Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do You Want News With That?

First of all, I’m not sure which is the biggest news here:

  1. PrintSignal Corporation is offering diners the chance to read breaking news stories ON THEIR REGISTER RECEIPTS. 
  2. PrintSignal Corporation thinks their printed news bits will not only compete with smartphones at the dining table but also encourage diners to break away from their smartphones and engage in news-based tabletop conversation.
  3. A restaurant called the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington DC, which signed on to the PrintSignal Corporation deal, charges $16.50 for a dozen jumbo shrimp and $51.90 for two dozen oysters. (I’m not the only one agog at the tally on the receipt itself; Andrew Beaujon at Poynter says whoever bought the meal on this receipt “really knows how to live.”)
The competing with smartphones thing comes straight from the PrintSignal (another corporation with utter disregard for proper spacing between words) press release, viz:
The printed updates have several advantages in this venue over the smartphone, providing access to the news without people becoming absorbed in their devices and at the same time contributing to table conversation and interaction.
Even better, the quote in the release from Kathy Wholley, Director of Advertising & Communications for Domtar, the paper company that’s jumped right on the bandwagon here to become the first paid advertiser in this newsy, table-top conversationy venture:
Just like the Old Ebbit Grill has long been influential in Washington, so has paper. And just like the presidents, dignitaries and celebrities who continue to dine in the Old Ebbitt, this project will help educate and entertain customers, stimulating conversation and showing one of the reasons paper continues to be so vital.
I’ll allow yourself a moment to dig out of the public-relations crapola* to consider all of this.

Yes, I like a thing to read when I eat out. Most of the time, it’s a greasy copy of the local paper that other diners have slopped their secret sauce and French fry grease on, or one of those little trivia-based newsletter thingies that entrepreneurial saps put out at local fast-food joints. And, yes, both are filled with advertisements.

And no, this is not a screed against violating the sanctity of the cash register receipt with something as crass as advertising (or something a little less crass: news) because the only things cash register receipts are good for are checking to make sure the grocery store didn’t’ double-bill me for something (and I confess this is my wife’s job, because I don’t care) and providing handy bookmarks if a receipt and a book needing a placeholder exist in the same bit of space-time.

I just don’t need more register tape.

Kmart already gives you three receipts as long as your arm when you buy something as simple as a package of gum. Their receipts bleed with legalese, credit card offers, survey requests and other marketing mumbo-jumbo that typically gets tossed out with the bathwater. And those trivia newsletters, while entertaining, rarely leave the restaurant with me, and I can’t recall visiting a single advertiser in them, though I have to admire the chutzpah of the “Hello, Ladies” folks who advertise their permanent cosmetics in them. (Obviously, the Old Ebbitt Grill wouldn’t allow such lowbrow advertising on their register tape.)

Of course, it’s hard to imagine diners at the Old Ebbitt Grill shopping at Kmart – folks who don’t blink at $50.00 oysters aren’t going to shop at a failing big-box discounter – so maybe there is an entire network of news-hungry people who are going to want to scrutinize faded and curled register tape, harking back to the era of the old stock ticker, in the hope of catching the latest news before they rush back to their smartphones so they can get actual content. Though this is the bite-sized yippety yap age, so maybe just a sentence or two will suffice, no matter the presentation.

The press release, however, has great entertainment value. You have the company hyping a dubious product, the overeager first advertiser, The overeager content provider and the delusional first customer already inflated with his or her own self-importance.

*(And there’s more of it, from the AP’s Sue Cross, Senior Vice President for Business Development and Partherships, Americas: “It’s a creative idea and we’re always happy to see novel new ways to give consumers the most up-to-date and most accurate news.”; and from David Moran, who wins the prize of Least Interesting Title in this press release since he’s the mere Managing Director of the Old Ebbitt Grill, who says “We’ve got thousands of news-hungry Washingtonians coming to lunch, so we’re giving The Latest News a shot. If this works at the Old Ebbitt, it just might sweep across the world.”)

You'll never see people this emotional about a receipt.

No comments: