An ABC television publicity photo of Stan Freberg and a gong. This photo promoted a February 1962 special, Stan Freberg Presents the Chun King Chow Mein Hour: Salute to the Chinese New Year.
Stan Freberg ( 1926-2015) was an innovator in radio production in the 1950s and later in television advertisements, and his achievements were in technique as well as in content. He wrote, produced, and acted in his own works and contributed to those of others. His radio skits in particular were well designed soundscapes which were ahead of their time at the same time that they were the last of their kind. With his short-lived radio show of the late 1950s, Mr. Freberg rang out the end of radio’s golden age of original programming.
The technical limitations of most radio playback equipment of the 1950s probably did not do justice to the skill of Mr. Freberg and his colleagues at evoking an ambience capable of putting listeners in an imaginary, but convincing place. The care Mr. Freberg and crew took in production helped set up the listener for off kilter and absurdist content, making it all the funnier. Where their professionalism truly shined was in the stereophonic comedy albums they produced, which stood a much better chance of being played back on equipment capable of faithfully reproducing every nuance of sound effects and comic voice acting than the radio shows.
Had Stan Freberg been in his prime during the current age of podcasting he no doubt would have found the new medium well suited to his comic and technical skills. Similar limitations would apply for playback equipment, however, in that listeners using a smartphone without stereo ear pieces would not get the full effect of his satirical skits. Be that as it may, we are fortunate to have Mr. Freberg’s original recordings, and now with more ways than ever of listening to them. His brilliant satire shines through any medium, and his spirit of poking fun at our pretensions and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously is the true Spirit of ’76, not any of the militaristic nonsense currently going on in the nation’s capital.
An animation of “Yankee Doodle Go Home (Spirit of ’76)”, from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. Stan Freberg as Yankee Doodle and as Bix, the Hip Fife Player, Walter Tetley as the Young Second Drummer, and Shepard Menken as the Officer. Paul Frees was the Narrator.
Nike’s new advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick poses some ethical questions for him and for potential buyers of Nike’s athletic apparel. It does not effectively pose any ethical questions for the company, Nike, because they have never been overly concerned with that sort of thing, as continuing controversy over its reliance on overseas sweatshop labor attests. For Nike the new advertising campaign is strictly a business proposition.
Nike Headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon, in July 2010. Lake Nike is in the foreground. Photo by Brandon Carson.
Mr. Kaepernick has been under contract with Nike since 2011, but this is the first time the company has prominently featured him in their advertising. The campaign has everybody talking, and that of course is the goal of all advertising. Nike may or may not support the cause of protesting police brutality and racial injustice, but more likely they are simply capitalizing on Mr. Kaepernick’s notoriety and are willing to sit on the fence about his protest cause, no matter what their ad slogan implies about it.
What’s more difficult to parse is the willingness of Mr. Kaepernick to make himself the face of such an amoral corporation. It’s hard to believe that a socially aware man like him would be completely unaware of the lingering taint of Nike’s historic exploitation of cheap, non-union labor. Nike has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of athletes under contract to promote its products, but none have been primarily renowned for social justice causes as much as Colin Kaepernick. There are substantial financial incentives for him in participating in Nike’s advertising, though it beggars the imagination to believe he is unaware of the conflicting signals he is now sending people who have supported his protest.
The targets of Nike’s advertising, the buyers of its shoes and other athletic gear, are probably mostly unaware of Nike’s history of exploitative labor practices. That has to be what Nike is counting on and why they are willing to put forward a controversial figure to promote their products. Nike knows its target market is under 30, and to many of them Mr. Kaepernick is a hero, while only a minority of them may know or care about Nike’s history of bad labor relations. Nike is still in business, after all, and doing better than ever. For Nike’s young customers, there is likely no dissonance bubbling up from this advertising campaign.
