June 2, 2009

The Brand Extension Blight

One of the many blights on classic American culture that the cult of "brand extension" hath wrought.

A friend that edits a magazine writes, to his personal email list of cranks, loonies, and general malcontents:

To all: For an upcoming article celebrating curmudgeons, we're planning a list of "50 things that aren't as good as they used to be" and we invite your contributions. Thanks a bunch. Creativity counts. Crankiness too. Here are two, to give you an idea: Not as good as they used to be: TV News Anchors -- Buncha movie star pretty boys. Chet Huntley had a dog face, but you could trust him. Traveling Carnivals: They've shut down the freak shows and moved them to FOX.
My just-off-the-top-of-my-head response reads as follows.

OREOS -- This was, without a doubt, America's greatest store bought cookie ever. And it dominated the market. But was that good enough for the sleazoid 90s "marketing" department? No. They wanted more and even more. As a result they have 'New-Coked' this cookie into oblivion with endless variations on the theme. The heresy began with "Double Stuffed" Oreos. This simple-minded d-oh moment came when somebody thought, hey, let's double the stuffing! It did not matter to them that the perfect proportion of white cream stuffing had already been achieved. Nope, this

is the DoublePattyWhopper school of marketing drool: 'If one is good, two is twice as good.' Actually, if one is good, two in the same bun or cookie wafers is a bloody mess. And in addition, in order to get the double stuffing working correctly, they've upped the glue in the stuffing. No double stuffed Oreo comes apart neatly and cleanly. It always shatters. The pleasure of the original Oreo was that you could take it apart and have a chocolate wafer option. A bittersweet chocolate wafer option. Now even the wafer's been made sweeter.

MUSIC IN RESTAURANTS, BARS AND EVERYPLACE ELSE: God forbid we actually have to talk to each other in any of the places that we congregate. And, with the now universal notion that if the music is bad you make it louder, all conversations are conducted at a shout. And having Coldplay's latest hit follow you into the john is the final insult.

TWO BY FOURS: The basic structural unit of building. This along with candy bars has been getting progressively smaller as it becomes more expensive. Collapsing modern homes' problems can be traced to this basic unit. Take a tape measure with you the next time you go to a lumber yard and see that this item has been steadily whittled down. How low can it go before it becomes a default one by two?

THE DAILY NEW YORK TIMES: No, no because they make things up, but because of the section creep. This thing used to be two sections. You could have all the news that fits in your head in a brief commute. Now it arrives in sections both multiple, and assuming that you are unemployed in order to have the time to read it.

AUTOMOBILE CONTROLS: Once upon a time, three speeds forward, one reverse, steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator. Nice and simple and made the car go where and when you wanted it to go. Not so anymore as the feature creep of computer programs invades the automobiles of America. This reached its apotheosis last year when BMW launched the 7-series with controls so complicated that it took the average driver over two hours of training to even begin to understand how to get the car to move forward. The much touted iDrive system came with over 700 functions with eight main point and click menus plus submenus. It failed to come with a dedicated factory computer nerd to help the hapless driver. What you get when you combine German Engineering with Windows 2.0 is a car that will have you over the edge of the road when you try and tune your radio.

FLYING: Everybody's favorite. On my first flight to Europe, everyone dressed for success. Now everyone dresses for Gold's Gym. And I'm sure the next step in TOTAL SECURITY will be to require everyone who is not of Arab descent to arrive with a note from their doctor attesting that they had a high colonic an hour before the airport to make the body cavity searches a bit more pleasant for the staff. Then there's the added coach thrill of a blood clot developing in the legs that stops your heart at 50,000 feet. Plus... no peanuts! After all, think of the allergic children!

PARIS: Let's put the politics aside for a moment. First, they *cleaned* it. Scrubbed all the buildings. Then they scraped Les Halles off the map and replaced it with a half-buried mall. No more onion soup at 4 AM. Then they renovated all the really cheap hotels on the Left Bank. And, the final insult, the Pompedieu Center -- looked cheap and broken the day it opened and time has not been kind.

