Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That never happened, did it

So, US Cellular. You've got a minute long spot to work with. Would you like to say anything about your product? Or do you just want to bury us in annoying quirks and sappy bullshit for 60 seconds?

If you think this is about the seventeenth commercial you've seen in the past year which uses "one person passes on something positive to another" as its premise, you're right. And it's not any less annoyingly utilized here.

[The first 12 seconds of the ad are people riding the bus and escalators without smiling]

God forbid that the commute, probably the least enjoyable part of anyone's day, be spent doing something other than juggling and watching dogs put on a Punch and Judy play. Although I did see an ostrich doing chin-ups at the bus stop the other day and I almost cracked a smile. But then I didn't because I have Sprint.

[Quirky string-plucking indicates a lightening of mood. This one dude gets a call and smiles, and the world smiles with him for some reason.]

You know what usually perks me up when I'm in a bad mood? Watching some jackass smile unrealistically broadly while making his public phone call. Fuck this guy.

[Then there is a Royal Scots guard playing the drums at a stop light, which makes sense, and then a fucking building smiles using its window shades.]

Announcer: "Who says the world isn't a pretty great place?"

What kind of terrifying nightmare scenario are we living in where it's considered great for entire buildings to come to life and grin at me?

Announcer: "Maybe those people just need to look a little closer."

The things that I see, looking closely at this commercial: some douche riding a bike and pretending it has a steering wheel (I'd suggest a helmet, by the way); a couple of annoying dipshits turning 360 degrees in the middle of the sidewalk; an entire crowd of people giving peace signs and touching hands on the escalator. I assure you that none of these things would make me think, "What a great world I live in!" They would probably make me think, "Oh, did I forget that they started the 'One City, One Mescaline' program today?"

Announcer: "Because if you really look, you'll see a place that is good and kind."

The kind of good, kind place where little kids walk the city streets dressed like teddy bears, chaperoned only by slightly older kids in rainbow socks. Seriously, who dropped acid before filming this?

Announcer: "A place where a smile can change everything."


[Some asshole dances on an unfinished bridge.]

Hooray! What a wonderful, adorable, cutesy-poo world we live in! I smiled and some fucker I don't care about danced on a bridge. Big fucking shit, US Cellular.

Announcer: "That's why we do more than just connect calls... we believe in connecting people."

Verizon will only let you buy one of their phones if you can prove you're a cyborg. Alltel is working on exclusively cornering the ungulate market. Sprint recently acquired ShellPhones, the mobile service designed for hermit crabs.

Announcer: "US Cellular. Believe in something better."

"When you use our phones, your calls are transported on a pillow of rainbows to a cell tower made of red rope licorice, and a unicorn switchboard operator sends them down the Yellow Brick Road to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where they're shot out of an ice cream cannon by a leprechaun and a fairy princess, directly into your friend's ear."

Honestly. A minute of tiresome quirks to make the point that your phones... are phones? Are you fucking kidding? Not one word about service, or plans, or calling area, or signal strength, or anything other than this fake, mawkish tripe.

"US Cellular: Believe in annoying, undifferentiating bullshit."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Flame on

We're a little behind on this one, but I didn't realize until just now that there was actually an ad for this monstrosity.

You see this, you think "joke." Everyone did. And yet the fragrance was apparently real, so say columns in the LA Times and Daily Mirror. A body spray that smells like hamburgers. Truly we are living in a ridiculous time.

And yet the existence of the body spray itself is not what creeps me out, at least not when compared to this ad. If I made a list of Advertising Spokespeople I Least Wanted to See Shirtless, it would look something like this:

5. Wilford Brimley for Quaker Oats and/or diabetes prevention
4. The Burger King
3. Chef Boyardee
2. Any of the Raisin Bran Crunch guys
1. Clara Peller

The ad itself could be worse. Burger King clearly wants the viewer to guess whether or not this is a joke, and really the fragrance seems to have been so hard to find that it might as well have been a joke for most people. On that level I think it works. But shirtless King? Please don't ever do that again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Dew in the ointment

Hey. Mountain Dew. What have we said about not putting disgusting shit in ads for food products?

Okay, Mountain Dew is sort of gross on its own terms, but it's still something the public is expected to consume. It's not some sort of industrial solvent. So maybe going with the huge nasty splash of bug guts, I don't know, wasn't the way to get us all excited to drink your soda?

But what kills me about this commercial is the bizarre coda, in which Mountain Dew suddenly gets all defensive about their stupid ad:

Announcer [reading onscreen text]: "Drinking Mountain Dew Voltage will not actually electrify you. This was simply a metaphor, an admittedly weak metaphor, to suggest it is intense. We hope you enjoyed it but fully understand if you did not."

You know, if you have to apologize for the commercial you just ran, maybe you should have come up with another idea. Was there a pitch meeting where someone tossed out the bug guts idea, and half the room loved it but half the room thought it would be too gross? So then someone, the Henry Clay of advertising, stands up. "Gentlemen," he says, "I propose that we show the bug guts. But!" (Here he raises his voice slightly and holds up his hand to quiet the throng of anti-guts admen who have already begun to grumble their objections.) "But... I suggest that at the end, we admit that it was a shitty ad."

The admen look around at each other, unsure how to react.

"That's right," Henry says. "I understand that it goes against your every instinct, that it flies in the face of everything you've learned in your career. But we can have it both ways. We can get the laughs of the 15-year-old kids who think bug guts are hilarious. And we can also get grudging acceptance from the people who think that shit is nasty, by admitting that we know the ad we've just shown them was kind of terrible."

A wave of muttered acceptance sweeps the room. A triumphant smile crosses Henry's face.


That's the pre-credits sequence of the screenplay I'm writing, tentatively entitled The Voltage Spot. The rest of the film is 90 minutes of me finding out who green-lighted this shit, going to their houses and punching them in the junk.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 Super Bored Awards Preview

Super Bowl XLIII is coming up next week, and excitement's in the air. Football fans in Arizona are giddy with anticipation, Steelers fans are confident their team is going to continue its postseason success, and, most importantly, eager fans of corporate advertising are gearing up for the single biggest day in all of marketing. So we continue with our tradition of handing out our Ad Wizards Super Bored Awards to those commercials that instantly earn a place here in Ad Wizards history.

After Sunday's game, we'll be writing up our reactions to the Super Bowl commercials and handing out the awards. Here's a rundown of the 8 categories, and our picks for possible "winners":

Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad

Explanation: Why "Least Shitty" and not "Best" ad? Check out the descriptions of this year's spots, and tell me which of those commercials sound like something you'd want to watch. Exactly.

Prediction: I know I've ragged on car commercials a lot over the past year and a half, but Hyundai's spot with Yo-Yo Ma playing a classical piece on his cello sounds safe enough. Their new Assurance Program which "allows new-vehicle buyers or leasees to return cars for up to a year after purchase if they lose their income due to a job loss" sounds like a cool and relevant promotion. Predicting this award is all about choosing the least of many evils.

Most Overproduced Ad

Explanation: Super Bowl ads are expensive. Unfortunately, the way some companies respond to this is by going for a case of stimulus overload, throwing everything at the wall and seeing if something will stick in the public consciousness. Last year this award went to Sobe Life Water and their horrible dancing lizards ad, which attempted to combine Naomi Campbell (?), mediocre CGI, and several of the most pointless jokes you've ever seen into gold. Shockingly, it didn't work.

Prediction: Audi has brought in The Transporter's Jason Statham to do, well, exactly what he does in The Transporter - run around trying to get away from bad guys by driving a luxury car. Since I know this is a problem a lot of us have in real life, I'm sure this spot will resonate. What's that? He also flees bad guys through different eras? Well, I hope there are some hilarious wigs involved.

Worst Use of "Humor" Award

Explanation: Pretty self-explanatory, really. There are dozens of ads on TV each day that could win this award, but during the Super Bowl, when the stakes are raised, having a painfully unfunny ad really goes to another level of shittiness.

Prediction: It would be easy to call this one for Anheuser-Busch; we handed it to Bud Light last year and beer ads do tend to suck. But that seems like the coward's way out. Doritos is another possibility because they actually let the general public submit ads, but I'm leaning towards CareerBuilder, as its ad apparently features "a koala bear and a co-worker in a Speedo." You're already doubled over laughing, right?

