Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The apple of no one's eye

Casual dining restaurants are inessential in many ways - you're paying out the nose for something you could often make a close enough facsimile of at home, and you're certainly not saving much time in the process. So it's not surprising that such restaurants would position themselves in advertising as gathering places, not just as vendors of food. Check out any ad for, say, TGI Friday's, or the Olive Garden.

Leave it to Applebee's - whose previous ad campaigns went as far as to take credit for community bonding and not just mere social bonding - to provide me with a new reason to be annoyed.

[Three members of a family sit around a room. The son is playing video games, the father is on a laptop, and the daughter is doing something difficult to see at this resolution. Possibly texting or reading a book. Who gives a shit, really.]

Spokesapple: "You call this a family room?"

Yeah, but I'm old-fashioned like that. I call things what they are. Maybe I'm crazy, although I'm not the one whose new spokesperson is a sentient apple voiced by Wanda Sykes.

[Cut to the entire family, with now-present Mom in tow, sitting in a booth.]

Spokesapple: "This is a family room! Full of the flavors that bring people together!"

I don't know what to feel right now. Applebee's is taking credit for bringing families together? I'll grant that the family was not having a group hug or driving around solving mysteries like the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, but for God's sake, at least they were all in the same damn room. That's a pretty close family by modern standards. Either way, what is happening at Applebee's that wasn't going to happen at the dinner table in their own house? "Say, did you ever notice we talk more at dinner while we're all facing each other than at other times when we're all occupied with other stimuli?" Applebee's really wants families to stare at each other from across a cramped booth, I guess. That's togetherness. For a mere fifteen dollars a person.

[Actual information about the current dinner specials]

The family that consumes 2500 calories in one sitting together, stays together. I think I heard that somewhere.

Spokesapple: "Applebee's! Get it together, baby!"

Oh, Wanda Sykes, you're so sassy. And hip. You use "baby" like it's punctuation. You are also saying a different slogan from what Applebee's has put right up there on the screen. Speaking of things that don't match, what is with the mom's reaction here? What is she laughing at? Am I supposed to believe that the spokesapple's line is overdubbed, and the "real" apple on the set was actually telling a joke or something? Why did they use this footage? Look how the mom is just looking, and then forces a laugh when the apple says "Applebee's!" Maybe that was a punchline to a joke she (it?) was telling off-camera.

Spokesapple: All right, I've been working on this material all day. Ready?
Mom: Okay, shoot.
Spokesapple: Okay, what kind of insects do you get the sweetest honey from?
Mom: I don't know, what kind?
Spokesapple: You don't have a guess?
Mom: Was I supposed to- I mean, I just thought you were going to say the punchline.
Spokesapple: Shit. Okay, can we start over?
Mom: Okay.
Spokesapple: So this time you're just gonna say-
Mom: I'll just say I don't know. So you can say the punchline.
Spokesapple: Okay.
Mom: Okay. Go ahead.
Spokesapple: Okay. So, what kind of insects do you get the sweetest honey from?
Mom: I don't know, what kind?
Spokesapple: Applebee's!
Mom: *mirthless chuckle*
Spokesapple: Oh, you can just go fuck yourself.

By the way, if you thought the "spokesapple" is a term I invented for this post... you would be wrong. If you want to spend the rest of the day punching yourself in the face, check out this YouTube channel. Yet another of those desperate attempts at viral marketing by a big company that really doesn't know much about being cool or interesting. And watch the first 20 seconds of the "Spokesapple Revealed" video. A sentient apple that talks and moves under its own power is strange, but an apple that eats and enjoys onion rings despite conspicuously lacking a mouth? That's just insane.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From the vault -- a good one

It's been a while since we posted an ad we liked, so here is an old favorite of mine and Windier's from 2004:

Diet Coke did right by us here. The whole commercial creates a mood -- late afternoon sun, the beach, playful rollerskating, music that makes you want to dance and, oh yes, Nicole Vicius. If I knew how to rollerskate, I'd be at that park every weekend evening. The graceful way they move, combined with the energetic bubble animation, makes this scene look like more fun than should be legally permitted. And it's not just creative direction for creative direction's sake -- from the opening second you see the brand name. The tagline, "Light it up," also works well with the diet product.

Compare the Diet Coke spot with this hack job from Intel. They both use music and dancing to showcase their products, but one outclasses the other exponentially.

Now, Diet Coke, if you could only do something about that aspartame thing, I think we'd all feel better about swilling your soda.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It is so creepy

You know how when you eat meat, you don't really want to run into a big piece of fat or tendon or anything, not just because it's gross, but because it reminds you that you're eating what used to be a living animal? I kind of feel the same way about yogurt.

It's one thing to know there's live cultures in your yogurt. It's another thing to see them animated (awkwardly) and running amok on your TV screen. This is the best way they had to get the point across? Hey, live and active cultures! The voice-over woman even makes sure to put extra stress on "live" and "active" when she says them for the second time in five seconds. "Get it? Active! Look, they're dancing around!" And spinning plates to "Sabre Dance" in what seems like an homage to the Ed Sullivan Show, because this is 1965 and everyone will get that joke. They'll also definitely get the reference to the films of Busby Berkeley that follows, because this is 1936 and his career is at its peak. Maybe in the follow-up to this ad we can see the cultures dressed in leisure suits, dancing to "Stayin' Alive." You know, 'cause they're live cultures? Oh man, this is pure gold!

Maybe the problem is the way the cultures are depicted. They look like little pink squishy pigs, except they stand on two feet and have defined limbs. That's just kind of horrifying. Can you imagine if you were watching one of those old Beef: It's What's For Dinner ads and a CGI cow jumped off the stove and started dancing around to "Hoedown" while the voice-over suggested various ways to prepare the meat? Frankly, that's not even close to as bad because at least you can see cows with the naked eye. I'm fine with live cultures when I can't see them. When they're doing backflips into my yogurt like I'm about to eat a cup of strawberry-flavored ants, I think that's where I stop being very hungry.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fantasy meets reality

Sure, Honda will break the bank on animatronic characters for their ads, but they'll only pay some hack five bucks to crap out a script:

First of all, is no one surprised there's an enormous troll in the middle of the road? Secondly, check out these Q's and A's from the spot:

Troll: Hey, how many people you got in there?
Dad: 8.

