Archive for advertising


Ebb and Flo

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They were television advertising icons who resided on the banks of our cultural consciousness.

Mr. Whipple (Charmin bathroom tissue). Madge the manicurist (Palmolive dish detergent). The Maytag Repair Man. Even the Qantas koala bear.

Those were just a few commercial characters who invaded our living rooms in the 1970s and ’80s. Their ads—usually 60 seconds in length or even longer—were rarely the same. The format might have been nearly identical, and of course the tag lines were (“DON’T squeeze the Charmin!”), but each appearance by Mr. Whipple or Madge usually had them interacting with different customers.

The actors behind the characters were often nameless, as it should have been, but I’m sure their paychecks weren’t nameless—or paltry.

The pitchman on TV these days is usually a local litigator or a voice-over hawking prescription meds.

There isn’t really any character that is iconic—no one who, when they appear on the screen, instantly lets us know what product is being advertised.

Except for Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl.

Played by Stephanie Courtney (we only know that because this is the Internet age), Flo first started appearing on TV in the late-2000s. Her cheery attitude, dark hair, blood red lipstick and ridiculously long eyelashes, all packaged in an all-white uniform, screams insurance at the moment of seeing her.

To Progressive’s credit, the Flo ads are kept fresher than most other TV spots, which can gag you with their repetitiveness and lack of variety (i.e. those same three Liberty Mutual Insurance ads that are rotated).

Progressive has put Flo in all sorts of situations, from riding motorcycles to consoling a man in a locker room to being tied to a stake (in an ad that puts Flo in different eras in world history).

But unlike the advertising characters from days gone by, who were mostly universally liked (or, at the very least, tolerated rather easily), Flo, for whatever reason, is a polarizing sort.

My mother, for example, can’t stand Flo. I, on the other hand, find Flo attractive in an odd way.

Trolling the Internet, this polarization is acute.

There are Flo-hating websites and forums, as well as those that are visited by men who make no bones that they would like to do some things (sexually) to Flo that are unfit to print here. Other comments on Facebook et al have been from females who like Flo just because they think she’s likable.

Courtney, for her part, has never understood the allure of Flo, sexually.

“The GEICO gecko puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does,” Courtney has been quoted as saying.

Regardless of where you stand on the Flo issue, one thing can’t be disputed: She’s a throwback to a time when TV advertising was flush with identifiable characters and mascots. Back when TV hawked more than just insurance, beer, cars and drugs.

Flo’s Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes, though that number has been dipping in recent years from its peak of 5.4 million.

Like them or not, the Flo spots at least are freshened up rather frequently. Her character, these days, is seen less in that all-white, fantasy Progressive Insurance “store” and more in various situations and venues.

And, no doubt, Flo has made Stephanie Courtney’s wallet fatter than it likely would have been had she been forced to stick to more traditional bit parts on TV and in the movies, as she was doing prior to Flo.

You pretty much love Flo or you hate her; it’s hard to be on the fence with her. She’s the Howard Cosell of modern television that way.

The GEICO gecko, by the way, should get props for its popularity and freshness of new spots.

Who would have thought that the world of insurance would take over TV advertising?


You Couldn’t Better Fretter

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Before the commercial airwaves on television were taken over by ads for prescription drugs, lawyers and car insurance companies, there was the wild and crazy pitchman.

Every city had them.

The products being pumped were usually electronics, appliances and used cars.

The ads were low on productions costs—usually all we saw was the pitchman screaming into the camera with an occasional glimpse at what he was hawking.

The emphasis was on the supposed insanity of the pitchman, because the deals were so good, you see.

New York had Crazy Eddie, who pitched electronic gizmos while shrieking maniacally at the viewer.

And Detroit had Ollie Fretter.

Fretter, who passed away Sunday at age 91, blanketed the TV and radio ad space with commercials for his appliance store, starting in the 1960s and continuing for about 30 years. He promised five pounds of free coffee if he couldn’t beat your best deal.

