Monday, February 23, 2009

Money well flushed

Trashing a marketing campaign as a waste of resources is a pretty easy, even facile, argument in most businesses' cases. When it comes to financial services companies in the recessionary year of 2009, however, I think a strong case can be made. Especially when rotoscoping is involved. So, here's brokerage house Charles Schwab pretending like they understand (and weren't partly the cause of) your financial predicament:

Man: When I think of the mess we're in right now, it's just not right.

I love the vague generalizations throughout this ad about the recession. No one comes out and says "When I think about the fact that we're in a recession" or "When I think about how the Dow has lost half its value in less than two years." I get that they aren't buying commercial time to bum people out, but this just rings hollow to me.

Graphic: Last year over 225,000 people didn't just accept it.

"They pulled the money they were losing in their retirement funds and lost it with us instead."

Face it, unless Charles Schwab offers a money market account, anyone trading stocks with Schwab lost money. Everyone has lost money in the stock market, except Warren Buffet and like three other people. It wasn't just investment bankers losing that cash, it was regular people making trades online, too.

Woman: We had our whole retirement in place and then it just went boom. You know, just up in smoke.

Where was that retirement money that went "boom" invested? The stock market. Where does Charles Schwab want you to put it? The stock market. Ahh -- logic!

Graphic: They did something about it.

"It's so much more fun when you control where your money goes down the drain!"

Man: Well I'm still being nickled and dimed, you know, like I, like I haven't lost enough already.

To me, this is the only strong part of this commercial. Charles Schwab is a lot cheaper than most places if you want to be a hands-on investor. This is probably the biggest selling point for their business in this economy.

I'm not a financial guru in any way, but it strikes me as irresponsible to appeal to people's anger at the financial industry and convince them to reinvest by themselves. This is a wildly volatile market, and if most investment firms can't read it, why would normal, non I-banker people fare any better?

Woman: One of my friends are (sic) still kind of having a hard time, and instead of dwelling on the past, I think it's time to move forward.

Utterly vapid. Truly, you have to wonder why this particular, meaningless comment was worth rotoscoping. And using up 5 seconds of air time. Also, only "one" of your friends is having a hard time? And you somehow came out totally unscathed from the financial turmoil? Maybe we should be investing with you, and not Charles Schwab.


"DUMP YOUR MONEY INTO THE STOCK MARKET RIGHT NOW! IT CAN'T GET ANY LOWER!! Unless of course it does, in which case, we totally ran an ad telling you to buy bonds."

I wonder if there's a publicly traded rotoscoping studio I could buy some shares of....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Keep dusting it off

It's fitting that this spot talks about antiques, given that AT&T has now dragged out the same joke so many times that they've forgotten to use it in a context that even makes sense.

What? Look, I get the joke here - "ha ha, these minutes are so old!" - but it was never more than mildly amusing to begin with, and now it's just tiresome. In addition, the garage sale context is nonsense, because you can't sell your old minutes to other people. That isn't how phones work. I don't think AT&T is trying to suggest that you can... but would it have been difficult to make another ad that used a premise that, you know, works? I guess they couldn't have gotten away with showing the kid wiping his ass with the old minutes, but I'm pretty sure there are other possibilities.

Negative bonus points for a cringe-inducing reference to the current economic climate in terms so generic that AT&T will no doubt pull this one out of the archives for each of the next five recessions. Maybe their next ad can cover every last base for the next century:

Mom: Junior, what are you doing?
Kid: Aw, Mom, I'm just getting rid of these old credits for my personal communication device!
Mom: Don't you dare, Mister - we exchanged something for those old credits and with AT&T, we can continue to use them on our communication devices even now!

Delightfully non-specific. And then you can always just edit in a final scene that refers to whichever alien civilization is invading at the time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Their flower power is no match for my glower power

I've said this before, but be wary of attacking competitors when your own product is hardly the pinnacle of necessity. Right, Teleflora?

See, Teleflora, here's the thing. When you're talking about what flowers in a box might "say"? What they're "saying" in reality would already be determined before the person even opened the box. Because if there's actually a problem with getting flowers in a box, the script for this commercial would not start like this:

Gary: "Hey Diane, flowers came for you!"
Bald Guy: "Oooh, flowers for Diane!"
Woman: "I never get flowers!"

