Tuesday, November 30, 2004

no speedpass today

I suspect I'm every corporation's least-favourite customer - the kind who likes to be left alone to browse at my leisure, or the type who goes in to buy what they need, run through the cash, then go without any further sales pitches. The more a service rep tries to push an "exciting new offer" down my throat, the more likely I'm quick to flash an icy glare. Excessive pitches further, not weaken, my resistance.

Lately, I've noticed that gas stations are becoming more obnoxious in pushing the latest innovations in increasing North American consumer debt loads. Worst offender? Esso stations and their Speedpass. It's a tag you swipe at the pump to pay for your purchase, keyed into a credit card of your choice. Sounds convenient, right? Problem: I'm a luddite and like going in-store to pick-up other things, and have no qualms about physically whipping out a card and seeing it processed. It doesn't seem like the type of thing I can live without.

Esso would like you to believe otherwise.

Two incidents:

1. Stopped at the Bayview/Broadway to fill up and pick up some milk. Go to pay, guy asks if I want a Speedpass. I give a friendly "no thanks". Asked again, which I again refused. He then tried a sympathy ploy by saying he needed one more sign-up to meet his daily Speedpass quota. Nothing turns me off faster than this type of corporate ploy. I glared a bit, grabbed my bill and left.

2. Last week, stopped at the Dupont/Bathurst location. The guy behind the counter was robotic, repeatedly asking if I was interested in a Speedpass. Again, started with a friendly no, then grew icier with each response (especially after they said it was a "must" to have one, though I wasn't in the mood to ask why).

I feel like being a total ass next time and outlining things I have already, then see if I can leave them speechless for any reason I may need one of the durned things.

Maybe it's a new corporate ploy to make in-store staff so obnoxious that you sign up for the damn thing, so that you don't have to deal with them. I can see the memo now...

Attn: Store Agents, Customer Associates
Re: Promotion of ExxonMobilEsso Speedpass at Retail Level

The Corporation has had great success with the Speedpass program since it was introduced. However, we have not yet saturated the market, a goal that can be accomplished with the assistance of all members of the team.

Imaginative techniques to secure new Speedpass clients are strongly recommended. Store employees are encouraged to be enthusiastic about the Speedpass Program to the extreme. Encourage their inner actors by demonstrating methods of over-emphasis and pity ploys. By breaking down consumer resistance with these and other tactics, the Corporation will reach its goal.
- JB

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

the xmas newspaper insert review

If it's Xmas, it's time for my morning Globe and Mail to be loaded with one gift insert after another. You know, those (usually) glossy little mags with gift-giving ideas generally geared towards yuppies, aging boomers or the well-heeled?

The deluge started a few weeks ago with the overpriced gift-basket catalogues. They're not covered here, as I tossed them out after they provide my morning chuckle. Here's a couple that are still lying around my desk:

President's Choice Insider's Report - nowhere near as fun to look through as in the Dave Nichol days. Used to love going through these as a kid, to figure out what to tell Mom to throw in the cart next time we hit Zehrs (back then, it was usually the Kingsville location). The way those inserts were written, you really wanted to go out and try this fantastic stuff they discovered!

Now? Meh.

Though they generously toss exclamation marks through the Report, it doesn't grab your interest like it used too. The back half, featuring home product specials, barely deviates from their regular flyer. If you want a taste of the old Insider Reports, check out the flyer the US chain Trader Joe's sends out (though the old Insider Reports went for goofy cartoons, not turn-of-the-century ads).

Another problem: they keep reusing the same cartoons. The PC Chef dude needs a new range of expressions.

Least-appetizing products: Blueberry Cheesecake Crunch cookies, puff pastry pizza.

Harry Rosen - provides stocking stuffer suggestions. Like a $275 scarf is a stocking stuffer for anybody in my tax bracket. This insert also wins Worst Pun of the Season So Far - a line of UK dress-shirted under the headline SOHO-HO. Despite this, it's a nicely-designed insert.

LCBO Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide - another pretty-looking flyer. This guide covers every budget, from cheap sets of sample bottles to a "Mazzetti Grappa Chess Set in Wooden Case", where each glass chess piece contains a shot of grappa, yours for only $1,500.

Oddball, yet practical item: the Good Host Kit, with all the tolietries your stone-drunk friends will need if they have to sleep off the Xmas bash at your place, with half the retail price going to MADD.

Just Odd: "Pop art" champagne bottles. Because fine art is the only thing you'll want to be thinking of when Dick Clark drops the ball.

Chapters/Indigo: flip through this insert and you might think you'd been handed the LCBO's table scraps. I think this flyer is what the CEO meant by "cultural department store", if your culture is defined by $139 Nigella Lawson mixing bowls and small, "elegant", pricy plastic-wrapped cones of potpourri. A flip through this insert sums up all I despise about Canada's big book chain.

