Olympic Thoughts: Stephanie Rice, Status Quo, Coles and McDonalds Glasses

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st July 2012.

According to the latest Olympic themed ad from a well known burger chain, their promotional glasses come alive at night and practice pole jumping. That might explain why my collection of glasses from the 2008 Beijing games have all accidentally met their maker on my kitchen floor in the past few months.

Writing of the Olympics, I was enjoying the live television coverage when I was confronted by a commercial informing me that Coles was the official supermarket for the Australian Team. Ah, exactly when during their time in London would the Aussie athletes be shopping at a Coles supermarket? Of course, they’d be buying their bread and permeate free milk at the same imaginary one in the UK that Dawn French and English rockers Status Quo buy their Vegemite and Tim Tams. Sorry, my mistake.

 

Earlier this month, Coles became the first supermarket chain to release their own music video. That’s right, Status Quo have recorded a 3 minute promotional video for their reworked (and reworded) 1975 hit Down Down. Complete with big red foam hands, the tongue in cheek (I hope) video is available to view on YouTube. Expect to see it on Rage sometime soon.

Whilst I would never deny anyone the opportunity to make a buck, it seems a shame that Coles hasn’t enlisted the help of a washed up Aussie band to promote their stores. I’m sure the world’s greatest INXS tribute band, known as INXS, would happily adapt their hits. Get out your big red hands folks and sing along with Need Milk Tonight and What You Need (is Cheap Bread).

It shouldn’t be too hard to find an Aussie band whose best days are behind them. Just follow the signs to A Day on the Green. Come to think of it, I’ll take Status Quo anytime rather than hear another second of Normie Rowe’s awful Coles TV commercial. It’s hard to put your fingers in your ears with big red foam hands.

 

I really felt sorry for Stephanie Rice after her disappointing performance in the 400m individual medley. The expectations of a nation must be a pretty heavy burden, especially when you’re a returning triple gold medallist. So much can happen in a space of four years.

The state of the art LCD TV I bought especially to watch the 2008 Beijing games has already been replaced by a bigger and better state of the art LCD TV. I rented a unit in 2008. Now I have a house and mortgage. Four years ago, it wasn’t possible to photograph yourself in a bikini and tweet it to the world, along with some inappropriate gaffes.

Seriously though, the idea that you can continue to maintain the fitness, discipline and training to be the best in the world again, despite becoming four years older, is ridiculous. This simple fact makes the achievements of dual gold medallists even more miraculous and amazing, and everyone else, well, human. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

 

Four years ago, I had to pay an extra $50 for the Olympic channels on pay TV. This time around, I just had to add the Sports Package for $18 which gets me 8 channels in HD. Thanks Foxtel. Now I can feel less guilty when I lose interest in the Olympics after a couple of days and go back to watching cartoons.

Fast Food Limbo: stupid queue systems

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22nd november 2011.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your enjoyment this Tuesday, I’d like to have a rant.

I accidentally wandered into a popular fast food joint the other day to find that the traditional queuing system had been replaced by…I have no idea. I lined up in front of a register, as I have done since I was little and the food, for lack of a better word, came in foam boxes. Once my order was taken, I remained in my place, only to be asked to step aside for the person behind me.

Fair enough, but where was I supposed to go? If I move to the right, I’m in front of the next register. Same deal if I go to the left. I can’t go backwards either. There are people lined up behind me there. If I go forwards, I’ll need to put on an ill fitting uniform and work for minimum wage.

With no obvious place to go and no instructions forthcoming, I took a half step to the side and waited for…I have no idea. I didn’t have a number, RTA style, to play the “renew your driver’s licence bingo game”. I wasn’t even given one of those red flashing square things. And why exactly do they only flash red? Are there no other colours available?

They didn’t take my name either, like those expensive juice places. Buying a “tropical heavenly bliss” with extra wheatgrass is my only opportunity to use my real name, Shakespeare. And what’s with the crazy product names anyway? I’m buying a smoothie, not a state of consciousness.