Most of them children, not full-grown people. Slightly misleading characterization of the roominess of the SUV?

Troll: Whoa, is that a DVD player?
Girl: Maybe.

Trolls -- notorious for their enthusiasm for high-tech gadgetry. This is well-documented in The Silmarillion.

Troll: Do I smell cookies?
Mom: Hit the gas, that's three.

That's a grand total of one out of three questions actually answered. Why were they allowed to pass? Honda Pilot drivers are cheaters!

Announcer: Beloved by humans, envied by trolls.

Either this is a stupid, cutesy piece of copy, or it's a pretty personal insult to every non-Honda Pilot owner. I am not envious of anyone who paid $32,045 and up for an SUV that costs them $4 to drive 25 miles.

So, quick recap of what Honda wants you, the consumer, to know about their Pilot product: seats 8, envied by hideous fictional characters, may or may not have kids in it who eat cookies. Lease one today!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A man on the moon. The end of the Cold War. Alt+Tab.

As most of you will no doubt be aware - since it sits just a few posts below this one - our own Quivering P. Landmass took on Apple's iPhone campaign recently, an act which must have represented a bit of cognitive dissonance for him, since he's a Mac user and generally likes most of what they do. In that spirit, may I present to you the ad campaign for the newest Windows operating system, Vista:

To be fair, there have probably been times in my life when the interface of an operating system might have made me say "Wow" in an awed tone of voice - I'm plenty old enough to remember when the only operating system anyone used on a PC was MS/DOS - but none of those times would have been later than 1993 or so.

I mean, come on, Microsoft. A 3-D version of alt-tab (which you get by holding down the Windows button and hitting tab instead, omigod omigod omigod) is kinda neat, but it's not fucking revolutionary. Fine, it's a nice new feature, but don't you dare compare it to the fall of the Berlin Wall or the achievements of the space program, you self-absorbed twits. Of all the new features they presumably added to Vista, that's the one they chose to highlight? 3-D tabbing? For fucking real? Maybe every time they tried to highlight a more important feature, the system crashed.

And what's this "delightfully unexpected" shit? Delightfully unexpected is when I find ten bucks on the ground or the ice cream store gives me a free scoop. The fall of the Berlin Wall was "delightfully unexpected?" That's the adverb/adjective combo we're going with there? Although now that you mention it, I seem to recall Reagan saying, "It would be just peachy keen if you would tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev." Or when Communism fell in Russia, and Boris Yeltsin got on the tank and told the crowd how "tickled pink" the day had made him? Good times.

"We're the MTV generation, we feel neither highs nor lows."

Hey, do you have any fond memories of spending time with your family? Maybe learning things, or making things, or cooking together? Something like this?

[music: Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole's Somewhere Over the Rainbow]

Mom: Okay, go ahead and get the box and pour it in for me. There we go. Good! (idle chatter, children making cute noises)

Announcer: The problem with making Rice Krispie Squares with your kids... is that it just doesn't take long enough. Rice Krispies! Moms just know.

Well, maybe it wasn't exactly this idyllic, and probably not all sepia-tinted either. But it's way better than the idea behind this soulless Duncan Hines product, which gives a big ol' "fuck you" to spending anything but the bare minimum of time with your kids.

["music": Stomp, or Clomp, or some other piece of crap as interpreted by obnoxious kids with spoons and cookware]

Announcer: Introducing Duncan Hines Oven Ready Home Style Brownies! Brownies that go straight from the freezer to the oven to delicious. No pots, no pans and no bowls! But don't worry! There are plenty of other ways to use them! Duncan Hines Oven Ready Home Style Brownies. The breakthrough for brownie lovers!

The breakthrough for lazy chocoholics- I mean, brownie lovers. Oh no, what I mean to say, is that I definitely love my kids way more than I love brownies. And now, time for my 4PM vodka tonic- straight from the bottle, to my stomach, to take that pan into the living room to eat it, you little ingrates, Mama's sick of looking at you.

Ride the bench on two! One, two! Hike!

I guess Brady Quinn is a "name" athlete, but there seems to be something wrong with this ad.

Let's see how many jokes I can get off in ten seconds. And, go:

It's a good thing Brady Quinn gets himself psyched up to hold a clipboard every weekend. Could he play as effectively without Gillette? By which I mean, play with the second team offense in practice during the week? I'll bet the Browns' third-string tight end is really impressed with the smoothness of Brady Quinn's face. I do appreciate Quinn giving his name; I watch a lot of sports, but I wouldn't have recognized him otherwise. Mostly because I tend only to watch what happens on the field. Zing! Take that, pretty boy!

Seriously, though, what is this ad even for? I'm pretty sure it's online-only, which means it doesn't have to follow traditional advertising rules, but there isn't even a hint of anything until the last second of the spot. I have yet to be able to read all the text in that frame before the video cuts out, either on YouTube or in the top right corner of the home page. I think it's some sort of contest involving "game faces" or whatever. But it's not like they tell you - it's a "You could win!" bit of text and then a web address which I never get to before the video runs out. Well played, Gillette.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Milk that testimonial!

Hey, it's me, Quivering, again. Turns out that pouring all my money into hedge funds was kind of a bust. Toyota really screwed me on that one. So it's back to the ol' making-fun-of-shitty-ads grind.

Let me introduce you to a new series of commercials from perennial maker-of-commercials Apple Computer. Now, historically, Apple deserves a lot of credit. Their 1984 SuperBowl spot is widely heralded as one of the best in advertising history, and possibly the most famous. Their "Think Different" campaign, although inherently ungrammatical, helped differentiate the Mac from PCs in the consumer's mind. And, more recently, their iPod commercials, which utilized a blend of hip, upbeat music and arresting art direction, propelled Apple from a niche computer company to a mainstream music industry titan.

Apple's latest advertising support of the iPhone, their second campaign for the product, takes a significant change in direction. Here's one in the series:

Pilot: We were departing Chicago in route to Newark, New Jersey, and we were told we were going to have a 3-hour delay.

Hey, we've all been there. Airport delays, even those of the 3-hour variety, are fairly commonplace.

Pilot: Three hours. For an hour and forty-one minute flight.