More to come... - JB

best price movers tries a new approach

An update on the Best Price Movers saga. After another break in calls, they've cranked up the phone mail spammer again. Big change - no more pitches from Boris/Janos/Reggie/Tugboat Bill. The past two calls have been a female voice, calling herself Anna on the first, a different name on the second (skipped through it, didn't pay much attention). These calls are done in a normal, non-phony accented voice, and have fewer vocal flubs than her male counterpart. No more "ahhhhs" or "ummmmms".

This doesn't change the fact they're still annoying, especially now that they're less amusing. - JB

Monday, November 22, 2004

santa claus is coming to town

Met up with the gang for our yearly ritual of watching/mocking the Santa Claus Parade. This year's viewing spot: Bloor and Bathurst. Went down to meet everyone, but didn't immediately see them. After a quick phone call, discovered they were around the corner, on the opposite side of the street.

Cue horror movie scene trying to reach them.

The crowd was thick, with little room to move. Right at the corner, movement came to a dead stop. I was squished in the crowd, more crowded than I'd ever been. Two people near me almost put up their dukes, because one guy refused to have his view obstructed for five seconds to let somebody through. Nobody got through, as more tried to push their way in both directions. If anybody had fallen, it would have been curtains.

It was nearly enough to send me back onto the subway.

Somebody finally pushed through and the crawl resume. Finally made it across the street and joined the others. It took awhile for the stress to wear off - when my camera was being temperamental, I flew into a steady stream of language not fit for children's ears.

But hey, it was a nice day.

Choice quotes from the peanut gallery. Those who uttered these phrases shall remain nameless (I didn't write their names down!):
"Hey, take a look at the rod!" - a float featuring a lazy-looking animal fishing, with a very long rod.

"It's an angry woman chasing those poor children...then she got caught in the star and lost half her body" - an accurate description of one float that passed, one that would have beem worthy of destruction in Animal House.

"Hey, it's the United Nations!" - a marching band carrying a dozen-and-a-half flags. We noticed the marching bands were over-enthusiastic this year, with the leaders honing their finest imitations of Robert Preston in The Music Man, with more gusto.

"More children to the fire!" - a float with a bunch of kids sitting in the interior of its midsection - don't remember for sure if it was the train advertising The Polar Express. Whatever it was, it seemed like an advertisement for child labour.

"Is that a business goth?" - on our way over to the Duke of York, passed a woman in black business clothing and very dark makeup. Soon, somebody coined the term "busigoth". Sounds like a idea to build a sketch around...

Suggestions for our own floats were tossed around, such as a tribute to alternative energy (buy tons of baking soda to use for an "erupting" volcano) or a crossing the Santa Claus and Pride parades (folks marching in nothing but Xmas skivvies). I wonder if Caribana has ever thought about lending floats/costumes...

Hey, hey, the gang's all here...except for a couple off to grab some samosas.

We kept running into cute kids fascinated by our merry band of freaks. This girl kept patting and playing with Tipper. She also patted Mark's leg, but we think it was her way of telling him to get out of Tipper's way.

We ran into kid #2 at the Duke of York, after the parade. He quickly became Jess' new boyfriend. He also drooled his lunch into a mound of coats. The kid's ready for higher education.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

i've been pimped!

It's interesting where offhand remarks will lead you.

While driving Nile and Dee home after my last dinner bash, the subject of improving one's wardrobe came up. I guess Nile had been down about career prospects when Dee suggested that he might want to start with his wardrobe. After devouring several style books, he was born again, a man with a mission: to improve others like him.

Guess who said they'd offer to be a guinea pig, in light of recent dating blunders...

So it was with a mixture of bemusement and fear I hopped in the car with Nile and Dee the other weekend. Understand that I've been a conservative, relaxed dresser most of my life, happy with loose shirts and jeans. Sure, I owned a pink sweater during the height of Miami Vice, flannel during the grunge era, etc, but never dragged them out much. Fear of clothing shrink often led to buying clothes that didn't reduce in size, making me look bloated.

We headed out to the scene of his conversion, Orfus Rd. Located near Yorkdale Mall, Orfus is a place where you can experiment for very little, making it ideal for those on a tight budget. I'd only driven down Orfus a couple of times - once to explore, once to play laser tag (which I suck at, but was a lot of fun and a good workout). It's where insane drivers come out to play, struggling to find parking spots and avoid fender-benders. Given how much I love driving in our humble burbs, I hadn't set my sights on going out there again unless others were along.

I guess a couple of things were already working in my favour - my pea coat and what Amy likes to call my "bowling shoes". One thing I had to do - untuck my shirt. This was going to be a no-no. Later discovered Amy's been waiting to tell me the same thing, but didn't want to hurt my feelings. Trust me sis, they ain't gonna be hurt.

I let the style judges pick out stuff they thought would work on me. I wasn't too helpful at first, as I couldn't figure out what exactly I needed. In the back of my mind,I knew a couple of things:

1) For pants, I could still rely on good quality/low cost pairs from the States (good ol' Haggar)
2) Nothing "clingy", given my body shape

I didn't have to fear much, other than wacky sizing. First successful stop was a place called Target (no connection to Tar-zhay), where Nile stocked up on his last run.

Cue the runway model.

Tried a number of shirts, most being too tight or roomy. Bought one, which I almost got for $4 until the cashier realized which rack it came from ($10). Lesson: don't look so puzzled when the price is lower than you expected.

Next: Le Chateau, a chain I had never looked in before. We had an unprintable name for it in high school - let's just say it was a centre that referred to torches. Was surprised to find some half-decent shirts buried at the back of the store. The salesperson didn't seem to mind going through several ceiling-high racks to look for sizes.

How wacky was sizing? I bought an XXXL shirt that was much smaller than a huge XL. My co-conspirators kept handing me shirts to take into the dressing room. Ended up buying two.

Net result of the day: three shirts, $40, brave new frontier.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

warehouse xmas shopping tips

We're back this year with more items available exclusively at JB's Warehouse. Remember - we're there to serve your gift-buying needs!

Jones Soda is launching a limited-edition, no carbs/calories pack of the following holiday-themed flavours:
* Cranberry
* Fruitcake
* Turkey and Gravy
* Mashed Potato and Butter
* Green Bean Cassarole

Mmmmm, artificial green bean cassarole flavour...

Undaunted, the folks in product research here at the Warehouse have come up with their own unique spin on carbonated beverages. Introducing JB's Own Handcrafted Fast Food Sodas!

* Cheeseburger
* Chicken Wing - available in mild, honey garlic and Buffalo varieties
* Nachos with Cheese
* Poutine
* Veggie Dog - for the vegan/vegetarian crowd

Our researchers have also come up with these exotic JB's Handcrafted flavours:

* Mucus - when you want a taste of cold/flu season without the distraction of falling ill!
* Candy Heart - complete with floating messages, just like the candy!
* Pineapple-Glazed Ham - Perfect for Easter! Availale in Kinda Salty and Pump My Veins With Salt strengths
* Communion Wafer - approved by 5 out of 6 dioceses!
* Paczki - remember, you don't have to be Polish to polish off a paczki!
* Arsenic & Old Lace - fool your friends into thinking you're poisoning them! See if they mistakenly will themselves to death! Also available in Cyanide Slide!
* Double Shot Of My Baby's Love - we'll leave it to your imagination as to what flavour this creamy concoction is!
* Milli Vanilla - an imitation of imitation vanilla flavour soda! The drink for post-modernists!

We're still working on the final design, but here's a sample label!

JB's Handcrafted Soda - Mom's Pineapple-Glazed Ham Flavour

JB's Handcrafted Sodas
Guaranteed to Bring a Smile or Your Money Back
If An Accident Occurs, We'll Pay For a Stomach Pump!
- JB

Friday, November 05, 2004

when boston cremes fail

It was Night Of The Grey Faces.

It started out with hope for those wishing for Dubya's defeat. True, the alternative wasn't awe-inspiring, but with the world watching, Americans couldn't be dumb enough to re-elect an administration that has caused so much havoc.


Arrived at Jess and Mark's around 8:30 to join the gang to watch the results. For once, I wasn't the first one there. Found everyone sacked out on couches, settling in to watch Global's election counter-programming, politically-themed episodes of The Simpsons. The "Bill Clin-Ton/Bobdole" Treehouse of Terror installment ("Citizen Kang") felt more relevant than back in '96, especially the joke about abortions ("Bobdole" first tries to woo a crowd of votes by promising abortions for all. Boos. He then says no abortions. More boos. Finally decides on abortions for some, small flags for others. Cheers).

Somebody brought a box of Tim Hortons Boston Creme donuts, in honour of Kerry. They weren't as creme-filled as we anticipated. This should have been an omen (can anybody tell me if the execs at Wendy's, who owns Tim Hortons, are Republicans? I smell a conspiracy...)

Flipped over to Jon Stewart at 10. We prepped by watching the Crossfire interview, which gets funnier with each viewing. You could tell his heart was sinking as the results trickled in. The treasure map was as useful as any other graphic of the evening. Stephen Colbert's final words made a good point - maybe we do need 60s style mass protests again to give democracy a swift kick in the ass.

Switched over to CBC at 11. As the evening wore on, faces grew greyer, the colour draining away as the red electoral votes continued to stay ahead of the blue. Recurring comments from the room:

"How could Americans be so stupid?"
"They get the president they deserve."
"Jon Stewart for President!"
"Would somebody fix the sound system behind Neil McDonald?"
"We're about due for another political assassination".

Also pondered: the mystery of young Republicans in Canada. The mystery of Rex Murphy's glass eye.

On the bright side (if there is one), maybe (a) the GOP's chickens will come home to roost in the next four years, (b) the Dems finally get it into their head that blandness and moving further right doesn't work, (c) a viable, third-party candidate emerges next time, somebody of the stature of, say, Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 (Ralph Nader need not apply).

One other small note of reassurance - the American cities I frequent (Detroit, Buffalo) were blue. Still debating whether to skip any family daytrips to Ohio until the Shrub is gone.

Welcome to four years of hell. If any of you have a Handmaid's Tale-ish dystopian story you've been working on, look forward to plenty of real-life material to spur you on. - JB