ACTION MOVIES: If I want to see endless morphing and slo-mo disasters stacked up one on top of the other I'll just tune into the Weather Channel and/or the Speed Channel, thank you. Arnold vs. Keanu? KO in one nanosecond.

RAP MUSIC would be included in things that are not as good as they used to be if it had been any good to start with.

TEENAGE CLOTHING TRENDS: I've seen it go from Ivy League to Hippie to Yuppie to the current wave of what can only be described as the Ghetto Gangster mophing to Balkan Refugee look. And it's now been in a look-loop for over a decade. I really think these cutting edge kids have to move on.

NATIONAL POLITICAL CONVENTIONS: Nominations used to be decided in smoke-filled rooms on the fifth ballot. Now they're decided in Iowa? Even the Networks have given up on these charades.

MEN'S NEW HAIRSTYLES: I must have missed the moment when the hairdressers of America decided that men's hair had to be cut with machetes in order to give it that permanent bed-head look.

GLOBAL ENEMIES: "Hey, come out, stand up, get some uniforms, jets, tanks and fight like a Russkie, please."

One of the first articles here. Published in June 2003.

Posted by Vanderleun at June 2, 2009 8:03 PM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.


I'm arriving four years late via the Belmont Club. I think it will be worthwhile to spend some time here.



Posted by: richard Benfield at June 23, 2007 4:14 PM

I'm not so sure I agree with the premise of your post, Gerard.

After all, the older I get, the better I was.

It's everything else that atrophies. Hmph!

I'd grumble 'bout getting off my lawn, but I see that I'm on yours. Shufflin' along now, I'm off!

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Posted by: Jim at June 2, 2009 10:21 PM

I disagree on the Double Stuff Oreos. Love those damn things.

Now, on the pervasive, invasive music EVERYWHERE issue, I agree.

I want to go to a hardware store without having to listen to music piped in that sounds like a jingle from a tampon commercial.

Posted by: Mumblix Grumph at June 3, 2009 4:38 AM

Can we add that men's voices are not what they used to be? Must every male speak like they've been emasculated with pinking shears? And shrieking, whiny-boy singers need to be sent back home to mama's basement. Unless you're Freddy Mercury or the BeeGees, you really should leave the whingy stuff to the pre-teens.

I have to listen to Trace Adkins or Randy Travis just to remember what testosterone sounds like. Mmmm. . .

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at June 3, 2009 5:26 AM

I'm with you, Joan. Men's voices used to be a pleasant thing for me to listen to. Now we have Billy Mays. And that perpetual whiny 5th girl timbre is just too much for me to handle.
Add to that list the phone solicitor's voice. If you can understand the dialect at all, the voice on the phone is more than likely to be prerecorded and computerized.

Posted by: Jewel at June 3, 2009 5:56 AM

Rock music blared from the stadium PA system between innings at baseball games. It's like saying, "sure, Eden is nice, but what we really need is a ghetto blaster to make paradise complete."

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at June 3, 2009 6:12 AM

Oh, yeah. This was good! I'm completely on board with the piped in music thing, particularly when it's used in the local Kroger's store to induce anxiety and therefore more purchasing.

I was hiking my third mile in there trying to find the damn olive oil (which you'd think would be a least within 2 football fields' length of the vinegar) with no success - all to the strains of a very bad rendition of Unchained Melody.

I swore that I'd never enter that mind-control institution again.

Then there's Healthy Choices Chicken Marsala Cafe Steamer Basket. I am SO STEAMED. I discovered this item a few months ago. Dang! It was awesome. I'd finally found a healthy, quick, frozen meal that was delicious. I heated another one a few nights ago and it tasted like cardboard with bad seasonings and I'm thinking I'd lost my mind. Well. Deep in the bowels of my freezer - I discovered the earlier, original version. They've changed the recipe! The photo shows the change, but it's still labeled Roasted Chicken Marsala.