The Carlos Mencia Book Prize for Most Egregious Use of B-List Celebrities

Explanation: Observe. Carlos Mencia fell off the map so rapidly, the joke in the name of this award is practically nonsense. Suffice it to say, this baby goes to the ad that shoe-horns in the silliest, biggest waste-of-money celebrity endorsement.

Prediction: AdAge doesn't list many celebrity appearances in this year's crop of ads, but I bet someone will surprise us. For now, we have to go with Coke Zero's tie-in with Troy Polamalu. Sure, he's a Steeler, and Pittsburgh is playing in the Super Bowl this year, but I reject the fact that he's that recognizable. Another consideration is that the Coke Zero spot will be produced by my personal favorite advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Flimsiest Pretense Award

Explanation: Some people out there think sex can sell anything. These people are called "hacks," and they control a vast amount of advertising. This award goes out to the most inappropriately-placed sex appeal, the most nonsensical naked lady, or the least intuitive pairing of a product with T&A (read: food & sex). If the past is any indication, there will be plenty of qualifying ads to choose from for this award.

Prediction: was the winner last year with its laughable "Danica Patrick unzips her jacket and almost shows her boobs" spot. We see no reason to predict any other company this year, because Danica Patrick is back, and she's even less relevant. Here's the 2009 :30 spot description: "'Shower,' the current front-runner, features Patrick in a shower with another woman as three college students control the women's movements from a computer keyboard."

What about seeing a not-that-hot race car driver in the shower makes me want to purchase a domain name for my web site?

Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award

Explanation: Again, fairly self-explanatory. Last year this went to SalesGenie, which allowed its CEO to write its ads and then used the worst-looking animation you've ever seen to get them on the air.

Prediction: As we mentioned earlier, Doritos is airing an ad that was created by the public; unless they have some ringers in there, the budget for this was probably about zero. Certainly a contender. If that's too easy, look to Teleflora, a flowers-delivery service that probably had to hold a bake sale just to raise the money to buy a 30-second spot.

SkyMall Championship Trophy

This award goes to the "worst overall attempt to sell a product," referring not so much to how bad the ad is as to how bad the specific pitch is. Last year this went to Planters for advertising its cashews by using an ugly woman's cleavage.

Well, that depends. Is eTrade going to show a baby throwing up again? If their "sneak peek outtakes" video is anything to go by, the eTrade pitch is going to focus on babies puking, swearing, or doing inappropriately sexual things. I started five online trading accounts in the 30 seconds since I watched that ad because of the obvious connection. Or I didn't, because what the fuck.

The Light/Miller Lite/Emerald Nuts Award for Worst Superbowl Ad

The worst ad shall embody the qualities of tastelessness, stupidity, over-production, boorishness and the overall indecipherability that become the very worst commercials. This should be the kind of advertisement that, upon viewing, makes you never want to purchase the product. The kind of commerical that is so shockingly bad it reduces sales, gets the CMO fired, and generally annoys America until it's pulled from the airwaves.

SoBe and their freaky lizard commercial won last year. And once again we're going to pick the same company to get our award. The AdAge blurb mentions a couple of important points about this year's SoBe commercial:
- It features the "popular" (?) SoBe lizards
- It will be 60 seconds of torture
- It will show both NFL stars and characters from the DreamWorks movie "Monsters vs. Aliens"
- The theme will be the ballet Swan Lake
- It has "Rhythmic Effects"

You've been warned. If you're going to attempt to watch the game, have a steady finger on that Mute button, keep a blindfold nearby, and place a cyanide tablet near you just in case everything backfires and you end up watching all 60 seconds of this commercial. Don't worry, we have your best interests in mind.


Last year the worst of the worst (outside of the Sobe spot) just didn't seem that egregrious. With the descriptions for 2009, you can't help but think we'll get some stand out offerings from advertisers this year. We may be in a recession, but that ain't stopping advertisers from putting on a really big, and really over-produced, show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's Pizza Hut's world, we just live in it

Have you eaten food recently? Was that food vaguely Italian? Be warned: you might have accidentally appeared in the next Pizza Hut commercial.