It is mostly older folks who are upset with Mr. Kaepernick’s kneeling protests, and Nike doesn’t need their business to stay afloat. The campaign is a cynical, amoral ploy by Nike, which is no surprise, but it’s puzzling to consider Mr. Kaepernick’s motivations, if they are indeed any deeper than face value, such as how Nike depicts him on their poster, accompanied by a slogan with echoes of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, or as Nike might appropriate it, Just Do the Right Thing.
Recently the news and commentary website Saloninstituted a policy of not allowing visitors using advertisement blockers to access their website without either or turning the blockers off or allowing Salon to use the visitors’ computers to mine the cryptocurrency Monero. In other words, when a visitor with an active ad blocker arrives at the Salon website, Salon detects the ad blocker and immediately pops up a notice about its new policy, giving the visitor the options of turning off the ad blocker and continuing to the rest of the site and viewing it for free, but with ads, or, for a visitor who chooses not to turn off the ad blocker, then that visitor must grant Salon permission to use their computer to mine Monero, which replaces the revenue Salon would otherwise lose to that visitor who wants to read articles without viewing any ads. The third option for the visitor is to leave the website.
It remains to be seen how well visitors to the Salon website will accept the new policy and whether Salon will see a return to revenue levels they had before ad blockers became much more widely used in the past few years. It’s commendable that the owner of Salon is being open about taking this step and giving visitors options. Some websites use the computers of visitors to mine cryptocurrency without notifying them, a practice known as cryptojacking. Sometimes the website owner is not aware this is happening because their website has been hacked, and in that case it is the hacker who gets the revenue, and both the website owner and the visitor lose out. What the owner of Salon is doing is not cryptojacking, a sneaky and disreputable practice.
Image of television personality Garry Moore and Kellogg’s cereal character Tony the Tiger taken from a 1955 Kellogg’s advertisement. There have always been tacky ads for products of dubious worth.
There are other ways for website owners to cope with replacing revenue lost to ad blockers. The website for The Atlantic magazine stops a visitor at the door when it detects an ad blocker and advises the visitor to turn it off, or whitelist The Atlantic in the ad blocker, or leave. Simple and straightforward. Other websites, such as the one for The New York Times, give a visitor a certain number of free articles each month before the visitor reaches a paywall that requires the visitor buy a subscription to read more articles. More lenient on the front end, but with a harder line on the back end. These models work reasonably well for very popular websites that can afford to lose a small percentage of visitors who absolutely refuse either to not use an ad blocker or to pay for content on the internet. The owners of less well known websites would have a harder time adopting those models without alienating visitors they can ill afford to lose.
Long before Joe DiMaggio plugged coffee makers, he did advertisements for cigarettes, as did many celebrities, including athletes like him.
The shame of it all is that ad blockers have increased in popularity because of the bad behavior of a few bad actors on the internet who push out ads that hide malware and trackers, or video ads that use autoplay, or ads with Flash Player code that makes them highly distracting, and because of that kind of activity internet users have quite reasonably installed ad blockers to avoid all that, and the effect has been to punish the good along with the bad. Unfortunately there are also too many internet users who think everything on the internet should be free, conveniently ignoring the obvious point that the producers of internet content have to eat and pay the rent just like anybody else.
Imagine picking up a newspaper from a kiosk, a newspaper from which someone has helpfully cut out every single advertisement, leaving only the articles. This would be a great boon to the reader, obviously, but how is the publisher supposed to pay the bills? The reader picked up the newspaper without paying for it, which is not a big deal because the selling price of a newspaper typically takes care of a small percentage of the cost of publishing it. Print newspapers, and now internet newspapers and other publications have always relied on the selling of advertising space for the greater part of their revenue. If readers can’t see the ads, why would advertisers continue to buy ad space?
In this early scene from the 1963 Stanley Kramer filmIt’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Jonathan Winters as Lennie Pike, third from the left, has some choice words for those who want something for free.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the state of internet advertising, from publishers and ad producers who put out obnoxious ads that distract from the visitor’s experience, to visitors who seem to think that internet publishers should make their content available free, and even better as far as they are concerned would be free without any visible means of support in the form of advertisements. That’s the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” pipe dream. More reasonable would be a compromise among publishers, advertisers, and visitors that would ask advertisers and publishers to show respect to visitors by not pushing obnoxious ads on them, and visitors to acknowledge the need for publishers to eat and pay the rent like anybody else, and to satisfy those needs by showing ads to visitors. Simple really, particularly considering the alternatives of working in the mines or paying for what you get.
