Friday Roundup

It’s not like I do this every week (or any week), but hey, it’s Friday and this is a roundup.

DVRs and Ad Retention

According to, an BBC study has shown that television ad retention is actually better in houses that have a digital video recorder (DVR). This goes against conventional advertising wisdom that believes the ability to fast-forward through ads means people don’t see them. However, as someone who has a DVR, I think I understand why Ad Age’s claim may be true. Here’s why:

With a conventional television, I’m inclined to change the channel when and ad comes on, or I might even leave the room. With my DVR, however, I fast-forward through the ad. That means I see the ad, just speeded up. Occasionally an ad is so compelling that I’ll actually stop, rewind, and watch it.

Once I’ve seen the ad, I don’t need to sit through the whole 30 seconds again. Simply by seeing it in a five-second fast-forward, I am reminded of the full ad, so it makes essentially the same impression.

There’s a simple reason why this is important — DVR makers are talking about implementing a restriction that won’t let users fast-forward through ads. Some people in the advertising business even question the legality of a system that allows people to fast-forward through ads.

That’s bullshit. If the day ever arrives when I cannot fast-forward through television ads I will disconnect the TV and only use it for DVDs. No, really.

Dr. Phil and his Dim Followers

According to the Southern Medical Journal, a study has linked daytime television consumption to lower mental capacity in old people. Now remember — correlation is not the same as causation. It could go either way: either watching daytime television makes you thick, or thick people are particularly drawn to daytime television. Either way, this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s spend a sick day in front of the tube watching that crap.

It’s Official: Short Attention Spans are the New Black

Ars Technica reports on a Time Magazine article that claims our gadget- and multitasking-obsessed lifestyles are leading to a generation of short attention span people who have never learned to focus on anything. I meant to read the whole article but I had to answer a few emails and then somebody pinged my Jabber thing. Hang on, there’s my cell phone…


My birthday is coming up in a few months. I’d love to get one of these hats with a pre-pixelated logo, in case I ever find myself on a U.S. reality TV show. On the other hand, maybe I’d rather a pre-pixelated t-shirt.

In case you’re been living in a cave and haven’t noticed this phenomenon, U.S. reality shows go through a post-production phase where they blur (pixelate) any logos or brand names that happen to be caught in the frame while shooting. Unless, that is, the owner of the logo ponies up a “promotional consideration.”

Actually, it’s a two-edged sword — on the one hand, they use the technique to “encourage” brand owners to cough up money to not be pixelated, but on the other hand they do it so that brand owners won’t sue them for copyright infringement. Yes, it’s that weird: it’s like me saying to Coca-Cola “give me $100,000 or I’ll pixelate your logo right out of this scene,” but then Pepsi turns around and sues me for $100,000 because I didn’t pay them for permission to use their logo, even though it was only visible on a poster way, way in the background. That’s how pathetic copyright issues are in the U.S. right now. Some shows even blur paintings and photographs hanging on the walls.

And get off your high Canadian horse — about the only reason why it’s not like that in Canada (yet) is because the stakes are lower here.

More on Mobile TV

Yesterday I posted about my problems with the Motorola v710 and Telus. One of my problems was that Mobile TV did not work for the first two months that I had the phone. It works now, finally, but it really sucks. The sound is bad, and the picture quality is very bad.

But I suppose that’s to be expected. I certainly didn’t buy that phone for the sake of Mobile TV. You don’t need to be an expert to expect that Mobile TV will be a disappointment.

However, I am a bit annoyed about the way Telus depicts Mobile TV in their ads. They give the impression that the TV image fills the entire screen of the Motorola v710 (which has, by the way, quite a large and beautiful display). Of course this makes no sense, because a television screen is longer than it is tall, and the telephone’s screen is taller than it is long.

not the sameThe image to the right is a manipulation of a picture I nabbed from Telus’s Web site. The phone on the left shows Mobile TV as Telus presents it. The phone in the middle shows my (faked) estimate of how the image really appears in terms of the true proportions — I cropped the top and bottom and kept the guy’s head about the same size. The phone on the far right shows what it would look like if you wanted the full view of the guy (and could magically recover image area on the left and right).

Clearly, the real thing differs significantly from how Telus depicts it. No doubt they have some sort of disclaimer that says “simulated image,” but this is doing more than just simulating the image. It gives a misleading depiction of how the screen actually appears, making it look like the TV image is twice as big as it really does appear.

Now add an extremely high level of compression artifacting and a frame rate of between two and four frames per second and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Shame on you, Telus. Shame on you.

Stupid Bell Sympatico ad

Bell Sympatico has been circulating an ad for their new “Parent Control” service that says “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content. So will we.” The accompanying picture is of anatomy book open to a page titled “The Female Body.” The breasts and pubic region have been cut out.