I'm phoning the company today. Bastards.

Posted by: Cathy at June 3, 2009 7:22 AM


Yessss! Shotgun, please!

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at June 3, 2009 9:30 AM

Posted by Gagdad Bob at June 3, 2009 6:12 AM

OH yeah. Can't go to baseball games anymore because of that, even (especially?) minor league.

I lived in Oakland in the 70's, and they used to have a live Dixieland band at the Coliseum. You'd enter the gates to the sounds of Muskrat Ramble played by 5 guys standing like an island in the stream of fans, and hear them from a distance as they circled the stadium between innings.

Real hot music in the fresh air, interrupted periodically by BillyBall. America, down to the ground. I was briefly on the list to start a game with the Star-Spangled Banner, but by the time my name came up, the whole situation had declined to We Will, We Will Rock you for 3 hours, and I took a pass.


Posted by: at June 3, 2009 9:33 AM


Automobiles, PERIOD. I remember my sense of accomplishment when, as a non-greasemonkey, I could replace my own radiator, or spark plugs, and could adjust that perfectly fine device known as a carburator. Now, some car geek will likley tell me about all the engineering improvements in modern cars, but I would have to shoot back with "fine, but the next step is to make them so you can replace the fancy doodads yourself, AND the frikkin' radiator."

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at June 3, 2009 9:36 AM

This is fun! I need a good grump-fest.

OK - how about appliances? I'm thinking ovens and microwaves in particular, but it also applies to printers, copiers, etc... All the 'leetle' flat touch-type buttons. If you don't have to "touch" your selection more than once in four tries, you're an ace. Remember when appliances had "dials"? As in "wheels"? As in, what genius decided they had to be reinvented?

I'm with the other ladies on the male voices too. Ah - for the sound of a nice baritone.

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at June 3, 2009 1:03 PM

I'm back. This is good therapy.

Let's discuss the wiper blade dial on my steering column's turn signal/cruise control arm. I love my Honda Odyssey. I detest that dial. I'm pretty good running the DVR, the VCR, computers, snow blowers, fancy locks, cell phones, the microwave, the cleaning program on my fancy touch-pad oven( you're so right here WC!) but that damnable windshield wiper dial on the turn-signal arm of my Honda is so counter-intuitive that in 3 years I've not mastered it. I'm so flustered trying to select fast speed from slow, from variable (fast, medium or slow) that I'm focused more on that blink'n plastic rotating barrel than I am the road. Arggghhhhh!

Thank you for listening.

Posted by: Cathy at June 3, 2009 1:56 PM

Much of the digital control craze that has supplanted analog dials and switches is the fault of the Japanese. These inscrutable orientals have a very differently-constructed brain apparently. Also, I think they're trying to get back at us for WWII, or something.

Posted by: Roderick Reilly at June 3, 2009 2:20 PM

Boutique ammunition.

If you own a rifle in .30-06, a pistol in .357/38 Special, a twelve gauge pump shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle... you are equipped to harvest 99% any game species in any climate. You have the power to contest and overcome any human or natural agency acting against you with deadly force.

You can defend your self from any threat not riding behind armor or dropping ordnance from above.

If you are serious about being armed all the time, get a pistol in .45 or 9mm. I love revolvers, but trouble can come in bunches and a shotgun just sticks out at Trader Joe's...

It seems every time I pick up another sporting/outdoors/gun mag there they are, rolling out the next caliber designed expressly to deal with the left handed pygmy Cape Buffalo menace.

.204 Ruger. .327 Magnum. Fifteen or twenty different flavors of Short, Super Short, Ridiculously Short Magnums in bores running from .17 to 5". Pistol calibers that would be tank main guns forty years ago - .50 AE, .454 Casull,.357 Sig, 10mm, .40 S&W...

It used to be that the honorable brotherhood of Wildcat reloaders was just that - a clique of dedicated hobbyists leavened with some dead serious pros who were looking for the edge of the envelope for some particular reason.

