‘Hello Kitty’ Provides Decor for Japanese Bullet Train


What the world does not need is the design scheme of West Japan Railway’s latest bullet train:  It’s Hello Kitty theme extends from the exterior to interior carpets, seat covers and… too much more to mention. Even that much is too much, some contend, as the railway strives to boost tourism (simply to see Hello Kitty every time you turn around?).

This sounds like a scheme cooked up by ‘salary men’ (office workers) as they alcoholically transition from the work day to the commute home.

Hello Kitty, a pink and white cartoon character created in 19974 by Yuko Shimizu, has, according to Vogue, has ever since been “beloved” by the Japanese. The character’s image has been imposed on “everything from coin purses to backpacks, vending machines, and now, a hurtling technological marvel”.


Americans often perceive Japanese (and Chinese) people to be “inscrutable” – hard to comprehend. While many Americans have been sucked into the Hello Kitty promotional cess pool, remember that, when all is said again, Hello Kitty is nothing, really, but a marketing device – and a rather silly one at that.


What, at the end of the day, is the character meant to be portraying? Happiness? Silliness? Cuteness?

Once there was one ‘happy face’ image. Now there’s a bunches of them. Some have obvious meanings. Many don’t.

Interpersonal communication is becoming ever more complicated. Trying to make sense of what this or that person, this or that media outlet, is really trying to tell you, is getting tougher and tougher.

Young adults today seem to have a lot of trouble communicating with others  —  of their own age group and others. They don’t seem to understand that [1] complete sentences are communicative; fractional ones aren’t; [2] offering fractional answers without referring, clearly, to the question, is not communicating; (Are you in that much of a hurry to get on to…?)

While using a real or imagined animal for promotional purposes is hardly new – think the Geico insurance company’s mascot – we can only hope the Hello Kitty bullet train barely survives its initial 3-month trial run. To the annoyance of many, the talking gecko carries on years after it was introduced in 2005.

But its reign may be coming to an end: When Irish actor Jake Wood was axed from the gecko-voice roll in late 2015, fans (fans??) took to Twitter to complain, and it’s rumored they still haven’t taken well to the replacement voice. Me? I wouldn’t know: I have no interest in car insurance commercials; particularly Geico ones!




Trash Spawns Super Ad Message


Forty or so years ago, New Orleans’ Canal Street was spotted with cans intended to take in a sizable share of the throw-aways generated by citizens and visitors alike – in an area, just opposite the edge of the French Quarter, where drinking in public is not just legal, it’s virtually encouraged. (Where else could you ask for a take-out cup for a beer you didn’t finish in a restaurant, as I had occasion to do last week.)

To encourage the proper disposition of empties and similar detritus, the cans were labeled, “Hey, Mister, Toss Me Something!”

The idea was a clearer one. Whether it accomplished the intended goal or not is an open question. But those cans now are minus that slogan.

Meanwhile, in Texas, where self-pride in one’s heritage is an apparent birthright, a less and more subtle approach has been taken to reducing what had become, a few years ago, an intolerable trash burden. The Texas Department of Transportation took the proverbial bulls by the horns and advertised for ad agencies to come up with a way to address the issue. They did, in spades.

Smithsonianmag.com recently described how an exec at one agency noted, on walking somewhere one day, that all the trash was, as he put it, “a mess.” In a flash, he had the slogan: “Don’t Mess With Texas.”

The slogan was initially promoted during the 1986 Cotton Bowl, when an ad put out the “Don’t Mess WiTh Texas” message.

Within three years, trash volume on the streets dropped 72% from the 1986 level. And the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ phrase took on a life of its own.

In time, the Texas Department of Transportation copyrighted the phrase in order to reap rewards from its use. As if it hadn’t already!

Throw Something Away In Mumbai, Win Free WiFi Time


A five-year-old startup in Mumbai, India is aiming to help keep discarded “stuff” off its home city’s street by rewarding users of its WiFi Trash Bins with free WiFi access. Called ThinkScream, the idea behind the company’s initial product was “to solve everyday problems in an innovative way, one solution as a time,” company co-founded Raj Desai told The Economic Times of India.

