Thursday, June 28, 2007

Random thoughts from a night in the life of Steve.

Wednesday I saw the latest installment in online banking powerhouse ING's new ad campaign; like the clever "Make it Happen" series from the Royal Bank of Scotland that preceded it*, the ING campaign pokes fun at the postmodern tendency to talk things to death and, especially, to over-intellectualize (or over-pseudo-intellectualize) the solutions to life's daily problems. In the action depicted in the ING spot, the world pretty much goes into a tizzy when a cat gets itself stuck up in a tree. Crowds form to lament this cataclysm; police and firemen mull their plans of attack; and a distinguished-looking politician even shows up to outline his platform on such matters... Then the lady on the bench simply pops open a can of tuna, and the cat promptly returns to earth.

Of course, this speaks to one of SHAMland's most egregious sins. In their eagerness to differentiate themselves from competitors, and create new things for us to worry about (so that they can turn right around and sell us their 7-step "breakthrough" solutions), the gurus take everyday situations and make them sound as if they require (and deserve) a level of cerebration and planning that would befit, say, the U.S. exit strategy from Iraq.

I've said this before, but I go with Nike here: Sometimes in life—certainly, I think, in most day-to-day settings—you just have to do. Not think, not talk, not form a support group and commiserate or kick things around with a few dozen other people who are similarly mystified by life. Just do it.

Anyway, I have to think it bodes well that advertisers (we talked recently about Kia) now see the SHAMscape as fertile territory for satire.


Also last night, at one point during ESPN's broadcast of the Mets-Cardinals game, baseball analyst and former Mets GM Steve Phillips said this: "Winning is about knowing how to lose with character."**

Soooo, let me get this straight, then: An undefeated football team, or even a truly dominant baseball team, would be apt to have lousy character, and thus would be a poor choice to continue winning? Or take someone like the early, record-setting Tiger Woods. Would Tiger—an athlete who never knew anything but victory—have been regarded as an "incomplete" player because he'd never had to cope with defeat? And what are we to say of Tiger today? Should we consider him a better player somehow, now that he's losing golf tournaments he probably should win? (I guess the reason he's losing more often today is that, because he always used to win, he never developed that "character" Phillips was talking about. And I guess, also, that now that Tiger is learning how to handle defeat, one day soon he's going to start winning even more tournaments than he used to win back when he always won.)

See how silly this gets? How perfectly asinine?

The problem with quotes like this (and most of what passes for wisdom in the Sportsthink genre) is that they sound deceptively good. They go over well in front of groups. They impress as deep, lyrical, inspirational, meaningful. In truth, as a rule, they mean nothing, or damn close to it.

* and, I'm guessing, inspired it.
** As is often the case when these quotes are spoken in the background as I'm doing something else, I think I'm very, very close to the verbatim words, but I may be off by a pronoun here and a conjunction there.


Steve Salerno said...

Well, this post went over big, didn't it now? ;)

Cal said...


I am having problems posting. Here was my comment:

If Phillips' comment came from Yogi Berra, we would be hearing it as one of Yogi's famous malaprops. But Phillips is some great ex-GM who has pithy insights as an analyst, according to ESPN. Sometimes I wish the experiment that NBC did many years ago in having a NFL game without announcers took hold throughout the sports broadcasting landscape.