When Did the Super Bowl Become PG-13?

The only thing worse than watching the call to pass up the middle at the end of last night’s Super Bowl was watching the ads with my young kids (okay, watching the fight at the end was worse – how lame).  In 3 hours my kids saw more explosions and graphic violence, more over-sexed-up themes, and more sadness and angst than they have seen in their entire lives. After the Nationwide commercial (more on that in a moment), I got increasingly agitated about what other sights my kids had to see for the sake of advertising. Left me wondering what the heck is going on here?!

Super Bowl ads used to be a chance for brands and agencies to showcase cleverness, creativity, and humor. Here’s the “top” ad from 20 years ago, good old 1995:

Edgy, eh? Did it “raise awareness” of something? Nope. Did it tickle our fancies? Nope. In fact, it wasn’t really that funny at all. But it was original, it was light-hearted, it was memorable – it did everything an ad is supposed to do for its brand. So much so that if you talk to anyone over the age of 30 they can still quickly recall the Budweiser Frogs. And by the way, big thumbs up to Budweiser for maintaining a higher standard than so many others during their 30 second spots. BTW yeah, I’m praising Budweiser - that’s how bad things were this year.

Here’s a list of all of the 2015 Super Bowl ads, “ranked” in some way by USA Today (we can ignore the rankings, since, who cares?). How many were “clever”? A tiny handful - coincidentally I thought Nationwide’s “Invisible Mindy” commercial was one of the best of the batch. How many made you laugh, or even chuckle? How many left you feeling positive thoughts?

Now how many featured a little more “sexiness” than is needed for a Super Bowl ad? Do I *need* to explain to my 7 year old what the little blue pill falling into the Fiat is for? Do young women need to get exposed to Victoria’s Secret’s idea of what a woman’s body is “supposed” to look like (if one is genetically gifted, that is)? Is the fun of playing iPhone games the chance to win a Kate Upton? This isn’t a 9:30pm commercial on FX, this is supposed to be “fun for all ages”.  As my friend Alan Wolk said:

[my son] is 16 now, but when he was younger and we’d watch games on TV, I’d cringe every time a Viagra or Cialis spot came on, thinking “please don’t ask me what an erection lasting more than 4 hours is.. please don’t ask me what an erection lasting more than 4 hours is…”

How about violence? I’m pretty sure that with Blacklist episode previews alone my kids saw more cars explode than they ever have – cumulatively (I like The Blacklist FWIW – but there’s a reason it airs late).  The new Terminator movie preview shows a “skeleton robot walking through fire”.  I love Mophie, but does God have to watch some bizarre apocalyptic thriller to be entertained?

Lastly, straight out morbid and depressing ads seemed to be the Super Bowl Ad Meme. Yes, I’ll cry for pretty much any use of Cat’s in the Cradle – as all dads do – but do I really think Nissan is helping the father-son relationship? And this year’s Budweiser entry, with “sad dog”, while it was certainly not one of the worst offenders, sure brought us all down a notch. But even that wasn’t nearly as bad as the Nationwide commercial. I won’t link to it, as I don’t want to give more views to a thing I found terrible.  And terrible it was. So bad that numerous memes were instantly created on Twitter as a result, which in turned  provoked a response from Nationwide – in which I found this little gem:

The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.

Sorry, but I’m calling BS on that. No offense to the entire insurance industry, but yours is not one of altruism. I have no idea the true motivation behind the ad, other than to shock and awe. It was literally despicable at every level, and I’d rather see a thousand more wardrobe malfunctions than anything like this ever again during daytime sports television. In my opinion, the decision-maker behind that ad should be fired, and shame on NBC for allowing it to air. Per my friend and colleague Jesse Redniss (of BRaVe Ventures):

As a parent, it was very difficult watching a game of sport with a light hearted and fun Half time show and then explaining to my children what the #NationwideDeadKid Commercial really meant? “Daddy, Why did that boy die?  “Dad, he looks so sad… why is the bath tub overflowing”

In some senses, it was like watching a scene out of True Detective. SB49 felt like advertiser ambushes. Taking advantage of these moments and literally sucking the life out of the family friendly entertainment value that many of us were expecting.