They sound pretty impressed, in spite of the fact that they can all see that the flowers are in a box. Therefore the rest of this commercial (which we'll get to in a minute) is actually completely meaningless. I would probably have started it more like this:

Gary: "Hey Diane, flowers came for you!"
Bald Guy: "Oooh, flowers for - wait a second, are those in a box?"
Woman: "I don't know about this..."

And then, on to the rest of this nonsense.

Flowers: "Oh no! Look at the mug on you, Diane! You're a train wreck! That's why he only sent a box of flowers."

Why would the box of flowers insult itself? Whatever. Look. If he bothered to send flowers at all, there's no way he actually thinks this. For the sake of argument, let's say that sending a box of flowers is, in fact, totally lame. What woman would receive said flowers and decide that he thinks she's ugly?

Flowers: "Go home to your romance novels and your fat, smelly cat!"
Voiceover: "This Valentine's Day, don't send flowers in a box - you never know what they'll say."

They'll say, "I cared only just enough to send a trite gift that required effectively no thought on my part." Here's the problem where Teleflora is concerned: so would any flowers. Because sending someone flowers is a lame gift. I realize it's traditional, but let's not pretend that it takes any more thought than, "Hey, maybe I should get her some flowers! I'm so getting laid tonight." It's just like a box of chocolates - sure, you might like getting a box of chocolates on Valentine's Day, but no one in their right mind really thinks of that as some grand romantic gesture.

Flowers: "No one wants to see you naked!"

I'm a little surprised they got away with this. But, again, I call bullshit. If he sent flowers at all, and there wasn't a card included that said "It's over," then he wants to see her naked. I'm confused as to what perspective this ad is even taking. No guy who's sending flowers in a box is doing so thinking, "That hideous hag only deserves a box of flowers," and no woman receiving them is thinking, "He thinks I'm a hideous hag who only deserves a box of flowers!" Does Teleflora think they're actually going to convince people that they should be thinking that? I'm guessing it isn't going to work.

Voiceover: "Teleflora's bouquets are hand-arranged, hand-delivered in a keepsake vase, not in a box."

"Keepsake"? Seriously? Whatever. Anyway, who gives a shit if they're "hand-arranged," honestly? Unless your boyfriend hand-arranged them himself, ladies, I don't see any compelling reason to give him more credit for calling one flower company instead of another. I guess it's nice that you don't have to scrounge up your own vase, but let's face it, these things will be dead in a week no matter what you do with them. Maybe you could put them in your "keepsake" Star Wars collectible glasses.

Voiceover: "That's the Teleflora difference."

If you actually do a little research on the interwebs, it turns out that sending flowers in a vase is pretty much standard practice. In fact, I Googled "flowers in a box," and after a wholesale florist site, the next two hits were links to videos of this very commercial. 1-800-FLOWERS, FTD and ProFlowers, the top three hits on a search for "flowers," all include vases, and 1-800-FLOWERS and FTD both tout that a local florist will hand-arrange the flowers for you. Who is Teleflora even attacking? It's like that ad Pepsi ran during the Super Bowl:

Teen 1: "Yo, man, I'm thirsty."
Teen 2: "Me too. Hey, let's crack open a frosty can of Coke with Anthrax!"
Teen 1: "That's what I'm talkin' about!!!"
[they open the can]
Talking Can: "Whoa, you two are a bunch of losers! Coke with Anthrax? Enjoy dying of anthrax!"
Teen 1: "Quick, recycle it!"
Voiceover: "Coke with anthrax in it - that isn't refreshing! Drink Pepsi and refresh everything!"

Oh, wait, that didn't happen, because only Teleflora is dumb enough to make an ad suggesting that you don't buy a product that none of their competitors is trying to sell you.

Gary: "I'd like to see-"
Diane: "Gary!"

"Don't send sexual harassment lawsuit papers in a box - you never know what message you'll send! Teller and Flores, Attorneys at Law will hand-deliver your sexual harassment suit and even give that sleazy coworker a withering look as they do so! That's the Teller and Flores difference."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quarter Pounder with Lawsuit

McDonald's has launched a website to remind us of one of their longtime products, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. There's a picture of a grease-covered burger, and some different "Lessons in Confidence" you can click on. Would you care to know how a cheeseburger with 70% of your saturated fat intake and 49% of your sodium can help you fight a bear, waterski among piranhas and win a slam dunk contest? Oh, well then read on, friends!

