Drown your sorrows in puppies

Let’s talk about this year’s Super Bowl (aka Big Game for the unaffiliated) commercial for Budweiser. It’s a lot like last year’s spot. It has a puppy in it.

Not only does it have a puppy, it’s got a real “tug at your heart strings” vibe going on. Much like the commercial from last year. Both ads leave me wondering, just what kind of beer is Budweiser? They call themselves the King of Beers™. But this isn’t a beer ad. It’s an internet video with a puppy in it. Oh, and it has the hash tag #BestBuds. Get it? Like Bud. As in Budweiser. (The beer.)

It already has over two million views. I’m sure the brand and their agency (Anomaly) are thrilled with that number. I’m sure they also knew exactly what they were doing when they decided to make another ad about a puppy. But I have a couple of problems with this ad.

One, it doesn’t tell me anything about the beer. Sure, it’s Budweiser, so you could argue they’ve said it all. Or you could argue that with the increasing rise in popularity of craft beer, maybe they should be bother to tell people why someone might want to drink Budweiser.

My second issue is that this doesn’t even feel on target or on brand for Budweiser. When I think of Bud, I think of an all-American quarter back pounding back a few after a hard day’s footballin’. Or maybe an alcoholic Vietnam War veteran. Or somewhere in between. Regardless, I don’t see any of those types caring too much about the plight of a lost puppy. If anything, I think they would be put off by this ad. It doesn’t have anything to it. No sports. No humour. No America!

Instead, they’re trying to make people teary eyed. I don’t understand beer brands making emotional ads. I drink beer because I don’t want to feel anything. The one thing I take away from this ad is that if I stay home on my farm drinking alone long enough, my alcoholism will get so bad that my only remaining friend will be a dog. If Budweiser wants to connect with me emotionally, they should make an ad about jealousy, bitterness and crippling self-doubt.

This ad is just the worst kind of pandering bullshit that some people believe passes for a brand message. Actually, I’ll agree with that. Because I don’t see how this does anything but say Budweiser is watered-down dog water.

If there’s anything positive to take away, it’s this Go Daddy parody commercial/promotional stunt:

When’s Your Book Coming?

I had some friends over on New Year’s Eve, shortly after I started writing things on here again. (I refuse to say “blogging” even if that’s what this is.) They asked me why I had started again, why I stopped in the first place, and if I was going to write anything else.

I shrugged. I don’t know what this is. I don’t know what I’m doing with it. I’m not very good at committing to things, especially personal creative projects.

Then one of them looked at my bookshelf and noticed the debut novel of a friend of mine, The Dilettantes. He turned to me and asked, “When’s your book coming, Warren?”

I shrugged. I have only ever taken a crack at writing a book once, about five or six years ago. I entered the 3-Day Novel Contest and finished a roughly 50 page draft of a half-cooked idea. I sent it to my friend Michael who had already written a book, received his constructive criticism, revised the draft, and haven’t opened it since. I’m not sure why.

At the time, I remember thinking I had a decent idea for a book. Not that I would necessarily know it if I did. It seems like that when you do any kind of writing on a regular basis (especially if you do it as a job), people kind of expect you to eventually write a book of some kind. But it’s not an easy thing to do. At least I don’t think it is, I’ve never really tried it.

I think part of the problem is the writers expect so much of themselves that they think their first book will never be good enough. Actually, forget the first book. The first draft will never be good enough. We don’t stop to realize that maybe, just maybe the first one doesn’t have to be perfect. We do revisions on our writing all the time but somehow expect ourselves to write something on that scale perfectly on the first go. I mean, I’m almost certainly going to come back and find grammatical errors in this after I have posted it. I’m going to write those revisions. So why can’t I write a book?

Partly because I’m not sure what I would write about. I’m not sure I could pick up a five-year-old draft of a novel and continue working on it. I’m not sure it’s even a story I would want to finish. But I guess there’s really only one way to find out.

Maybe it’s all about holding yourself accountable? Let’s try that. I will finish a draft of a novel by the end of 2015. And it will be perfect.