The company’s 4.5-foot (1.4 m) tall plastic bins are equipped with an LED screen that produces an access code when someone tosses something in the bin. Desai told The Times that the bins employ several technologies “to enable this seemingly simple function; The first is the WiFi technology, which is optimized to make sure that all codes work in sync; The second is the technology used for motion sensing totrace thee movement of the trash as it hits the bin; The last is to link the motion sensor with the WiFi network for a seamless operation,” he explains.

The company premiered the bins at a music festival in 2014 to provide attendees easy access to WiFi. Since then, ThinkScream has hooked up to similar networks in retail stores and at trade shows. They’ve also received queries from companies seeing the bins as offering a great branding opportunity, but that was never the premise behind the product’s creation, Desai says. “It was always to trigger positive changes in deepp-seated behavior around public cleanliness in India,” he declares.

Though no timetable has been announced, the company’s aim is to eventually see their bins set up alongside streets.

Don’t Eat This ANYWHERE: KFC-Scented Sunscreen



This photo has NOTHING to do with this article — except insofar as the person depicted is clearly baffled by something — perhaps the idea of a KFC-branded sunscreen.

Who comes up with these ideas?

In order to trade on the popularity of one of its two styles of fried chicken, KFC USA, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands (Yum! ??) recently gave away 3,000 bottles of Extra Crispy Sunscreen – SPF 30 with a fried chicken scent. (Or, as CBS News put it, “fowl-smelling.”) Consumers snapped up the full production run within two hours of the product being announced on a KFC website, the company reported.

“We’ve had a lot of fun with our Extra Crispy Colonel campaign this summer, and the sunscreen idea seemed like a natural fit,” spokeswoman Kasey Mathes told USA Today.

The news site added that the campaign “dovetailed with KFC’s latest TV ad campaign featuring actor George Hamilton, noted for his deep, continuous suntan, as the Extra Crispy Colonel.”

Now, in that spirit, Mathes says, according to USA Today, “many fans around the country who claimed a bottle at a special web site can be living the ‘extra-crispy lifestyle’.”

Deli Market News reported that “KFC says more than 50 percent of Americans are oblivious to the difference and existence of two separate fried chicken recipes through the company – Original Recipe and Extra Crispy. Extra Crispy Chicken and Tenders are very crunchy and juicy, as well as cooked to a golden brown and hand-breaded,” the Deli news site said.

It promised to follow up, “as the public clucks out their answer,” to see if “chicken-smelling lotions be the next meat-induced craze to strike consumers.”

Given that The Associated Press has reported that samplers of the product around its henhouse failed to detect a chicken aroma from the product, that isn’t likely. Which, all things considered, is probably a blessing!

KFC stressed on its ‘extra-crispy’ web site that this sunscreen is NOT edible. The company hasn’t announced any plans to produce more of the product – no doubt a relief to the CBS presenter who declared the whole idea to be “offal”.

Laptop PC Available Now at $99, A True ‘Commodity’ Price


When I bought my first computer, way back in the mid 1980’s, the going-in price, to get in the computer-owning game, was, in the U.S., $1,500 and change. That entry price didn’t change much, if at all, for around a decade. Then, slowly, very slowly, the price of an entry-level desk- or laptop – with the latter rapidly gaining favor over the former – inched downward.

By the turn of the century, according to a web site that shows, somewhat confusingly, prices of computers from 1975 through 2000, “computers come in a wide price range around $500; Prices are affected of course by memory size and CPU speed.”

That may – may – have been true, for desktops. But certainly not for laptops, according to gizmodo.com, which somewhat inaccurately described Sony’s VAIO PCG-SRX99, as “the smart phone of the day” – for a mere $1,500.  About what a desktop cost, with a monitor, in the mid ‘80’s.

