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Pepsi to Skip Super Bowl Ads in Favor of $20M Social Media Campaign

The Super Bowl is consistently one of the most-watched television programs of the year. Even as network television viewership continues to erode — thanks to cable, timeshifting and Internet options — advertisers are still willing to pay big ad dollars for a spot on Super Bowl Sunday.

That could be changing. For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi will not have any ads in the Super Bowl. Instead, the company will be spending $20 million on a social media campaign it’s calling The Pepsi Refresh Project.

Such a large move is noteworthy for any company, however Pepsi’s symbiotic relationship with the Super Bowl makes this shift to new media that much more seismic. ABC News notes that Pepsi spent $142 million on Super Bowl ads over the last decade. Pepsi’s ads are often some of the most iconic, and the company has historically pulled out all the stops for the Super Bowl.

The Pepsi Refresh Project

Rather than spending money on a Super Bowl ad, Pepsi will launch the Pepsi Refresh Project on January 13, 2010. At that time, users can submit their ideas to Pepsi for ways to refresh their communities, making the world a better place.

Voting will begin on February 1, 2010, and the projects that get the most votes will be funded by Pepsi. Pepsi expects to spend $20 million to fund thousands of projects.

Will It Work?

This is an interesting strategy, especially for a company that continues to spend much of its advertising budget on television. Like other social media campaigns, execution is key. If Pepsi can effectively orchestrate the Pepsi Refresh Project, the company can build brand awareness while also helping out communities across the world. On the flip side, if not executed properly, the company could wind up spending $20 million on philanthropic causes (which is to be commended), without getting the benefits of a buzz-generating ad campaign.

For Pepsi’s sake, let’s hope that the team it uses with the Pepsi Refresh Project has some better insight into social media norms than the agency hired to do the AMP iPhone app.

For the sake of nostalgia, here’s one of Pepsi’s biggest ads from the last decade, Britney Spears (at the height of her career) singing the “Joy of Pepsi” in 2001:

What do you think of Pepsi’s decision to forgo the Super Bowl for social media? Will this strategy be enough to bring back brand awareness to consumers?

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OLPC Comes Up With a Beautiful, Thin Tablet Concept

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Brief: Microsoft barred from selling Word, has plan for workaround

The US Court of Appeals has ordered Microsoft to drop support for editing Custom XML in Word, essentially stopping the company from selling current versions of one of its flagship products and affirming a $290 million patent infringement judgment against the software giant. The injunction, which goes into effect on January 11, 2010, not only bars the sale of Word 2007, but also affects all editions of Microsoft Office 2007, since Word comes bundled with all of them.

It's not as bad as it seems, however. "This injunction applies only to copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007 sold in the US on or after the injunction date of January 11, 2010," a Microsoft spokesperson told Ars, meaning all copies of these products sold before this date (including Word 2003 and Word 2007) are not affected. "With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products. Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for US sale and distribution by the injunction date."

The injunction does not require changes to Word 2010, slated for release in June 2010. This is because "the beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010, which are available now for downloading, do not contain the technology covered by the injunction," the Microsoft spokesperson confirmed.

A federal judge in Texas issued an injunction that gave Microsoft 60 days to stop shipping any recent version of Word, based on a patent that was found to cover the XML formatting used by the software. A week later, Microsoft asked for a stay by filing an emergency motion. Canadian-based i4i, the company that owns the patent that Microsoft has been found to be infringing, claimed in the lawsuit that its business shrank significantly when Microsoft added custom-XML support to Word. Word 2003 and Word 2007 were both found to be infringing on i4i's patent by using XML for encoding and customizing XML in a specific way (US Patent No. 5,787,449). The stay was granted in September 2009, but it has now been lifted and Microsoft is being asked to stop selling Word as well as pay $290 million in penalties.

While Redmond is moving quickly to comply with the injunction, it isn't giving in completely. "We are also considering our legal options, which could include a request for a rehearing by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals en banc or a request for a writ of certiorari from the US Supreme Court," the Microsoft spokesperson told Ars.

Further reading

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Avatar reviewed in 3D, on IMAX: you know the story; go anyway

Avatar may be hurt by the curse of expectation, and it's hard to keep the message that MOVIE MAKING HAS BEEN CHANGED FOREVER out of your mind once your butt is actually in a seat in front of the thing. The trailers keep telling us how nothing will ever be the same again, and we know the budget of the movie was anywhere from $200 million to $500 million, depending on what report you're reading. Who knows how much R&D Cameron put into the technology behind the movie.

Even the credits of the film are monstrous: after Industrial Light and Magic and Weta Digital were credited for the special effects, the long line of other effects houses that worked on the movie scrolled by. I lost count of how many different companies leveraged how many different forms of technology to get Avatar filmed. If you're a fan of cinema, no matter how you feel about the trailer, you need to see this movie; it represents the absolute best that technology can give us in film—at least with an unlimited budget and a small city of geniuses working across a decade to bring it to life.

Does it have a heart?

The humans are on a moon called Pandora to mine a substance known as "Unobtanium," and it's hard to tell if the movie is winking at us by naming the rock thusly. We never know what it is, and what we're not told what it does. We get dropped hints that Earth itself is dying, or is at least completely industrial. Pandora is the exact opposite: lush, brightly colored, and exploding with life.

The moon is inhabited by large, blue-skinned life forms called the "Na'vi," and they're every idealized form of Native American ever put onto film. They're in tune with nature, live in trees, and thank the spirits of the animals they kill for giving their life. They don't like us, even though the humans have created schools to teach them English. We offer medicine and knowledge, and they don't care. One character notes that it's hard to strike a deal with a race that isn't interested in light beer and blue jeans.

To that end, the Avatar project is launched. We grow Na'vi bodies with human DNA, and using remote technology, humans "drive" the bodies by entering coffin-like chambers. The science behind this process is thankfully loosely explained; any attempt to throw buzzwords at it would have been silly. The Avatar project allows us to look like them, we can gain their trust, and then... well, we're going to get what we want.

Jake Sully is entered into this Avatar program by an odd twist of fate, and this gives the movie an excuse to send someone who hasn't been trained about life on Pandora into harm's way. That way the characters can explain everything to him, and, of course, to the audience. He's a marine, disabled, and he's promised that if he does what his superiors want, he'll be given his legs back. The operation exists, he just can't afford it. The man making this promise has a scar on this face, so you know he's evil.

In fact, these characters fall into rather broad archetypes, and any growth they exhibit is heavily foreshadowed. You'll see echoes of characters from past Cameron films, and his distrust of the military-industrial complex is out in full force. The movie is given a much-needed shot of warmth from Sigourney Weaver, who is able to bring a quiet resolve and respect to her character.

The movie hits every expected beat in this story, and it's one that has been told before. This is Dances with Wolves. This is FernGully. This is the Last Samurai. You can plot out the arc of the story long before you watch the film, and several times during my viewing I wanted to stop time à la Zach Morris and ask other members of the audience what was going to happen next. I had a feeling they would all be able to give the correct answer. The dialog can get incredibly obvious, even tedious in places.


That said...

I can't wait to see the movie again. I hit up the local 3D, IMAX screen, and the first scene let me know that I was going to see something special. You don't go fifteen minutes between amazing reveals of animals, set pieces, characters, or technology. The scale is ridiculous. The 3D effects are used to great effect, and never feel cheesy or tacked on. There were moments I wanted to pump my first in the air. There were vistas that took my breath away. This is a gut-wrenchingly beautiful film, and it can feel over-analyzed—what wouldn't with this amount of work being put into it—but it's above all an amazing piece of wizardry.

