Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pro football becomes Court TV

The image of major, moneymaking sports is often shaped by factors other than physical action. Cycling has become known as the sport of dopers. Pro golf has become, judging from the commercials, the sport of middle-aged men running to the bathroom and worrying about the potency of their, um, swings.

Which brings us to the NFL: Today’s pro football fans are obsessed with the officials—who this season are substitutes prone to error but no more prone to controversy than the regular refs they replaced.

Are officials at fault? I believe it’s the rules themselves. You would think that nothing would be easier than putting two teams on a field and paying them to fight over a leather ball. Yet interpreting complex rules has turned every football game into a veritable courtroom drama.

Typical television commentary: “On the official’s call, I’m not sure the arm is moving forward. From this angle it looks like he doesn't have the ball, whereas from THAT angle it appears that when he has the ball, his arm is…"

I do not second-guess the officials—just the complicated rules they have to apply. The simplest plays now provoke the most preposterous analysis. 

Last weekend I saw a clear, authoritative catch… two steps in-bounds… then a hit that knocked the receiver out of bounds… then a bobble with the ball popping free as the receiver hit the ground. Ruling after interminable deliberations? – incompleted pass!

This was the mind-numbing rationale: The receiver had not "maintained control all the way to the ground” out of bounds. Which raises the question: what does "bounds" mean if a receiver still has to control the ball after he falls out of it? 

In another case, the brilliant quarterback Michael Vick managed to weakly push the ball a few yards forward as he was being driven to the ground by a monster tackler. The ball rolled a few yards and was jumped on by an opponent.

A fumble, right? Well no. After many minutes peering into  monitors, the refs ruled that Vick’s arm had been “in the act of throwing”—thus making his effort an official pass that could then be ruled officially incomplete, thus officially nullifying the other team's recovery. Kafka!

My friend, lawyer, and brilliant sports analyst Gerald Green cites “two hyper-technicalities that drive me nuts”:

“In one case, the ball carrier reaches out and thrusts the football forward after he's been hit and stopped short of the goal line. This provokes a tedious frame-by-frame analysis of whether he hit the ground before, at the same time as, or after he reached and thrust (puh leeze!).”

“Second,” rants Gerald, “the ball carrier lands on a fallen player and then gets up and runs for additional yardage because the body of the fallen player isn't considered to be part of the ground! What if he had landed on a hot dog wrapper? What then? Outrageous.”

Clearly football owners and players have over-thought their game. They have turned simple acts of physical violence into tedious exercises of mental torture. I say, simplify the rules… along these proposed lines…

Establishing simple rules like these would save pro football from turning into Court TV. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Drawing the Duke logo in the shower

Our review of the new Duke Energy logo caught the attention of the orchestrater of the old, original Duke logo. We are honored to hear from Mr. Kenn Compton, a man who knows logos and also how to spin a great yarn. Listen to this! —Brandsinger
September 19 
Dear Mr. Brandsinger: 
A friend sent me your recent blog article about the new Duke Energy logo. You asked "who draws logos in an electric utility…?"
In the case of the old Duke Energy logo, it was me. 
At the time, I was the "logo cop" within corporate communications. It was a position of moderate responsibility but little authority. Duke Power had just merged with Pan Energy of Houston and changed the name to Duke Energy. Both companies had internal creative services groups and management felt it would be a good idea to let those folks take a crack at generating the new corporate logo. 
Word spread throughout the company that there was to be an internal logo contest. Ideas came in from many different people, including linemen, each with exciting ideas of what the new company's identity should be. Departments heads outside of corporate communications began to take an interest and at least one hired a New York consultant (I forget who) to have a go at it. 
Eventually several hundred logos were presented to a small group of managers from the merger team. They narrowed the submissions down to the top ten or twenty and took those to the senior executives for a final decision. 
Alas, none of the suggested identities resonated with the folks in the C-Suite. But all was not lost. Over the weekend, one of the top executives had an epiphany while in the shower. He sketched out his idea on the foggy door and liked what he saw. A couple of phone calls later and I was in the office, drawing his vision using less ephemeral media.   
First thing Monday morning the new design was submitted to the board and heartily approved. The rest is history.

One more thing: the executive who conceived the logo also asked to choose the color it was to be reproduced in. He chose Pantone 193, which doesn’t really print well in some circumstances. It was later revealed that he was, in fact, color blind. 
I haven't been a part of Duke for more than a decade. Who knows what they did to get the new logo. 
Kenn Compton

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Duke Energy’s new logo

What do sex, cars and corporate logos have in common? One thing: No one ever asks my advice on any of them. No one ever comes up and says, “Hey Brandsinger! This (woman, Ford, logo) is making me sweat, and I want you to study all ends of the situation and tell me how to handle it.” Never happens.

So you can see why I was not surprised to learn that Duke Energy created a new logo without having asked my advice. Duke, which recently merged with Progress Energy to create the nation’s largest electric utility, just unveiled this symbol.

