Another occurred when, upon finding myself eating a few too many meals alone, I ventured into the world of online dating. I wrote up a quick profile ("flighty, unmannered boob seeks gal for fellowship and light petting") and launched it into the vast tube-y ether. Within days, I found myself pondering the imponderables -- whether there should be federal regulations governing the posting of bathing-suit photos, whether I'm an intellectual troglodyte for not predicating my weekend plans on the arrival of the Sunday New York Times, etc. After rummaging through the profiles and responses, it boiled down to this: Would I rather die alone, or spend the 55-odd years I have left adrift in a sea of overenthusiastic punctuation?
Before I could definitively answer that question, a press release touting JDate's new video series, "JDating: Real People, Real Journeys," fluttered into my e-mailbox. My heart pulsed with possibility; my face flushed with either budding romance or acute parotitis. I saw both the future and a cheap story idea.
Then I settled in to watch the first four videos, in which viewers are introduced to the fair protagonists whose interpersonal adventures the series will chronicle, and my hope dissipated as it might upon spotting "Tuesdays With Morrie" in a would-be galpal's bookshelf. From the all-important entertain-Larry perspective, "Real People, Real Journeys" is a dud. We've seen just about everything here -- the played-up conflict, the flaunting of appropriately proportioned figures, the earnest testimonies about wanting a partner who "doesn't play games" and "bathes semi-regularly" -- on any number of televised dating shows. Simply taking something that works in one medium and plopping it into another doesn't count as innovation.
Too, I wish the site had gone a different route in its choice of protagonists, who prompt feelings of pity rather than the love-to-hate-to-love-them spark that drives most such programming. "Real People, Real Journeys" doesn't present its daters as the walking, giggling embodiment of virile manliness or modern-era femininity. The couple whose courtship was basically an operetta of emasculation, the square-headed oaf shown going balls-out during a game of hipster kickball, the extensively manicured tart who bemoans the number of "hard-on frogs" (don't ask) she's met on JDate, the self-proclaimed ambitious speech therapist who doesn't want to teach kids, because it's, like, totally hard -- they're far from likable and very, very, very far from self-aware.
But the purpose of "Real People, Real Journeys" isn't to entertain. It's to convince would-be online mate hunters that there's plenty of game in them thar woods and that JDate should serve as their romantic duck blind, so to speak. The videos show the big-city dating process for what it is, with all its attendant fuss, tiny humiliations and rare moments of clarity. From that perspective, the marketing/branding one, "Real People, Real Journeys" succeeds magnificently, to the extent that any number of lifestyle brands oughta take a cue from the series.
Not every marketer can do this, of course; nobody needs a series of five-minute vignettes in which shiny-faced hosts unite landlocked suburbanites with motorboats. (And even Anheuser-Busch, which just shuttered Bud.tv, admits that producing your own content is really really hard.) But maybe an entity like Best Buy could extend its (excellent) ad campaign -- the one where Chrissie Clerk relates the tale of how she hooked up a widowed orphaned army vet with a 72-inch TV mere hours before the big game -- with videos in which they walk charismatic customers through the purchase/installation experience. I dunno. Videos that depict a process and/or a product or service at work would seem to be custom-tailored for the online medium.
Beyond the participants themselves, "Real People, Real Journeys" could use some selective refinement. First and most importantly, JDate oughta make it so that journalists who've been pelted with press releases can find the damn videos, which aren't accessible from the site's home page. Too, the incongruous roll-over ad doohickeys (like the one for Seth MacFarlane's online "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy," likely not a big hit with the sex-and-the-city contingent) should be pared from the page that houses the episodes. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the clips could use better lighting -- but then, this would further pervert the "reality" of the date being filmed. And, really, some of us should be confined to dimly lit rooms: "Uh, Larry, there's a full Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on the side of your mouth," etc.
My experience with online dating ended unimaginably well, so I'm the last guy who should be perpetuating clichés about the virtual singles bars of the 21st century. But maybe that's the marketing/branding genius of "Real People, Real Journeys": it lays bare all the clichés and even celebrates them, and in doing so gives current and potential JDaters a glimpse of what they're in for. Entertaining or no, that renders the series a smart use of resources.