Many people (1, 2, 3, etc.) are offended by this ad, and rightly so. There are at least two levels of subtext at work. First; the female body is naughty and inappropriate. Even worse; knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.

Apparently, a few people are not offended by the ad, claiming that it is just a humourous take on the idea of over-protecting your children. I suspect that 90% of them work for Sympatico’s marketing department or Grip, the Toronto advertising company behind the ad. They say it is part of a wider campaign — that the related television ads put it “in context.” News flash: not everybody watches a lot of television!

I won’t even get into the feminist side of the discussion as that, to me, is obvious and does not even need to be discussed. (More on blork and feminism here…) But I would like to discuss it from a media point-of-view.

Humour? In order to be humourous in a marketing campaign, there needs to be slapstick, or irony, or some other obvious *whack!* There’s no *whack!* here. Outside of “the context” of the TV ads, there is no reference to anything that shows this kind of over-protection as being bad, or weird, or in any way itself inappropriate. As such, the humour in the print ad is not obvious, so it essentially doesn’t exist. Which leaves only one conclusion — they appear to endorse the ideas that the female body is naughty and inappropriate and knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but the world is full of impressionable people, many of whom buy into those ideas without Sympatico even pushing it at them. They’re just not the kind of ideas one throws around casually unless you are satirizing or mocking them — which Sympatico is clearly not doing. As such, an ad like this will offend many people.

What offends me as a marketing professional is that no one at Sympatico or Grip had the imagination or foresight to realize the implications of this image and how those implications would overshadow any small scraps of humour that might have been found in the original concept. I suppose that’s what happens when bone-headed designers meet stuffed-shirt executives.

You can see the television ad on, here. You can also see the French-language ad (by Cossette), which is completely different — and is actually funny, aside from the habitant angle, which is getting old. (Ignore the movie that comes up when the InfoPresse page first loads — click on “Message Canadien” for the English ad and “Message québécois” for the French one.)

Bell on VoIP

Boris is referencing Ed Bilodeau in a discussion of a new ad campaign in which Bell is trying to convince consumers that Videotron’s new VoIP (Voice over IP) telephone service is unreliable. Some folks are attacking Bell, calling it a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) smear.

Boris points out what he perceives as an irony — that Bell has been installing fibre optic cables and selling VoIP services to corporations for years. However, the issue isn’t what they’ve sold to corporations or how much fibre optic is installed. For one thing, corporate VoIP goes through really big and reliable corporate servers, not the crappy cable TV line that your landlord installed illegally 20 years ago.

More specifically, when one speaks of VoIP, one generally means that either the originating or terminating phone (or both) is an IP-based unit that sends and receives its signals through an IP server instead of a traditional voice switch. For many complicated reasons, this isn’t the same as when somewhere along the way, a traditional call gets carried over an IP line — a transparent technological leap that has been happening for years and does not qualify as “VoIP.”

When your phone is IP from the start, and uses a cable modem and TV line as it’s gateway, then reliability will go down. Videotron, for example, craps out all the time. Anyone who has every had to reboot their Videotron modem to get their Web access back might want to think about that. They might also think about the fact that — unlike regular phones — VoIP phones won’t work when there is a power failure, although the newer VoIP modems have backup batteries that can last up to 20 hours. That’s also a moot question if you have a mobile phone, since you can use that if the power goes out — assuming your battery is charged and you’re not concerned about missing calls from people who don’t have your mobile number.

In other words, the issue of reliability comes from getting the call into and out of your house — not what happens once it’s out there in the system.

The traditional phone companies have, for years, prided themselves on what they call “five-9” reliability. That means the phone lines work 99.999% of the time. The big telecoms have used this five-9 argument against VoIP and other IP-based voice technologies for years — at least they did in the 1990s, when you couldn’t get five-9 reliability from corporate VoIP systems. So it is not something new. What is new is that they’re now bringing that message to consumers.

That said, Bell is absolutely correct that consumer VoIP is less reliable. Factoring in those modems, cable lines, and power outages, there’s no way they can hit five-9 at this point. There remain, however, two unanswered questions:

(1) Exactly how much less reliable is VoIP? Is consumer VoIP at three-9 (99.9%)? Is it five-8 (88.888%)? Is it 75%? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s probably around 99%.

(2) Do consumers really need five-9 reliability? Is that as strong a selling point as Bell thinks it is? Are consumers willing to give up a percentage point or two of reliability in exchange for lower prices? In most cases, I suspect it’s a resounding yes!

You can criticize Bell for many things (and I have, believe me, I have) but this is just plain old marketing. It’s up to the consumer to decide how much reliability they need and to figure out what they are willing to compromise for a lower price.