CLOSE
Original image

7 Companies That Fired Their Spokesmen

Original image

A good pitchman can boost any product's name recognition with some high-quality shilling. A bad one, on the other hand, can quickly ruin the brand images that companies spend years and millions carefully honing. Take for instance these guys and gals, each of whom was given their walking papers following a scandal, public embarrassment, or bout of outspokenness.

Pepsi & Madonna
Although she's back in the news now for allegedly bewitching Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, it's sometimes hard to remember that Madonna was a sex symbol, not just a cautionary tale about taking your Anglophilia several steps too far. Back in 1989, though, she was not just the embodiment of sexuality; she was also willing to do almost anything to be shocking.


Pepsi apparently neglected to think about the possibility that something could go horribly awry when they took the singer on as their new voice, though. The soda company signed Madonna to a $5 million deal to make commercials, including one that would include the song "Like a Prayer." That's when the trouble started. The music video for "Like a Prayer" was almost laughable in its willingness to go over the top to appall; each scene of Madonna's religious subplot seems to raise the bar for nonsensical shock value a little bit higher. Think Madonna getting physical with a saint is offensive? Just wait ten more seconds; by then she'll have developed stigmata! The video caused such a stir that it was banned in some countries, and Pepsi quickly had to drop its Madonna spots and cancel future appearances by the singer.

Take a look for yourself:

Pepsi & Ludacris
In 2002, rap star Ludacris was minding his own business and endorsing Pepsi. Suddenly, the normally reserved conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly launched an offensive against both the soda maker and the rapper. O'Reilly was incensed by Ludacris' lyrics that glorified drinking, drugs, violence, and disrespect towards women. He called for a boycott of Pepsi products until the man O'Reilly decried as a "thug rapper" was shown to the pitchman door. Pepsi quickly dumped Ludacris, and the rapper made quite a bit of hay out of his feud with O'Reilly on several subsequent records, including the jab "Hi Mr. O'Reilly/Hope all is well, kiss the plaintiff and the wifey," a pointed dig at a sexual harassment lawsuit pending against the talking head.

dell-ad.jpgDell & The Dell Dude
Remember those fantastically annoying "Dude, You're Getting a Dell!" ads from a few years ago? What you may not remember is that the hyper-enthusiastic "Dell Dude" (actor Ben Curtis) got busted for attempting to buy a bag of marijuana in New York City. Although the bag of pot was tiny enough that Curtis escaped any big legal entanglements, Dell was less than amused. The computer giant dropped Curtis and his ad campaign shortly after the arrest.


For his part, Curtis has bounced back, though. He has appeared in off-Broadway productions, and in November 2007 was the subject of a New York Magazine story about his employment in a Mexican restaurant in the city.

The Florida State Citrus Commission & Burt Reynolds
The mustachioed Reynolds may not have maintained the star power he had during his 1970s heyday, but he was still an effective pitchman well into the 1990s. As a former Florida State University football star, it was only natural that he'd find his way into a position promoting orange juice for the Florida State Citrus Commission. In 1993, though, Reynolds' marriage to actress Loni Anderson had started to unravel, and as the sordid, bitter details of the rift began to surface, the orange juice biz became too wholesome for the man who'd been the Bandit. The commission phased out Reynolds' commercials, and one featuring Anderson's hand reaching for a glass of juice fell out of play entirely.

Slim-Fast & Whoopi Goldberg
Goldberg would seem like the perfect person to pitch a product. She's warm, funny, and generally beloved. She's also fairly politically active, though, and that came back to bite her while she was a celebrity endorser for whoopi.jpgSlim-Fast. When Goldberg appeared at a fundraiser for John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race, she took the stage waving a wine bottle and firing off barrages of sexual puns based on President Bush's name. While the audience was amused, conservatives weren't. Calls for boycotts of Slim-Fast products (sensible dinners were still allowed) started bubbling up among conservatives, and the company canned Goldberg just eight months into her tenure as their spokesperson. Goldberg remained unrepentant after her firing, though, commenting, "I only wish that the Republican re-election committee would spend as much time working on the economy as they seem to be spending trying to harm my pocketbook."

Pfizer & Robert Jarvik
When Pfizer needed someone to endorse its drug Lipitor, Robert Jarvik seemed like an ideal fit. After all, who better to talk about a heart drug than the celebrity inventor who helped perfect the artificial heart? Pfizer started airing spots featuring Jarvik in 2006. In the ads, Jarvik would offer viewers advice about why they should use Lipitor in addition to doing cardio-heavy activities like rowing. After a few months, though, observers started to notice something was amiss. Although Jarvik had been to medical school, he never went through a residency or received a license to practice medicine. As such, he shouldn't have been dispensing medical advice to anyone, much less to TV audiences of millions. The ads drew further scrutiny when it came out that the scenes of "Jarvik" rowing across a lake weren't actually the "doctor" at all, but a stunt double.

Earlier this year, the criticism of the misleading ads spread to Congress, and when the House Committee on Energy and Commerce started investigating the ads, Pfizer pulled the spots and dumped Jarvik to the curb on February 25.

Verizon & Akon
If Ludacris was a victim of Bill O'Reilly, fellow hip-hop star Akon lost his endorsement deal with Verizon as the result of some really questionable decision-making and some bad luck. While playing an 18-and-over show in Trinidad in 2007, Akon danced on stage and simulated sex with the winner of a dance contest. One slight hitch, though: club management apparently wasn't great at checking driver's licenses, so the woman Akon got nasty with was actually a 15-year-old girl. A racy video clip of the event became a YouTube sensation, and Verizon quickly gave Akon the heave-ho, dropping his deal, pulling his ringtone clips, and backing out of sponsoring a tour in which he was opening for Gwen Stefani. The singer apologized profusely both in the media and in song, but the damage was already done to his career as a phone shill.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
* * * * *

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES