Answer Man: License plates spoil slick ads

News-DemocratJanuary 28, 2014 

On many car commercials, the advertisers paint over the license plate. What's up with that? -- W.S., of Belleville

When car makers are throwing around millions of dollars on 30-second pieces of airtime, they obviously want viewers focused on their product every possible moment.

That's why you almost need an electron microscope to read the teensy-tiny warning "Professional on closed course. Do not attempt." while the driver is doing 120 mph around some rain-slickened, hairpin curve on Pikes Peak.

The same is true for the car itself. Companies want nothing that steals your attention from admiring the overall look of the car. That's why for most exterior shots, windows are usually darkly tinted so you're focusing on the car's sleek lines and not straining to see interior features.

Even run-of-the-mill license plates can be a distraction. A brightly colored tag might draw your attention to it and away from the car as you try to determine what state it represents. The plate's colors or design could clash with the aesthetics of the car, again taking your mind off the car.

And if I know trivia lovers, they may even try to make out the plate's letters and numbers so they can proudly tell you in 2027 what plate was used in a 2014 Mini Cooper ad. All of this steals valuable seconds from focusing on the car itself.

Some speculate companies may fear regional problems as well. For example, if New York residents spot a New York plate on a Honda and a California tag on a Toyota, some say the viewers may be drawn more to the Civic over the Camry. I don't know how much I buy that, but there it is.

It apparently used to be that advertisers would simply leave the plate off entirely, but they found that this also diverted attention because there's just something jarring about seeing a car with no plate at all. So they think they've reached a happy medium with the painted plates to keep you dreaming of being behind the wheel.

Quite a contrast from the Hardee's ads in which Heidi Klum, Kate Upton, et al., teasingly lick sauce off their fingertips in their best come-hither looks (and outfits) while chowing down on the latest sandwich creation. You are focusing on the hamburger's buns, aren't you, hmmmm?

A few years ago this bush appeared to the left of our driveway. Now it is about 6 feet tall. We have no idea how it got there as a seedling, nor the name of it. I am sending you a recent photo and a couple of leaves, so hopefully you can identify it and perhaps tell us whether it is worth keeping or should be dug up and throw away. -- Bobby Allen, of O'Fallon

Sorry for the delay, but it has taken Charles Giedeman, our resident gardening expert, a bit of time to study those leaves carefully and see what's growing on in your yard.

He has come up with two possibilities -- either an Amelanchier candensis, better known as a Shadblow Serviceberry, or a species of Malus, a type of crabapple.

"The two leaves are slightly different, and, from the size in the photo, I can't distinguish if it is a small tree or a shrub," he said.

If it is a shadblow (sometimes called a chuckleberry, currant-tree or sugarplum), you have a deciduous, perennial tree or shrub that apparently can grow anywhere from roughly 2 to 20 feet tall. It produces serrated leaves with a downy underside and spring flowers with five white petals. In summer, you might find small, round, dark purple fruit that is reportedly sweet and edible.

The Malus, or crabapple, also boasts serrated-edged leaves and flowers with five petals. However, flower color can be red or pink as well as white, and, depending on the species, the apple fruit can be 3 inches in diameter or larger.

"The plant probably grew from a seed deposited by a bird dropping," Giedeman told me. "I would recommend that he keep it for a few years and see how it blooms."

Today's trivia

What well-known U.S. senator wrote two songs for the 1998 album "Many Different Roads" by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: In 1929, Danish scientist Henrik Dam was studying the role of cholesterol by feeding chickens a cholesterol-free diet. He found that after several weeks the birds developed hemorrhages and began to bleed. To counteract these side effects, Dam found he had to give the chickens a mixture of cholesterol and a second substance he had extracted from the feed. He called this new compound the "coagulation vitamin" because it seemed to be instrumental in stopping the bleeding. But because the discovery was published in a German journal, it was spelled "Koagulationsvitamin" -- or vitamin K for short. That's why, for now, the list on your multivitamin bottle skips from E to K.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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