Monday, December 31, 2007

All that yelling made me hungry

Crispin Porter + Bogusky is one of those too-cool-for-school ad shops that happens to be remarkably visible right now. Their clients are huge and well-advertised, so their work is difficult to ignore. Burger King, one of their biggest clients, has been a routine offender on this site, so it should come as no surprise that we think Crispin Porter + Bogusky should fuck off. If you'd like to read a nicely-written critique of the agency, check out this Slate article. If you'd like to look at their latest pile of total crapola on the airwaves, watch this video and read below:

Announcer: We stopped selling the Whopper for one day to see what would happen.

This is, for the record, actual footage of real people. Real people getting irked when they find out a fast food store has stopped selling their marquee product. Their reactions make sense, and it's obvious to predict what would happen. So why they bothered setting the commercial up as a faux science experiment is beyond me.

There are various embarrassing scenes of normal people yelling at the actors in this Burger King, most of which make everyone look insane. In the extended cut (I'm not going to bother linking to it since I don't want anyone to waste 7 minutes of their lives like I did), the people actually seem more reasonable and less bitchy. For instance, the lady who says "I want your manager" says "please" in the full version. So editing the commercial this way just makes people look like bigger idiots than they are -- a cheap shot by both Burger King and Crispin Porter.

Announcer: What happened was, people freaked.

Right, not shocking. This is what everybody expected (thanks for using the very adult word "freaked" by the way.) So what does this commercial tell us about Burger King? Well, they have something called the Whopper, and it's popular. So popular, in fact, that if you took it away, people would get kind of belligerent if you edited their reactions in a certain unfair, dickish way. Beyond that, all this says is the patently obvious.

What would happen if McDonald's took their Big Mac away? What would happen if the Coca-Cola Co. took Sprite away? What would happen if Crispin Porter + Bogusky took their Shitball Broadcast Commercial Department away? Is there a less interesting advertising concept than this?

In the extended version of this hidden camera bit, they have a scene where they put a McDonald's hamburger in the bag of someone who had ordered a Whopper. When the customer complains, the employee/actor says something about how BK couldn't have put that McDonald's hamburger in there because McDonald's (and Wendy's) fries their burgers, and Burger King only has flame broilers. Now that's interesting. That's differentiating. That might even be good enough to make a commercial out of. At the very least you could use that claim to set yourself apart. Instead, we get rough-hewn, dull advertising that's packaged like it's cutting edge. This is not unique. This is not creative. And for the record, seeing people freak out isn't exactly a universal appetite enhancer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Note to self: TiVo next NFL game

Say, did anyone get a chance to see that football game Saturday night? I can almost guarantee you did. Because if you owned a television and had it turned on, it would have been difficult not to see the Patriots-Giants game since it was playing on two network stations. And a cable station. Yes, the NFL made sure America was able to watch the Patriots' pursuit of a perfect season. They also made sure that America was able to watch several pieces of excrement disguised as commercials. Here, reproduced for your convenience, are two:

Blatant male chauvinism just sells, okay?

Scene: Diner customers sitting around giving the cable guy a hard time because his company doesn't carry the NFL Network.
Guy #1: Hey man, what's going on with the NFL Network? How do you still not have that channel?

Here's why: because they took games you used to be able to see for free on network television and made you pay for them. Some cable companies, like Time Warner, are resisting the $0.61 monthly charge that the NFL Network wants their customers to pay. I guess carrying like 8 live games a season and virtually no other worthwhile coverage aside from hour after hour of hilarious Rich Eisen commentary isn't the most compelling television package.

Cable Guy: Not my call. The brass says they can't charge people for channels they don't want.

How dare companies not shove a shitty product down consumers' throats and make them pay for it? This is still America, isn't it?

Guy #2: Channels they don't want! You think I want four channels just for women?

You said it! Finally something we can all agree on. Who needs women and their four stupid women-only TV channels? I could do without Oxygen and the Oprah SuperStation and The Menstruation Network. Just let me have regular, mass-appeal, non-gender-specific channels like Spike and Versus and family-centered stuff like that. Now give daddy back the remote.

Guy #2: I was in Korea.

Korean War veterans hate women's television. Especially the female veterans.

Guy #3: You can have those shopping channels back if you want.

You can take anything back that's historically female-oriented and in some small, unquantifiable way prevents me from watching football.

Waitress (aka Token Female): All I see is makeover shows and cage-fighting.