Big deal. Everyone who has ever flown on an airplane has had bad delays. Three hours, four hours, a full day even. Once, I was in Amsterdam, and they delayed the flight because they couldn't get an exit light inside the cabin to turn off. They had to fly in a mechanic from Detroit to fix it, so they put us all up in a Novotel overnight. It was a 30-hour delay. But you don't see me going out and making some shitty commercial because of it!

Pilot: And as we were sitting there with our engines shut down, I turned on my iPhone and went to

Took 12 seconds to mention the product. Not so good.

Pilot: ...and I saw that the rain showers had already passed the field. At which point, we contacted our dispatcher, and dispatch took another look at the weather...

Bullshit. is more sophisticated than whatever they use to make takeoff and landing decisions at airports? I'm sorry, I've used before, and reliability is not its selling point. I think vacation destination temperature-checking is. If is better than what air traffic control is using, I refuse to fly again. (Good thing it's not.)

Pilot: ... and sure enough, about thirty minutes later, Tower called us and said, "You guys are clear to go."

I hope they reminded you to turn off that cell phone before the flight.

Pilot: And everyone was happy and life was good.

What a sophomoric, artificially tidy way to end the commercial. "Life was good"! "Everybody was happy!" They disabled ground radar and replaced it with an iPhone! With the iPhone in charge, everybody's flight got in an hour early! Then the iPhone cured cancer!

This is just one of the several ads featuring this "just a regular person" testimonial format. What's lame about this concept is that it completely abandons the "cool" persona that Apple's cultivated with colorful, fun commercials like those for the iPod. What's painful about this concept is that it's unblushingly egotistical. The iPhone -- better than an air traffic control tower? Really?

Take a look at the professions of two of the other actors featured in these testimonial iPhone ads: a "mobile-blogging" Ballet Dancer and an Off-Broadway Producer. I guess they couldn't get a professional Cuban Cigar Cutter to do an ad? Get off your hundred-foot high horse, Apple. It's like the entire marketing department eats apricot quail sandwiches for lunch every day.

Another person in one of these ads begins by stating, confidently:

One of the greatest advancements in the history of mankind. Without question.

The jury's still out on this, of course, but I think we can all safely say this falls in the "massive, inexcusable hyperbole" camp. Do you think it's okay to have some fawning statement like that in your ad, Apple, because some random guy said it? You still put it in your commercial, and then you aired the thing! Surely someone at Apple or TBWA Chiat Day realizes how obnoxious that sounds.

There's another issue with this whole campaign, and it's this idea of Apple's supposed invention of some futuristic dream device. "It's the internet... on your phone." "It's The New York Times... on your phone." "You can check the weather... on your goddamned phone." It smacks of goofy ads from the sixties about space-age automobiles, or color TVs. The kind of ads that you look at now and laugh.

50 years in the future, some 12-year old kid's grandfather will say to him, "You know, grandson, when I was a youngster, you couldn't reroute a plane on your phone." And the kid will say, "No, way! That's so stone age!" Then he'll whip out his iWatch, which will have already detected the conversation and called up this iPhone ad on its holographic screen. The kid will watch the ad and think to himself, "God, that is retarded. I really hope someone in the past made fun of that pretentious piece of shit."

Don't worry, snarky little 12-year-old from the future, someone did. Oh, yes, someone did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Warning! Use of this product will lead to embarrassment!

On occasion I genuinely wonder if companies bother to preview their ads before they go live. Case in point: this Hallmark ad, which makes a much better case for not buying the advertised product than for buying it.

Given the way most intra-office romances are treated by co-workers, maybe it wasn't the smartest idea to give your boyfriend a singing card that's so loud it can apparently be heard by everyone in the office. (Was it hooked up to the public address system?) But the real brilliance of the ad comes from its concluding ten seconds, which suggest that anyone giving or receiving this card in a public place is going to be humiliated because it's so cripplingly lame. I certainly can't disagree with this, but it's an interesting marketing strategy, to say the least. Can you imagine other companies adopting this format?

[It is a swelteringly hot day. A man stumbles through a heat haze towards a Coke machine. Fumbling in his pocket, he pulls out some change, deposits it into the machine and presses the button. A bottle of Coke falls into the slot. The man reaches down and retrieves it. The Coke bottle is dripping with bits of ice, glistening in the sun. It looks chilled and refreshing. The man opens the bottle, takes a long sip, and lets out a satisfied "Ahhhh!" Then:]

Boy riding past on bike: LOSER!!!!

[The man looks at the Coke bottle and hangs his head. Coming up on the screen is the superimposed text, "Coca-Cola: Refreshment for Losers."]

Seems pretty farfetched, right? Yet that's exactly what's happening here: Hallmark is using its precious 30 seconds of ad space to embarrass the handful of people lame enough to enjoy its product unironically. I guess it doesn't matter since the type of people depicted in the ad don't exist in real life - is there really anyone under the age of 70 who finds greeting cards anything other than perfunctory?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Car fight!

I've always considered Lexus' ads to be, if not super pretentious, at least totally unrealistic. For example, every year they run some holiday ad where people walk outside their houses to find a Lexus with a huge bow on it sitting in the driveway, because a car that costs more than the average American makes in a year is a perfectly sensible Christmas gift.

This ad, however, is definitely pretentious:

What was even the point? If the Lexus is too classy for moves pulled directly from The Fast and the Furious, why are you advertising it that way? It's almost... gosh, it's almost as if you're reacting to something...

Well, well.

The Audi ad is kind of catty - it's a shot at Lexus' self-parking car - but it at least exhibits a sense of humor distinctly missing from the Lexus response ad, which prefers to stick to Lexus' well-hewn "haughty arrogance" niche rather than be particularly witty or clever. I suppose there's no real need for Lexus to do anything "cool" with their campaign - Lexuses (Lexi?) have a certain target demographic and it's not one necessarily known for its irreverent sense of humor.

Nevertheless, the straightforward response to Audi's ad is both obnoxious - with the arrogant voice-over and opera music - and kind of misses Audi's point. Audi used the "sweet spot" parking job as an eye-catching tool, simply as a device to point out that most people shouldn't need help parallel parking (there was probably also some implied comment about the size of the average Lexus in there, although I imagine most Lexus buyers like that aspect of the cars). Lexus' response suggests that they focused more on the showmanship of the parking job itself, as though what Audi was really claiming was that you couldn't do donuts in a Lexus. "This'll show those fuckers!" Lexus cried, deciding to start their ad with the very same donuts that Audi didn't show in their ad. (For good measure, Lexus spells it "doughnuts," just to make sure you know they're better than you are.)