For far too many years, I spent far too much time paying attention to the advertised prices of new PCs – not that I could afford to replace my first one. For a long time, until fairly recently, added capacities – larger hard drives, more RAM – enabled manufacturers and retailers to allow only slight slippages from that old $1,500 entry price.

Then something dramatic happened – pretty much unnoticed by most of the wannabe newcomers and computer upgraders: Businesses that had long leased automobiles for (select) employees began, in the early 2000’s, to lease PCs as well. A few years later, when those three- and five-year leases had run their course, those companies and others, of course, wanted to lease then-new computers, with their increased capacities, often well beyond the actual needs of the companies.

And the off-lease computers (still mostly desktops then), around 2005, became the commodities of a ‘secondary market’ – a market of resellers who’d clean hard drives, check that everything was working as it was supposed to, then sell the machines for prices a good deal lower than a new machine’s. That meant, early on, in the high triple figures.

As more and more ‘slightly used’ computers (including, as time went by, laptops) slipped into the secondary market, the richness of supply gradually brought prices down even more.

Over time, major computer retailers created their own secondary market, as they discounted ‘open box’ and ‘slightly marred’ units – which, of course, would gladly be grabbed up college-bound kids who realized that, in all likelihood, what they were getting was just as good as a unit in a sealed box with its manufacturer’s flawless, dent-free surface.

As nature would have it, the secondary markets have grown, and discounters have become more aggressive – not just on ‘Black Friday’ sales (now staged around the calendar, not just toward the end of November) – and the prices have kept falling.

A catch phrase fairly early in the PC age was that the machines people were buying for use in their homes ‘had more power than the computers that put men on the moon’. And that was when it was unheard of to have two gigabytes (GB) of memory – or even one!

Now, with super-fast processors and  4 GB of RAM superior to what 4 GB was a mere few years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard that today’s latest-and-greatest PCs have the power of the machines guiding the likes of the ones on the recent Jupiter and  Pluto missions.

And that, in every respect, speaks in favor of the main secondary market, and a lesser-known one: universities that sell (desktop) computers used in labs and elsewhere a couple or three years after they were purchased. When I still lived in Central New York State, I purchased several PCs from Colgate University, which was less than 30 miles from my home. Each unit was immaculate, with the then-current operating system, and … what more could you ask for, for a machine costing less than a new  one on eBay?

And here’s the bottom line: The PC of the year 2000 was more than adequate to do what most home users need, or want, to do.

I used to ask people, way back in the 90’s, who wanted to get their first computer, ‘do you want to do word processing, or design space ships?’ If the goal was the former, the latest-and-greatest not only wasn’t necessary, it was overkill. And, more than likely, a huge waste of money.

I’m working on a desktop that’s probably seven or more years old. It’s perfectly adequate for my needs – or would be, if I didn’t insist on having 12 or more windows open at a time. After a week or so, without a reboot, the system has a tendency to ‘hiccup’ at times. (Listening to music while I work can be problematic.)

But the fact that I can rely on such an ‘ancient’ machine for all my computing needs says a lot about how reliable older machines are.

And that $99 laptop mentioned above – from a web site called refurbees.com – shows how dramatically PC prices have fallen in two decades. And this is no lightweight machine, where its specs are concerned: Featuring an Intel Core 2 duo processor, a 14.1 inch display, 2 GB of DDR2 RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, high definition audio and Intel Integrated video, the system comes with Windows 7 home edition. Not the latest or greatest operation system, but a perfectly adequate one for most home users or students.

TV’s Ad Problem: Top Actors Are Grossly Overpaid


The world – a very small part of it, at least – is agog this week as the television behemoths spend untold as-yet unearned dollars trying to entice advertisers to continue ‘business as usual’ – spending obscene billions of dollars to advertise products that, sadly, all too often provide far less than they offer. As do (most of) the television shows they advertise on.

For the second or third year running, both advertisers and show producers – as well as the networks and indies that will air those shows – are bathroom-visiting scared, because more than ever, viewers are able to by-pass traditional commercials as they watch what they want to when they want to, zooming through commercial breaks as they do so.

