Waiting for Bob
June 2, 2000: The Most Dangerous Game (Day 10)
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Jun 1, 2000

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Waiting for Bob: 20000602
Story begins May 22, 2000
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Broken By Design

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Poll results

They're more than meets the eye. They're robots in disguise. And out of 314 people who picked sides, the Autobots won by a slim margin of victory over the Decepticons. (For the 87 of you who said "Huh?", the alt.toys.transformers FAQ will provide you with far, far, far more information than you ever needed.)

This time, we'd like to know your favorite storyline to date. Feel free to drop us a line explaining why, too.

Talkin' about their generation...

(Or, reflections on late-night cable and the appearance of age)

Sayeth Doug:

Allow me to quote from a piece of junk mail I received today.

"Dear Douglas Sheppard: They say life begins at 40. And now, so does Norwich Union's Guaranteed-Life Plus ... a new life insurance plan designed to meet the needs of people as young as 40."

I've been a lot of things since my birth in 1975, but I've never been "as young as 40". Hell, I'm still a good few years away from being as young as 30. (And it was only yesterday when I was as young as 20, dammit.) Someone obviously transcribed a pair of digits, or maybe direct mail isn't quite run by the rocket scientists.

Even if you don't know the name Norwich Union, you know of them. They're the company that runs life insurance commercials during late-night television, the ones with the elderly couple, one camera, and no cuts. "That was Patrick... he just took out life insurance!" Norwich Union offers premiums as low as $9.95 a month, and no salesman will visit.

No, I don't know that because the ads are any good. Or even because I make an effort to watch them. They're just so damned omnipresent when it's 2am and you're flipping through cable, it's impossible to not spot the ad at least ten times a month. Speaking as someone who would like to buy the world a Coke and teach it harmony, but has trouble remembering the atomic number of hydrogen, I can testify that repetition is its own reward. Yessirree, repetition rewards itself.

The bit about "no salesman will visit" fascinates me for some reason. It's a historical artifact, right before our eyes. Most service companies these days offer almost no human contact whatsoever - they've refined voice mail, email, and the prepaid-postage form to the point where you need to struggle to talk with an actual voice on the phone, let alone meet someone in person.

And yet Norwich Union, for decades, has been promoting the fact that they refuse to give you human contact. "We are not like the other companies," they say. "We refuse to meet you in person!" When exactly did this go, for those of us who aren't fascinated by Patrick and his life insurance, from being a selling point to being a fait accompli?

Recently, Norwich started a new campaign to reach to "people as young as 40", where (get this) a boomer and his father talk while the original ad is on in the background. It's shot on film, not cheap institutional video; there are lots of cuts; and even the spokesman has youthened up, and gone from standing in front of a pale blue backdrop to sitting in a library-style office that just screams, "I will get you the slip-and-fall judgement you deserve."

It's fascinating watching the two generations, as defined by their advertising. We've gone from Patrick to Nameless Boomer, ham-fisted pitch on video to sentimental ploy on film. One can only imagine what happens when Norwich Union starts targeting 20-somethings.

But when they do, I know one thing: thanks to my being on their mailing list right now, I'll be ahead of the rush.

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