George Lois asks: Can you do better?

george lois can you do better

George Lois was a real Madison Avenue adman from the 1950s and 1960s, and after. He wrote a book some years ago called DAMN GOOD ADVICE, which is a combination memoir / self-accolade / idea book.



It’s a good read, and a funny one. I recommend it.



(Incidentally: if you watch “Mad Men,” you will be interested to know that George Lois is rumored to be the model for Don Draper, the main character in the series. George, in his book, hotly denies it. “And besides,” he says, “I was more attractive!”, and shows this picture:



george lois don draper



(So what do you think of someone who says: “That’s not me! And besides, I was more attractive than that!”? Hmm. I know what I think.)



Anyway: the book is full of good stories.



This one nags at me frequently:



A bigwig goes into a bar and says to the bartender, “Give me the best Manhattan you can make.”



Bartender does so, and gives it to Bigwig. Bigwig tastes it. “It’s good,” he says. “Can you do better?”



Bartender tries again. This goes on for several repetitions. Finally, after sampling Manhattan #5 or so, Bigwig says: “This is excellent!”, and then he glares at Bartender. “Why the fuck didn’t you make it like this the first time I asked?”



I have no answer to that.



What does “best” mean?



And why don’t we do it all the time?


Logos Quiz


I was browsing drearily on my iPad the other day, looking for some new diversion, and found something called the “Logos Quiz.” Stupidly I assumed (for various reasons) that this was a Bible quiz. And I’m just a fool for Bible games and such.



But the game is far more insidious than any Bible quiz.



You are presented with a table of several dozen advertising logos: images, typography, color schemes. None is complete. You must identify them.



At first I was sniffingly scornful. Some ad agency put this together, I thought; product placement as a game.   Hmm. Starbucks, of course. Firefox. Barbie . . .



Then: goodness, I thought. This is harder than it looks.



There are (I think) eight levels; I’ve only made it to Level Five. The brands aren’t just American, but worldwide. Some are achingly familiar; others are almost-but-not-quite obvious.  (Quick, describe the insignia on a Saab!) Sometimes it’s just a font, or a combination of colors.



I was amazed when I opened the Financial Times on Monday and found that the redoubtable Lucy Kellaway had  written this week’s column on the Logos Quiz! (I was angry, a little, because I’d already made up my mind to write about it, and Lucy stole most of my thunder by making most of my points before I could. But she writes so much better than I do, so there’s no real harm done on the cosmic scale.)



Here are some of her points, and mine:



Point One: Advertising / logos are insidious. They dig into your brain and nest there. You will be amazed at what you recognize viscerally. (Quick! Sketch me the Nike logo! I know you can!)



Point Two: Things that are obvious to me as a fifty-four-year-old are not obvious to a twenty-year-old, and vice versa. (Lucy, close to my age, recognized the Kodak logo right away, but her young son didn’t; he recognized the Xbox logo right away, but was scandalized that his mother didn’t.)



Point Three (Which Lucy Didn’t Make In Her FT Article): The companies must be giggling about how this game is working in their favor. People are actually Googling their logos and corporate branding!  (My first thought, when I saw the game, was that it was somehow sponsored by a corporation or group of corporations.  I still think that this might be true. Who knows?)



Postscript: I don’t know if you read Thomas Gibson. He’s a little too FutureWorld even for me. But I read one of his novels, “Pattern Recognition,” a few years ago, and it made a little impression on me, mostly because its main character is a media consultant who reacts to corporate logos on an instinctive level.  You know the Michelin Man? She has a reaction to him that resembles anaphylactic shock.



I think I understand that. I used to feel the same way about Speedy Alka-Seltzer.



(Now: can someone explain to me the logo with the letter “N” shooting a laser beam off into space?)



The electrical-tape solution


We were visiting Partner’s mother a few years ago when Partner noticed a wide strip of black electrical tape blocking the bottom three inches of her TV screen.  “They’re always running some stupid thing down there,” his mother said.  (I am editing out some of the more colorful language.)  “I hate that stuff.  I don’t need to read anything at the bottom of the screen.”


I know what she means. 


I don’t mind news feeds on news shows, or business feeds on business shows. But the stupid little logos that walk around and wave at you and generally distract you from your program – I really loathe them.  (I make an exception for the football-player robot on “NFL on Fox.” He’s cute and bouncy and weirdly attractive. But I digress.)


And is it just me, or are the bouncing logos getting bigger and bigger?  More than once lately, they’ve actually obscured the action in the TV show. 


It’s based on the paradigm of the browser window.  When I log into Yahoo!, I get all kinds of dancing imagery – ads, animations, notifications.  (Actually I don’t, because my Firefox browser blocks advertisements.  But when I’m using other computers or browsers, I still suffer through them.)


The browser window is, in turn, based on the paradigm of the newspaper layout.  Newspaper articles are layouts in space, not in time.  They are surrounded by little boxed advertisements, and your eye bounces around and through them.


TV is not (I should say was not) based on the paradigm of the newspaper layout.  TV is a layout in time.  If you want to insert an advertisement, the standard method is to interrupt the program at given intervals and add a few commercials. 


But we have all that space! someone thought.  Why waste it?  We can advertise new shows.  We can do self-promotion.  Maybe we can even do product tie-ins. 


TV used to be a unique appliance.  It did one thing: it showed broadcast programming.  Nothing else in the house could do that.  Nowadays, of course, kids look at TV and see a big screen, just like any other screen on any other device in the house.  It’s bigger than the other screens, and it has better picture quality, but that’s about it.  TV programming is no longer sacrosanct; it’s something you can play with and reformat, like browser content.


I have noticed that, when I get on these topics, I get Andy Rooneyish.  I don’t mean to.  I suppose it’s partly my advanced age, which makes the past seem magically perfect and very quaint. 


But I still haven’t taped up the bottom of my TV screen. I like watching that football-player robot bouncing around. He’s sort of hot.



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