Branding

In a moment of weakness (pre-Xmas shopping fatigue) M and I went to one of those chain restaurants that tries to feel homey and welcoming, but in fact they are off-putting and clinical in their sameness.

I ordered a “Bloody Caesar Chipotle,” which is, as the name implies, a Bloody Caesar spiked with chipotle pepper sauce. Look at what arrived — a regular Bloody Caesar with a small bottle of Tobasco brand chipotle pepper sauce on the side.

Buy this brand

On the one hand, the bottle is cute — although the spout was so small I almost gave up trying to get the sauce out. (I finally used a toothpick to help it along.) But when I order a cocktail, I want a cocktail, not an advertising experience. And I want the bartender to do the work.

No doubt, this resto gets the pepper sauce free, on the condition they deliver it on the side so we can see the label. Tobasco has recently introduced variations on its traditional pepper sauce, and considering how hot the pepper sauce market is these days, they are undoubtedly very happy to gain a bit of product placement.

In the end, the drink tasted well enough (it’s hard to make a bad Caesar). But the advertising threw me off. It’s the kind of subtle thing that is utterly lost on many people — so accustomed as we are to the constant bombardment of advertising and consumption-oriented imagery. But for those of us who still imagine a life that doesn’t revolve around retailing, it can ruin an otherwise decent cocktail.

It wasn’t video…

…that killed the radio star, it was crass commercialism. A few weeks ago I got a telemarketing call that I actually didn’t hang up on because the poor girl was struggling so hard with the script that I thought I’d give her a break. She was calling from bbm Canada (or, as they call themselves in French, “sondages bbm“) to see if I’d be interested in keeping a week-long radio log for ratings purposes. I agreed.

I got the log book in the mail yesterday. Starting Monday, I have to log all my radio listening activity for a week. That will be pretty easy, as my radio listening is quite predictable. Essentially, the only station I listen to is CBC Radio 1, because (a) there are no ads, (b) sometimes they have interesting things to say, (c) there are no ads, (d) they have decent international coverage, and (e) there are no ads.

That’s not entirely true. Sometimes, when I’m at home and I just want something mellow in the background I put on that lame classical station (CJPX at 99.5 FM). This is classical 101 — nothing challenging for the learned listener — but sometimes I appreciate a faint wallpaper of wonky harpsichord or twiddling flutes.

I also listen to CISM (89.3 FM) a lot, but only during the day when I’m at work in my glass tower. CISM is the Université de Montréal student radio station, and they have some really interesting music programming in the afternoons. Except for the jazz. Their jazz programming is atrocious — every day it’s the same experimental “blow hard on your reed until it bursts” crap that was interesting for about five minutes in 1973 and has been annoying ever since. Otherwise, their hip hop and ambient programming sometimes kinda works. And they have no ads.

Ditto CKUT (90.3 FM), McGill’s student radio station. As long as they shut up and play music, they’re great, but once they start talking it’s the same old carbon-copy, pubescent, straight-from-the-can, and utterly predictable so-called “radical” crap. Bless them and their alternative viewpoints, but damn, it’s not like they’re the only ones who’ve figured out that Henry Kissinger is a war criminal. But at least they have no ads.

And there is the crux of it. No ads. I cannot stand commercials on radio. No, it is not because I’m some kind of soy-sucking, Utne-fied, alternative-arts-supporting, PBS-watching, faux bo-ho. I just hate advertising on radio. It makes me cringe and puts me in a bad mood. It’s a gut reaction.

I also hate the dumbing-down effect that commercialism has on radio.

Look at CHOM and the various other so-called “hip” stations in Montreal. They’re as conservative as a White House bible study breakfast. Everything revolves around ratings and ad revenue, all centered on the lowest common denominator. The DJs are insipid, the contests retarded, the news reporting insultingly facile — everything is designed to be as unchallenging as possible so that none of those white-shirted downtown office workers with all their disposable income will be scared off by having to think.

Plus, they play the ads louder than the non-advertising content.

When I first moved to Montreal, I found myself driving around a lot, as part of my first job. In search of something interesting on the radio (which for me usually means talk) I found CJAD, a long-standing English talkie AM station. Whoa! Before long I found myself listening to CJAD’s journalists and news readers doing the voiceovers for furniture store and other ads. What the…? What if ‘Furniture Wholesalers’ got busted for tax evasion — would you read that on the news?