I'm all for ad battles - usually any company taking potshots is aiming so far above its station that there's no need for the other company to respond - but it would be nice if they weren't so one-sided. Lexus' seemingly non-existent sense of humor just leaves them looking like they brought a knife to a gunfight.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How incredibly distinguishing

First of all, I would want to smack that kid if he was taking up the entire soda fountain in front of me with this shit. Second of all, how is that going to be good? He appears to be mixing literally everything at the fountain together. Does that really classify as a "concoction" or something that deserves the title of "master"? Oh boy, Diet Coke, Fanta Orange and Hi-C! That'll go great with pizza. Did his brother double-dog dare him or something?

Third of all, what does this have to do with the product CiCi's is selling? I'll give you a hint: nothing. The description of CiCi's key selling point - a very inexpensive all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, salad and dessert buffet - is saved for the last five seconds of the ad, while the first ten are spent bragging about a feature possessed by every fast food restaurant in existence. "Unlimited fountain soda? It's like some kind of beautiful dream!"

Unrelated to the quality of the ad: does anyone else think that the low cost for the product being offered suggests that the food pretty much sucks? Either way, thanks for making it even easier for the average American to eat 3500 calories in one sitting, CiCi's. You're doing God's work out there.

What, exactly, IS your point?

Recently I laid out the formulaic outline of a typical car commercial. Toyota, to their credit, doesn't play that game. I just wish they had blazed a more forgivable path:

Mother: 0% APR financing -

The very first words are car commercial boilerplate. Hey, Toyota? The channel has already been changed.

Mother: - on a new Toyota Camry? Wow!

"Financing... on a... car? Unheard of! So, a dealership owner is willing to let me go into debt to charge more money for his car? Oh, my -- the generosity!"

Mother: And when you factor in the 31/mpg rating... well, we're saving a lot.

Seems like every ad I've blogged about recently falls victim to this obnoxious editorializing. SHOW, don't TELL, folks!

Mother: I guess my point is, what should we do with the extra money?

Donate it back to Toyota -- they need the cash to make non-painful commercials.

Kid 1: I'm likin' hedge funds.

Kid 2: What about... emerging markets?

It feels like the kids here even thought these lines were stupid. What, did somebody copy a couple of words down from the "Money" section of USA Today? "Hey, what's like a financial-y sounding word, like 'bank,' but fancier-sounding?"

Mother: (gasps) What's in that cereal?

Good point. This concept might work for a cereal commercial. Because it sure as hell isn't a car commercial.

Announcer: Toyota. A smart way to keep moving forward.

I guess this tagline ties in with the kids saying smart-sounding things. Sort of. Next time, though, Toyota, can you say something about your car that's at least superficially interesting? This commercial was disjointed and pointless.

P.S. Thanks for the financial advice! I just transferred all of my money into hedge funds. If you don't see me post again, it's because I'm partying down in Belize for the rest of my life. Suckers!!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just like in real life!

I remember when the major complaint most people had with Barbie was that the doll's figure was unrealistic.

At first, it actually seems like this commercial is preaching financial responsibility.

Voiceover: "Shopping Boutique is a whole store with 11 fashion pieces, a checkout counter, and a credit card for you!"

It probably would have been easier just to make the store, right? There wasn't any specific need to throw a credit card in there. So I'm glad they're teaching young girls that in the real world, clothing has a cost. You can't just "buy everything you want," despite the song in the background. That's a good message.

Voiceover: "When you find the perfect outfit..."
Song: "Buy it!"
Credit card machine: "You have 200 dollars!"
Girl: "Pink is perfect!"
Voiceover: "Another perfect outfit!"
Song: "Buy it!"
Credit card machine: "150 dollars!"

See? Good message. Not only does clothing cost money, but your credit card has a limit. You can't just keep spending indefinitely. That money counts down. Eventually, it runs out.

Other girl: "I love shopping!"
Voiceover: "You never run out of money!"

...oh. Oh no.

Look, Mattel. I get that it would be pretty silly and/or awkward to have a credit card that runs out of money in your toy set. It's not that I expected the credit card machine to say "Sorry, you're over your limit!" But it would have been easy to avoid sending the message to young girls that credit cards are just shopping devices you can use without consequences: don't include a fake credit card. Have we really reached a point where girls would reject a toy set because it lacked a credit card, and they've seen Mommy buy enough at the mall to know that the little piece of plastic is the way you get things?

And not only does the card never run out of money, but it's not like the girls are asked to do anything so complicated as pay a bill. Again, I realize that this would be a pretty complicated piece of information for a couple of ten-year-olds, but why couldn't they just not include a credit card? If they're too young for one piece of information, aren't they too young for all of it? Instead, we're just raising a generation of kids who are going to spend large portions of their lives in credit card debt because they've never been able to grasp the concept that a credit card is really just a loan system and you're expected to pay back those loans in prompt fashion.

As long as we're going to go down this road, though, I've got a few other ideas for Mattel:

The new Barbie Casino! Gamble all you want - you'll never run out of money!

The new Barbie Buffet! Eat all you want - you'll never gain a pound!

The new Barbie Dream Car! Drive as fast as you want - you'll never get a ticket!

New Smoke 'n' Drink Barbie! Use as much as you want - what could go wrong?

Meta-meta editorializing

Proof that advertising copywriters have big-time crushes on themselves:

Bespectacled Ice Breakers Man: New Ice Breakers Wellness gum has antioxidants from Vitamin C. Pretty cool!

This whole commercial sounds like the characters are reading stage directions. When you're talking about your product, just say what you have to say. Don't tell me how I'm supposed to react. If I think something's "pretty cool," I'll say it to myself.

Also, your product has antioxidants from Vitamin C. So? Lots of stupid, fake crap has Vitamin C in it.

Juggling-for-some-reason Ice Breakers Man: Really? Just "pretty cool"? It's antioxidants! In your gum! How about "stellar" or "phenomenal"?