Have you seen the cage-fighting on C-SPAN2's Book TV? It's so crazy. All I can say is, David Sedaris may write like a fairy, but in the Doom Cage he is 130 pounds of twisted steel. Appointment viewing, okay?

Guy #4: How is cage-fighting more popular than the NFL?

Not more popular, it's just less of a maniacal corporate scheme to bilk football fans out of the rest of the money they're not spending on season tickets, jerseys, FatHeads and the like.

If properly executed, I suppose this could have been funny:

This is part of a series of ads where Coors Light drinkers ask NFL coaches various beer-related questions and are answered by responses from actual press conferences. The technique of interspersing actual interview footage with fake questions is not a new idea, and people like Stephen Colbert have used it successfully. These commercials, however, just fall flat.

The main problem for me is that coaches do not take questions from non-journalist frat guys holding beer cans at their press conferences. And these guys are pretty obnoxious about interrupting, too. If you're not familiar with former Cardinals coach Dennis Green's comments here, they refer to a humiliating last-minute loss to the 2006 Chicago Bears. Green basically lost it in the post-game press conference and had a well-documented melt-down. Naturally, he wanted to profit off of his shit fit:

Guy #1: Hey coach! Those guys just took off with all your cold, refreshing Coors Light!

Wait, what? Why would a coach have an amount of Coors Light sitting around the press room? And why do you have to force in "cold, refreshing" in such a painful way?

Guy #1: Who do they think they are?

Dennis Green: They are who we thought they were!

What bothers me here is the corny, forced set-up "question." Isn't there a team of copywriters somewhere who can come up with a decent way to execute this?

Guy #2: They are who you thought they were?... Okay, well, if you knew who they were, why didn't you stop them?

Green: We let 'em off the hook!

I guess that vaguely answers the guy's question. The commercials ends with another unfunny line while the fratty guys stand around awkwardly clutching their beers. The weird part is there are funnier parts of Green's press conference that weren't used in this commercial (i.e. "If you want to crown 'em, then crown their ass!"), but for some reason Coors Light prefers the weak, obnoxious comedy that's been the hallmark of this campaign for the last several years. Maybe coaches will start acting like morons just to get a spot in the next year's Coors Light commercials.

Week 17 is almost over. Playoffs are starting up. Advertisers are editing their foulest, most over-produced commercials as we speak. Who's excited for the SuperBowl?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hi, I think this commercial sucks

I have always hated the Mac vs. PC ads. The primary reason is that I find them unforgivably smug, but I'm also a PC user who hasn't been a fan of the Mac interface historically, so I've resisted criticizing them because I thought I might just come off as "kinda bitter PC-using guy." But at the risk of doing that, this ad is fucking retarded.

I'm okay - in an "annoyed by the ads, but at least seeing their effectiveness in conveying their message" kind of way - with a lot of the ads in this series. But this one just sucks. I don't care if Mac wants to make ads about "oh, peripherals are easier to use on a Mac" or "Macs don't get spyware and viruses" - they're still smug as all get-out, but at least they can be smug with some justification.

This ad, though? Not so much. I suppose it was just bad luck that Apple went with the Claymation gimmick right at the same time as Alltel - whose ads, frankly, look a lot better as Rankin/Bass parodies than does this one - so I won't give them any grief about being unoriginal (although parody, by its nature, is kind of unoriginal). My issue with this ad is that it's barely even an ad. Does it tell us anything about the Mac? No. Does it tell us why Macs are better than PCs? No. All it does is say, "Look what a dork PC is! Huh? Huh?" It's not a commercial for a Mac, it's a 30-second excuse for Mac owners to feel smug and cool. It's preaching to the converted. Basically, it's a total waste of money. Do you know what Mac's market share is? Less than 7%. Wow! Granted, that number has been growing in recent years... but it's grown all the way to 7%. Windows machines, meanwhile, are well over 90%. I think it's a little early for Apple to drop the "here's why Macs are better" campaign in exchange for a "PCs suck, haw haw" campaign, given that the latter is directed almost exclusively at people who are already Mac users and there just aren't that many of them.

I'm convinced that the only people who like ads like this are the people who already use the product and dislike the competition that's being mocked, so why do companies think ads like this are going to work? At least when Pepsi does it I can think, "Well, it's not like they have much to say about how much better their product is given that it tastes almost exactly the same." If the differences between Macs and PCs are enormous, maybe you want to highlight that. What happens when you make fun of PCs - and, by extension, their users - for being stupid and uncool is not that everyone using a PC goes, "Oh man! What was I thinking?" What happens is a lot of them get turned off by your message and resolve not to use Macs even when you point out the differences.

Mac market share has ticked up a little since this ad campaign started, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that has more to do with general Mac awareness and the fact that Apple makes other popular products (like the iPod) that get people into the Apple store and generally more into the brand. I really don't think anyone is seeing this ad and thinking, "Man, that guy representing the entire range of PCs is less cool than that Mac dude. Why am I not using a Mac right this very second?" Fucking say something about why your product is better. You know, like you do in your other ads, the ones that don't suck quite as much.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

She'll pretty much have to

It's the holiday season, which means it must be time for an overload of the two types of commercials I hate possibly more than any others: luxury car ads where people walk into their driveway to find a Lexus with a bow on it, and ads for diamonds which suggest that literally the only way to appropriately express love for your girlfriend or wife is to shower her in expensive jewelry.

(There are far, far more egregious examples of bad diamond jewelry advertising, but I've been having a hard time finding them online, so this will have to do.)

I know that you always want a gift to be a surprise, but could this guy really not have found a better time to deliver this present than at a traffic light? This is a holiday ad - what's wrong with setting it in a living room like a normal person would? Or, you know, somewhere where the resulting show of affection wouldn't bother other people? Maybe I'm crazy.

Mercifully, this ad doesn't go anywhere near the all-too-frequent trope in diamond advertising of suggesting that anything less than an enormous rock is virtually cause for divorce. But it certainly does suggest that (a) there is no present better than a diamond of some sort (it doesn't even matter what! Engagement ring? Perfect! Necklace? Great! Odd-looking circle pendant? Whatever, it has diamonds on it!) and (b) diamonds = love. Remember, this is the industry that brainwashed a generation of television viewers into thinking that an engagement ring should cost two months' salary. Because nothing says "I love you" like "I just compromised our future financial security by spending 17% of my entire year's wages on this one ring," right?

Just look at slogans like "Every kiss begins with Kay." I mean, how fucking despicable is that? "If you want her to love you, or at least to show it, diamonds to the rescue!" Or the "He went to Jared" ads where men are shamed not for failing to buy diamonds but for failing to buy diamonds that are awesome enough for the status-hungry women they're dating or married to. Recently I've heard radio ads in which a woman tells her husband that if he's going to buy her a diamond, he'd better make sure he talks to an expert. Diamonds: When it's no longer the thought that counts! And of course let's not forget that even though "a diamond is forever," it should apparently be replaced with a newer, more expensive model every couple of years. Diamonds: When saying "I love you" isn't good enough, give her the shiny, costly gift she can brag to her friends about. Sickening.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What happens in heaven stays in heaven

Criticizing a Las Vegas ad for being too base is like criticizing the wind for blowing - that's just the way things go. But even with the standards set about as low as possible, this just seems wrong somehow.

So... let me see if I get you, Vegas. You are aligning yourself with... Satan? That's really the way you want to play this? I know, the nickname is already Sin City, but this is significantly more explicit. The viewer is being encouraged to go to Las Vegas and behave there like Satan would. That's way beyond "Come to Las Vegas and have casual sex while lying about your real identity" like most of these ads, isn't it?

Of course what I think is more likely to upset people - and I can't say I'd blame them - is the angelic sanction of devilish behavior (and then some). I tend to snort derisively when right-wing Christians claim that things like "Happy Holidays" are a tacit attack on their faith, but an ad like this? I wouldn't fault anyone for calling it blasphemous, and in fact another version of it on YouTube does just that.

I'm not personally offended by this kind of thing, but really I just don't get it. What is the Las Vegas Tourism Board, or whoever specifically puts these ads out, hoping to achieve by assembling something so far over the edge? It's hard to imagine you're going to win more people over with such an ad than the large number you could potentially turn off - the United States is still overwhelmingly Christian and there are plenty of things to do in Vegas even if you're not into contracting gonorrhea. No one is watching this and thinking, "Oh man, dude, Vegas really stuck it to the Jesus freaks. Let's go there right now."

The very end of the ad is the worst part, and it doesn't even have anything to do with the Devil - frankly, it does offend me a little bit, and that's hard to do to someone who isn't a member of the religion you're mocking. The use of "I can get you in upstairs, I know a guy" is a double meaning - both a suggestion that the angel can get the women into an exclusive club (for which they might, perhaps, reward him?) and, of course, a reference to getting them into heaven. Put it together and the angel is offering eternal salvation for a blow job. We may need to get Martin Luther to nail 95 more theses to the door of the MGM Grand.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Christmas that almost wasn't but then was

As a non-Christian, I'm all for not having that religion shoved down my throat, but most of its holidays are so secularized these days that hearing about them on television doesn't exactly throw me into a tizzy. Don't tell that to the lawyers at Alltel.

Santa Claus: "This is the story of the holiday that almost didn't rock!"

Say, uh, which holiday would that be, Santa Claus? Wait, wait, don't tell me... Purim? No, I've got it: Greek Independence Day.

Santa Claus: "You see, Alltel Wireless has a great deal on the MOTOROKR and 50 free songs!"

Kudos to Alltel (and Campbell-Ewald, their agency) in this case; it's a good upfront use of branding before we get to the dopier parts of this ad.

Santa Claus: "But some naughty boys tried to stop Chad!"

Wait, who's Chad? Is he one of those Greek freedom fighters? Look, Alltel. You can't treat your spokesman as though he's some famous advertising character or assume the viewer has seen all your other stupid ads.

Verizon: "These phones really do rock."
Cingular/AT&T: "Too bad no one'll ever get one!"

Yeah, if Alltel were to go out of business, where would customers turn for phones that could also play music? Solid argument there. Can you see why the "big four" are so threatened? Alltel's at the crest of the wave! If only that translated into market share.

Santa Claus: "But they didn't get far!"

Competition getting you down? Why not rough them up a bit? I actually don't mind this Rankin/Bass parody that much because those old Christmas specials are majorly fucked up by modern standards (seriously, watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this year and tell me it's not totally insane), but seeing a reindeer puncture a tire with his antlers or an elf smashing a headlight with a candy cane is kind of creepy and off-putting, and really doesn't make me root for Santa and Chad even though I'm ostensibly supposed to be doing so.

Santa Claus: "And the holiday that almost didn't rock truly rocked!"

Hang on, I'm almost there... tip of my tongue... Tsagaan Sar? That's gotta be it.

In principle there's nothing wrong with the all-inclusive term "holidays" for the Christmas season, of course, since it encompasses Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and anything else in the general vicinity, and doesn't assume the religion of the viewer. But you can't do that and use Santa Claus - he may be a pretty secular figure these days but he's still associated exclusively with Christmas. You can't boot Christmas out of the conversation and then use only figures associated with that holiday - if you're going to do that, would it have been so hard to throw a menorah in there somewhere, or a dreidel, or something, for God's sake, so you don't end up with this ridiculous over-PC use of "holiday" when you just mean Christmas?

I guess Alltel makes up for it by giving Santa the most miscast Santa Claus voice in claymation history (it's even worse in this other spot). Santa is traditionally given a deeper register and speaks authoritatively, but here he just sounds like some random dude, and kind of oddly high at that. Why not just go all out and have Nathan Lane do the voice?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Red Bull gives you nightmares

Red Bull's ads have long bothered me. The off-putting animation style, the emphasis on sex as though they were Viagra ads, the potentially dangerous implication that the more Red Bull you drink, the more focused you'll be... the list goes on. This one, though? It's just kind of gross.

So, which part was your favorite? Was it:

* The visually-indicated dog lust?
* Once again, the suggestion that Red Bull is some sort of male enhancer?
* The least subtle erection reference in advertising history?
* The thought that a dog has been drinking can after can of a product that even humans shouldn't gulp down in such quantities?
* The idea that the small dog is apparently going to fly up and hover in mid-air so as to have sex with the large dog?
* The idea that a litter full of puppies is about to be forced to watch their parents have sex right in front of them?
* The fact that the only way the artist came up with to denote the large dog's femininity was to draw six pointy teats on her?
* Red Bull's insistence on spelling it "wiiings" in their official slogan?

Who can choose? Personally I feel bad for those puppies, since it looks like they get stuck watching Mom and Dad get it on almost constantly. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad thing if the dogs weren't vaguely anthropomorphized - note that Dad grabs the Red Bull like he has fingers. Perhaps all the energy drinks he's consumed have actually mutated him into the next stage of evolution.

I've often wondered how Red Bull gets away with these ads, though. It's not like there aren't ads that hint at sex on television all the time, but this one does way more than hint. It's probably not even the most egregious one in the series, but I can't find the video of the one where clothes drop into frame from the top of the screen and we hear various pleasured sounds. What the hell? Isn't Red Bull mostly consumed by college students cramming for finals? Why would anyone associate it with getting laid? Also, it tastes like fucking cough syrup. If I have to give Red Bull credit, it's for building up their brand to a point where people want to drink it even though, compared to most of its competitors, it kind of sucks.