I have an opinion on the opinion pieces on the tragedy I know nothing about

Let me start this by saying: I had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attack on their office that left 12 people dead. I think that’s important because I feel like a lot of people in North America had never heard of it before either. And yet everyone now seems to have an opinion about the attack and what it means. What a surprise.

One horrible tragedy that spawns a global news story and suddenly everyone is an expert on freedom of speech, Muslims and editorial cartoons. (Here’s a fun game: when’s the last time you actually saw an editorial cartoon that had enough of an effect on you to tell a friend about it?) Apparently, everyone is also now an expert on opinion pieces about freedom of speech, Muslims and editorial cartoons. Thanks to the internet and our 24 hour news streams, there are always opinion pieces about opinion pieces about opinion pieces.

Because it’s important that someone “gets it right” in terms of what 12 people getting killed for making politically charged cartoons all means. That’s what’s important. There has to be meaning from this. It can’t just be that two mentally unstable people shot a bunch of people for no reason. No, it means something and everyone needs their meaning to be the right one.

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Responding to the attack isn’t about saying “Je suis Charlie,” it’s about saying “Je suis Ahmed.” Or even “I am not Charlie Hebdo.” The material produced in Charlie Hebdo is racist. It’s also heroic. But… pretty racist. That said, we should still condemn those kooky radical Muslims, am I right? Everyone needs to have a response and it needs to be posted by EOD. Every media outlet needs to have one of their people say something about the tragedy before the story dies. The quickest way to think of something to say is to respond to something that’s already been said. And then of course we all must have something to say about all that’s been said.

That’s what’s important. This story is all over news. You have to know where you stand. You definitely have to tell all your Facebook friends where you stand. Twitter needs to know, too. So start sharing everyone. Don’t take a step back to consider the attacks themselves, why they occurred, what they were against or even what they were for. Quickly form your opinion based on the first North American op-ed you saw that more-or-less felt right to you. We’re all waiting to hear what you think.

But really, you don’t always have to have an opinion on something. Even if it’s a tragedy on this scale. Or one that’s this politically charged. You don’t have to rush to determine which opinion piece best represents your views on the event. You certainly don’t have to tell everyone how you feel. Especially when you were never familiar with the magazine or what its material was about.

Sometimes saying “Well, this is really fucking awful” is enough. But that’s just my opinion.

Protecting children from everything, teaching them nothing

My five-year-old niece got an iPad for Christmas. I don’t say this in a condemning way, she is entertained and even educated by a number of games she was already playing on my Dad’s iPad. It makes since for her to have her own, even if she is only five. Another niece of mine (with different parents) got an iPhone around the age of 10. I didn’t have a cellphone until my second year of university and no one called me on it except my Mom. Parents are now giving their kids full reign of technology and the internet. So why are they trying to protect them from every other non-digital aspect of life?

The Huffington Post just reported on growing restrictions on tobogganing across North America. The fun police have struck again, just as winter gets going. These days, it seems like the fun police are parents. Sure, they let their kids have iPhones, PS4s, over-priced clothing and other things to assure their kids that they are “cool parents,” but they don’t seem to let them do much else. (Before I go on, I should admit that I am not a parent and have no conception of the constant fear one has for their child. But I was a kid once, with parents who weren’t over-protective.)

It starts with Purell (and hand sanitizer in general). The amount of times I have seen parents heaping goops of this stuff onto their kids hands before and/or after they go to the playground, into a mall or just anywhere outside their home, is mind boggling. What, exactly, are the parents protecting their kids from? Dirt? Other kids’ boogers? A killer germ pathogen known to be found on slides? I doubt parents even know. It’s probably a “just in case.” You wouldn’t want to be the parent whose kid catches ebola on the see-saw.

But everything parents are protecting their kids with these days is superficial. They aren’t actually teaching them how to protect themselves. Have you seen kids wearing helmets and shoulder pads while tobogganing? I have. And the reason cities are banning it from parks is because people are suing when they or their children get hurt. Even though kids are wearing helmets, it seems like they aren’t being taught how to calculate risk. They’re being taught that wearing a helmet will protect you! So don’t worry! Aim your toboggan for that pile of rocks if you want!

