America’s Favorite Pantsless Peanut Gets Rebranded (Our 200th Post!)

Editor’s note: We’re in Las Vegas this week for the NAI National Workshop—and to celebrate our 200th post! (Though if you don’t count the posts about baseball and our family vacations, this is only our 57th post.) On with the drivel!

I was listening to a podcast of Into the Night with Tony Bruno last week as I was biking home from work in the dark, cold, Colorado night—have I mentioned we’re in Las Vegas this week?—and I was shocked to learn that Mr. Peanut has a voice. Mr. Peanut was not a guest on the show, but he has been in the news recently because for the first time since his debut in 1916, he has a voice—not to mention a stylin’ smoking jacket.

Mr. Peanut is now voiced by Robert Downey, Jr., a natural follow-up to his important roles in the Iron Man movies and Weird Science. The Downey-voiced Mr. Peanut—the result of a $35 million campaign orchestrated by an advertising firm called Being—was unveiled on the Planters Facebook page on November 9 in a commercial that I found pretty funny (embedded above).

Mr. Peanut has undergone numerous redesigns since 1916, which you can see on the Planters website. Even the previous most-current iteration of Mr. Peanut, which was likely created using a vector-art computer program like Adobe Illustrator, had an old-fashioned feel about it. The new version still features a monocle and top hat, but the old-fashioned feel has been replaced by newfangled 3D computerized realism. The cadmium yellow shell tone we’ve known of late has been replaced with a color that better represents actual peanuts.

And that’s not all: Mr. Peanut has a sidekick named Benson, who, to quote an article from reputable source The New York Times, has “one nut in his shell rather than two.”

And while the thin mustache of Mr. Peanut’s early days has been gone for a long time, to me, there’s been one constant throughout the decades: He’s a creepy, leering legume with no pants. I know they say he’s wearing pants, but they look like leggings at best to me. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where pants go, and I don’t see any pants on Mr. Peanut. (Let’s put it like this: If Shea shows up for our preworkshop training session tomorrow dressed like Mr. Peanut, I will tell him that he does not have pants on and should probably change.)

That said, the best mascot ever is the Phillie Phanatic, and he also doesn’t wear pants. (And I’m not saying he’s the best just because of my rooting interests. It’s a documented fact.)

I’m actually surprised by the lack of outrage over the Mr. Peanut redesign, not because it’s a bad redesign (which it is not; I think the use of humor and a celebrity voice is a good idea for a brand that most people had sort of forgotten about), but because there’s almost always outrage when anything with nostalgic value is redesigned.

I’m also surprised that there’s no outrage over the fact that the Mr. Peanut depicted in the new commercials is an anthropomorphized cannibal—serving peanuts at his own party. That’s weird, right?

For interpreters and designers, it’s important not to take your brand for granted. If your logo, publications, websites, or other media are out of date, it reflects poorly on your organization. If you’re the person responsible for that identity, it’s up to you to make the change. Take note, though, that if you decide that a change is in order, you’ll surely encounter individuals who have an emotional connection to the old identity or simply prefer the previous look. If you can’t defend the changes you make to these individuals, then perhaps they’re bad changes—or changes weren’t necessary to begin with. (If you can defend the changes and people keep hounding you, it means they don’t like you as a person.)

I don’t think Mr. Peanut was out of date, but the redesign was implemented to reinvigorate the brand and stay with (or slightly ahead) of the times. Creepy pantsless cannibal or not, people love Mr. Peanut, and Planters has done a good job of getting him back into the pop culture discussion.

Nerd Rage: A Response to Internet Thievery

Everyone wants to be a blogger, and the reason is simple: Nothing makes you more attractive to a potential romantic interest than saying, “I’m a blogger.” Sure, athletes are popular, and so are musicians, I guess, but having opinions and writing them down and putting them online without any real hope of compensation? That’s hot.

So it’s no surprise that people are jealous of bloggers—so jealous in fact that they steal the content that we put online for free.

One case that’s been getting a fair amount of attention in the media recently comes to us from my coworker Russ. In a nutshell, the case goes like this: Cooks Source magazine took the content of a blog called “A Tale of Two Tarts” (which I was disappointed to learn is about desserts) by Monica Gaudio and published it, without permission (but with credit), in print. Ms. Gaudio contacted the magazine and was told this by managing editor Judith Griggs:

The web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it!

