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February, 2010:

The best and worst Olympic ads [Olympics]

Now that the Olympics are officially over, (we won! Go USA!) it is time to take a look at won the advertizing contest. Cutting an ad for the Olympics is kind of hard.  NBC insists on presenting the Olympics as a sort of kumbaya, brotherhood-of-man event instead of the epic content between nations that it is.

So advertisers try to focus on producing something upbeat by not jingoistic. Needless to say, not everyone pulls it off.

The honor for the worst ads of the Olympics goes to VISA. Their “GO WORLD” campaign consisted of about 20 different ad spots, each of which tried desperately to be sentimental or inspiring. None of them succeeded. Ever ad concluded with the tagline “GO WORLD.” Go world? These aren’t the intergalactic games. Cheering for everyone is about the least interesting thing possible. What happened to the old badass VISA who used to taunt American Express at every opportunity?

The second best ad campaign definitely goes to McDonald’s. They did bit of the Olympic brothood stuff in their McNuggests ads, but at least they pulled it off. Besides, any ad campaign that features a bobsled going through the drive-thru gets my vote.

By far the best ad spot of the Olympics was for Coca-Cola. Their “Ceremony” commercial managed to take the entire feel-good mood of the Olympics and make me feel like I made it possible—just by drinking Coke. Pure advertizing genius.

New Yorkers oppose soda tax, prohibition [poll]

20070120 Liquor StoreEarlier this week I wrote about Governor Patterson’s effort to overturn some of New York’s absurd blue laws and allow wine sales in grocery stores.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal seems popular. According to a new poll out by Siena College, 58 percent of New Yorker’s support the plan. 38 percent of respondents opposed the idea.

The poll also found that the same proportion of New Yorkers (59-38) opposes taxing soda and juice drinks.

So the takeaway is that about 60 percent of New Yorkers are completely reasonable. As for the other 40 percent, well… New York has more than its fair share of neo-prohibitionists and food police.


A sensible solution to snow removal [American pragmatism]

NYC Garbage/Plow truck on Broadway at Astor Place

In much of the country, garbage collection is preformed by a giant corporation like Waste Management, or if you live in New Jersey, the Mob. But in New York City the trash is still handled largely by the City’s Department of Sanitation.

This setup seems to work well enough during most the year (garbage does not tend pile up in the streets as it does in Italy), but it has a serious benefit the one or two times a year there is a big snowfall.

Since the city already owns enough garbage trucks to regularly service every street, it simply slaps a snowplow on the front of each one when needed, thus eliminating the need to maintain a redundant fleet of plow trucks.

American pragmatism at its finest.

USA wins Olympics!

Child Saluting American FlagThere is one more day of games, but for all intents and purposes the Olympics are over. We won! We are officially the Greatest Country in the World.

It is the first time we have won the Winter Olympics since 1932 (we tied Germany in 2002).

As of this morning, Team USA had already amassed an insurmountable lead in the medal race. There are a few more contests tomorrow, including an epic showdown between Team USA and Canada for the hockey medal. Hopefully we will triumph again. Defeating Canada a second time at their national sport after already thwarting their “Own The Podium” efforts would make the perfect coup de grâce.


Fast Food Empires [maps]

With its 14,000 US locations, McDonald’s, in all its wonderful Dollar-Menu-and-free-Wi-Fi glory, can be found in nearly every community from coast to coast. But because of relatively strict territory guidelines for franchisees, McDonald’s locations seldom have overlapping markets with one another.

The result of this is that while McDonald’s is ubiquitous, it is often not the dominant fast food chain in any given market in terms of restaurant concentration. That honor often goes to one of the seven other large burger chains which together have around 24,000 outlets nationwide.

The folks over at Weather Sealed have put together a series of maps showing the “dominant” burger joint in different regions of the US. Everything in black is dominated by McDonald’s. It is a beautiful picture.

The map is part of an amusing Star Wars analogy of the fast food wars which is worth a read.

Salad often dangerous, covered in fecal matter

pomegranate saladWe’ve all known that leafy greens are dangerous for some time. Tainted spinach, salmonella, e. coli, Cyclospora, you name it, salad has got it. Since 1990, over 13,000 people have been reported seriously ill as a result of eating contaminated salad.

A few months back this blog even proposed creating a salad tax as an alternative to a soda tax, as leafy greens pose a far greater immediate risk than soft drinks.

But what was not known was just how disgusting many of the prepackaged salads in the supermarket are.

Consumers Reports did a test of 208 bagged salads from 16 different producers. They found that a shocking 39% of them were contaminated with “excessive bacteria, including fecal contamination.


Thank God for Campbell’s, because from now on it is canned or processed veggies only.

Overturning New York’s blue laws [never waste a crisis]

Red WineTimes are hard, but there is only so much pasta a man can take. So the other day I decided it was time to cook myself a proper American dinner.

The menu would be simple: steak, mashed potatoes and asparagus with a bottle of wine, a water and a coke to wash it down (I generally like to have three drinks in front of me at all times).

Sounds easy enough, just head out to the grocery store to pick everything up. But alas, this is New York City, so something as simple as grocery shopping can never be done in one stop. Why? Because of puritanical blue laws.

In New York it is illegal for grocery stores to sell wine or liquor. So if you want a nice (or cheap) bottle of wine with your meal, you’re going to have to lug your groceries down the block to the liquor store.

And of course unlike the rest of America where liquor stores are open until 2 AM, New York stores close 10 or 11 PM at the latest. So good luck grabbing a bottle of wine for a late dinner.

What makes matters worse is that liquor and wine stores are prohibited from selling anything but liquor and wine. No beer, no snacks, no soda, nothing. So if you want a lime for that tequila you’d better hope there is a grocery store nearby, or you’re out of luck.

Of course the beer and wine shopkeepers like things how they are and lobby hard to keep them that way. (It is always the industries that exist only because of stupid laws that have the most formidable lobbyists.)

But fortunately New York’s budget crisis has provided an opening for change. Desperate for any revenue he can find, Governor Patterson has proposed letting grocery stores and bodegas sell wine.

A similar proposal was shot down last year, but the budget situation is so grim that the projected licensing fees may prove an irresistible temptation to lawmakers.

Here is hoping.  I don’t relish the idea of another two hour, multi-store shopping trip for something as simple as steak and potatoes.

Canadians talking smack [Olympics]

We are dominating the medal count and even beat them at their national sport. About the only thing we could do to complete the humiliation would be for McDonald’s to buy Tim Horton’s, and then close it.  So it is understandable that some Canadians want to lash out at the USA. But I’ve got to say, this one is below the belt.

We’ll see who is laughing when the US Hockey Team wins again tonight!


Snowpocalypse: New York edition [recycled content]

The snow is coming down hard in New York right now. Visibility is greatly reduced. I can now longer see the skyscraper that is three blocks away from my apartment window. The weather service is predicting up to 16-inches of snow. The snow storm is supposed to be particularly damaging, because, according to the weather service, it has “teamed up with a wind storm.”

Of course, when the elements start joining forces against us we are screwed. And since people are going to start acting like fools I thought it would be a good time to retread the rules for how to behave in a snowstorm that I offered to the burghers of Washington D.C. a few weeks ago.

1: Umbrellas are for the rain. They’ll do you no good in the snow and just serve to hit other pedestrians in the face.

2: If the street is covered with snow, it is OK to walk on it.

3: If you’re in a car, you’re waiting. The pedestrians in your way have wet feet and are cold, you at least have heat.

4: When there is little more than a one-person path through the snow, it is the responsibility of the person with more robust footwear to giveaway to those coming from the other direction.

5: Snowpants are for skiing, not the bar. Just because there is some white stuff on the ground doesn’t mean you get to dress like a fool.

Russians raise the bar for Canada bashing [Olympics]

Nothing brings Americans together like a good joke about Canada. Making fun of our neighbors to the north runs in our blood. Their “Eh?”s, their Maple Leaves, their bizarre fixation with Curling. Everything about Canada is just so mockable.

When two Americans meet each other for the first time, a good anecdote about those kooky Canadians will break the ice as well as anything. Mocking Canada is essentially a national sport (at least for those of us north of the Mason-Dixon Line). We’ve even made movies entirely devoted to the cause.

So it came as a bit of a shock to a to someone like myself who grew up on the US-Canada border to see an article in the Russian Newspaper Pravda that blows American Canada-bashing out of the water. Being a Russian publication, the article is a bit more vitriolic than the Canada jokes we tell here in America. But wow, is it worth a read.

Some of the highlights:

… the utter incapacity of this county to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex , born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom, whose Queen smiles happily from Canadian postage stamps.

…Vancouver is mutton dressed as lamb…

Oh, and lets not forget the bizarre assertion of widespread Canadian war crimes.

The abject cruelty shown by Canadian soldiers in international conflicts is scantily referred to…

Those crazy Russians… Always good for a laugh.

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