As a sports fan and parent, this year’s Super Bowl Ads will have an impact on how we watch it next year. I don’t need to be ambushed by advertisers, especially ones who want my business. The NFL, NBC, and brands need to think much more deeply about their audience – because we aren’t all 25-year-old boys drinking out of red cups anymore. There are plenty of ways to entertain, delight, and intrigue audiences without resorting to such tactics. I may sound stodgy and out of touch, but I also know how to tell when a line’s been crossed.

Blocking Apple Pay Won’t… Pay.

55688263So Rite Aid and CVS have decided to block Apple Pay in their stores. I’d characterize this as short-sighted and a likely damaging mistake. It’s one thing to not rush to adopt the new platform, but to deliberately get in consumers’ way is pretty much never the right option. Once a certain technology is in enough peoples’ hands and is convenient to use and the blockade is transparent enough to regular people, they will deliberately seek out alternate solutions.

As more and more people buy NFC-enabled phones (the technology that powers Apple Pay, as well as numerous Android options as well), they’ll expect/demand the convenience. Further, considering the motives of these retailers is suspect (they have a competing solution to avoid paying as much credit card fees), these are the combinations that create long-term resentment.

The better solution for these retailers is to re-enable Apple Pay, and then present a better, viable alternative. For example through loyalty programs, or discounts, or freebies, or any other positive incentive they can offer.

Considering the relative easy with which a consumer can choose a nationwide pharmacy chain, I’m curious to see how long this blockade holds.

My rant on passwords, the most craptastic part of using technology

Hmm, ESPN.com. I better use my double-helix encryption system for this one.

Seriously, is there anything worse about using websites, apps, services, products, or technology in general than having to enter in usernames and passwords?  Half the sites want a username, half use my email address, and most of the time they don’t even tell me which one to enter.  Not only do I have many different passwords, I even have different approaches to making passwords on different sites.  And not a week goes by that I need to complete some kind of “Reset my password” process.

Some sites want some uppercase letters.  Some don’t.  Some need a number – but make sure the number isn’t the first character of your password.  Some have minimum amounts of characters, some will let me through with “1-2-3-4-5″ (yeah, I know, your luggage…).  The all time granddaddy for most inconvenience?  My online bank.  Why?  Because when I forget my password, I are required not only to make a new one, but one I haven’t used before.  I’m sure this is more secure, but it pretty much creates a 100% certainty that when I come back I have some brand new approach to making the password this time, and therefore, will forget it again the next time I return.

Unless I cheat, and write down the password somewhere, or save it in a google doc.  Which pretty much invalidates the entire purpose of all of this added security.

Oh, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that 90% of the “remember me” or “save my password” features fail.  Which is doubly bad when its a site that has some obscure requirement on usernames, so I can’t remember those either.

It’s awful, and I’m sure that it creates a major amount of headaches and frustration for the typical Internet user.

Supposedly Google is trying to fix it with “automatic strong passwords” but it just gets me thinking: maybe not every single site needs a super strong password system?  Do I really need a distinct username for my online bookmarking service?  Or for Words with Friends?  Isn’t that the entire stated purpose of Facebook Connect?  Is there no way for me to “trust” that this really is a computer only I have access to, and for me to relay that concept onto the websites I want to use?

And I think that’s part of the inherent problem here: every single individual site, service, app, etc is taking on the entire trust responsibility themselves.  There’s absolutely no common sense in play, just a CYA style approach to “best practices”.

So I’ll personally waive some of my online security to the sites I use.  Yes, online banking and credit card companies, this is the only computer I plan to access your sites with, and if I visit, then yes, it’s me visiting.  This goes to you too, video sharing site, online game, and document backup site.  If someone steals my computer, I’ll deal with the consequences and will use the service you build me to un-authenticate this one.  And yes, Zynga, all the apps on my phone are mine, and only I will be playing them.   And if someone should snatch my phone, I too will take responsibility to close access remotely.  Because in all of these examples, I can do exactly that.

I’m not trying to diminish the needs for security and privacy (I’m a huge privacy advocate), but I believe we need to distribute and balance the responsibility in solving this as a relationship between users and services.  I don’t need an extra set of keys to every room in my house, nor provide a thumbprint to use the stereo or air conditioner in my car.  Let’s assume that we do need some strong passwords, good encryption, and safety standards, and let’s also assume human beings can take responsibility for their actions once they are properly informed and the right experiences are delivered.

