Stay Tuned/Its the Millennium Report

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

It's the Millennium Report!
18 October 1999

It's been a while since a new screed last appeared in this space. Other things have been occupying my time. But be assured that I continue to gather information as usual.

Readers who were here before my Great Hiatus may remember that I was one of the first people who wanted to formally track the accumulation of millennial advertising, hype, and paranoia. I created something called the Millennium Game and invited readers to send in any examples they could find.

Unfortunately, the game didn't last long. Even though that was nearly two years before the crucial eve (three if you number years properly), it became obvious that information density was going to rise more quickly than I had ever imagined. Within three months of beginning, there were more items than I could track, even with help from my hapless readers.

Cut to the end of 1999, where we are all now swimming in a touchy-feely, pseudo-international goulash of hype that defies belief and really would make me quite cross ... if it weren't for the fact that so much of it makes me giggle instead. Not always, you understand, in a complimentary way.

Here are a few of the millennial items I've bothered to accumulate over the past several weeks. Some of them I kept because they were unusually clever. Others I kept because they were ... well ... just unusual.

The problem with a lot of these millennial bandwagoneers is that their products really have nothing to do with the millennium - are unaffected by it in either a positive or negative way. For example, canned soup.

The people at Campbell's haven't been doing much that's millennial with the soup itself - aside from the prize for the Funniest Noodle contest, which I'll discuss in a moment - but as a sideline, the company is also offering a line of "collectible" junk under the unlikely name of the "M'm! M'm! Millennium Collection."

Buying a Campbell's calendar or a glass Christmas ornament shaped like a Campbell's soup can is bad enough; adding a false touch of millenniana is just insult to injury. Of course (pardon my snottiness), if you're the kind of person who would buy this stuff and actually put it on your walls or your tree, your sense of aesthetics is not likely to be hurt much more by their sticky sloganeering.

More importantly, this is all part of Campbell's master scheme to make themselves seem like a beloved, irreplaceable part of American culture, as Hershey and Borden have already succeeded in doing. Not coincidentally, all three make products which are mostly inferior to their competitors', so perhaps this is the best defense they have. Campbell's has been around a long time, and they were the first company to promote brand identity over product identity, so they have a lot of packaging and name recognition (even if people often can't remember without looking whether the red or the white is on top). Unfortunately, as food culture spreads and Americans become less scared of food (as has been happening steadily since the 1960's), consumers become aware that Campbell's makes ... lousy soup.

Hence such stunts as the Funniest Noodle Photo-Contest. You have until the fifteenth of November, dear consumers, to send in a color photo which "shows the humorous and unique way in which you, or the person or persons pictured in the photo, eat Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup." So get whimsical! The grand prize: public humiliation. No, really. They plan to put your silly-looking photo on one of the giant screens in Times Square on New Year's Eve. Of course, given how expensive ad time is then, it'll be onscreen for about five seconds, and they do give you a trip for four to Manhattan, and no one in Times Square will know you from Adam anyway. The downside: If you don't win the grand prize, your picture could end up on a billboard in your home state (where people who actually know you are much more likely to see it).

I believe that the Campbell's tie-in is the most blatantly incongruous one I've seen yet. The Eveready Energizer campaign, as a contrast, not only makes a certain rough sense (you might actually need those batteries on January first), but is done with a nod to the American Red Cross' Y2K preparation checklist, which gives the whole thing an aura of sensibility and preparedness.

And then there's the Millennium Princess Barbie ... but really, how can I protest that? Mattel is consistent: There's a Barbie tie-in for everything.

Frankly, though many attempts to tie existing products to the millennial craze are ridiculous, the completely new products that have been devised for the occasion are usually far worse.

I can't look at the Millennium Edition Monopoly game without flinching. The board is printed in reflective ("holographic") paper; the houses and hotels are translucent plastic, in shapes which bear utterly no resemblance to houses and hotels; the dice are shaped in these weird truncated oblongs, for no apparent reason except sheer randomness. (Actually, I suppose being random is what dice do best.)

This is a case where a redesign contributes nothing new, and in some cases detracts. It is being novel just for the sake of being novel. If that's what the new millennium is going to be about, I'm not looking forward to it.

The De Beers cartel is never slow to think up new excuses to buy shiny rocks, so of course they are offering a new line of millennial jewelry - just the excuse to go into debt you were waiting for! However, in their defense (and this will be possibly the only time I ever say anything good about De Beers) I will say that the tag line is quite nice: "Show her you'll love her for the next thousand years." (Did you ever notice how the men are always the ones buying the jewelry in De Beers ads?)

Similarly, although I resist the idea of a Zippo lighter with millenneering slogans printed on it, I admit that this presents an even better excuse than usual for them to tout their famed durability ... and they have risen to the occasion with their clever "Z2K" campaign.

In fact, cleverness has been the salvation of millennial ads so far. I haven't found a millennial promotion that I loved for its grace and simplicity (although the Energizer campaign isn't bad), but I've found several I liked for the sheer joy of it.

M & M's candies were doing the millennial thing long before anyone got to it (that was part of the joke), and they're still using it once in a while, mostly in their packaging - they'll be able to claim they did it and got sick of it before anyone else got started.

The shocking revelation that one of the Life Savers flavors is not Y2K compliant has also been good for a giggle. (I voted to keep pineapple.)

The History Channel, appropriately, has taken the long view - never mind this hype, they are the Official Channel for All Millennia. Fads come, fads go, history is forever. Sturdy and consistent.

Meanwhile, for those of us who have to cope with more immediate crises, the Hart Scientific Y2K page has been serving as a beacon of common sense.

That latter page has been passed around quite a bit - I've gotten a number of emails and other references mentioning it. You may have already seen it, in fact. I think its popularity just demonstrates how starved everyone is for any millennial material with actual substance, anything down-to-earth amid the clouds and uproar.

I am not in the crystal ball business, but I have a millennial prediction to make. 2000 will be an anticlimactic year.

As far as I can see, it could hardly be anything else.


[March 2007:] I've deleted the defunct URLs for Life Savers 2000 (you voted which of the Five Flavors would get, or not get, the axe) and the Hart Scientific Y2K page.

You will notice I didn't say anything about the actual millennium beginning in 2001 and not 2000. That was never my fight; I knew it was doomed from the start. 2001 is accurate, but 2000 is far more photogenic. If you're one of the people who's been nagging the rest of us about 2001: I concede you a moral victory. Now pipe down and admit that you can't sweep back the tide.

A few minutes after I posted the material above, I dug further into Zippo's site. There I found the following trivia question (which I paraphrase slightly):

Q: When does the current millennium end?

1. At the last second of December 31, 1999

2. At the last second of December 31, 2000

3. As soon as the last remaining merchandising rights have been sold

Truer words, and all that. It's a relief to read all this in 2007 and know that it's over and done with.

and now back to our program

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