The appliance wars in Detroit were hot in the 1970s and ’80s. Fretter went up against Highland Appliance’s creative ads on TV, and Adray Appliance didn’t do as much TV advertising, but Mike Adray was in the game. He sponsored lots of little league baseball and hockey teams to help keep his name on people’s lips.

We fell in love with the items that Fretter and Highland advertised on television. It was a time when microwave ovens, stereos, color TVs and newfangled refrigerators/freezers hit the market with gusto.

At the forefront was Ollie Fretter, who didn’t scream, but who was very prevalent in all his ads, never afraid to look silly and foolish on camera as he shamelessly plugged his metro Detroit locations.

Ollie Fretter, ever shameless

But it was the tag line about the free coffee that became iconic, not unlike Mr. Belvedere’s “We do good work,” which ended all of those home improvement commercials.

Fretter was hardly the only Detroit-area pitchman on TV at the time.

There was Irving Nussbaum for New York Carpet World (“The BETTER carpet people”); the aforementioned Belvedere; Mel Farr “Superstar” (Ford dealership); and a host of other car dealers, like Walt Lazar Chevrolet and Bill Rowan Oldsmobile.

These days, law offices are all over the dial, but of course it would be unseemly if those types got wacky on the air.

There was no shame in screaming about a steal of a deal on appliances and used cars back in Fretter’s day.

In fact, we all waited to see what Ollie’s next spot would bring. Each one seemed to want to outdo the previous in terms of silliness.

Fretter shuttered the last of his stores in the early-1990s. His was one of many dominoes to fall around that time as store after store went out of business, outdone by national, big box retail chains.

I always wondered if Ollie ever gave away any free coffee.

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Deli Advertising

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The sandwich board is making a comeback.

I’m not talking about literal sandwiches here, like the kind you eat.

I’m talking the term often used for the signs those poor folks are holding or wearing these days, hawking a variety of retail outlets, from cell phone stores to oil change places.

The sandwich board was so named because of its original incarnation, which was usually two pieces of wood, connected with rope or twine, which the wearer would sling over his shoulders, advertising on the front and back, creating a sort of human “sandwich.”

The sandwich boards started showing up in earnest in the late-1920s and early-1930s, which were, not coincidentally, the days of the Great Depression. But in those days, often the human sandwich was promoting himself, not any company.

The sandwich board is back, but in a more streamlined fashion. It used to be that the only businesses in recent years who commissioned people to stand on the curb and wave people in, holding a sign, were car washes (the fundraising kind) and, during tax season, tax preparers (with typically someone dressed as Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam).

Now, there are so many sandwich boards and signs out there, I’m surprised they’re not bumping into each other.

There’s this one dude who works for one of those companies that buys and sells gold. I see him every Friday when I’m on my way to cash my check on Rochester Road, and I have seen him for over a year now, rain, snow or shine. He wears headphones and is swiveling his sign like mad, all the time. And I just see him on Fridays. Doubtless he works the whole week as well.

The thing is—and granted, it’s hard to tell just by driving by at 40 mph once a week—he seems perfectly happy to be doing it. Not bored at all. He walks up and down, forward and back, swiveling his sign.

To be honest, I don’t even know where his employer’s store is located. I only see him, not the actual store front.

But he’s there, every week, with his gold sign with black print, walking up and down that tiny stretch of Rochester Road. He looks to be in his 20s, and physically fit.

I wonder what they pay people these days to be human sandwiches?

Back in the day, the sandwich board advertised people, not businesses

Is it worth the cost? Is such advertising really effective? Using my Friday Guy as an example, maybe not. You’ll notice I have made mention of driving by him, but not knowing the name of his company, nor exactly where the store is located. And I’ve seen him do his thing for well over a year.

Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having him there?

I also drive by an oil change place every night on my way home from work. That dude strays from the sidewalk, however, and damn near stands on the street. Kind of dangerous, if you ask me.

But again, does his presence make me want to get my oil changed?