How desperate are these people? And how obsessively proud of themselves are they? "Look, ladies and gentlemen, the Ice Breakers company just turned the gum world on its fucking ear. We took regular, boring, non-stellar gum, and then we added this new wonder compound called Vitamin frickin' C. Sounds crazy, right? Well, prepare to be shocked -- Vitamin C, it turns out, has anti-motherflippin'-oxidants!! Totally nuts! Totally phenomenal!!"

Also, whoever wrote this ad, congratulations on knowing two moderately big words.

Bespectacled Ice Breakers Man: Not bad. Let's schedule a sit-down with Marketing.

Scene: (Dusk falls on the skyline of Manhattan. In a dimly-lit 16th floor window office of a Madison Avenue skyscraper, an aging copywriter rests his hands on the keyboard of a 1999 Dell OptiPlex as he gazes up at motivational posters on his wall. Three empty bottles of Green Apple Smirnoff Ice sit on a desk.)

Dramatic Personae:
Frank, middle-aged copywriting hack
John, slightly younger copywriting hack apprentice

John (entering): Got anything yet? It's almost 8 o'clock -- I want to go home soon.

Frank (pushing bottles into trash bin): Oh, hey. Yeah, I've been thinking about something. How about a scene where two wannabe copywriters are sitting around talking about how great this gum is, trying to describe it.

John: Hmm. I like it. It's identifiable -- everyone wishes they could write ads, because they see what an awesome job we do of it. But, what about instead of people, it were the gum itself talking!

Frank: Ohh, man! I'm smelling a promotion!

John: Yeah, so this gum is sitting around. The first gum says... I dunno, whatever the fuck about Ice Breakers. What's something we know about this stuff?

Frank: (checks label of gum for first time) Um... it has trace amounts of Vitamin C?

John: Perfect! So the first gum says that it's "pretty cool." Then the second gum is like "Pretty cool? More like -- " .... I dunno, what's another word for "cool"?

Frank: (checks Thesaurus for first time) ...... "Stellar"? "Phenomenal"?

John: Sure! Why not? It's like we're showing people how we write commercials, in a commercial! Now how do we pay it all off...

Frank: Hey, remember how everyone wants to be ad writers?! How about we say something like "Not bad, let's schedule a sit-down with Marketing"?

John: Yes! That's it! God, our jobs are awesome.

Frank: Seriously, writing ads is the coolest job ever.

John: We get to say whatever we think of first, pretend we're funny, and make references to ourselves all the time!

Frank: Hey, wanna go have sex with our portfolios in front of a mirror?

John: Totally. Don't forget your Prozac!


Friday, October 19, 2007

First you think of an idea that has already been done, then you give it a title that nobody could possibly like

You know what I like a lot? Cheese. I really, really enjoy cheese. Swiss, cheddar, parmesan, provolone... cheese is pretty awesome.

You know what I don't like? This presentation of it:

First of all, "Melt With You" was used in a Burger King commercial, like, ten years ago. Am I saying that it can never be used in another ad again? Well, the fact that I remember the BK ad means it was probably fairly memorable (although, granted, I co-write this blog so I probably remember ads longer than most people). So yes. Yes, I am saying that.

More importantly, is it me or is this commercial really kind of disgusting? I just can't see those people stretching that cheese to hideous lengths without thinking of some sort of mucus is being pulled out of their mouths. Honestly, I can't even watch this thing anymore. And what kind of name is "Cheesy Beefy Melt"? Did the CEO's five-year-old daughter come up with that one? "Cheesy" is one thing. "Beefy" is not an adjective I have ever heard applied to food, except in those old Beefaroni commercials that annoyed me even as a kid. "Beefy" is used to describe heavyset guys, not food I'm planning on consuming. This is probably top five worst names for a fast food item ever.

Also, I think the whole "cautionary fine print" craze is going a bit too far when we need a "Professional skateboarders! Do not attempt!" warning for a shot that simply has skateboarders in it. As pointed out in the YouTube comments for the video, what exactly is anyone in that shot doing? Going down a couple steps, and while wearing appropriate safety gear? Oh NO! You would have to be crazy to try a stunt like that! By the way, I didn't even notice there was any skateboarding in that shot until the comments mentioned it. But I appreciate how zealous the Taco Bell lawyers are, inserting that text just in case some kid is watching the backgrounds of commercials looking for unsafe things to attempt. I get the feeling eating a couple Cheesy Beefy Melts is way more problematic for your body than falling off a skateboard while wearing a helmet and kneepads.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is there a doctor in the pancake house?

The International House of Pancakes, not known for epic storytelling in their advertising, has disgorged a shockingly complex :15 spot. It's a tale of suspense, disappointment, elation, sumptuous climax, and denouement with a surprising medical twist. Take a look:

Setting: A doctor's waiting room.

Well, I'm hungry. Big beige room, dull, forgettable corporate art on the walls, medical journals strewn about, graphic anatomy posters. Man, you know what sounds good right now? French toast and a side of hash browns.

Nurse: Desmond!

Desmond and People in Waiting Room: (hold up forks)

It's like Paula Deen guest-directed an episode of ER. Obviously, this scene is unspeakably stupid. But the strangest thing to me is, why does everyone get excited when the nurse calls out Desmond's name? They're all hoping the nurse confuses them with Desmond?

Nurse: - the doctor will see you now.

Ahh, okay. The pancake doctor. Making more sense now.

Announcer: It's Fruit Crepe Fever.

People suffering from fruit crepe fever have come to the IHOP Clinic to see the waffle doctor. That is the concept of this commercial. Read it one more time. That is the motherhumping concept of this commercial. Think of all the people who had to see this ad before it saw air time -- ad agency people, IHOP people, film production people, actors, actresses, Desmond, media buying people, lawyers, general pancake practitioners. No one, not even a quality control person, said "Wait a second, this commercial is like Luis Bunuel-absurd" or "This makes me embarrassed to be alive" or "People will sue IHOP when their eyes fall out after watching this."

NOTE: For purposes of this close-reading of IHOP's ad, I'm ignoring the mispronunciation of "crepe." CRAPE is, sadly, the accepted Americanized way to pronounce "crepe," as seen, for instance, in the GE Cafe Range "webisode," so I'm not going to bother harping on it.