How to deal with a North American black bear
When you encounter a black bear in the wild, it's important to muster the confidence of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese

Sometimes I think this site should be called "Who Are the Corporate Attorneys Who Approved THAT One?" I mean, come on -- this is the company that gets sued when someone spills coffee on themselves in the drive thru. And loses. And here they are actively encouraging people to fight a bear. And fight one using a fucking cheeseburger. That is one potentially expensive not-that-funny joke, McDonald's. How much do you want to bet they get some nasty phonecalls from parents on this one?

1. Stand your ground. Running away makes you fun to chase. Plus, black bears usually bluff when attacking. Your bluff just needs to be better.

Jesus, this is amateurish. I realize McDonald's isn't trying to be a wilderness guide, but since I've hiked in bear country before, I feel it necessary to link to an informative bear safety site.

2. Fight back. When a black bear sees that their (sic) opponent is ready to go for broke, they'll ease up. But you've got to really sell it. During the whoopin', don't forget to stop and realize how killer it is that you're totally schooling a black bear.

Uh huh. Because a human would win in a fight against a charging black bear in the wild. I don't care how many QPCs you had for breakfast, you are not winning a fight against a bear.

Also, what 22-year old faux hipster wrote this shit? This is like late-90's high school yearbook-level copywriting. "Whoopin'"? "Schooling"? "Killer"? Maybe Diablo Cody is moonlighting for McDonald's. Wait! This just inspired me to come up with the best, totally non-outdated new slogan for McDonald's:

"I'm McLovin' it!"

3. Enjoy a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. You deserve it.

I love the pencil graphic of the guy all beaten up eating a Quarter Pounder. Is there a more appetizing image that someone who just got mauled by a wild animal?

There are some other painfully over-written "lessons in confidence." Because, apparently, the inanimate Quarter Pounder with Cheese is somehow endowed with personality traits. Check out this one:

How to buy a big ticket item with only change
Do you have what it takes to make a purchase with nothing but full metal coinage? The Quarter Pounder with Cheese does.

Okay, A. No, it does not. Since it's a piece of fried beef smothered in fake cheese on a 2-cent bun. And B. "Full metal coinage?" Who are you, Jack Black? This is the work of a hack. This kind of copywriting was shat out by someone at 10pm on a Sunday night after polishing off a seventh Smirnoff Ice, and then turned in on Monday morning, riddled with typos, 5 minutes before it had to be sent to the client. This is soul-crushing copywriting. Whoever wrote this lacks human emotion.

1. Act natural. You know you're carrying around a pillowcase full of change, you don't need any nasty looks to tell you that. So just hold your head high and go with it.

2. Don't take no for an answer. No matter how much they complain or how many people are in line behind you, don't back down. It's real money. They have to accept it.

Funny thing. No they don't. I love when shit is just factually inaccurate. Isn't that the best when people don't even spend two minutes to look something up?

So, not only would a person paying with a pillowcase full of change in front of a huge line of people be a complete dick, but s/he would also be legally wrong to force the retailer to accept the coins. Oh well, at least this "Lesson in Confidence" is laugh-til-you-cry hilarious, right?

3. Drop a bag of coin on a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. You're worth it.

Oh my gosh, you guys. Let's all totally do this!!! Go into a McD tomorrow and be like, "I'm paying for this Quarter Pounder with 400 pennies." Or, if you wanted to talk like the hack who wrote this website, you could be all, "Wassup, peeps!! Hook me up with a fly QPC. Now let me lay down some sweet Lincoln heads for y'all! 23 Skidoo!"

Wouldn't you love to be the person at McDonald's getting the calls from the franchisees after this? "I just had four assholes pay for their Quarter Pounders with a jar of change! And they made me take it because that retarded McDonald's web site told them to!!" Seems like a smart move on McDonald's part.

Oh, there are more lessons, but they're all equally moronic. Owning a slam dunk contest ("Dunk like whoa"), fleecing a car salesman, becoming a reality TV star. Some of these are so awful they're almost depressing. But I think the last part of the "waterskiing with piranhas" lesson sums up the essence of the whole goofy campaign:

You're awesome. You know what else is awesome? A Quarter Pounder with Cheese. So, get one.