You won't be passing on that 4000 fps rifle to your kids, buster. The bore will be shot out before you get tired of spending forty dollars a box of ammo. I would the put number of people I've met that could shoot a rack rifle to its mechanical limits in the low dozens. And I meet a lot of shooters.

I love the freedom to choose... but the current state of the firearms marketing environment is frankly an insult to the intelligence of the customer base.

I feel much better now.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 3, 2009 4:41 PM

"And having Coldplay's latest hit follow you into the john is the final insult."

Having "Yellow" playing in the background while you're "shakin' hands wif' the wife's best friend" is quite appropriate.

"...I could replace my own radiator, or spark plugs, and could adjust that perfectly fine device known as a carburator..."
Don Rodrigo at June 3, 2009

Well, as a Honda enthusiast, I can still do most of those, and swap in a new engine with appropriate wiring, ECU and other doohickies. Yup, go look at the goofy kids with their B16 powered hatchback that sounds like a weed whacker that can do low 11s, those are the future grease monkeys that will keep the tradition of tinkering alive.

I'm gonna wait until I hit my mid 30s to start ranting.

Posted by: Duncan Idaho at June 3, 2009 6:03 PM

I'd pay an extra 100 bucks for a microwave with two dials - one for power level and one for time - and a big ole honkin' START button. That happens to describe the design of my parents' first microwave back in the 70s. It would also vibrate the hell out of the china you left sitting on top and end the cycle with a quaint little 'ting'. Bmmmmmmmmmmmmmf - ting! God, that was a great design.

Duncan, you poor kid. You don't have any ranting to do because you haven't had the experience of good design supplanted by crap. And it's possible you never will.

Hey - I'm suddenly feeling a lot better about being over 40 something.

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at June 3, 2009 6:37 PM

"God, that was a great design."

Sounds like the Amana Radar Range that was a fixture in the Midland YMCA.

I always kinda thought that opening that hatch would one day reveal the surface of the moon...

I also remember my friend's mom freaking out about the "radiation waves" undoubtedly cooking all the folks in the dining room.

Good times.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 3, 2009 6:59 PM

Oh Western Chauvinist! You're making me homesick. I remember the clattering china and that pleasant little 'ting'.

Posted by: Cathy at June 3, 2009 7:11 PM

The way every man in the room would remove their hat when the National Anthem was played. I've come close to getting in a few scrapes for "helping" men remember to do this...but they always back down when they realize that the 50 something old man that just knocked their hat off(oops, I meant to say helped them remove their hat)isn't going to. Also sports, TV, public education.

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at June 3, 2009 7:31 PM


How about gangsters? Man, have they changed. They used to wear double-breasted suits with a fedora and have nicknames like, "Bugsy" and "The Bull". Now they dress like they're wearing their dad's work clothes and have names like Tupac and Biggy Smalls. And they're gangstas. I say, bring back Edward G. Robinson. That's what a gangster should look like.

And that's another thing. What about cartoons? Sponge-Bob? Cat-Dog? That doesn't even make sense. Bugs Bunny, now that was a cartoon. "Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit!" That's how I learned about opera. And The Pink Panther Show. I can't remember a thing from that cartoon, but we watched it! And we were happy, 'cuz that's all we had.

Posted by: Randomizer at June 3, 2009 7:32 PM

Ha! Mr. Tmj, you nailed it! It was the Amana Radar Range... "...surface of the moon" exactly. Isn't it funny they called it "Radar Range" as if because radar and microwave are both part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the terms are interchangeable? "And now, I'll heat my coffee via radar."

Honestly, I think we only used it to heat leftovers and water for Mom's instant Taster's Choice coffee for the first ten years we had it. That's probably because the microwavable food technology drastically lagged the advent of the appliance.

And there's another example of something ruined by "progress". Popcorn. I made the mistake of making popcorn for my kids on the stove-top once and now they can't stand the convenient microwave stuff. Which brings me back to microwave controls. Can't just set the stupid thing to 5 minutes on 100% power. Now, for your convenience, the POPCORN button. Snack size or regular? Don't forget to elevate the package. Bah humbug!

Yeah, Cathy. I think you and KD bought that thing for Mom and Dad - didn't you? Remember how we'd start it and then try to step back inconspicuously as if to say, "I'm not afraid of a radiation leak - not me!" We were so modern. And brave! Good times indeed.

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at June 3, 2009 9:39 PM

Here's another one for you, Gagdad Bob: TV baseball announcers who talk about themselves instead of calling the action on the field, cameramen who insist on giving you shots of the crowd until the pitcher is well into his windup, and producers who wait until the count is 3-2 before flashing the batter's stats.

I grew up with Ernie Harwell and George Kell calling the Detroit Tiger games, and they were great, even if the Tigers weren't much of the time. With them, the game was always on the field, never in the booth. Just the opposite of that moron Harry Caray, may his soul burn forever in hell (just kidding...sort of) for letting baseball announcers think they were the stars instead of the players. (Gets ready to duck...)

Posted by: waltj at June 4, 2009 8:27 AM

The small-narrow-light craze has given us telephones that, when you answer them, skitter across the desk to dangle below the receiver above the new mess of pencils and papers they just created on the floor.
The safety craze has given one-handed power tools that require two hands, or two thumbs, to operate.

Posted by: Morenuancedthanyou at June 4, 2009 10:23 AM

You forgot the way baseball players of today, dress. What happened to the nifty sox they used to wear? Now the pants all look like long underwear at the end of Winter.

Posted by: DonaldS at June 4, 2009 10:39 AM

"Duncan, you poor kid. You don't have any ranting to do because you haven't had the experience of good design supplanted by crap. And it's possible you never will."

GM's doin' a fair job of that right now.

Posted by: Duncan Idaho at June 5, 2009 2:21 AM

Well this is an excellent list. I have just one to add for you music buffs:

Give me back the old full dynamic range recordings. The level of 'loudness' saturation in music recordings where all the 'space' and dynamic range that's shoved aside to allow for maximum continuous volume and bass is unlistenable after a couple of songs. It might be fine for low fi situations like driving with the top down or playing background music on a boom box at the beach, but it totally sucks over high quality set-up when you really want to listen to the music.

Also, I hate the new processed vocals where all the intonations are manipulated to be pitch perfect and the vocals have strange sound affects.

Today's music in general accross all genres suck with a few exceptions usually by older artists.

Give me back a reasonably priced simple tube/analog amplifier to go with my record player and old Bose 901s.

How about a sitcom that's actually funny; how about some good quality wholesome family TV like The Waltons.

Yes I'm closer to 50 than 40.

Posted by: phil g at June 5, 2009 11:13 AM

I'm not sure if this article was meant to include only physical "things" or more abstract concepts. Leaning towards the latter is the observation that work ethics seem to have been replaced by a pervasive "how little can I do and still keep my job" mentality. I honestly believe that the unions have passed their period of usefulness and become, when considered en toto, a bastion of the corrupt. Just because a corporation is able to make a profit does not automatically mean that the workers are entitled to more money and benefits. Sorry if I am ranting about personal pet peeves again.

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at June 5, 2009 11:44 AM

How about televisions in every public venue. Is it possible to go someplace and not find one blaring away? Just once I'd like to sit in the waiting room as some ailment in my car is being dealt with and just read Field and Stream in peace.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at June 5, 2009 12:44 PM

"...Bugs Bunny, now that was a cartoon..."

Yeah, it was. But one that was never meant for kids. Sure, kids liked him, but I doubt many "got" little inside jokes like "Sir Osis of Liver" and "Giovanni Jones" (speaking of the opera episode) until they were close to their teens, if then.

The only "modern" cartoon I thought was at all funny was Ren & Stimpy, and then only in small doses. The rest--Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy--are just animated sitcoms. Give me Bugs and Wile E. Coyote anytime.

Posted by: waltj at June 6, 2009 5:24 AM