Since no one asked me, I asked a true expert—our friend and brilliant logo designer Jerry Kuyper—who replied:
I don't see any upside over what they have been using for years: which had a strong visual link with the name and conveyed energy. Is bland the new black? Microsoft, Optimum, ebay and now Duke Energy... 
Every aspect of the previous logo implied energy. Everything in the new logo says lack of energy:—static, nondescript type—passive colors—limp, ill defined shapes (D? E? C?)
Communications aside, the most glaring shortcoming is the poor drawing—especially the drooping horizontal ellipse. 
Thanks, Jerry. According to reports, “the logo was developed internally”—in other words, not by outside strategists and artists. Creative work was done within a utility's culture among people who are trained to generate electricity. Seriously, who draws logos in an electric utility—one of the linesmen?

Whoever had the job, strategic imperatives were clearly an encumbrance. Look at what this one little picture was supposed to accomplish: 
"The logo represents a new beginning for a unified and stronger Duke Energy," said CEO Jim Rogers. "It also recognizes the rich histories of both Duke Energy and Progress Energy, reflecting the image of a world-class energy company." 
The colors reflect Duke Energy's commitment to sustainability, technology and energy efficiency. 
"The new logo depicts forward motion, representing energy for the future," said Ginny Mackin, Duke's chief communications officer. "It draws on elements from the legacy companies' logos: Progress Energy's ‘star' and the ‘swoosh' in Duke Energy's ‘D.' 
Colors chosen for “sustainability, technology and energy efficiency?” If they had asked my advice for colors that suggest all these big concepts, I would have recommended the perfect choice: plaid.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Democrats and the power of "you"

Every salesperson knows the secret. Every sloganeer. Every parent. It’s the power of the second person, the motivating allure of the word “you.”

President Obama and the Democrats know it as well, and are using that power to rhetorically crush the Republicans.

Romney and Ryan are in a fever over the federal deficit—that abstract thing waaaaay out there that no one can see or even imagine—while Obama and Biden want to give you a lower rate on your student loan.

Romney and Ryan are determined to control immigration and secure borders—which few people ever encounter except when seen on a map. Obama and Biden tell Latinos with questionable documentation that your kids born here will never be kicked out.

The Republicans cry out for free enterprise and upward mobility and education reform. The Democrats address GM workers (we saved your jobs) and poor people (we’ll get the rich to pay more for your benefits) and public school teachers (we fight for you).

By my count, Romney’s acceptance speech (about 4000 words) had 64 you’s and your’s in it. Obama’s speech (about 4800 words) had more than 90 you’s and your’s.

Any way you construe it, the Democrats excel in harnessing the power of the second person. Vote for us and you will soon benefit.

That’s why Brandsinger predicts (we speak of ourselves in the third person or the first plural) that Romney will lose the election. Republicans have failed to frame their arguments in the second person, while Democrats masterfully make their case by promising the moon to you the people.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Teaching History

I looked up the movie Amadeus on Youtube and relished the scene of Mozart showing off his genius to a stunned Emperor Joseph II.

Below the clip was this comment: 
How on earth do history teachers manage to make this boring is beyond me. I hated learning about Mozart in school but the movie is one of my all time favorites!

Yes, how do teachers manage to make history boring? Or any subject? I’ve pondered this for years. Further down came this comment, a proffered explanation:

Most teachers suck at their job, and are unable to animate their teachings, to make us visualize history... just like reading a good book. They methodically read plain text that you can find in a book and expect us to enjoy it. You don’t become a good teacher with just the diploma, you need people skills.

So to be a good teacher you need “people skills”? Ah, people skills—the magical ingredient of human communication. People skills come in so many varieties: Empathy. Sarcastic engagement. Urbane wit. Ability to “share.” Socratic questioning. Which ones translate into effective teaching?

Let me offer you a model: The finest teacher I ever knew died a few weeks ago at age 93. He came from Tennessee, graduated from Harvard, and taught history at the University of Washington for four decades.

What “people skills” did Professor Tom Pressly possess? I can hear his voice in my mind right now. He is talking about events long past. The words stream out in a soft Southern accent. His two palms line up in parallel—now vertically, now shifting to the horizontal as he makes his next point. His smile breaks forth. He is bemused by the latest academic fad. He has no authoritative pretense. All he says has simple clarity—and seems to apply to all of life, now and forever.

After considering explanations for the oddest or most wonderful or most ghastly events, he gives his conclusion, as if from a faraway vantage point: “I am never surprised by what they do or why they do it. After all, these are human beings.”

Was it “people skills” that left thousands of students wiser, better informed and inspired by Tom Pressly?

I’d say his abilities came naturally from deep within. He took full responsibility for each student's engagement in the subject. At bottom, it seems to me, rested this fundamental code:
I am your teacher and, thus, I owe you.