The king acts up again

I've spoken in the past about Burger King's raunchy-ish approach to advertising, but their newest ad takes the cake... or sandwich... or whatever:

The King has come to be known for pushing the boundaries of innuendo. Their "big bucking chicken" and "we're all full of sit" angus sandwich commercials used (semi)clever wordplay to get around modern draconian censorship laws.

But this, this is just a blowjob in hoagie clothing. I don't want to say i expected better from Burger King, because I don't really, but I still feel let down. The whole thing is cheap and gross. It surely doesn't inspire me to go eat 7 inches of processed meat food product.

The music industry, as virginal as ever

Last week saw the fall of a giant. The Union Square Virgin Megastore, the last holdout of the big record stores in New York City, closed its doors forever. The death throes of the British colossus sent tremors through the entire record industry, an entity long suffering depleted sales and maligned image.

I personally spent a lot of time in this store. In college I whiled away countless hours in the café reading comic books and not paying for anything. And that's the problem, really. Not simply that I was allowed to sit and read and not spend, but that I was ok with the whole consumption without purchase arrangement. Hell, I felt entitled to it.

I've purchased music from iTunes. I've bought hundreds of CDs. But for every dollar I've spent on legitimate music media, I've probably illegally downloaded ten dollars worth without batting an eye. I never thought twice about what I was doing. What's worse, when I sit down and think about it, all the music I've "stolen," I don't care at all, not one bit. And almost no one else I know does either.

And you know what? This is as it should be.

I'm not going to wave some fight-the-power, 2600, "the information wants to be free" flag. That would be asinine and wrongheaded. The movement for dramatically cheaper music (and, while we're on the topic, cinema and TV) is a step in the right direction for consumer and producer alike. At present only the consumers are seeing real benefit, but even now that's changing. In the future, the consumer-producer relationship will be much more mutually beneficial.

The history of music has been benchmarked not by new ways of delivering content, but by monetizing it. Paying performers to play in your ballroom, purchasing sheet music, picking up LPs at the five & dime, radio, payola, MTV… it's all been about salability. From promoting content to finding new ways to deliver it to the masses, much music technology innovation has sprung from a simple desire to move more units.

That is, until the Internet came along, with its promise of free and accessible media for all. We all know the story of the democratization of intellectual property: And Usenet begat Napster, and Napster begat BitTorrent, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. A sea change has taken place in the retail world, one that has re-aligned exactly what it is we purchase as a public, and what we consider worthy of purchase. The Internet has rather simply made the following rule: If it's an object that I can touch in the real world, it's going to have a cost attached. If it only exists as data, either in human memory or a computer's, it should be free.

But the internet has not made us into a culture of thieves; it just repositioned views on what should and should not be given away. Music, TV, newspapers, and film, we've decided, ought to be free (or extremely inexpensive). As producers increasingly come to terms with this we'll see them figure out new ways to get some return off us. The page is already starting to turn on the retail music industry...

Just last week Virgin announced it was launching an unlimited download music service in the UK. Right on the heels of its megastore close out. Will it have the clout to take on iTunes? Will it ever compare to the estimated $50 million annual profits that the now-deceased Times Square megastore pulled in? Only time will tell.

Pinging Bing: The new kids's pretty but what difference does it make?

Recently Microsoft launched it's new search engine, It's easy to say that is a prettier search engine than plain old google. The large high-def photos (with fun-fact tags), the slick of-the-moment logo, an easy on the eyes grey background; Bing looks good. But does that really matter?

Google--really the only competition worth talking about--is famous for its oversimplified layout. There's an input field, two buttons, and a logo, and that's about it. Sometimes (if Google deems a holiday worthy enough) the multicolored letter logo is "enhanced" with what I can only hesitate to call pizazz.

This simplicity is emblematic of one of Google's core philosophies: easy-to-use products that work reliably. The great googley moogley doesn't want to bother you with a song and dance, it wants to get you to your search results RIGHT NOW. You don't have the time to be bothered, and the sooner you're clicking on links the more money Google's putting in its pocket. Google search is just a tool, the flagship product from a company that makes (internet) tools.

That said, there's nothing distracting or wasteful about Bing's looks. The aesthetics are interesting, but they don't serve as much of a speedbump. If you find yourself exploring or surfing around you're either remarkably easy to distract or you weren't super interested in your search query (quarry?) to begin with.

So why dress up your search page at all? And here is where I think Microsoft has taken some time to consider their tactics in the search-engine struggle. Sure, you want to define yourself as something other than Google. You can't simply imitate your competition whole cloth. But it's more than that. Google's homepage is easy to ignore. It drives you to the results, wasting no time on other content.

But if Google seeks to be a tool, then Bing seeks to be a destination. There's just slightly more motivation to spend a second on that homepage, and that second could some day be turned into dollars.

A subtle ad placement, an elegant sponsorship, even a cross-company promotion (quick jaunt on the X-box anyone?) gracefully implemented could spell a lot of clicks. Google would never be so garish as to clutter up their virginal homepage, but that's because it would be a galling distraction. Bing isn't subject to the same strictures.

Bing has left the door open on big-money anchor ads. A door none of its competitors had the chutzpah, or sense, or inclination to prepare for. We'll see in the next year if they exploit it.