"Awesome. Awesome. Product name. Call-to-action."

Did you just fall asleep reading that? If you did, you missed what is perhaps the laziest, clumsiest, hackiest line of copy ever written. For anything. Congratulations, McDonald's.

Oh, and if you're a recently laid-off lawyer -- you may want to look into positions at McDonald's. I bet they'll be hiring soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I once got busy in a Burger King dining room

If you read this blog regularly, you'll know by now that ads by the agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky - specifically their ads for Burger King - have a tendency to get our goat. Why? Well, there's just something about an agency that seems to focus on every unpalatable aspect of television advertising - and seems to refrain from actually selling a product whenever possible - that really gets under our skin. Unsurprisingly, their Whopper Junior ads are not what you would call an exception to this rule.

Yes, that is all the Whopper Junior ads in one go. I had hoped only to write about one in particular, which I saw on TV the other night and which profoundly disgusted me, but I couldn't find it individually and hey, it's not like the other ads in the series were any better. Let's go.

Whopper Dad: "You can't sell yourself for a buck, Junior."
Whopper Jr.: "Why not?"
Whopper Dad: "Because as long as you live in my house, you'll live by my rules, you got it?"
[Mom sighs heavily while the daughter disinterestedly pokes at her cell phone]
Whopper Jr.: "I thought Burger King was the home of the Whopper."
Whopper Dad: "Oh, what is that supposed to mean?"
Whopper Jr.: "All my life you've been off being America's favorite burger, and now you want to come home and be Dad? No!"
Whopper Dad: "You get back here! Get back here!"
Whopper Jr.: "I wish I'd never been broiled!"

Mmmm. Nothing makes me hungrier for a hamburger than, uh, a nice awkward family tiff. (The 15-second version, which airs much more frequently, conveniently edits out almost all of that nonsense.) Also, does it seem odd that the "you are a talking hamburger instead of a person" gene appears to be resident on the Y chromosome? How exactly did this work that a hamburger and a woman had a male hamburger kid and a female human kid? (Ridiculous nitpicking? Maybe. But how hard would it have been to scrounge up two more hamburger costumes?) And shame on this ad for making me think about hamburger sex (although - spoiler alert - it only gets worse from here).

Also, the "America's Favorite Burger" claim dates back to a 1999 survey in which 33% of 700 respondents said the Whopper was their favorite burger. 700 people? Is that enough to proclaim yourself America's Favorite Burger when McDonald's leads in market share? Whatever. Next ad.

Whopper Jr.: "I'm just saying that with me, you always have it your way."
Girl: [giggles]
Whopper Jr.: "'Cause girl, I am made to order."
[Whopper Dad bursts in]
Whopper Jr.: "What the- Dad! Don't you knock?"
Whopper Dad: "What's going on? First you're selling yourself for a buck, and now this?"

Was that girl going to devour him, or have sex with him? And did he sell himself to her for a buck? Whopper Jr.: adding some prostitution to the BK value menu.

Whopper Jr.: "Stop treating me like I'm on the kids menu!"
Whopper Dad: "You get your buns downstairs right now!"
Whopper Jr.: "Eat me."

Oh, the hilarious plays on words that result when you are a hamburger and also kind of a person. Next.

Whopper Dad: "Junior, now that you're selling yourself for a buck, you're going to meet a lot of girls."

For the record, this was the one that I found really, really gross. Also, another allusion to male prostitution here, I'd say.

Whopper Jr.: "What?"
Whopper Dad: "When a Whopper loves a woman, they... boy... mix up their... sauces and stuff..."
Whopper Jr.: "Oh, Dad, please, stop!"

My sentiments exactly. What? They mix up their sauces? That imagery is revolting. What is this woman doing with that hamburger? "Ooh, the Whopper - I just love to cram it in my hoo-ha." If they had only done the earlier ad where you see that the female members of the family are humans, I would have picked the nit as I did and not really thought about it again. Now they're actively making us think about how a Whopper would have sex with a woman. Which, again, is in no way making me hungry. It's making me want to be sure I never, ever have mayonnaise on a hamburger again.

Whopper Dad: "Here, take this."
Whopper Jr.: "What's this?"
Whopper Dad: "It's an extra napkin, put it in your wallet."

No. Jesus Christ, no. If there's one thing even worse than trying to describe how hamburgers go about fucking human females, it's the idea that a napkin also constitutes some form of hamburger birth control. "Quick, wipe off that ketchup before it goes anywhere!" Hey, new slogan idea, BK: "The Whopper Jr.: It'll knock up your mouth!" You know, to be really sure that no one ever wants to order another one.

Whopper Jr.: "Yeah, thanks, 'Dr. Love.'"
Whopper Dad: "Don't mention it."

"By the way, they give those out for free at Planned Burgerhood."

This, to me, is just lazy advertising at its finest. It goes for cheap, vaguely shocking jokes while virtually ignoring the product it's trying to sell (what food product couldn't you have plugged into that ad?). And honestly, respond if you disagree, but how does this kind of weird food-having-sex association make anyone want that food? Remember a few years ago when some clueless admen on the McDonald's account gave us the "I'd Hit It!" banner ads that got laughed off the web? How is this different? How is it not much, much worse? Yes, CPB is clearly aware of what they're doing, whereas the extent to which McDonald's was out of touch was pretty hilarious on its own terms. But the association of food with sex is so much more direct and that much more distasteful in the BK ads. We've talked about this a number of times on this site and it doesn't get any less creepy the more I see it happen. CPB wants brand awareness and thinks hilarious burger-condom jokes are the way to go. I say brand awareness is no good when I am forever put off the brand because of your nasty burger-condom jokes. Maybe I'm crazy.

Okay, last one.

Whopper Dad: "Listen, I don't care if you want to sell yourself for less, but a buck?"
Whopper Jr.: "People are psyched about this, Dad! You'd know that if you'd pull your head out of your bun."
Whopper Dad: "Watch it, burger boy."

And another hilarious "burger things that sound like human things" joke rears its head. Given that there were only four ads in this sequence, what does it say for CPB's creativity that they managed to have fully half of them end with jokes in which "bun" is used in reference to its human meaning? Couldn't think of anywhere else to go with that?

That slogan also kills me: "Bringing some attitude to the BK value menu." What? Attitude? It's a hamburger. It's a hamburger, in fact, that is identical to its larger version in every way but size. That's "attitude"? I'd buy this tack with the Angry Whopper or something, but come on. Also, as I've pointed out before, I'm not sure how portraying a menu item as an obnoxious teenager is supposed to sell hamburgers. Still, if they hadn't forced me to think about burger sex, all might have been forgiven. Instead I'm just left wondering what Crispin Porter won't do in the name of being "edgy" or whatever the fuck.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mistress Joyce's Ford Dealership

We try to stay away from local ads on this site, mostly because it's just not fair to pick on the little guys when there's so much bad advertising being created by Fortune 500 companies. But sometimes a commercial comes along that's so laughably stupid that we just can't stay away. Check out the link below (and you can probably guess which local market this is for based on the accent alone):

Click here for video (embedding disabled)

Maureen Joyce: At Joyce Ford, accessories come free of charge.

Note: In the following commercial, "accessories" apparently means grown men.

Hey ladies, how's this for an incentive. If you're looking for something sporty, how 'bout takin' Johnny
(shows cheesy white guy in a Mustang) for a ride?

So a car dealership is forced to do double duty by selling both cars and male prostitutes. Damn this recession! And it's a sad day indeed when a gigolo airlifted out of a John Hughes movie can't even afford a shirt to match his stylin' grey/black tracksuit.

Maureen Joyce: Want something big and tough? Then you want Bruce (shows bearded white guy in an Explorer SUV).

When I think "big and tough," I think of a man with the name of "Bruce." Does Maureen Joyce realize that she's referring to her cars by the made-up names of average looking male actors? This seems like a curious approach in the worst car sales environment in decades.

Maureen Joyce: How about something environmentally friendly? How 'bout Mario (shows skinny black guy in a hybrid)?

If a blind person were listening to this ad, he would be really confused right about now. I fail to see what's environmentally friendly about Mario. Because he has glasses? Because he looks generally put-together? Because he gives us an awkward thumbs-up? Why pick the one non-white actor in your commercial to play the environmentally friendly guy?

Maureen Joyce: My type is practical and reliable, so I prefer James (shows douchey college guy in a Fusion).

First of all, Mario looks way more like the embodiment of practicality and reliability. Secondly, James is a little young for you, Mrs. Joyce.

Maureen Joyce: No matter what your style, Joyce Ford has something for you.

"Unless your style is women. We don't carry that. You'll have to go across the street to the Toyota dealership -- they sell cars to straight men and lesbians."

Joyce Ford - The Better Half of Car Buying

Is there a sentence in the English language that better demonstrates the stereotypical Chicago accent than this slogan?

Maureen Joyce really wants an all-female clientele, seems like. I understand having the angle of "buy from me because I know how women want to buy cars," but to have a commercial like this that just makes men want to throw up? Maybe not the best approach, especially in this economy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The annoyance lasts an extra long time

You know, Kellogg's, giving one of your most famous products a brand makeover would have been the perfect excuse to rid yourselves of the most annoying pitchmen you've got. But apparently you think their continuous idiocy and complaints about half of the product are good for business?

Guys who camp out in front of a store just to get a few boxes of cereal? And Michael Phelps is the one who gets dropped for smoking pot?

Obnoxious Loser #1: "Yeah, looks like we're gonna be the first to buy new Raisin Bran Extra."
Obnoxious Loser #2: "Surprised nobody else is here for the big debut of the almonds."

I'm guessing that anyone else who even considered it pulled up in front of the store, saw these guys out there, and instantly reevaluated what they were doing with their life.

Obnoxious Loser #3: "Oh, guys, I can see it! They're setting it up right now."

I believe this is the first time this actor has been given a line that doesn't involve a stupid non-sequitur at the end of the ad. Congrats, guy.

Obnoxious Loser #1: "Is it true? Are there really gonna be cranberries?"
Obnoxious Loser #3: "Yup, I can see the boxes, and there's definitely yogurty clusters in there too."

Wait a second - it's been well-established that what OL1 likes best about Raisin Bran Crunch is the raisins. But now he's a cranberry obsessive? Maybe he just really loves dried fruit.

Okay, hang onto your socks, people. This is about to get hilarious.

[A woman enters the store, glancing at the trio as she walks past. OL3 starts banging on the window.]

OL3: "Hey... you're cutting the line!"

[Variations on this continue for fully 15 seconds.]

I was prepared to say that this ad was not nearly as bad as the other Raisin Bran Crunch ads that we've made fun of on this site. It doesn't feature any truly stupid jokes and doesn't have any of the pitchmen suggesting that one full aspect of the product is inedible. But my God, really? If you're going to make a commercial a minute long, you need to have a good reason to do so. But 15 seconds, a full 25% of the ad, is devoted to nothing more than this idiot banging on the glass like he's at a hockey game?

OL2: "I think this is a 24-hour store."

[Our three brain surgeons rush into the store.]

And once again, your pitchmen are shown to be idiots, since the "24 Hour Savings" banner can be seen within the ad's first five seconds. Also, given that they went with this joke, why was the woman not shown buying a box of the Raisin Bran Extra? That seems like a much funnier payoff to me, and fits with OL3's "Noooooo!" But as far as I can tell she doesn't even pick up a box. That's all you could think to do with that gag? Really?

OL3: "They sell it in stores!"

That's your tagline? Um, okay. Hilarious. Remember the Raisin Bran Crunch ad where they made fun of the guys for coming up with super lame taglines like "You'll really enjoy this cereal?" Now they're actually using the taglines with no more than a slight whiff of irony, and they're even worse than the ones suggested since at least "You'll really enjoy this cereal" is a positive testimonial for the product. "They sell it in stores" is right up there with these other, rejected taglines:

"Raisin Bran Extra: It comes in a box!"

"Raisin Bran Extra: Technically, the cereal is inside a plastic bag inside a box."

"Raisin Bran Extra: You know how it can sometimes be annoying to open that plastic bag, like you're pulling and it won't open right, and then you accidentally tear it halfway down the side and it won't quite pour right? Doesn't that suck? Anyway, that's the kind of bag it's in."

"Raisin Bran Extra: The capital of New Zealand is Wellington."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tonton Macoutes of the Mind

Thanks to an anonymous commenter who reminded me that I'd wanted to write something about this stupid ad campaign.

Gee, that's... dumb. I'm reminded of those awful Hyundai radio ads, which unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) I've never found in a linkable online form, starring the "Smartest Man in the World" whose two main characteristics are knowing trivial bits of information that a lot of people know, and being an annoying shill for Hyundai. Do you get the feeling that the people who wrote this ad have never looked up anything online in their lives?