Does any human sandwich influence your wanting to drop some dollars at the sandwich’s business?

Regardless, there’s no question that the human sandwiches are increasing in number. I guess it’s the new wave of guerrilla marketing.

We’ve come a long way, I guess, since “Eat at Joe’s” was the sandwich board of the day.

Not sure if that’s good or bad.

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Life’s Ups and Downs

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Just take a pill! Just drink a shot!

If you watch TV advertising these days, it seems as if the country needs help going to sleep and waking up, and with plenty of things in between.

Like my lovely wife so astutely pointed out, “It’s like this country has turned into one big Elvis Presley.”

Yeah—or Michael Jackson.

Meaning, TV advertisers look at us like the late rock-and-roll and pop stars, who infamously would take gobs of pills and other meds to sleep, and gobs more to get themselves back up, and gobs more just to get through the day.

I’m uneasy as to where we’re headed.

Last night it struck me. I’ve never professed to be a fast learner.

It was a commercial for a sleep aid that set me off. I started to think of the fancy-shmancy “sleep number” beds and other sleep aids I see advertised, which led me to think of the 5 Hour Energy spots and others similar.

The 5 Hour Energy commercials stick in my craw. They dismiss coffee as either taking too long to prepare or not “lasting long enough.” Why bother with coffee, the ads say, when you can just grab a shot and down it on your way out the door?

It makes me uneasy to think that we can so casually promote ingesting things into our body to wake up and again to go to sleep.

Look, I know a lot of people need help getting to sleep. I have been the victim of insomnia on many an occasion. I also know popping pills to assist in sleep can be dangerous. I can only imagine how much more dangerous it becomes when you combine that with downing energy drinks during the day.

It all seems just so unnatural.

No, thank you

And as far as these fancy, expensive beds go, who can’t sleep on a bed? A regular, good old-fashioned bed?

I can hear the bad back people right now.

Yes, I know some sleep better on firm mattresses and some sleep better on soft ones.

Fine. but do you need to spend thousands of dollars on a bed? Just buy a new mattress for a fraction of the cost.

And as far as waking up and getting through the day, try getting more sleep—naturally.

Something about swallowing a pill at night to come down and slugging a shot of God knows what in the morning to get back up, seems like a dangerous path down which to go.

Are we turning into mini versions of Elvis and the King of Pop?

That’s Pop—as in popping pills.

If we are, count me among the anomalies, thank goodness.

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What Would YOU Do?

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The question goes like this: “What would YOU do for a Klondike bar?”

I’m not sure what I would do, exactly, but I’d do some things.

I’d do some things, because there is something wonderfully simple yet with largesse about a Klondike bar.

You know what a Klondike bar is, right? It’s that block of vanilla ice cream generously covered in chocolate, wrapped by hand, it seems, in foil.

When eaten immediately out of the freezer, before it gets a chance to get remotely soft, is the best way to eat a Klondike.

They have different flavors, but I think I like the old fashioned vanilla the best.

They come in packages of six and I start to get sad as early as when the third one gets lifted from the freezer, for that means it won’t be long before we’re out of Klondikes.

Mrs. Eno doesn’t buy Klondikes every week, and that’s a good thing, because absence makes the stomach grow fonder.

Klondikes wouldn’t make me nearly as happy if they were constantly in the freezer, as counterintuitive as that sounds.

There’s a ceetain degree of excitement that I get when I see that a package of Klondikes has made its way into one of the grocery bags that come home.

I know this sounds like a paid advertisement (I wish!), but there really is no generic version of a Klondike, so there you have it—I have to use the name.

So why am I glorifying the Klondike today?

There are two left in our freezer, and I noticed them again today. It got me to thinking about the aforementioned jingle, which in my mind is one of the best advertising campaigns ever created.

The question is apt.

“What WOULD you do for a Klondike bar?”

Because they’re just so gosh darn good.

Ask yourself the question, if you enjoy a Klondike as much as I do (which is doubtful, but even if you’re close, that’s OK).

What would you do for one?

If a Klondike bar was just out of your reach, and the person who could retrieve it for you asked you to perform some sort of a task in order to get it, what would your limitations be?

It’s a question meant to be taken seriously, now!
You can eat a Klondike with your fingers and you don’t have to rush. A firmly frozen brick will last a good five minutes before getting too soft—or before it disappears, whichever comes first.

My Klondikes never get soft.

So what would I do for a Klondike bar?

Just try holding one out of my reach if you want to find out. I dare you.

Categories : advertising, Enotes, food
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Signs of the Times

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Ever wonder what happened to Winkelman’s? Jacobson’s? Uniroyal?

What about Farmer Jack? Great Scott? A&P?

Stroh’s? Twin Pines? Pants Galore?

Fretter Appliance? Belvedere and Bond-Bilt? New York Carpet World?

Highland Appliance? Sanders? Kresge?

Cunningham’s? Red Barn? Burger Chef?

To name a few.

And that’s just a percentage of the businesses, mostly local, that no longer exist but which I remember in my days growing up in Livonia in the 1970s.

I remember the commercials for many of the aforementioned as well.

Ollie Fretter promised us a five pound bag of coffee if he couldn’t beat our best deal. Mr. Belvedere’s phone number was TYler 8-7100.

TV newscaster Marilyn Turner did commercials for Carpet Center, flashing her gams. The Highland Appliance spots were legendary, often featuring local (and sometimes national) celebrities.

Irving Nussbaum proudly said that New York Carpet World was “the better carpet people.”

Mel Farr flew through the sky with a cape, promising a “Farr better deal.”

Remember listening to the radio and suddenly it was “Farmer Jack savings time”?

The Twin Pines man, I have written about before. I can still see the bright green trucks.

There was a Kresge in Universal Mall in Warren, back when it wasn’t unusual to find drugstores and “five and dimes” in malls.

I also fondly recall the outdoor signs of the retailers and restaurants back in the day.

One word comes to mind—two, actually: BIG and garish. And they often rotated on an axis.

Think about the Arby’s signs of the day: the HUGE 10 gallon hat with ARBY’S ROAST BEEF SANDWICH IS DELICIOUS spelled on it.

Now THAT’S a sign!
Little Caesars had its namesake rotating above the pizzeria, a pie impaled on his spear.

Kentucky Fried Chicken joints had the big, rotating buckets. Union 76 gas stations had that round, orange ball with 76 on it, twice. It rotated, too.

If they weren’t rotating or spinning, the signs were lit like the Vegas Strip.

The ’60s and ’70s signs were big on lightning bolt-like arrows and anything that flashed or changed colors intermittently.

I swear the signs of those times must have weighed several tons.

Look at a Holiday Inn sign now and then compare it to those of 35-40 years ago. The older versions were, again, big and garish with the script “Holiday Inn” brightly lit with sparkling lights.

There was nothing compact about those days.

Today, as those companies have long ago withered away, we’re mostly stuck with “big box retailers” and franchises that I don’t really trust.

And their commercials stink. And their signs are too small. And they don’t light up right.

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Wild Pitch

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Whatever happened to Mr. Belvedere? Or Marilyn Turner, hawking Carpet Center?

How about Bob Allison for Bobson Construction?

Remember Mel Farr and his cape, “flying” through the skies over Metro Detroit, promising a “Farr better deal” on Ford cars?

Or the Metro Detroit Ford Dealers commercials, which always featured sports celebrities, including all the Detroit sports team coaches at one time or another?

I’m still wondering if anyone got five pounds of free coffee from Ollie Fretter for finding a deal that he couldn’t beat.

I can still see the homely face of Irving Nussbaum of New York Carpet World, with his tag line, “The BETTER carpet people!”

The company pitchman, in Detroit, has often been more well-known than the product being sold.

I should know; I work for one.

Brian Elias, my boss at 1-800-HANSONS, is one of the last of a dying breed, along with Gordie over at ABC Warehouse.

Elias and Gordie are among the last of the combination company owner/pitchman, which used to be a staple around these parts.

Elias is perhaps more well-known than his product—windows, doors, roofs and gutters—or at the very least, as well-known.

Gordie, of ABC Warehouse, has a company slogan to rival the “Get It Done” of Hansons’: “The closest thing to wholesale.” And his bespectacled, mustached face is enough to make people do double-takes when they see him.

Car salesmen have always made good pitchmen.

Not just Farr, the former Lions running back-turned Ford dealership owner; how about Walt Lazar (Chevrolet, “The super, super dealer”), who used to be seen “conducting” an off-screen orchestra playing his theme song?

Ollie Fretter

An iconic campaign of radio commercials belonged to Gene Merollis, another Chevy dealer. The ads consisted of brief jokes between a set-up man and “Mr. Merollis.” Each spot ended the same way.

“That Merollis, what a great, great guyyyyyy!”

I heard those spots a billion times on the old CKLW-AM “Super 8″ station back in the 1970s.

Today we have Elias, Gordie, and Bill Bonds and William Shatner, two actors pushing law firms.

After that, not so much when it comes to local pitchmen.

Then again, most of the products being sold anymore are either beer, prescription drugs or cars—all at the national level.

Commercials aren’t as fun anymore.

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Don’t Touch That Dial!

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I’ve been stuck in a time warp, yet again.

Those who’ve dared to view this space to see what I’m blathering about now, know that I tend to enjoy living in the past.

Well, is the present so nifty?

My latest jag is to point my browser to YouTube and start searching for old commercials—beer, food, even cigarettes.

I’m talking REALLY old commercials, circa the 1950s and ’60s, mostly in black-and-white.

The commercials of those days were typically no less than 60 seconds, and sometimes longer. They weren’t filled with eye-popping special effects or talking babies or scores of beautiful young people breaking into an impromptu party just because one of them popped open a cooler of light beer.

The commercials that I’ve been fixed on show a simpler time, when a cold beer was something enjoyed by well-dressed couples inside a spiffy tavern, served by well-dressed waiters and drawn by well-dressed bartenders.

It was a time when little kids ran home to partake in Beefaroni or Spaghetti-O’s or a new thing called Pop-Tarts.

“Mabel!! Another Black Label!”

But mainly the commercials portrayed what had to have been a much less stressful world, because when I view them now it’s almost like comfort food for the soul.

And there were the jingles. Oh, the jingles. Some weren’t just jingles; they were entire songs, practically.

Remember the Oscar Meyer theme? The “Have it Your Way” diddy for Burger King?

Or how about the ads for Cracker Jack, featuring grandfatherly Jack Gilford and various young children, enjoying some of the caramel corn/peanut mix together—and marveling at the prize inside the box?

Always 60 seconds, and always selling a story in addition to selling a product.

The ones I particularly get a kick out of are the ads that ran during the intermissions at the drive-in theater decades ago. The visuals are priceless—the way they make popcorn, hot dogs and a fudge bar look absolutely delectable and a must-have, right NOW!

The narration back then was beautifully succinct and almost newsreel-like, voiced over by unknown studio announcers, not the actors we hear today hawking everything from cars to the do-it-yourself stores.

Sometimes it was tough to tell the difference between a TV commercial voice-over and the start of the evening news.

But I like that, for whatever reason.

We use the word “cozy” a lot around our house. We’re big fans of cozy things. I find the old-time TV ads wonderfully cozy. They make me feel better, in a world where it’s tough to feel good for too long a time, it seems.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

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Take This Spot and Shove It

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Those advertisers sure know a captive audience when it sees one.

I’m talking about the newest way they’re getting you to watch their ads—by boldly placing them in front of various videos you click to watch on the Internet.

And they’re getting worse.

It used to be that the advertiser spots you’d be forced to view would last 10 seconds. No biggie; 10 seconds isn’t too long to settle in and watch what you hope will be a compelling, funny, interesting, cute video.

Then the spots grew to 15 seconds in length. OK, what’s 15 seconds, right? That doesn’t seem too long.

Now they’re a full 30 seconds in length, and they’re showing up in more and more videos, annoyingly so.

Now we have a problem.

First, 30 seconds is a long time. It may not seem like it, but grab a watch with a second hand, close your eyes, and count out what YOU believe are 30 seconds. Almost guaranteed, the watch will tell you that you’re shy.

Besides that, having to sit through a 30-second ad to watch a video that often times is barely that long itself, is the height of annoyance.

Not that the advertisers care about that, of course.

Consider it payback for all the times we zoom past their commercials on TV programs that we’ve recorded on our DVR.

Zoom past THIS, the advertisers are saying.

You see, once the “sponsor message” begins playing, you can’t get past it. You are, for those 30 seconds, about as helpless and as captive as a fly in a spider’s web.

I even had to watch the same ad a second time, because I had the nerve to click “replay” of the video I had just viewed. I wanted to yell, “I meant replay the VIDEO, not the commercial!!”

Sure, you can simply not pay attention to the ad. But the fact remains: they took 30 seconds away from you, regardless. Sometimes even 60.

I know what you’re saying.

“Eno, this is just another case of whining when it won’t do you any good.”

True, but doesn’t it feel good sometimes to rant, even if it’s unlikely to bear fruit?

You think sitting through a 30-second commercial is bad? Don’t look now, but there has been talk that the Internet itself may not be a free thing anymore—and I mean, beyond the cost you pay your provider every month.

Yes, I’m talking about pay-per-view sites and other little fees to make money off content that has been, since Internet time immemorial, 100% free of charge.

But that’s still a ways off. Right now, the annoyance is forcing us to watch 30-second ads before our selected videos.

Never has half-a-minute seemed interminable.

Categories : advertising, Enotes, Internet
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The British Are Coming!! (Again)

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What’s the fascination in TV advertising with those who sport a British or Australian accent?

This isn’t an anti-UK post, bloke, but I must protest.

Seems there must have been some market research done, that says us Yankees are more inclined to yank out our credit card or rush to the nearest big box store if we hear said items being hawked by those who hail from across the pond or Down Under.

How else to explain the influx of voices I am hearing lately on the telly?

Before, the tack du jour was to yell. That’s all. Just simply shout EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO SAY IN HOPES THAT VOLUME WOULD TRUMP COMMON SENSE.

The late Billy Mays yelled at us, as he sold us on those great TV offers. He was hardly the first TV pitchman to literally “give a shout out.”

Now it’s not so much shouting as it is the apparent allure of the British or Australian accent.

You may not be aware of what I’m talking about, but give the TV commercials these days a listen.

There’s the GEICO gecko, for example. The dude selling us the Magic Bullet food chopper. And many others.

We’ve always been battling those British Invasions. They haven’t really stopped for all that long since the music version of the 1960s.

Did you see who’s replaced the venerable Larry King on CNN, following Larry’s retirement?

It’s none other than Piers Morgan, another British import.

I think we as Americans are still fascinated and charmed by the British dialect and demeanor.

Two words: Cary and Grant.

Was there anyone on the silver screen more suave and charming and debonair than the famed actor Grant?

But back to the advertising on TV.

Piers Morgan: The latest British invader, and Larry King’s successor
I can see the impact someone like Cary Grant would have on our psyche, but I confess to not being moved by a British accent when I’m being sold goods.

I remember when the comedic actor John Cleese (Monty Python) did radio and TV voice-overs for Callard and Bowser, a British candy company. They were fun to listen to, but because it was John Cleese and John Cleese is freaking hilarious.

It wasn’t because Cleese is British.

Again, I’m not angry or crying foul here. It’s just something I’ve noticed.

The advertising execs apparently have been told by someone that they have a better chance of selling goods and services if the person doing the voice-over spells labor “labour.”

Then again, it’s better than all that yelling.

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