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“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”*…

In the U.S., more than $250 billion a year is spent on advertising; globally, the figure is more than half a trillion dollars. So, it would seem there’s a basic question worth asking: does all that advertising actually work? The ad industry swears by its efficacy — but a massive new study tells a different story…

Have you ever been puzzled by something that’s supposed to be true, but you didn’t quite believe it — and you didn’t have the evidence to challenge it? But then, one day, the evidence appears! Today is that day. From Freakonomics (@Freakonomics), “Does Advertising Actually Work?

The link above is to Part One, which focuses on television advertising; for a look at the new sheriff in town, digital advertising, see Part Two.

John Wanamaker, pioneer of the modern department store and gifted merchant and marketer who helped define the modern consumer era

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As we ponder persuasion, we might note that, history would suggest that some advertising has worked even better than expected; case in point: on this date in 1959 the Barbie doll was introduced (at the American Toy Fair in New York).  Ruth Handler (co-founder, with her husband, of Mattel), created Barbie as an “aspirational” (i.e., grown up) alternative to baby dolls.  She adapted Barbie from a German doll, Lilli, which was based on a German cartoon strip– and which was sold as a “racy” item, primary to men in tobacco stores…  Amped via Mattel’s sponsorship of The Mickey Mouse Club (Mattel was the first toy company to use television advertising), the figurine was a huge smash…and was followed by Midge, Skipper, and– enfranchising a set of men perhaps beyond those who felt bereft when Lilli became Barbie– Ken.

 Barbie Millicent Roberts™ from Willows, Wisconsin, 1959

“A Dictator? Why, he makes love to beautiful women, drinks champagne, enjoys life and never works. He makes speeches to the people promising them plenty, gives them nothing and takes everything. *That’s* a Dictator.”*…

“Larry Pebble,” “Moe Hailstone,” “Miss Pfiffernuss” (Florine Dickson), “Curly Gallstone” in You Nazty Spy!

Hollywood’s relationship to the Third Reich before Pearl Harbor was a complex one. Film producers – particularly Jewish ones – had ample reason to dislike Nazis, but the US was not yet at war with them, and it wasn’t necessarily good for business to lampoon the government of a large foreign market. So, with some exceptions, Hollywood tended to tread carefully in the late 1930s.

Charles Chaplin famously lampooned the Third Reich leader in The Great Dictator, which was released in October 1940. The Three Stooges got the jump on Chaplin by nine months, however, releasing their own quickie Third Reich parody in January that year, although Chaplin’s film had started production first.

In January 1940, the Stooges released a two-reel short called You Nazty Spy! in which they play dimwitted wallpaper hangers who are installed as dictators of the country of Moronica; the businessmen who elevate them think they are stupid enough to be easily controlled.

Moe plays the Hitler-like leader, while Curly plays Field Marshal Gallstone (a mashup of Goering and Mussolini), and Larry is Propaganda Minister Pebble (a spoof of Goebbels). Various comic hijinks ensue, culminating in the dictatorial trio getting deposed and eaten by lions. In 1941, a sequel came out called I’ll Never Heil Again

The first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler: a Three Stooges two-reeler called You Nazty Spy!

See You Nazty Spy! here. More on Chaplin’s rather better-known The Great Dictator here.

* “Mr. Ixnay” (Richard Fiske) in You Nazty Spy!

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As we ridicule the ridiculous, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976

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“Commercials are about products in the same sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales”*…

The Superbowl has, since its inception been… well, the superbowl of broadcasting; this year’s expected audience is over 100 million. Even in this pandemic-challenged economy, 30-second spots on today’s sold-out Superbowl telecast listed for $5.6 million each (though in Scott’s Miracle-Gro reportedly scored a steal at $5.5 million); there’s an extra $300,000 fee to be included in the livestream.

With that kind of investment at stake, and their sights set on the gargantuan audience who will see their commercials, the companies that advertise take their ads very seriously. And as for viewers, many report that the commercials are their favorite part of the show…

Like millions of viewers who tune into the big game year after year, we at FiveThirtyEight LOVE Super Bowl commercials. We love them so much, in fact, that we wanted to know everything about them … by analyzing and categorizing them, of course. We dug into the defining characteristics of a Super Bowl ad, then grouped commercials based on which criteria they shared — and let me tell you, we found some really weird clusters of commercials.

We watched 233 ads from the 10 brands that aired the most spots in all 21 Super Bowls this century, according to superbowl-ads.com. While we watched, we evaluated ads using seven specific criteria…

Superbowl commercials, as only FiveThirtyEight could analyze them: “According To Super Bowl Ads, Americans Love America, Animals And Sex“… sometimes even all at the same time. (Videos included!)

* Neil Postman

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As we contemplate our culture, we might recall that the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in (what is now) the United States was held by French settlers in Mobile, Alabama on this date in 1703.

The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans processed on this date in 1827 when masked and costumed students danced through the streets.

Mardi Gras 1937- by Eudora Welty (who, before she became a writer, took photos for the WPA)

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Written by LW

February 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Wrestling is not sport, it is a spectacle”*…

Your correspondent has been musing on Roland Barthes’ eerily-prescient essay on wrestling, and on its relevance to the Manichean dramas playing out in the political arena today. At the dawn of his career, your correspondent had a close encounter with wrestling (on the television production crew of a weekly wrestling show in Charlotte, NC), so you can imagine his interest in the following, from that same period…

One Friday morning in the spring of 1971, Geoff Winningham picked up the sports section of the now defunct Houston Post. At the time, Winningham had just begun teaching photography at Rice University, but at night, he’d grab his camera and head wherever he could find a crowd to shoot. In the paper, he saw an ad for a wrestling event happening that night at the Sam Houston Coliseum. “I’d bet there be some crowds there,” he thought.

Winningham was familiar with wrestling; he’d grown up in Tennessee, watching Saturday night fights on TV. Yet what he saw at the coliseum that Friday floored him. “I walked in and walked down the aisle, through the crowd, and toward the ring,” he remembers. “All these bright spotlights coming down on this white mat with the ropes around the ring, crowds screaming, and big guys throwing each other through the air and jumping on each other and torturing each other. It was madness.”

The coliseum’s promoter, Paul Boesch—who also served as the ring announcer—welcomed Winningham, and the photographer became a regular, returning to the revelry night after night. Boesch let him photograph locker rooms, gave him access inside and outside the ring, and introduced him to the wrestlers. With that, Winningham—who became known inside the coliseum as the professor of wrestling—spent the next nine months photographing the Houston wrestling scene, capturing the villainous heels, heroic baby faces, and fervent fans…

Almost fifty years later, Winningham—still a professor of photography at Rice, whose work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—has revived the spirit, grit, and excitement of those sweaty wrestling nights in Friday Night in the Coliseum. The book, which was first published in 1971, saw its second edition released in February of this year.

Geoff Winningham‘s glorious record of baby faces, heels, and their fans: “Houston’s 1970s-Era Friday Night Wrestling Come Alive in a Stunning Photo Book.”

* “There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque.” – Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling,” Mythologies

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As we roll off the ropes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the first of five hour-long “Davy Crockett” adventure-dramas aired on ABC as part of Walt Disney’s Disneyland series. While the form became popular in the mid-1970’s with limited series like Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, “Davy Crockett” has some claim to the title “first mini-series on American television.”

Fess Parker in “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress”

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Written by LW

December 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Don’t be afraid to break things. Don’t be romantic. Don’t take the time to breathe. Don’t aim for perfect. And whatever you do, keep moving.”*…

Eric Feigl-Ding picked up his phone on the first ring. “Busy,” he said, when asked how things were going. He had just finished up an “epic, long” social media thread, he added — one of hundreds he’s posted about society’s ongoing battle with the coronavirus. “There’s so many different debates in the world of masking and herd immunity and reinfection,” he explained, among other dimensions of the pandemic. “We at FAS, we’ve been kind of monitoring all the debates and how we’re seeing signals in which the data goes one way, the debate goes the other,” he said, referring to his work with the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit policy think tank. He rattled off a rapid-fire sampler of hot-button Covid-19 topics: the growing anti-vaxxer movement, SARS-CoV-2 reinfection and antibodies, the body of research suggesting masks could decrease viral load, along with a quick mention of the debate among experts about what “airborne” means.