Ms. Griggs said lots more horrible stuff, which you can see in the article “How Cooks Source Magazine Learned That Reputation Is A Scarce Good” on the website TechDirt.com. This story has exploded on the blogosphere, and has also appeared in reputable sources like The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and Time magazine, among countless others (seriously, it’s everywhere; just Google it). Cooks Source magazine’s Facebook page was crushed with comments (some of them hilarious, like “And Cooks Source was like ‘Dude, you *have* no pie article’ and ran off” from Cole Moore Odell, and “Cooks Source told Apollo Creed to fight Ivan Drago” from Jill Gallagher), and advertisers are bailing faster than Cowboys fans on the 2010-2011 football season. (Sigh. I miss baseball.)

In the Time magazine article, Gaudio attributes the uproar to “Nerd rage,” which is the greatest phrase ever. Well, the raging nerds aren’t just making obscure pop-culture references on the Cooks Source Facebook page; they’re turning up numerous examples of articles that the magazine stole from other sites, some of them pretty high profile. (See “The Cooks Source Scandal” on Edrants.com.)

As a blogger myself (hello, ladies!), I am at once concerned and elated. First, it seems that in spite of the little copyright symbol at the bottom of this page, I am in danger of having blogs that I spent literally fives of minutes writing about Comic Sans and the designated hitter show up without my permission in The New York Times and Orion magazine. And I’m pretty sure I saw something Shea wrote in Teen Vogue recently. On the other hand, writing these posts will be a lot easier in the future. Next week, tune in for page one of my new online novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

For the record, I am jealous that this happened to Monica Gaudio and not me, because the site Gode Cookery is getting more than a few hits these days.

Speaking of this happening to me, this happened to me! One Saturday not long ago (October 30, but who’s counting?), I noticed that IBD was getting an unusually high number of hits. In fact, IBD set a record for the most hits in a single day that day, and Saturday is usually our worst day of the week (probably because Jeff Miller is at work). Most of the hits we got that day were coming from Twitter, and they were landing on a post I wrote about the color blue two weeks ago.

I noodled around on Google to see if I could figure out who had Tweeted about IBD. After some research, I learned that the fine people at a site called COLOURlovers had alerted their more than 410,000 followers to the post. (Thanks COLOURlovers! We love you, too!) This is about 409,500 more people than the number we usually alert through the IBD Facebook page.

What I also discovered as I was Googling around was that my post appeared ver batim on another blog (to remain unnamed) with no credit or attribution. I commented on the post that I was surprised to see that the “author” also had a husky friend named Shea and how great it is that he roots for the same baseball team I root for. (Or maybe I just said, “Hey, you stole this.” Who can remember?) I was surprised, just minutes later, to get an email from the “author” with this response:

I just wanted to make a formal apology to you for what I have done. I have no intentions of claiming the work of yours to be mine and it is indeed of my fault not to clarify the source of the post. The post has already been deleted from my blog and I would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused and hope for your forgiveness.

I was satisfied with the apology and the quick action, but somewhat skeptical that the author had no intention of claiming my work as his. Unfortunately, this sort of thing has been going on for a long time. My father, who has authored a number of books on philosophy, was once contacted by someone who had questions about the Korean translation of one of his books. Dad had questions, too, like “There’s a Korean translation of that book?” The Internet has made this sort of thing all too easy and much more prevalent. Copying and pasting is not difficult, and having happened just by accident upon one instance of IBD being plagiarized, I’d bet there are more instances out there.

The important lesson of the Cooks Source incident is not just that intellectual property has the same copyright protection online as it does in print (seems to me that that should be evident), but that there is a serious level of misunderstanding out there. Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs’ understanding of copyright law—that she can use another writer’s work without permission or compensation in an ad-supported print magazine—is comically flawed, and she’s paying for it dearly now. But designers working with little to no budget should be wary: even something as simple as downloading a photo and using it in a newsletter without permission can be a breach of copyright law.

So this lesson courtesy of Judith Griggs: Don’t use copyrighted materials without permission, apologize profusely if you do so by accident, and know that if you screw up then act like an arrogant snoot about it, the Internet mob will crush you.