Considering kids get iPhones and iPads without being told they’re too young to have them, it’s no surprise that they start thinking they can get their way. And when things don’t go their way, it’s no surprise that they overreact. They don’t know how to deal with consequences. Crash your toboggan and scrape your chin? Clearly that’s the city’s fault for not having a sign warning about the potential dangers. Get a blister while climbing a ladder at the playground? Purell isn’t strong enough. So then kids get upset and cry and whine and parents get to thinking their kids should just stay inside. They’ll be safe playing X-Box or using their iPhones.

Parents give their kids iPhones under the guise of protection, too. If their kid has a phone, they can always know what they’re doing and where they are. But even with apps and software that allow parents to see everything their kid is doing on their phone, don’t you think kids are going to quickly come up with their own text message code that seems innocuous to parents while really it means something completely different? It’s the same way how when I was in grade 10, telling my Mom I was going to my friend Brad’s house for a sleepover was code for “We’re going to drink disgustingly cheap wine in a park.”

When you allow kids to take chances and make their own mistakes, they learn things. Just like I learned drinking terrible wine in a park in the middle of night isn’t really all that fun. I only drank three or four times in high school after that. I’m not saying every kid is going to learn the lesson you want them to learn, but you have to at least give them that chance.

This includes letting them go outside. Let them play on the playground without drowning them in Purell. Let them go tobogganing. Let them rollerblade down that big hill. Let them go out with their friends on Saturday night. It’s on you to tell them to be careful. If they aren’t, they’re going to learn that sometimes not everything in life is going to go their way.

Hockey’s losing me or: How I gave up my Canadian passport

I was raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. So it goes without saying that I grew up watching hockey as a Maple Leafs fan. When you’re from Toronto, you’re a Leafs fan. It’s as simple as that. (Except for those weirdos who root for the Habs.) So what I’m about to say is about as sacrilegious as a non-religious person can get: I’m pretty close to being done with hockey.

The first response to that is something like “a true hockey fan never loses their passion.” And that might be true. Maybe I’m not a true fan. All I know is that I watched every Leafs game from the age of 14 to about 25 or 26. Since then, the number of games I watch has been dropping with each passing season. A big part of that is that the Leafs are not a good hockey team and haven’t been for a long time. I’ve never bought in to their winning streaks or making the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season as signs that they’re a team a couple pieces away from contention. They are a team that is deeply flawed from the roster through to the front office on to the ownership. They aren’t close to being a good team. But that’s not the only reason why they’re losing me.

Hockey is still one of the most entertaining sports to watch, if not the most. And I say that as a huge baseball fan, one that knows watching baseball is pretty damn boring for most people. Hockey is easy to enjoy. So lately I keep asking myself why I can’t bring myself to sit through an entire game.

My interest in hockey has been in a gradual but steady decline. It started with the 2004-2005 lockout. Going a whole season without NHL hockey showed me I could live without it. The 2012-2013 lockout confirmed it. Two lockouts in less than 10 years makes it easy to grow tired of all the bullshit that come with any professional sport. For the record, I think the players were right for wanting more. I don’t blame them. I blame the owners. I blame Gary Bettman. And his stupid face.

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But it’s not just him. It is the Leafs. It is nearly 50 years without a Stanley Cup and only a few legitimate shots at one within my lifetime. And it is the seeming indifference from the new ownership to create any sort of sensible plan to do anything about that.

You can’t really blame them. Seats in the ACC get filled no matter how bad the team is, how directionless they are, how lost they are. When Rogers and Bell bought the Leafs, they knew they were getting a property with a virtually guaranteed profit. They weren’t buying the team to make it better, they were buying it to make more money. If the team happens to win, it just means Rogers and Bell will make even more money.

They didn’t want to buy the Leafs, they wanted to buy the Canadian pastime. They want Rogers to be forever intertwined with hockey. That’s why they bought Hockey Night In Canada. That’s why they have exclusive hockey video apps with never before seen camera angles only available to Rogers customers. I mean, are you really a true hockey fan if you’re not a Rogers customer?

That’s where it seems like they’re headed, at least. And it makes it hard to watch HNIC now. The whole show feels like it’s just a vessel for shilling Rogers garbage. But it’s not just the Rogers apps, programs and services. It’s the hosts they brought over. Any sports program that has Damien Cox and Nick Kypreos as insiders is one I don’t want to watch. Plus, they kept Glenn “describing a professional hockey player as competitive is as in depth as my analysis gets” Healy.

It’s the same with the Leafs. I think there’s an argument to made that hiring Brendan Shanahan as team president is less about improving the team and more about showing Rogers’ connection to hockey. If he helps the Leafs win a Cup, even better. It’s an opportunity for exclusive downloadable content of video from the winner’s dressing room only available through Rogers.

With both the Leafs and with HNIC, there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the decisions other than “We’re Rogers and we can do whatever we want and you will like it.” I don’t feel like I’m watching a hockey game anymore, I feel like I’m watching hockey on Rogers brought to you by Rogers sponsored by Rogers.

Maybe I’m letting token corporate ownership get to me. Maybe a real fan wouldn’t let ultimately meaningless stuff like this interfere with their love of the game. Maybe I’m too jaded and pessimistic from watching my favourite hockey team never win anything. Maybe I should just shut up and watch the game. Or maybe losing interest in hockey is what being a Leafs fan is all about.

Your divorced family isn’t blended

I’m a child of divorce. I have been as long as I can remember, since my parents split up when I was three. It’s a big part of who I am, for better and for worse. Being a child of divorce will affect you no matter who you are. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. What I don’t understand is the seemingly recent push to call divorced families “blended.” What does that even mean? I guarantee whoever came up with that term has parents that are still married to each other.

“Blended” implies that families coming together after divorce, through remarriage and otherwise, do so seamlessly. And I just don’t think that’s true. Divorce isn’t easy. Divorce is hard. Divorce sucks. Why do we need to pretend that it’s not?

Take a look at this ad from Honey Maid about a “blended” family. As a child of divorce — and, full disclosure, as an ad copywriter — it drives me up the wall.

This ad seems to be saying that divorce is perfectly normal. Children with divorce shouldn’t feel like they’re any different than the other kids at school. Well, guess what? They are different. To pretend otherwise is really unfair to the child. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay that your parents aren’t together anymore. And it’s okay to be unhappy about it.

I get that this ad is trying to say that being a kid of divorce is okay, but it’s also essentially celebrating divorce. That’s what gets me. This is not something to be celebrated. It is an extremely hard, devastating and life-altering thing. People absolutely recover from it and build new, happy lives and families, but they sure as shit don’t do it with the help of the wholesomeness of some Honey Maid crackers.

I have four parents. That’s how I see it. My two biological parents and my two stepparents. But that doesn’t mean I have a blended family. It means I have two families. And these families have pretty clearly defined lines, in my mind. We don’t all get together and have picnics on the beach and celebrate our blendedness with smoothies and other allegorical snacks. Each family has their own get-togethers, events, dinners, problems, memories, etc. That’s just the way it is. And, as I keep repeating myself, that’s totally okay. It is different from families with parents who are still together, but it’s still okay. That’s what kids of divorce should be told.

I’d love to see an ad that documents this kind of reality for divorced families. Not cherry picking one where both sides get along and everyone can stand to be around each other and everything is peachy and suitable for a weeknight media buy. This ad is based on a false insight. Sure, both sides in some divorced families get along. But most don’t. And I’m not just basing that on my own experience.

People get divorced for a lot of reasons. A big one of those is that they don’t really want to see the other person again. They don’t divorce with the goal of meeting someone new and then keeping their ex spouse around as their best bud. They move apart. They separate. They don’t want to be together anymore.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a new term for what people do when they divorce: they unblend.