy.”)—sexism aside, can you imagine how far we’ve regressed if this ethic actually ever existed??

He goes on with anecdotes and suggestions for everything from how to succeed in the business (step by step instructions) to having a restful vacation:

“…Take your wife, but leave the children with a neighbour. Small fry are a pain in the neck on a vacation…. Take a sleeping pill every night for the first three nights.”

I’m fascinated by advertising and happen to believe it can change the world. Already has, but not in the right way. Imagine the difference if, in the past few decades, the amount of money spent on convincing people they should eat at McDonald’s had been spent instead on convincing them that real, honest to god food is sexy and delicious and can make you sexy and delicious.

But then we’d have risked creating a world of happier, healthier people who didn’t need ten thousand products, books and videos to help them become happy and healthy.

And then what?

The world would end as we know it.

Which is the whole point.

But I digress.

A nice element of the book are photos and samples of some of O&M’s more famous ads, such as for Rolls-Royce—the headline of which reads:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Followed by 719 words of copy.

Different times.

I guess what remains the same is our hookability, that whatever is presented to us in a certain way, we literally ‘buy’.

An interesting footnote tells us that Dorothy Sayers, Charles Lamb, Byron, Bernard Shaw, Hemingway, Marquand, Sherwood Anderson and Faulkner also wrote ‘advertisements’ at one point—“none of them with any degree of success”. 

While this is ultimately a good outcome, I think it would have been fascinating to see how differently the world might have been shaped if only Byron had opened an ad agency.

Note: this post first appeared in August, 2010.


Confessions of an Advertising Man online at Blue Heron Books.

a slap in the face

Given the general hoopla dedicated to the Vancouver Olympics, Part One, I had this stupid idea— that is, I assumed —Part Two, the Paralympics, might also get some attention.

Not that I expected it would get as much of course. Good lord no. Afterall I understand that it’s hard for small-minded marketers to find the same promotional ‘qualities’ in visually impaired, armless, or wheelchair bound athletes. (Though why that is, I can’t quite fathom. One would think—if one were thinking—that not only are these men and women of the Paralympics extraordinary athletes in top physical condition—moreso even than the Part One Olympians when you consider things like cross country skiing without poles or downhill without sight—but their clothing and equipment must also be absolutely top of the line.)

Seems to me lots of marketing opps missed here.

But then, could be we’re dealing with teeny, blinkered brains in the corporate and marketing arenas where sponsors prefer spokes-models of a certain size and limb count.

Small brains seem also to reign pretty mightily over at CTV where, I discovered I will NOT be able to watch the Paralympic opening ceremonies tonight. That’s right, the official Canadian broadcaster for the Vancouver Olympics feels that the latest episode of Medium, an American TV series, is more important.

The opening ceremonies are on TOMORROW (of course, what a great idea!) after the games have actually begun.

Well, here’s news for the CTV Einsteins who came up with that plan—I’m a funny person, I like to watch opening ceremonies at the OPENING. (FYI: that means BEFORE the event gets rolling.) I might be alone in this, I don’t know. 

What I do know is that it’s a huge oversight that the Paralympics are consistently treated like some second class show  but when the show is being held in our own country, you’d think we might just deem it worthy enough to treat it with a little more  respect and dignity. And maybe, therefore, allow ourselves to be more broadly introduced to this incredible event.

Of course that would require intelligence and a certain kind of balls that apparently don’t exist in the CTV boardrooms where this decision was made.

To say that not airing the opening ceremonies is a slap in the face, not only to the athletes, but to viewers eager to share in the excitement, is an understatement. I’m puzzled to say the least. Embarrassed because I thought we were better than that. And more than slightly disgusted.

I never thought I’d say this, but God bless the internet.

Fortunately Part Two of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics can be seen here, live. Including the opening ceremonies.

Generously sponsored by Visa and Samsung.

knee deep in coffee cups

Most days I take a walk through a ravine near my house. I go there with the intention of breathing deeply, letting my shoulders drop a little while I focus on the birds, the sometime deer or fox. More and more often, however, I find myself focussing instead on the ever increasing amount of debris along the way. Always a puzzling sight. Makes me wonder what sort of person, having decided to spend some time in the beauty and peace of nature, then decides to bung their garbage at it.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve come to anticipate it; I keep my coat pockets stuffed with bags, hardly notice the birds some days.

And before anyone shrugs and says Ah, kids! What can you do? it’s not kids that are responsible for the majority of it. Most of the traffic is adults, lots of dog-walkers especially, and most of the debris these days, I’ve noticed, is take-out coffee cups.

Not that I’m saying anything.

Except this:

1) What is wrong with you People Who Can’t Take a Walk Without Coffee and Then Decide You Can’t Be Bothered Hanging on to the GD Empty Cup Until You Get to a Bin/Car/Home?


2) Tim Horton’s, Coffee Time, Second Cup, Starbucks (for starters): here’s an idea—how about spending a few cents on an anti-littering campaign or two? Not that the disgusting habits of the population are your fault, but much of the dreck all over our streets, peering at us from ditches, advertising the next sale—does have your name on it.

Surely you feel at least some responsibility to clean it up…

As must our governments.  Surely.

Maybe they’d all welcome letters chock full of ideas? Here’s one: maybe run a nationwide contest for ideas.

Whatever. The point is we can’t just keep throwing this stuff around. And no, it’s not a small thing in the face of larger problems. It’s about respect: for the earth, animals, neighbours, strangers. And that’s not insignificant because if we can’t respect what’s in our own tiny space, no wonder we have larger problems elsewhere.

So, short of putting garbage bins on every corner (though not a bad idea), we need to get creative in changing the way we think.

One of the best anti-litter campaigns I’ve heard of hails from Texas where it seemed impossible to get the locals to stop littering until they were persuaded that it was not themselves, but the no-good, low-down, tourists and other out-of-state varmints (I may or may not be paraphrasing), that were the problem. The move not only convinced many locals to stop littering (not wanting to be put on the same level as tourists) but also increased a sense of ownership and pride in their surroundings. And it’s still going strong.

Doesn’t it just warm the heart to see the power of marketing—the power of anything—put to good use?  There is hope.