The craft beer industry has expanded since the 1980s from a handful of breweries to thousands, increasing consumer choices along the way and boosting local economies over the profits of huge corporations. In the 1970s, the brewery industry in the United States was diminishing to fewer choices for consumers as small, local breweries went out of business or were bought out by larger competitors, and their distinctive brands of beer disappeared.
The effect could be seen in national television advertising of the time, where only a few big brands could afford to compete. Even the beers on sale that did not appear to be sub-brands of the major players were not much different than them in flavor and makeup, only in price, usually being cheaper knock offs. To get a taste of something different and a little better in the late 1970s, American beer drinkers turned to European imports. The beer market had become like the wine market, where American brands were viewed as okay for everyday drinking, while the European product was considered superior in quality.
That started to change in the early 1980s with the startup of some local craft breweries that eventually gained national prominence, notably Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada in northern California. American beer drinkers once again had a choice among domestic varieties, even as the biggest national brands became more than that, expanding into multinational corporations. The return of local and regional breweries, and in a few cases breweries that reached a national market, added consumer options because the new breweries were not interested in competing with the multinational outfits in producing the same old watery lagers.
A figure decorated in representations of hops at a festival in Germany in 2006. Photo by Andreas Praefcke.
A funny thing happened, however, on the way to a new land of craft breweries specially tended by artisans who labored as much for their own enjoyment as that of their appreciative customers. For one thing, the big multinationals took note of the new phenomenon, also known as competition, and decided that unlike how they had bought up small competitors in the decades before the 1980s and subsumed the competitors’ operations within their own, they would now ride the craft brewery wave by retaining all the packaging, logos, and lingo of the smaller outfits when buying them out. Consumers would be none the wiser as they made their selection in the store, and when they got home and cracked open one of their favorite “craft” beers they still might not notice the difference, despite changes in brewing and bottling facility practices, particularly if the consumer’s taste buds were swayed more by psychological factors than by honest opinion.
The other thing that has skewed the craft beer movement is the tendency for snobs and macho men to take over and ruin the fun for some of us. The same culture that has made spicy food its domain seems to appeal to a minority of brewers and beer drinkers who always want to competitively up the ante on the hoppy bitterness of craft beers. That wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the unfortunate side effect that these people tend to be snobs with undue influence on some consumers. “It’s so bitterly hoppy that it’s undrinkable,” the brow-beaten craft beer supporter complains. “Drink it and enjoy it, or you’re a philistine,” exclaims the snobby beer person, a category that didn’t exist until twenty years ago.
Beer Wars, a 2009 documentary by Anat Baron that examines how the big breweries have co-opted the market share of many smaller breweries.
Such people have been around for ages, trying to belittle others who are susceptible to their nonsense, all so that they can then feel more exalted in their self-proclaimed expertise. They’re usually men, and they have haunted wine circles in this country long before beer became a drink of anyone other than the common people. You can find them in restaurants which specialize in spicy foods, such as Thai, Indian, or Mexican, always advocating for heat regardless of flavor, because that’s the manly thing, you sissy. In a somewhat different way, they are also familiars of the online gaming community, and of computers in general, and long before that, when know-it-all males were still accustomed to getting their knuckles dirty with grease, the world of automobiles and mechanical contrivances.
Never mind them. The great thing about the craft beer movement of the last thirty years is that there are brewers now producing beers for every taste. If you still can’t find what you like, then the staple lagers of the big multinationals will always be available. Drink those if that’s your thing. If you do like the beers of the craft breweries, though, and you like the idea of supporting smaller businesses, please do read the fine print around the back of that cardboard six-pack package to make sure your dollars are going where you intend, and not into the coffers of the big watery lager breweries, pretending to be what they’re not.