This whirlwind tour through viral Covid-19 themes felt like the conversational equivalent of Feigl-Ding’s Twitter account, which has grown by orders of magnitude since the dawn of the pandemic. The Harvard-trained scientist and 2018 Congressional aspirant posts dozens of times daily, often in the form of long, numbered threads. He’s fond of emojis, caps lock, and bombastic phrases. The first words of his very first viral tweet were “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.”

Made in January, weeks before the massive shutdowns that brought U.S. society to a halt, that exclamation preceded his observation that the “R0” (pronounced “R-naught”) of the novel coronavirus — a mathematical measure of a disease’s reproduction rate — was 3.8. That figure had been proposed in a scientific paper, posted online ahead of peer review, that Feigl-Ding called “thermonuclear pandemic level bad.” Further in that same Twitter thread, he claimed that the novel coronavirus could spread nearly eight times faster than SARS.

The thread was widely criticized by infectious disease experts and science journalists as needlessly fear-mongering and misleading, and the researchers behind the pre-print had already tweeted that they’d lowered their estimate to an R0 of 2.5, meaning that Feigl-Ding’s SARS figure was incorrect. (Because R0 is an average measure of a virus’s transmissibility, estimates vary widely based on factors like local policy and population density; as a result, researchers have suggested that other variables may be of more use.) He soon deleted the tweet — but his influence has only grown.

At the beginning of the pandemic, before he began sounding the alarm on Covid-19’s seriousness, Feigl-Ding had around 2,000 followers. That number has since swelled to over a quarter million, as Twitter users and the mainstream media turn to Feigl-Ding as an expert source, often pointing to his pedigree as a Harvard-trained epidemiologist. And he has earned the attention of some influential people. These include Ali Nouri, the president of FAS, who brought Feigl-Ding into his organization as a senior fellow; the journalist David Wallace-Wells, who meditated on Feigl-Ding’s “holy mother of God” tweet in his March essay arguing that alarmism can be a useful tool; and former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt. (“We all learn so much from you,” he tweeted at Feigl-Ding in July.) Ronald Gunzburger, senior adviser to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, even wrote a letter to Feigl-Ding attesting to how his “intentionally provocative tweet” in January “elevated the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the top of our priorities list.”

But as Feigl-Ding’s influence has grown, so have the voices of his critics, many of them fellow scientists who have expressed ongoing concern over his tweets, which they say are often unnecessarily alarmist, misleading, or sometimes just plain wrong. “Science misinformation is a huge problem right now — I think we can all appreciate it — [and] he’s a constant source of it,” said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University and the University of Arizona who serves on FAS’ Covid-19 Rapid Response Taskforce, a separate arm of the organization from Feigl-Ding’s work. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Kent State University, suggested that Feigl-Ding’s reach means his tweets have the power to be hugely influential. “With as large of a following as he has, when he says something that’s really wrong or misleading, it reverberates throughout the Twittersphere,” she said…

A scientist has gained popularity as Covid’s excitable play-by-play announcer. But some experts want to pull his plug: “Covid’s Cassandra: The Swift, Complicated Rise of Eric Feigl-Ding.”

* Social media “influencer” Gary Vaynerchuk

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As we interrogate influence, we might send bombastic birthday greetings to Ted Knight; he was born on this date in 1923. An actor and comedian, he was well-known as Henry Rush in Too Close for Comfort, and Judge Elihu Smails in Caddyshack; but he is surely most famous for his role as newscaster Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, Ted Knight, Mary Tyler Moore, 1970-1977

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