There is one particular scene where the action slows down to show how a character got out of a jam, and my mind told me, "Oh, I can tell that we switched over to CGI." The problem is that the entire scene was comprised of impossible animals and a blue-skinned alien; there had been nothing "real" onscreen in quite some time. Objects interact with one another with actual weight, and the internal scenes with human actors are blended with the epic scale of Pandora well. The alien atmosphere is pressing on every wall. The Na'vi, likewise, are brought to life with skill and grace. After a few minutes you'll be taking what you're seeing for granted. While the oversaturation of the colors of the flora and fauna can sometimes make scenes feel like a black-light poster, overall these are the most special of effects, the kind that know how to get out of their own way to serve the visuals.

The PG-13 rating allows for a decent amount of violence and salty language, but a major misstep is keeping the Na'vi ambiguously nude. There is always a bit of hair or a strand of beads placed strategically. An actual flash of nipple—or whatever organs the Na'vi have—would have been less distracting.

The story may be trite, but the way it's told that redeems the entire endeavor. The Na'vi speak a fictional language, but this is no Lord of the Rings. If anything, this is a reversal of James Cameron's Aliens, another film that explored a high-tech battle between humans and a race that could stage guerilla war. Aliens is a sci-fi take on Vietnam, but this time we're rooting for the other team, and we find ourselves praying that somehow the bows and arrows will be enough against drop ships and mechs.

Verdict: Go see it

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Accidents increase at Chicago red light camera intersections

The Chicago suburbs are buying into the red light camera movement, but the results are not very positive. The number of accidents actually rose during the first year the cameras were installed in most instances, with another two showing no change whatsoever. The trend reflects what other municipalities are finding when it comes to the alleged "safety" benefits of the cameras. There isn't any, but that isn't stopping more cities from cashing in on the increase in tickets.

The Chicago Tribune put together a handy page that contains yearly accident data for every red light camera installed in the Chicago metropolitan area from 2006 and 2007. According to the data, the first 14 installed in the suburbs right after they got the green light (ba-dum ching!) in 2006 showed pretty poor results: a full 50 percent saw an increase in accidents after the cameras were installed. In fact, some of the intersections didn't just show an average increase—some of them were quite significant. At the very least, the cameras don't seem to be helping, and some believe they are leading to more accidents because more drivers are slamming on the brakes when they come up to an intersection equipped with one.

Two of the 14 showed no change at all after the cameras were installed, and only five showed a decrease in accidents. Overall, the Illinois Department of Transportation says that accidents either increased or stayed the same at 60 percent of the 47 city intersections where cameras were installed in 2006 and 2007.

The problem with red light cameras—aside from the fact that they don't seem to reduce accidents—is that they are usually run by private companies contracted by the city, and those companies have little interest in installing them on red lights where violations are infrequent. And, when they are installed on high-accident intersections, the number of $100-a-pop tickets go through the roof. In fact, it's open secret that cities where the cameras are installed tend to see a fat increase in ticket revenues, and that's part of the reason lawmakers are often hesitant to take them down.

There are, however, some municipalities that are bucking the trend. The Chicago suburb of Schaumburg ditched its single red light camera last summer, claiming that there was no safety advantage. (It was also pissing off residents, which some believe to be the true reason why the camera got removed. Either way, the end result is that the camera is gone.) The state of Mississippi also made waves earlier this year by banning the cameras on the state level, though the move was controversial even within the state.

Still, there will always be those who extol the virtues of the red light camera. The Chicago suburb of Bellwood claims that drivers are more likely to slow down before an intersection with a red light camera, and numerous towns in Texas are fiercely holding onto their cameras. Residents of those areas should just be careful not to get punked by cars masquerading with fake license plates.

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Which way to the normal doctor?

Which way to the normal doctor?: "

Mrs. Jones, the biopsy revealed malignant tissue.

We’re going to have to microwave and melt.

Photo courtesy of Frank Wang.

Found at hospital in Xin Jiang, China.