Graphic: "Knowledge Generation Bureau... KGB."

For instance, a quick Google search of KGB would have reminded everyone that the first returning hit is the Wikipedia article on, you know, the fucking KGB, the Soviet intelligence service-cum-secret police which operated prior to the fall of Communism. I find it hard to believe that this KGB Mark II is really hoping that people make that kind of connection - the KGB isn't necessarily that popular an entity - so what are they going for? That tiny frisson of recognition that people get when they know they've heard something before but can't remember where? "Say, the KGB... where do I know that name from? Well, I know the name creates terrifying associations of power abuses in my mind... I wonder if they can tell me how many pounds of rice China exports on a yearly basis?"

Boss Guy: "We expect the best, Miss."
Recruit: "I am the best."

Boss Guy: "Well, we'll see. What's the capital of New Zealand?"

Not difficult. I know that without looking it up (Wellington), but either way, typing "capital of New Zealand" into Google gets you not only the answer but also Wellington's latitude and longitude, and that's before all the links that you can visit for more information.

Boss Guy: "The 17th Fibonacci number."
Recruit: "1597."

Also easily answerable via a Google search, although what are the odds you would ever need to know this on the spur of the moment?

[Setting: a pub in the east end of London. Two rough-looking working-class types, each represented by a half-finished pint at the bar, are staring each other down.]

Tough 1: The 17th Fibonacci number's 1597, you wanker!
Tough 2: Bollocks! It's 987 and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise!

[They scuffle. The bartender quickly fires off a text to KGB, which returns him the answer.]

Bartender: Lads! Lads! It's 1597.
Tough 2: Blimey, I feel a right git.
Tough 1: No hard feelings, mate.
Bartender: KGB, you've done it again!

And scene.

Boss Guy: "Who was Queen Elizabeth's husband?"

Elizabeth I (the queen he turns out to be asking about) was pretty famously known as the "Virgin Queen," to the point that an entire American colony, Virginia, was named for her. Again, I didn't need to look this up. The point here is not to brag about how much trivia I know - although honestly I am pretty good with trivia - but to point out that in a commercial like this, maybe stuff that isn't ridiculously common knowledge or findable via a three-second Google search should be used. It's the same reason those Hyundai ads were so dumb - am I really supposed to be impressed that the smartest man in the world knows the capital of New Zealand? Shouldn't the actual smartest man in the world be out trying to solve the credit crisis? At least KGB makes minimal bones about the fact that they only exist to answer trivia questions.

Boss Guy: "Define 'bootylicious.'"

Not really a word. And really not something I would imagine anyone needs defined. This was clearly an attempt at being funny and/or hip; fail.

Boss Guy: "Who sang 'Sugar, Sugar?'"

Again... not really that hard. Also easily found via a 0.5-second Google search.

Boss Guy: "Best cheesesteak in Philly."
Recruit: "Geno's."

At least answering that question would be a service other than answering mere trivia. Google also performs this service - while it doesn't just spit out a single answer, it certainly gives you plenty of webpage resources, including Citysearch Philadelphia's top ten, in which Geno's is #8.

Boss Guy: "How many hamsters, standing on each other's shoulders, would it take to reach the moon?"
Recruit: "What kind of hamsters, Syrian or Russian?"
Boss Guy: "Well, let's say Syrian."
Recruit: [after a moment] "2,282,764,988. And a half."

"You're hired based on that impressive display of answering a question no one would ever, ever ask in a million years!"

Boss Guy: "Which is which?"
Recruit: "The one on the right is Shine-Ola."

Am I supposed to text them pictures of my shiny surfaces for identification? What?

Boss Guy: "You'll do. Welcome to the Knowledge Generation Bureau."

Please explain what knowledge you are generating. Knowledge Retrieval Bureau? This just proves that they, for some reason, really, really wanted to call themselves the KGB. I would have gone with "Somebody Texts and Somebody Informs," or Stasi for short. What? It's just this cool-sounding abbreviation I thought of.

So KGB is, I guess, this service that provides information. Google with a narrower focus? Or Google with a way less effective mode of delivery? You be the judge.

Boss Guy: "Welcome to the Knowledge Generation Bureau."