Announcer: Sweet cream cheese, luscious fruit and delectable crepes

It bothers me when ads editorialize like this, especially food ads. Why can't you say "Cream cheese, fruit and golden crepes" or something less salesman-like? The audience can ascertain that the fruit is luscious and the crepes delectable from your presentation of them in the video. Just be sensible, and let your viewers think for themselves for a while...

Aw, fuck it --

"Jaw-droppingly delicious, extra-thick creamy cream cheese, tongue-strokingly flavorful, mouth-gushing, ambrosia-like fruit, all wrapped up in a bacchanalian, syrup-drunk, tooth-ramming crepe orgy."

Announcer: Served with all your favorites, only at IHOP. (Desmond's temperature is checked by the IHOP waitress/doctor and nurse.)

So this man's medical treatment by the aforementioned "doctor" is a pile of fruit and cream cheese crepes, a breakfast plate of hash browns, eggs, and three kinds of meat (bacon, ham and sausage), a pot of coffee, a jug of OJ, and a pitcher of water, presumably all to himself. Doesn't it go beyond just stupid to downright wrong to even suggest that a trip to IHOP might be medically beneficial? I probably don't need to convince you that that meal is a coronary, and that's a good thing -- because I have no nutritional info. For some reason, fast food companies are required to post things like fat, calories and the like for all of their products, but a company that claims it serves 700 million pancakes a year gets a free nutritional pass. Here I quote from

» Is nutritional information available?

IHOP offers a wide variety of food that should allow most people to choose a meal that suits their dietary needs. We do not maintain nutritional data on our food.

That is not right.

From what I can gather on other diet sites, one 2oz crepe, with no butter, syrup, sweet cream chesse or luscious fruit is 120 calories and 6 grams of fat. Now add in the other ingredients. Now multiply it by three. Now combine that with all the other food and drink they showed on Desmond's table. Now vomit.

There exist people out there in America who lack the resources to know how bad that meal is for them, because IHOP won't tell anyone. Because they do not maintain nutritional data on their food.

"Dear Acme Poison Co., is safety information available?"

"Acme Poison Co. offers a wide variety of poison that should allow most people to choose a poison that suits their safety needs. We do not maintain safety data on our poison."

Announcer: Come hungry, leave happy.

And remember, folks: a cream-filled pancake drenched-in-sugar a day keeps the doctor away!

One word.

[We finally found the ad online, so I've edited it into the post. It's only the longer, "Shyeah"-less version, sadly. - W.E.M.]

This commercial for the new Taco Bell Chili Cheese Nachos BellGrande that would have been otherwise unremarkable has one word that made me completely tune out. See if you can spot it.

Big Brother: It's time to teach you the rules.

Little Brother: Rules?

Big Brother: Shyeah! Always, ALWAYS get chili on your Nachos BellGrande.

Just embarrassing. Must be why they overdubbed it in the longer version of the commercial. But wait, here's the alternate dialogue:

Big Brother: (unnaturally high pitched) Yeah! (then, in a normal voice) One: Real men don't own lap dogs. Two: Never date girls with dragon tattoos. C: And this is the biggie- Always, ALWAYS get chili on your Nachos BellGrande.

If this was a bid for "relevance," F--. If this was a bid for "retro nostalgia" (for both Wayne's World and the doofus older brother in Home Alone, I guess) F---.

Get spyware! Get spyware! Get spyware! Get spyware!

You know, I'd really like to get a cartoon picture of myself that can represent me online while looking nothing like me at all. Where could I get such a thing?

Sweet! I can make it look nothing like me! Leather pants, "bling" (oh, Zwinky, you're so cool), maybe some red hair? Gosh, I can "be anyone!" In some stupid cartoon avatar. That I should apparently spend all day fucking around with.

Fake Online Avatar Guy 1: "Are the girls ready yet?"
Fake Online Avatar Guy 2: "Nah, they're gettin' zwinky with it."

"Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" was released ten years ago. We're well past the point where you can reference it, even in oblique fashion as here, and have any credibility whatsoever. (That was approximately three weeks after the song hit MTV.) And this ad wants to be cool, so what were they thinking? I guess a world in which "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" is still a hip reference is the same world where women hang out in their rooms changing the clothing on their virtual selves rather than go out with their boyfriends. And where those boyfriends are actually willing to tolerate such ridiculous behavior, rather than immediately going out to find smarter girlfriends.

Song: "Zwinkies are free and fun and hot!"

Well, they're certainly free. Sort of. What does that fine print say?

Fine Print: "Zwinky is free with download of toolbar."

Well, well, well. The catch. What toolbar is that? Oh, the MySearchWeb toolbar. Well, I'm sure there's nothing sinister about this at all. There's no way there could be anything money-making involved. I mean, this stuff is usually all philanthropic.

Oh, it isn't? Huh. That is shocking. I am shocked.

At best Zwinky runs ads on your computer. Even its backers will admit that. At worst it's spyware, tricking you into installing it by offering a "product" for nothing, and then sending data about your web habits back to its corporate masters. How do you think these guys afford ad space?

Spyware is bad enough when it sneaks itself onto your computer. But when it tricks you into installing it by making you think you're getting something cool out of the deal? That's just offensive. Frankly, I don't know why they allow these guys to buy ad space. Would you let some dude buy an ad for his pyramid scheme? "Hey folks, I'm Crazy Carl, and if you want to be rich, send a dollar to me and then buy one of these ads! Tell your friends - I'm on Channel 37 every morning at 4:30!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

This Commercial Contains No Arsenic

When the only thing you have to say about your product is what is doesn't contain, you have a marketing problem:

Scene: (Guys singing a drinking song in squeaky high-pitched voices and swilling fictional "Beck's with Helium.")

Voiceover: We could have put strange things in our beer, but we didn't.

High-pitched voices are hilarious to people over the age of 21, no question about that. But this is an interesting concept; the idea of stuff your product doesn't have. Why haven't other companies used this in their commercials?

Apple: We could have put minced garlic inside our iPod Nanos, but we didn't.

Ford: We could have made our pick-ups out of styrofoam, but we didn't.

Coca-Cola: We could have called our cola "Pepsi," but we didn't.

GE: We could have made watchable commercials, but we didn't.