The ‘industry’ – all the above named working in concert – are toying with a model that would probably so piss off viewers that they’d give up on some shows they’d really like to watch. That model would enable advertisers to sponsor ‘bits’ built into shows, supposedly made to seem to have some relevance to them, to reduce the number of advertising breaks yet still get advertising messages to the madding crowds who, cold drinks and popcorn in reach (or not!), do their best night after night to test the long-term reliability of their couches or lounge chairs.

Amazingly, the potential advertisers and their agencies who are attending lavish, star-studded  presentations and parties in New York City this week seem to be unaware of the concept of almost-ad-free ‘streaming’ as offered by Netflix and others.

That is one of two things that is killing the ‘traditional’ TV role in U.S. society. The other is the totally outrageous sums being offered and paid to principal actors.

I watch a select few shows (most) every week – being able, somehow, to find better things to do with my time.  Many of them are Dick Wolf’s, shows that are, as he said in a recent interview, “intended to be able to go on for [many] years],” without a lot of fine-tuning and window-dressing.

One of Wolf’s most successful-ever shows is Law And & Order/SVU, recently renewed for a 16th year. It’s leading light, Mariska Hargitey, rakes in at least $400,000 for each episode – plus residuals on most if not all previous shows. So, her base pay works out to $8.8 million per year, according to eonline.com! And amazingly, ten actors are paid more on a per-episode or annual basis, with the top TV earner, according to this accounting, being Judge Judy, who pulls down a cool $47 million a year!

I often wonder how Hargitey maintains her sanity as she’s struggled through being held captive, nearly killed (in numerous ways) too many times to count and, perhaps worst of all, having to confront, in her scripts, the worst-imaginable (and sometimes unimaginable) evils of adults who abuse other adults and, the very worst of all, the scum who abuse children.

SVU, as the show is commonly called, has an amazing ability to present, on sadly too many occasions, stories based on something that ‘just happened’ – within a few weeks of an episode’s initial airing.

It is a brilliantly conceived, amazingly well-acted show.

But $400 thousand an episode? Is that really necessary?

If television and its advertisers want to take a serious step toward solving a problem plaguing both of them, they would trim performers’ salaries back to something closer to a ‘reasonable’ level. Say Hargitey was cut to $125 thousand per episode. That’s still something like $4.4 million per year – for roughly half a year of work! Is that really necessary???

Ultimately, advertisers are at fault, because they accept the outrageous rates set by networks and, increasingly, independent channels.

Let’s face it, the public is going to continue to gravitate toward the watch-when-you-want model, both because that fits their lifestyles and because they are sick and tired of being constantly being bombarded by too-loud commercials. (And why that issue has never been addressed by the FCC is a criminal-level mystery!)

Enough is enough!

Drink Up America! (AKA Budweiser)



Belgium-based InBev, which purchased Anheuser-Busch several years ago, is temporarily renaming one of the U.S.’s (and the world’s) best-known beers – from Budweiser, to America. The so-called ‘king of beers’ will wear its new moniker from late May until sometime shortly after America, the country, elects its new president in November of this year.

As well as replacing the word Budweiser with America on cans and in advertising, the six-month campaign also will see the ‘king of beers’ slogan replaced by ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (out of many, one), which also appears on U.S. currency; the A-B crest on cans will be supplanted by ‘US’; the trademark will be altered to read ‘Indivisible since 1776’, and the words to ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ will be displayed at the top of the once-and-future Budweiser label.

Ricardo Marques, a vice president at Budweiser in St. Louis, where the beer has been brewed sicne the 1880’s, told The New York Times that the move is designed to reflect a growing sense of national pride, and that this will be “probably the most American summer of our generation.” That’s so, the paper noted, because, “Along with the traditional spring and summer holidays — Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, this summer will bring the Olympics and the Copa América soccer tournament, to be held in June at sites throughout the United States.”

Mr. Marques told The Times he has no doubt consumers won’t be confused when they see the ‘new’ label: “We have no doubt that consumers will recognize it in a heartbeat,” he said.