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 InfoPresse.com, 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.

Deadly consequences from simple misunderstandings

In the wake of the shooting of Italian special agent Nicola Calipari, who had secured the release of kidnapped Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, there is an excellent article in the March 7, 2005 edition of the Christian Science Monitor called What Iraq’s Checkpoints Are Like, by Annia Ciezadlo.

As you may know, Calipari died when the car in which he and Sgrena were driving did not slow down when it approached an American checkpoint while on the way to the airport immediately after Sgrena’s release from her kidnappers. There are differing views on exactly what happened. Sgrena says they were driving normally, while the Americans say the car did not yield their warnings and order to stop.

The CSM article describes how the kinds of communications breakdowns that occur at those checkpoints. The jist of it is this: from the point of view of the Americans, anyone who continues to drive fast when signalled to stop is a threat. This has been confirmed a few times, as such vehicles occasionally do prove to be driven by suicide bombers or other aggressors. On the other hand, several decades of oppressive rule under Saddam Hussein have taught Iraqis that driving slowly makes them conspicuous and likely targets.

So what you have is a clash of misunderstandings. The Americans assume that a fast-driving car is a threat, while Iraqis assume they will be shot at unless they drive fast.

In the Sgrena/Calipari case — which occurred after the article was written — there is speculation in some corners that the Americans were targeting the Italians because they had negotiated with the insurgents, which is against U.S. policy. I’m not sure if the driver was Italian or Iraqi. Regardless, for some insight into the hazards of being an ordinary Iraqi with a car, read the article…

Media madness…

Last night’s fifth anniversary YULBlog meeting was a bit different. Aside from the usual cluster of bloggers, beers, and remarkable service from Julie the über sërvëüse, there was a cacophony of reporters. Mea culpa (again), I seemed to lead the pack when I arrived at La Cabane in a bizarre orchestrated entrance in which I entered the bar about five times, being filmed from different angles by a reporter for CBC television.

Then the photographer for La Presse showed up, clicking away and getting us all to clack glasses over our mascot, La Vache. Off to the side a reporter (and blogger) from Hour was hastily sketching notes, and then the photographer from The Gazette showed up with a wide and varied selection of flash strobes, lighting up the bar like some 70s-era disco. In the meantime reporters from The Gazette and La Presse where cornering people and getting quotes, and the CBC reporter was taping interviews with me, Mikel, and others.

It was crazy!

But so what? It’s a small story that happens to have a bit of cachet at the moment, because blogs are the shizzle in the mainstream media right now. In the general adult population, blogs are still — believe it or not — something of a mystery. Stop 100 people on rue St. Catherine (or Yonge Street, or Fifth Avenue, or Montgomery Street, or where ever) and 40% of them will have never even heard the term before. Another 40% will have heard or read the term in the newspaper or on TV, but they aren’t really sure what blogs are all about.

Probably 20% of people — at best — have any real sense of what a blog is.

Of those who have a passing familiarity with blogs, most still think of them as obscure little anti-social diaries written by Aspberger’s Syndrome-affected trolls who live under bridges. My goal, when I tipped-off a few media people last week in anticipation of the fifth anniversary meeting, was to get a story or two in a few local papers that would show how bloggers are like any other diverse group of people with a common interest who get together to socialize. We could just as easily been people who like to play darts, or big fans of stamp collecting.

We’re a diverse crew. Indeed, some bloggers are trolls who live under bridges (none that I know), but most of us are just regular people who like to communicate and have discovered that the Web is a great way to do it. Hopefully, all this media attention — which will be very short lived and forgotten about within 10 days — might open a few eyes among those outside of the blogging community. And even if it doesn’t, so what?

The CBC segment should air tonight (Thursday) (see below…) on Canada Now: Montreal at 6:30 PM. The Gazette story will likely be in next Thursday’s edition, the same day as the Hour story. It’s less clear when La Presse will run the story, but it might be next Wednesday.

We’re not expecting any media presence at the special fifth Anniversary party to be held Saturday, March 19, 2005 at Zeke’s Gallery on Blvd. St. Laurent. That will be 100% party! (Watch YULBlog for details…)

Update! The CBC segment has been bumped to tomorrow (Friday). Same time, same channel.