I just can’t listen to it. Not just on principle, but because the ubiquitous and endless ads make me angry and almost violent. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction — I literally want to smash the radio.

Forget that. Give me CBC Radio 1 any day (especially these days, now that Shelagh Rogers is off dealing with her blood pressure). Or give me Positive Vibes or even those silly Filipino girls on CKUT, or that damn Beethoven thing for the 9th time today on CJPX. Just don’t give me any more of that stupid commercial DJ banter, and please, for the love of gawd, don’t play that damn Tal Bachman song again!

Churn time?

I’ve been getting text message SPAM on my mobile phone. To fully understand the gravity of this, you must be aware that I am not a phone person. I love talking with people, but I hate talking into a damn piece of plastic. This isn’t some sort of post-modern proto-luddite affectation or whatever — it’s just something that I’ve come to realize about myself.

I just don’t like it. Phone talk interrupts my personal time, my TV shows, my cooking, my blog writing, you name it. When the phone rings I swear at it, no matter what I’m doing and before I even pick it up to see who’s calling. Unless it’s a far-flung friend whom I can’t speak with face-to-face, I want the phone call to be over as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I sometimes comes off as being very gruff because of this, but the simple truth is that I just want to get off the damn phone.

I’ve had this mobile phone (from Telus, formerly ClearNet) for at least three years now. It occasionally comes in handy, so I don’t regret having it. I only turn it on when I want to make a call, so incoming calls are exceedingly rare. (People know how slim the odds are that the phone is turned on, so they don’t call that number unless it’s been pre-arranged that they will.)

Last year I got the brilliant idea to switch off the $25/month plan (which was actually $40 after taxes and other costs) and instead use the “pay-as-you-go” option. A $10 Telus card gives me about 30 minutes of phone time, and expires in 30 days. Typically, I’ve used only half the value by the time my 30 days are up. A few times I’ve probably made only two calls in that period. By some people’s accounting that means I’m making $5 phone calls, but that’s better than making $20 phone calls — as I was under the old plan.

So I have a cheap phone that I almost never use. Fine. Lately, however, when I turn on the phone to make a quick call, there’s often a text message waiting for me. So I go bloop bloop bloop bloop bloop…, punching in the various menu items and codes to access the message, and it ends up being some dumb-ass SPAM advertising some lame event around town or some product I don’t want. In some cases it’s coming directly from Telus.

The worst part is that it usually takes a couple of minutes after I turn the phone on for it to realize there’s a text message waiting for me. The result is that I’ll be in the middle of a call when my phone starts to ring, signaling that I have a text message waiting!

The first time this happened I panicked. What…? What the…! What’s happening??? How could my phone be ringing when I’m in the middle of a call? Now I know what it is, but it still takes a moment for me to rememeber what’s happening, and it makes my blood boil. I swear I’m going to just throw it across the room one of these days…

I’m thinking about telling Telus to stop spamming me (and to stop selling my number to spammers) or I’m going to switch to another service provider. In telecom talk that’s called “churn” (when customers switch companies). Churn is the most frightening word in the mobile phone vernacular, so maybe they’ll listen. But then, the other companies probably have the same SPAM problems, so what’s the point?

Royal Bank screwed me again

Royal Bank screwed me again. I lugged about 15 pounds of loonies to work today, with the intention of hauling them over to the nearest Royal Bank before noon, and exchanging them for some AMEX traveller’s cheques and a deposit to my bank account. Some guy from AMEX told me I’d be better off getting the cheques in Euros instead of Canucks or Francs, and that I should phone the bank first to make sure they had some in stock.

So I did.

I called at 11:30 and the guy at the bank said they had traveller’s cheques in Euros, so off I went at 11:45, beating the noontime rush.

At the bank I stopped at the info desk to ask if I should go to a regular teller for this transaction. She called someone deeper in the bowels of the bank and then announced they had no cheques in Euros.

!

So she sent me to the huge main branch at Place Ville Marie. By the time I got there, with my sore arm from lugging the coins, it was after 12:00, so there were a million people in line. It took about 40 minutes to get through, only to find out they didn’t have any Euros either. So I got them in Francs.

At this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass. One way or another, 60 hours from now my jet-lagged butt will be in a cafe in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, a croissant in one hand and a cafe noir in the other.