This is at least the second in Pizza Hut's series of ads in which they trick people into eating their food, the first being this one. Does the premise of this ad seem a little strange to you? That premise being "Our pizza was nasty and artificial, but now it's like, natural. Which means it's good." Doesn't this kind of make you feel bad for ever having ordered from Pizza Hut? "Jesus, did I really consume that disgusting shit?" I mean, "Now you're eating?" Only now am I eating? So, what was I doing the last time I had Pizza Hut? I guess I wasn't eating. I still know what I was doing three hours later, though.

Does "all-natural" pepperoni and sauce really constitute a "totally new way" to make pizza, by the way? It's not like the cheese is made from yak's milk or the pizza baked in a clay oven for six hours. It's pizza, but you made the sauce with like two different ingredients. I think that's worth some sort of Dateline exposé.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Whopper Virgins deflowered

About a month ago I posted about Burger King's new Whopper Virgins campaign. They were airing a teaser commercial that showed how they traveled to remote places (Thailand countryside, Greenland, Romania, etc.) and asked locals who have never eaten a burger whether they preferred a Whopper or a McDonald's Big Mac. Unsurprisingly, the initial spots incited unease and even anger -- which is what tends to happen when you use poor, isolated peoples as guinea pigs for your fast food products and then put them in your commercials rather than, you know, helping them not starve to death.

So the new ads are way toned down. Here's one example:

Announcer: This woman is a Whopper virgin.

The commercial I really wanted wasn't on YouTube, but it shows a Transylvanian farmer donning an amusing traditional outfit and tiny hat, and the voiceover asks him, "Was it good for you?" Ahh, unnecessary sexuality shoe-horned into a commercial for food. That could only be the hackish work of... Crispin Porter + Bogusky! (To summarize my feelings on that agency, just know that the authors of this site are probably not going to get jobs over there any time soon.)

At least there's no outright, creepy sexuality in this spot -- aside from calling a middle-aged Inuit woman a virgin of some kind.

She's never eaten a burger.

That reminds me. I need someone who doesn't know how to read to tell me if they like this blog or not. I'll publish the results at the top of the page next week.

Will she prefer the Whopper or the Big Mac?

The tension is killing me, Burger King! Just tell me, already, which burger did she like?! Will it possibly be the one you're promoting in this commercial?!?!!!?1111!?

Inuit Woman's translation: "I like this one."
Announcer: It appears she's got a taste for flame-broiled beef.

Well, that settles that! One out of one Inuit people who have no concept of burgers prefers the Whopper! Uh, McDonald's? Might as well close those 14,000 stores, my friends. You've been discredited.... all thanks to the crack research team over at Crispin Porter + Bogusky!

Of course all this didn't stop Crispin Porter from being voted agency of the year by Adweek. In their defense, yes, they won a ton of business this year -- including that huge Microsoft account with the confounding Bill Gates spot. On the other hand, give me a fucking break. Here's an exceprt from that article:

With the Gates-Seinfeld spots coming and going in a flash, it was widely assumed Microsoft pulled them early, in a tacit admission they had flopped. Not the case, says Rob Reilly, Crispin's co-ecd, who, along with co-chairman Alex Bogusky, led the creative pitch for the estimated $300 million Windows assignment in late 2007.

"The point of the Bill and Jerry stuff was to get people thinking about Microsoft in a different way," says Reilly. "So, when 'I'm a PC' came, you were ready for something different. It was always designed to be two weeks. It did exactly what it was supposed to do."

I'm sorry, what? You guys gave Seinfeld ten million dollars, remember? You wanted to pay him ten million just to use him in two commercials? And the result was "exactly" what it was supposed to be? Fuck off.

There's just so much bullshit with the attention whores at CP+B, and no one ever calls their work what it is -- vapid noise. Here's what they do for your brand -- they get publicity, at the expense of everything your brand stands for. Take that Whopper Virgins campaign -- loads of press. But was it good press? There simply is such a thing as bad publicity, especially when you're trying to sell products. Even the response from the normally sympathetic BK audience was tepid -- those commercials on YouTube were getting like 2.5 and 3 stars on average. With the grade inflation on YouTube that's like getting an F. I even saw one comment (not from me, I promise), that said "I'm done with Burger King."

Once again I have to ask -- when will marketers in America end their regrettable love affair with Crispin Porter?