But that doesn't make me any less baffled as to how an ad like this sells Red Bull. "Oh, well, if those dogs would use it as a marital aid..." Other ads in the series, where they at least give the "vitalizes body and mind" spiel - a gross exaggeration if ever there was one, but at least a claim about the product - make more sense. This one's just "Red Bull might help you fuck, if you're a dog, and if you take the 'wings' slogan seriously, which no one would." Great.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The shark, she is jumped

I apologize for the quality of this next commercial. Also, the person recording it shot their TV, so the video doesn't look that great.

I suppose something like this was inevitable; the Simpsons were doing commercial tie-ins within a year or two of their launch, and Family Guy has now been on the air for five or six seasons (inexplicably). But what is going on at Subway? You've got a new enormous sandwich, which I assume is probably not the best thing on your menu (although I rather conveniently can't find the nutrition facts on the Subway website). And who do you select to pitch this sandwich? A fat, lazy cartoon character - virtually the opposite of your target demographic. Hey, is it too late to get Jabba the Hutt to do a spot? "Peesha ya chee konah Subway Restaurants... ha ha ha..."

But wait! There's also a tie-in game! And a list of character bios! Including the favorite Subway sandwiches of all the major cast members! Because nothing makes me hungry for the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki like knowing it's the favorite sandwich of a wise-cracking talking dog. I also enjoy that they included the Herbert character in the cast bio section; naturally, no mention is made of the fact that the entire joke of that character is that he's a pedophile. Pedophiles love the roast beef sandwich! You'd think someone at Subway would actually have watched the show before approving the ad campaign.

I suppose with Family Guy prominently involved we could have done a lot worse. For example, it's amazing that the commercial didn't feature (a) Stewie shouting something about victory; (b) Lois saying "Pete-ahhh" in that nasally voice of hers; (c) Quagmire saying "Giggidy giggidy" and bobbing his head; (d) Peter fighting a chicken; or (e) a reference to Star Trek, Star Wars, Diff'rent Strokes, Knight Rider, and/or the Kool-Aid Man. In fact, this post contains more references to Star Wars than that ad did. Touché, Family Guy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bill NyQuil, the Pseudoscience Guy

NyQuil's scientific advisors are not doing their jobs. Or, more likely, don't exist.

Is it a little petty to go after NyQuil for an obvious joke that just happens to be of questionable scientific merit? Maybe. But then again, there are about a hundred other ways the joke could have been written that wouldn't have violated the fact that roosters' crowing is not based on simply seeing the sun. What's wrong with just saying "...before we got the rooster" or "...before the rooster moved into the bedroom" (as it apparently has)? Of course, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the people who made this ad think that roosters crow because they see the sun; it seems like a common bit of folk wisdom even though thinking about it for more than ten seconds should be enough to make anyone realize that it doesn't make a ton of sense (and if you actually own a farm, chances are you've noticed that roosters crow at various times, for various reasons).

The thing that always gets me about NyQuil ads is the way they kind of tiptoe around the fact that the main purpose of NyQuil is to knock your ass out. It'll be the best sleep you ever got with a cold because once the drug that's five times as powerful as morphine gets in your system, you'll be lucky if you don't wake up covered in your own urine. I'm not sure why they bother dancing around this as though it's not totally common knowledge at this point. No one's taking NyQuil and trying to go to work immediately after. Except perhaps for the people who made this ad.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Kia van Winkle

Did everyone at Kia's ad agency just come out of a 20-year coma?

I realize that Flashdance is still reasonably well-known, but it came out in 1983. That's nearly 25 years ago. Way to be relevant there, Kia. Also, is it me or is this really just kind of creepy? Would you buy a car from a frantically dancing salesperson who was pouring sweat? The whole "selling like he's never sold before" lyric is a little strange as well. Here's the thing, Kia: if I'm interested in buying a car from you, I don't really care how well your sales guy is doing at meeting his monthly quota. I'm interested in, you know, the car. Maybe you could have told me something about them besides their names? That might have been useful. Instead of the exotic dance moves from a quarter-century ago and the mailed-in song parody.

Maybe the problem is just that Kia has no idea what year it is. Check out this ad for Kia Fest '06:

Kia. Seriously. It is not 1984. I don't want to see Kia Fest '08 videos featuring breakdancing or some salesperson re-enacting the warehouse scene from Footloose, okay? It's the 21st century. Get with the program.