I guessed that they would call out my order. The problem was, there are quite a few common combinations on the menu. Who ordered the unhappy meal? Ah, everyone?

Before I knew it, other hungry folk were lining up behind me to place their orders. I sheepishly explained that I wasn’t actually in a queue. I was in a kind of burger limbo.

When did the system change and exactly what are the new rules? I know from the TV ads that I inexplicably need to peel the sticker from the top right hand corner, but I don’t have a clue about how to get to my lunch.

Culturally, we’re taught from a very early age to queue up for things. From lining up at the school canteen for a sausage roll, space food stick and a packet of Burger Rings to passport control at the airport to waiting 2 hours to ride the Pepsi Max Big One roller coaster at Blackpool, the rules are the same.

When someone deviates from the traditional queuing system that is burnt into our brains, like the thankfully abandoned Orange Post Office alternating double queue system, people get confused.

I hate lining up for stuff as much as the next person, but at least I know where I stand, both literally and figuratively. Next time I feel the urge for junk food, I’ll take the drive through. At least I know how that works. Line up in the car, order and pay at the first window, pick up your order at the second window, and then drive home to find out that they forgot your fries. Simple.

Product placement in movies: buy a hot dog

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th January 2011.

Remember that scene in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond reboot, where 007 and Vesper Lynd are travelling on a train and she asks him about his watch? She asks, “Rolex?” Bond (Daniel Craig) calmly replies, “Omega.” Lynd ends the conversation about the watch with the simple, “Beautiful.”

Ker-ching! You’ve just been the victim of product placement. Omega reportedly paid $7 million per film for Bond to spruik Omega watches. Sure, the world’s favourite superspy has to wear a watch so it may as well be an actual brand but there’s really no need to shove it down our throats by altering the script to become a bizarre commercial. Last time I checked, the ads were meant to be before the film, not during the feature.

Product placement in films is nothing new but imagine what might happen if a company actually bankrolls a feature film. There are two famous examples of this. One is a beloved family film and the other is one of the worst movies ever made (it has a 0% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally published in 1964. A children’s literary classic, it was adapted into a movie musical starring Gene Wilder in 1971. What you may not know is that the film was financed by the Quaker Oats Company.

Founded in 1901, the company specialised in breakfast cereals at the time and had no experience in film making. The film’s producer, David L. Wolper, managed to convince the company that the movie would be the perfect advertising medium for their new candy bars. And thus, the Wonka Bar was born and the film’s title was altered to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in anticipation of a marketing match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, due to production problems, Wonka Bars never made it to the shops and the film was released, unblemished by product placement, to generally positive reviews (Dahl hated it) but mediocre box office. Via endless television repeats and its popularity on video and DVD, it is now considered an iconic children’s film (despite the scene showing a chook being decapitated).

Quaker Oats sold their share of the rights for half a million dollars 1977 and never invested in another film again.

Mac and Me was an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial rip-off released in 1988. Featuring a cute alien (MAC stood for “Mysterious Alien Creature”) who befriends a boy in a wheelchair whilst on the run from evil government scientists and agents, this turkey was financially backed by Coke and McDonalds.

In one of the least subtle product placement ever, Mac (as in Big Mac) conveniently only needs Coke and Skittles to survive. A visit to a McDonalds Restaurant with the bad guys hot on the trail strangely deteriorates into a syrupy happy impromptu dance contest, complete with a cameo from Ronald McDonald. This sickly sweet scene is widely available on YouTube and has to be seen to be believed. A warning, you may need insulin afterwards.

Ronald McDonald deservedly won the Worst New Star category at the 1988 Golden Raspberry Awards for Mac and Me. The film ends with the words, “We’ll Be Back!” written across the screen. Luckily for us, this atrocious waste of celluloid didn’t spawn a sequel. I understand that business for McDonalds was unaffected by the film’s failure and that there are now several restaurants worldwide.

So the next time you buy a watch, or grab a drink, or participate in an impromptu dance off at your local burger joint, or visit a chocolate factory run by little men with green hair, ask yourself if Hollywood made you do it.