IBD Gone Wild: Las Vegas

The NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas is just over a month away, and registration rates go up next week. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NAI’s workshops are inspirational, educational, and more fun than watching Shea try to pronounce the word nuclear in fewer than four syllables, so if you haven’t registered yet, go do it now.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Shea and I will be presenting an all-day Interpretation By Design preworkshop session Tuesday, November 16. Think about how you feel after reading this blog for two minutes a week, then imagine how you’d feel after an entire day of listening to us! On second thought, don’t do that. But read what the critics are saying:

“What every live performance aspires to be.” —E! Entertainment News

“Sheer visceral fun!” —The New York Times

“Cool, fun, original, and obviously unstoppable.” —LA Times

Now, while these are indeed actual quotes from actual critical reviews, I am compelled to point out that they are reviews of The Blue Man Group and are not technically related to IBD in any way. But the point remains that the NAI National Workshop will be a good time, and you should be there, too. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Bring your binoculars and try to spot a significant local species, popcorn shrimp, in its natural habitat, the Vegas buffet.
  2. For our session, we will shave our heads, paint ourselves blue, and communicate entirely by way of steel drums and musical PVC piping.
  3. The professional development opportunities at NAI 2010 are invaluable. The average high temperature in Las Vegas in November is almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius).
  4. Experience a real, live death ray! Read all about it in the NBC News article, ‘Death Ray’ at Vegas hotel pool heats up guests.*
  5. For the first time since NAI shared a hotel with a hair stylists convention at the 2004 National Workshop in Michigan, interpreters won’t be the wackiest people in the building.
  6. The self-proclaimed “most-photographed statue in Las Vegas” is at our host hotel, the Riviera. Check with the casino for the over/under on the total number of photos that NAI members will take of themselves posing with that statue.
  7. We’ll be looking for nine other people to reenact the final scene of Ocean’s 11 at the Bellagio fountains with us. I will play the role of Elliott Gould.
  8. The biggest sin in Sin City? Bad typography! Help us ferret out instances of neon Comic Sans and blinking Papyrus.
  9. Need a steak and egg breakfast at 1:00 in the morning for $2.99? I know just the place.
  10. Shea promises to wear a leprechaun costume and affect an Irish accent during a field trip to O’Sheas Casino on the Strip.
  11. Finally, I’ve included an 11 in this Top 10 list just so you can double down on it. Always double down on 11.

See you in Las Vegas!

*A big thank you, as always, to Friend of IBD and embittered Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder, who has stopped sending quirky ideas for blog posts and started sending menacing emails about how he plans to kill me. These plans include the Vegas Death Ray.

PowerPoint Wars

Have you ever spent time during someone’s PowerPoint presentation wondering what they were thinking when they created it? Hopefully I’m not the only one. I often have a difficult time watching some use PowerPoint. I was reminded of this recently when the PowerPoint slide to end all PowerPoint slides was created.

The full story, presented by the New York Times, explains the roar that came from one slide displayed by General McChrystal in Kabul. It has made its round on social media networks and even made it to The Daily Show.

When watching a PowerPoint presentation, I find myself trying to figure out the presenter’s way of thinking in developing the presentation aide and paying little or no attention to the presentation. I have this same problem when my wife is talking. Occasionally, I’ll see that PowerPoint presentation that hits you like a slap to the face, leaving you in wonder with what the designer has done. Again I’m not paying attention because I want to know how they achieved that effect. My wife also employs the slap in the face technique in order to gain my attention.

Here are a few tips and tricks that you can use that will make your PowerPoint programs rock, or at least be more tolerable.

Think Inside the Box: Paul and I live and die by the grid. It’s our lot in life. PowerPoint has a grid system that you can easily apply by simply clicking on the view tab and then clicking on the gridlines box. It is the Microsoft version of a grid, which means it works quickly and efficiently, didn’t cost extra, but is not as sexy as something offered by Apple. (That’s right the grid can be sexy.) By following a grid, flow and organization is improved. IBD (the book not the blog) takes a more in-depth look at lifestyle improvements by applying the grid.

