My boss recently returned from a holiday in the US -- so we had to get rid of all the lap dancers, drug samples and karaoke machines that it suddenly became necessary to 'test' in the office in the guise of doing actual work.
Well, not really, just checking that you were paying attention. Anyway, in his largesse, he gave out little gourmet jelly bean containers, direct from the US to, in my case, my stomach within five seconds. That'd be the contents of the jelly bean container, not the container itself, by the way. See how this keeping you paying attention thing works?
Aside from sugary tooth-rotting goodness, though, there was also a slip of paper to let me know which types of beans I had just consumed in my mad rush, and a product URL.
I'm still a little unsure about the general wisdom of putting product URLs onto food products, especially those that you can't or won't generally buy online. I've noticed, for example, that many of our local beers have their own Web sites. What exactly can you tell me about your beer from a URL? Can I taste its rich hops goodness via a flash demonstration? Will the site offer me details on how to get suspicious stains out of my clothes the morning after one too many refreshing ales? Has anyone yet developed a beer promoting Web site with its own inbuilt beer goggles? And if not, why not?
In the case of these jelly beans, however, there was yet more goodness in store. Aside from options to purchase beans in bulk -- so obviously some people do go sweet shopping online -- they also had something that stopped me dead in my tracks. In honour of the recently deceased US president, Ronald Reagan, they had designed several artworks, rendered entirely of jelly beans. Ponder on that for a moment.
Now, I'm not a great fan of the late Mr Reagan. However, I do like jelly beans. Bring the two together, and it makes me uneasy. Am I meant to eat the late president? Because if I am, well, quite frankly, that's put me off the product right there. At the same time, if it's just for visual effect, all the time I'm looking at it, I'm thinking "Hmm... his chin is made of those lemon-lime flavours I really like" and then realising I'm talking about licking the chin of a virtual Ronald Reagan. Being on the Web as it is, I can't even do that (if I wanted to) making the process all the more frustrating.
Perhaps I'm in a minority, and dead US presidents in jelly bean form is the new cult cuisine. Somehow I suspect I'm not, but it's not as though badly thought out product Web sites are a new thing. The worst of this kind of thing was of course present before the dot-com crash, when just about any stupid idea would fly past a venture capitalist, snagging a few dollars along the way before exploding in a mass of unpaid worker benefits; I'm reliably informed that fully half of the people working hot dog stands in Silicon Valley used to be Web designers. Well, no, I'm not informed that at all -- I just made it up. But it does have that ring of authenticity about it.
Of course, the Web was built on sites of little or no real value -- teenage girls staring into badly configured Webcams hoping someone would buy them Ferraris, people taking photos of their dogs and fan sites arguing endlessly over trivial minutiae that only fans could care about. Once you enter the commercial world, though, presumably your product Web site is designed to, well, sell products.
I'd be curious to know, however, if I'm the only one who looks on product Web sites, especially food products, that by definition can't be sampled or specified in any real meaningful way, in a suspicious light.
What's the worst product site you've ever seen? Have you ever stumbled across a product on the Web that you'd normally only buy in the physical world and felt compelled to buy it then and there? Talkback to me below!