It's got a pen?!

For the 14 people who missed the Super Bowl this year, a “notable” commercial was the debut of the Samsung Galaxy Note, which basically enlisted virtually every trick of the trade.  Hipster rock band? Check. Playful teasing of Apple users? Check. Flashy seeming new gadget? Check. Tablet with a stylus? Check.  Wait a sec, rewind, what is this, 1998?  Or, as I tweeted (and BTW, Twitter – yet another simple feature: enable easy embedding and reblogging of tweets to other platforms, because screenshots? really?):

So my advice this evening is to Samsung and everyone else competing with the iPad – which is actually nobody in reality.  If you want to play this game, you need to stop grasping at straws.  Go build a damn good product and the market will support your endeavors.  I’d heard some interesting buzz about the Note, that it might be the first “other” tablet to give the iPad a real run for its money.  And then? StylusGate.

Now wait, maybe it’s not about consumers.  Maybe it’s enterprise or other specific applications.  I’m sure there’s a decent market in several verticals for a tablet with a stylus (something I blogged about a full year ago now!).  But your marketing wasn’t about some productivity device, it was about consumers.

Does anyone really think any hipster, businessman, student, soccer mom, or any other typical consumer with an iota of self-respect would walk around using a stylus when everyone else doesn’t have to and can accomplish the exact same goals?  That commercial didn’t show a product superior to an iPad.

That’s the key thing here.  The stylus is showing up in an effort to get on par with the iPad’s user experience.

Except it doesn’t.

Not even close.

We Need a Digital Do Not Disturb System

I don’t need to write much “backstory” on this one.  Thanks to the technologies that pervade our lives, we are in a hyper-connected world.  But methinks it’s too much, and the blame lies solely on us, but all of us and in two different ways.

  1. We let ourselves get interrupted.  Multitasking is basically a lie, nobody’s good at it, and it’s proven unproductive.  If you have multiple windows doing different things, bottom line is you are getting less done.  Further, we leave our ringers on, have pop-up alerts for lots of things (from meeting notifications to Twitter DMs), leave our chat/IM programs open, have email checking once a minute, etc.
  2. We interrupt others.  Sending a chat request, a text message, a DM, etc is, in effect, an interruption on someone else’s time.  I loved Jeff Jarvis’ post on how we need to redefine “rude”.  The problem right now is, we’ve all accepted so many interruptions as “the norm” that we are imposing it upon others, and expecting them to react to our whims.

We need to fix this, and soon.  And I don’t mean for the “decreased productivity” factor – Americans especially have gotten far too focused on how productive we all are.  Here was Bobby Kennedy’s famous quote on measuring productivity:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

I think we’ve all tolerated these interruptions because we are chasing these false ambitions, and perverting the concept of productive to “work all the time, letting anything interrupt me, because it makes me seem/feel busier and therefore more important and more productive.”  I suggest we stop it.  And, since I’m human too, I’m going to state that I am fairly guilty myself, but I’m working on it.

I want a “do not disturb” app.  I want it to run on my desktop, iPad, iPhone, and laptop.  I want it to let me control when I’m interruptible and when I’m not.  I want it to work in a “polite” way, so nobody thinks I’m avoiding “them” but can be properly informed that I’m using this block of time to work on something specific.  I want it to let someone override in case of emergency, and I want it to mesh with my schedule.  I don’t need it to be very “smart”, it doesn’t have to “learn”, it just has to work.  And yes, I know it’s impossible, and this is unicorn territory.

But what I can do in the meantime…

  • Shut down Tweetdeck and start using Twitter when I want to, not worrying that I’ll “miss something” because in all truth, real-time is irrelevant for 99% of our personal and professional lives (unless you are actually in the media).
  • Turn off all notifications on my iPhone.
  • Close Skype and Adium except for when I want to chat with someone (which I’ve hopefully scheduled already).
  • Close mail, only checking it a few times a day – and move all “rapid back & forth” email conversations to the phone.

I have no idea how to do the above 4 things and actually make it work, but I’m going to try.

ps – my official interruption count while writing this was: 3 incoming texts, 1 twitter DM, 1 Skype instant message, 1 appointment reminder, and a Words With Friends update (I won – yeah, baby!).