What the Font: This happened to me just a few weeks ago. I put together a presentation that I was really proud of and when it was up on the screen the typefaces that I painstakingly chose were not present. I didn’t save my presentation in the correct format to encapsulate the fonts and the computer that I was displaying from didn’t have the same fonts installed as my computer. PowerPoint will make some decisions for you—decisions that I would rather my two-year old son make—by substituting fonts for you, but here’s how you solve that problem: In PowerPoint 2007, choose the office button, choose the PowerPoint options button, choose save in the list, choose the box for embed fonts in file, and then choose embed only the characters used in the presentation (best for reducing overall file size) or embed all characters (best for editing if the file is going to be shared).

Smart Art: PowerPoint 2007 has made an attempt to break out of the problems related to overused, predetermined screen layouts. The Smart Art allows you to transform those ever-present bulleted lists into graphics that may or may not help improve the communication of your point. The fact that Microsoft Office 2007 calls this “art” scares me and is reminiscent of the ubiquitous Word Art available in other Office 2007 programs. Smart Art may be destined to be the new typewriter, screeching tire, or laser sound effect. There is always a time and place for a laser sound effect (primarily Star Wars reenactments) but never in a presentation (unless it is a presentation that you are trying to annoy me, which may be a valid use). If used appropriately the function could be an asset but I’m afraid once it becomes more commonplace and the most popular templates get overused and abused.

Thematic Approach: Did I even have to write this? Sure I did, because I’m guilty of it. I find myself thinking about the presentation design concepts and elements long before my presentation is complete. My wife thinks about dessert long before the appetizer is gone. As interpreters we need to remember that the basics of program development apply to the creation of a PowerPoint presentation. Take into consideration purpose, theme, audience, research, organization and then review your purpose and theme before designing the program.

Remember that it was created for businesses but you are responsible for making the decisions to improve the presentation. PowerPoint is a tool for interpretation not the interpretation or intended to replace the interpreter.

Serial commas: With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope.

Call it what you will: the serial comma, the Oxford comma, or the Harvard comma. It is the cause of much consternation to writers and editors. It causes fights in bars (okay, discussions in libraries). Devotees of the Chicago Manual of Style insist on its use. Those who adhere to Associated Press style consider it superfluous. And there are those who say that it doesn’t matter whether you use the serial comma or not, so long as you are consistent.

Cereal comma: Snap, Crackle, and Pop (note the comma after "Crackle")

Cereal comma: Snap, Crackle, and Pop (note the comma after "Crackle")

I have always been a believer in the serial comma because I think that it eliminates the possibility for confusion. If you’re looking at a list of 1, 2, and 3, it’s clear that 1, 2, and 3 are three distinct items. Consider the example of this hypothetical book dedication from the Chicago Manual of Style:

With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope

You can picture the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style chuckling smugly at the notion that without the serial comma, readers might think that the hypothetical author’s parents are Mother Teresa and the pope. The absence of a serial comma might cause the reader to think that “Mother Teresa and the pope” is one unit equal to the author’s parents. As a believer in the serial comma, I’m laughing right along with them.

If you look at the popular style guides that do not use the serial comma, they are mostly related to the news industry (Associated Press, The Times, The New York Times, etc.). As a former journalism student and journalist, I can tell you that many styles espoused by newspapers are designed more for conserving ink than for clarity of writing (that’s why you see single quotes used in headlines instead of the more correct double quote). The style guides that call for the serial comma (the American Psychological Association, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the Chicago Manual of Style, to name a few) are more concerned with clarity of writing.

Opponents of the serial comma will argue that it can sometimes actually cause confusion rather than clear it up. A surprisingly engaging and in-depth entry on Wikipedia uses this example, again a hypothetical book dedication, this time inspired by editor and writer Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God

Here, the reader might believe that Ayn Rand is the author’s mother when the serial comma is used, but without the serial comma, the confusion is eliminated (“To my mother, Ayn Rand and God”). I argue that you have to work a lot harder to create a scenario where the serial comma causes confusion rather than eliminating it. Another example from the same Wikipedia entry is this:

My favorite types of sandwiches are pastrami, ham, cream cheese and peanut butter and jelly.

Without a comma after “cream cheese,” the reader is not sure whether the peanut butter belongs with cream cheese or jelly. With that, I’m off to the library to pick a fight with a journalist and then go out for cream cheese and peanut butter sandwiches.