Voiceover: Beck's -- choosing to use only 4 all-natural ingredients for over 125 years.

Nice. It's a good thing they put this in their ad, because Beck's is the only do-gooder who uses natural ingredients. Hey Budweiser! PWNED! Beck's is on to your little game and all that chemical waste you pump into your beers! You hillbillies probably use something disgusting like, uh, chicken hearts or something in your beer! Nasty, dude, just nas - wait, I'm being told there's not actually any chicken hearts, or for that matter, any artificial ingredients involved in Budweiser. Well, try doing it for 125 years, assholes!.... oooohhhh, shit... It's apparently been 131.

Well, how about fellow European brewer Heineken? What's in your beer, you big fakers. You nerdy Dutch chemists with your genetically-modified tulips and your -- oh, wait, what? You're using water, malted barley, hops and yeast to brew your beer? Well, whatever, Beck's only uses FOUR, dude! Four ingredi - oh wait, that is only four ingredients....

I wonder how the Beer Drinker demographic crosses over into the All-Natural Foods demographic, anyway.

The lesson here is not to advertise your product by what it isn't. The title of this post refers to an old adage from Ye Olde Ad Man David Ogilvy that you should avoid using negatives in your ads (his book used to be obligatory reading material in college marketing classes.) The danger is that the consumer could miss the negative altogether -- in Ogilvy's example, if you're a salt company and your headline is "Our salt contains no arsenic," people perusing a magazine or flipping through channels could read it as "This salt contains arsenic." And in Ogilvy's time, you got a lot more of the consumer's attention, because there was a lot less advertising out there.

Just think about what you're competing with now -- talking about what your product isn't will confuse people when you've only got a tiny fraction of their attention. Best case scenario, your consumers will get a little laugh. Worst case, your audience will think you're selling something you're not.

Now why can't I find that new Beck's with Helium at the liquor store...

Spot the hidden message!

The message of any given deodorant ad is "This product will get you laid." See if you can spot the subtle ways in which Old Spice has chosen to deliver this information:

Woman: "I waited too long to try an Old Spice man."


Woman: "The Old Spice man performs great."


Woman: "Plus he's really long-lasting."


What's with the horse in this ad? The guy appears to be checking it out while the woman is talking. And then there's that uncomfortable neighing at the end. Was Mr. Hands an Old Spice man, too?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rich Hall must be rolling around in his grave

Hey, remember Sniglets? You know, "words that should be in the dictionary, but aren't?" I can't tell if Comcast is hoping you do or hoping you don't:

Oh man, Comcast. Let me see if I can identify all the reasons this commercial is absolutely retarded:

1) It fails to get to the point for the first 23 seconds of a 30 second ad. Instead, we get treated to a discussion of "cankles" - also a Sniglet of sorts! - and a guy looking annoyed because, you know, women and the way they talk on the phone to other women right when something manly like a big movie explosion is about to happen.

2) It becomes approximately the 45,372,986th ad in history to use a ludicrously broad stereotype of one sex or the other for laughs. (I'm sorry, "laffs.")

3) It suggests that the ability to use a TV and phone at the same time is somehow a feature that is only made possible by Comcast service. Here are some other things besides the Comcast Triple Play that I'm pretty sure will get the "entertainment + communication" job done, however:

* DVD player, cell phone
* VCR, rotary phone
* Betamax, tin cans with a string between them
* Zoopraxiscope, Aldis lamp

Those wacky females! Always tapping away on the telegraph while I'm attempting to watch the latest Edison short! Worse still, the pause button won't be invented for nearly a century! I'm never going to find out whether the moon gets that rocket out of its face or not.

4) The ad was clearly written by someone with a minimal grasp of the rules of English. Let's take a look at what's on that definition screen:

Phoruption (phorup•shen) v.
1. Pausing an On Demand movie to take a phone call.

The only problem One of the many problems, but the most glaring when it comes to the fact that the entire commercial is building itself around this faux dictionary definition, is that "phoruption," if it were a real word, would not be a verb. The obvious basis for this is the word "interruption," which, in case you didn't pass third grade, is a fucking noun. Then, of course, the definition is worded as if for a verb. Would it have been that hard to make this "phorupting" instead? What about this was difficult? Don't college graduates work in advertising?

Oddly, this may be the least obnoxious ad of the three I've seen in this campaign, if only because they don't try to actually have the actors work the fake word into conversation as though it were some interesting new bit of slang.

Haw haw! We crammed the three products we offer into one awkward word that's so long and clunky no one would ever, ever use it in real life! We're geniuses! Note that in this ad, they don't even list a part of speech, like they couldn't figure out what it was supposed to be and were unwilling to risk a wrong guess. Maybe the slightly smarter people at the agency worked on that one.

Please also note the Youtube username that posted these clips: "comcastslanguage." These aren't just goofy one-offs. They would seriously love it if people started using these fake, stupid-sounding, unfunny and unnecessary words to describe the wholly mundane activities in which they can partake due to - unusually! - having a television, computer, and phone in their house. Maybe we should coin a new word to describe such awkward attempts at hipness. I'd say it's a tossup between "lamebarrassing" and "stupathetarded."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Barista not included

Commercials for appliances tend to suck. Perhaps it's because you're glorifying something that most people don't want to have to think about, or maybe the technical jargon makes them sound stilted and dull. Whatever the reason, General Electric's latest offering is just another foul addition pinched into the toilet of major appliance marketing.

Here is a national TV spot for their new Cafe line. Oh, "Cafe"! Sophisticated.....

You know what the first thing is that I look for when I enter a cafe? The kind of appliances they have. It just makes sense. Do you want the milk for your skim latte to come out of a 30 year-old Magic Chef refrigerator? I think not. Appliances are key components of cafes, and they're the number one thing everyone notices each and every time we go into our neighborhood coffee shop.

Man: (resigned) It's your turn.

Totally unoriginal opening and a cheap dramatic device that only serves to tell the audience that a recurring event is about to take place. Off to a good start.

Woman: (to a huge group of people in her kitchen) I don't know who you people are, but it's 12:30.

Come on, people. 12:30? And you're using the appliances in my kitchen as though this were some kind of bistro or coffee shop or, I dunno, cafe? That's insane. Breaking into my home and staying until 11:00? Fine. 11:30, I can understand. 12:00, you're pushing it a little. And 12:30, well, that's just rude.

Voiceover: The new Cafe line of appliances from GE. Bring the warm feeling of an authentic cafe into your own home.

Was this line written for a different commercial? The whole premise of this commercial is that you don't want a cafe in your own home, however authentic it is. That woman was not "warmed," she was pissed off, and as well she should be, that a crowd of people were running a freaking cafe in her kitchen.

Also, the warm feeling that people get when they're in a cafe? That doesn't come from the appliances! In fact, I've never noticed an appliance at any point during any visit to a cafe.

Woman: (to musician) Show's over, let's go.

See, it's funny because he's got a harmonica. Right? This is the part where we laugh!

Okay, so they're stretching big time with the "Cafe" name, and the commercial is unforgivably stupid and confused. At least it ends there. At least they didn't go out and shoot some uber-fake attempts at "viral" marketing. At least they didn't pretend that people stand around and gas on about the awesome features of their applia -- oh wait, there's more from GE on YouTube? Oh, God....

Lunch time on the set of the new GE Cafe Range commercial...

Just a casual lunch time scene. Everyone's just riffin', talking like normal people. No scripts anywhere to be found. You know -- chillaxin'. Making some good old home cookin' on these bitchin' new appliances from a little up-and-coming company called General Electric. Never heard of them? Not surprised. They're pretty avant-garde. Kind of a fringe company, a David among Goliaths, the little multi-multi-billion dollar, Dow Jones Industrial Average-component corporation that could.

Man (or, Kevin, apparently): Whatcha cooking?
Woman (Melissa, I guess): This is the GE Cafe Range.

Did not answer his question. Instead, started talking about the product they just shot the commercial for.

"Melissa": Five burners. The middle one has this griddle where you can make like really cool stuff like crepes almondine.

Dude, you know, like cool stuff like EFFETE GOURMET DISH X. Or you can, like, rock the oven with some super fun recipes like PASTRY CHEF DESSERT Z.

"Melissa": And the lower oven is just about, I think like, bigger than a cubic foot?

Oh my God, she's right! How could she have known that so precisely? "Oh, the Power Boil burner? I dunno, maybe it has, like, maybe, just like, around 18,000 BTU and 140 degree simmer? Silly goose! (giggles)"

But seriously, "apricot quail"? Come off it, GE. This is some seriously fake shit. This is not selling anybody on anything.

To sum up, what we have here is a poorly-conceived commercial that barely even shows the appliances GE is selling, paired with some viral marketing that would make infomercial directors blush. And altogether it only cost like, probably, $10 million. Brilliant.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some leftover foie gras roulades with fig compote to put back into my new bottom-mount, double-door Frigidaire stainless steel refrigerator. What? It's a just a late night snack that I make all the time. Big deal.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A man in the kitchen? What is this, Opposite Day?

Watch enough family-oriented fast food commercials and the endlessly repetitive world of advertising will drill two things into your head: men can't cook, and they'll always cover this up by ordering fast food.

Older daughter: "Dad's making dinner?"
Younger daughter: [scoffs disgustedly]

Dad's making dinner? Oh no. Sweet merciful crap. God, why have you forsaken us? You see, our father is a staggering incompetent, incapable of even the most rudimentary culinary achievements, such as boiling water. Men, huh? Am I right, ladies?

Wife: "Oh, it'll be fine! Maybe."

Say, question: if the entire rest of the family has such little confidence in Dad's cooking skills, why do they leave him in charge of it?

Kids: "Yes! No way! Wow!" etc.

No way? No way??? "Holy shit, this is unbelievable! Pizza, here in our house! I thought a feast of such staggering proportions - not one but two pizzas, breadsticks, two liters of soda - was available only to the richest Americans, but now I discover that our family can also live the life of Riley! Thanks, Dad! Thanks, Pizza Hut!"

Husband: "Who's the man?"

Let me just check "use of severely dated catchphrase that has moved into unironic use by middle-aged white men and therefore should immediately be retired" off my list of Ten Trademark Signs You're Watching a Shitty Commercial.

Wife: "I love you!"

Wait until you see the four false starts at meatloaf he left in the kitchen for you to clean up. Because men can't cook! Wa ha ha! They earn their wives' love by having pizza delivered!

Announcer: "Pizza Hut's Family Value Meal is easy!"

"Forget the significantly healthier meal you could put together at half the price! Call now and we'll throw in a couple Doughy Fat-Starch Balls for just $1.99!"

Dad: "Who says I can't cook?"

A host of lazy, hackneyed, unfunny ads like this one.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wait, what's down there in that tiny print?

Fine print in commercials is usually pretty useless. "Do not attempt at home." "Professional driver on closed course." Pretty standard stuff, which I imagine most people glaze over at this point. Maybe that's why GlaxoSmithKline thought they could sneak this one through.

That Veramyst sounds like a great product. It's going to relieve my allergies. I'm just a layman, so I don't know exactly how it's doing that, but I mean, surely the sophisticated scientists at GlaxoSmithKline know what they're doing.

Wait. What did that fine print say? Down there at the bottom?

Hmm. That seems pretty standard. I don't think that was what I saw... keep going...

No, that's a pretty standard disclaimer. I'm just not sure what...

Wait! Freeze it right there!

What? Seriously, what the fuck kind of disclaimer is that? You have no idea how it alleviates allergies, it just does? That's supposed to be good enough? I don't even understand how this got approved by the FDA. Do you just go in there, tell them you've come up with this new drug that cures cancer by harnessing the magic of unicorns and pixies, and boom, overnight millionaire? Because if so, I think tomorrow I'm going to be "developing some miraculous new medicines," if you know what I'm saying.*

The best part about this commercial is that they had to put this fine print up because the announcer actually is telling you how Veramyst is purported to work. He claims, "Veramyst is the kind of medicine that works on a whole range of chemicals that lead to your allergy symptoms." Note the ridiculously vague language there, of course. The kind of medicine? A whole range of chemicals? I can hardly wait for the scandal caused when ten people die and it turns out that due to insufficient funds, the clinical trial was actually conducted in a high school chem class. Not the AP or honors classes, either. Level three.

*putting Tic Tacs into prescription bottles labeled "fixaidsia"