"In case you forgot where you had just been hired in the 15 seconds it took us to walk down here. And that seems like a nitpicky criticism except the name was on the screen just now, so for whose benefit was I saying this?"

Stats: "You wanna know the only NFL player to score two safeties in one game?"
Boss Guy: "That's Stats. You need a RBI, or ERA, or a PPG - he'll get it to you PDQ."

Haw. A sequence of abbreviations - classic. Never seen that one before.

Boss Guy: "Over there's Trivia - good man to know on a pop quiz."

Most pop quizzes do not let you consult websites or text messages. Also, what percentage of KGB's mission statement as far as we've seen so far doesn't involve trivia?

Boss Guy: "That lady there is Mechanics, behind her is Quantum Mechanics."

"The people who wrote this ad don't know anything about either of those areas, but they sounded smart. Let's just move on."

Boss Guy: "The man with the contemplative air is Philosophy."

So wait - can I text these guys and get answers to profound, mystical questions? Shit! I'll be right back.

Okay, you guys. Apparently the meaning of life is "You do not have enough credits to send this message." Makes you think, right? In a way, none of us have enough credits...

Boss Guy: "And back there are the twins, Movie Times and Train Times."


Boss Guy: "And this will be your new partner."
Partner: "Hey."
Recruit: "Hey."
Partner: "Wanna grapple? It's a cross between-"
Recruit: "A grape and an apple. I know. And it's pronounced 'grape-el.'"

You're kind of a bitch, aren't you? Jesus. Also, writers of this ad, a grapple is not "a cross between a grape and an apple." It's a regular apple that's had grape flavor injected into it. You would know this if you had spent literally ten seconds Googling it.

Recruit: "Who's your friend?"
Partner: "Him? He works on the imponderables."
Recruit: "Like the Hodge conjecture?"

Congrats on actually working something difficult into one of your ads. Although given that there is a $1,000,000 prize associated with proving the Hodge conjecture, I'm guessing no one is going to be texting me the answer to that one.

Partner: "No, the really hard stuff, like what does a woman want."
Boss Guy: "Poor sap."
[Recruit attempts to stare a hole in Partner's forehead.]

Ah ha ha ha ha! Oh my GOD! I see no one who works for this bureau specializes in "jokes under four hundred years old."

Graphic: "Got a question? Text 542542 (KGBKGB)."

Seriously, have you ever seen anything more inessential? Why on earth would anyone need to wait for a texted answer when Google exists? I guess maybe if you're not near a computer and you just have to know right away, or however long it would take to get a reply, but I don't often have pressing quantum mechanics questions strike me as I'm walking down the street.

Here's a question I got - what job are this woman and her partner (who by the way seems way too dumb to be working for this company) going to be doing? Every essential position appears to be filled, particularly Trivia, clearly her only forte.

One more.

Guy: "Does anyone have the winning lottery numbers?"
Weird Guy: "Tonight's or next week's?"

Can I text in and get next week's lottery numbers? I take it all back, KGB is awesome.

Guy 2: "Is the Museum of Art-"
Weird Guy: "No, it's closed on Tuesdays."

Why are these people working here if the only solution they have to getting a simple question with a single, fact-based answer is to yell it out randomly?

Guy 3: "Where's the nearest-"
Weird Guy: "On Bleecker and West 4th."

Fun New York City fact: Bleecker Street and West 4th Street do not intersect; in fact, they mostly run parallel to each other. This took me 30 seconds to look up.

Guy 4: "What is a dendrobiu-"
Weird Guy: "It's a type of orchid."
Woman: "What was the name of the si-"
Weird Guy [singing annoyingly]: "Charles in Charge!"
Recruit: "Wow, that guy's amazing."

Amazingly annoying.

Recruit: "What's his-"
Weird Guy: "Horoscopes, ma'am, at your service."

"Actually, I was going to ask 'What's his fucking problem,' but thanks anyway."

At this point I'm beginning to doubt if the people who wrote these ads know anything about anything. Do you conceptualize horoscopes as:

(a) Vague, fortune-like predictions along the lines of "You will have a change at work this week" that could easily "come true" because they're so generic, or

(b) Factual information delivered by a psychic, teleportation-capable guru holding all the knowledge of the world

Although, come to think of it, this was my horoscope today:

"A strain appears in one of your relationships when the theme song to Charles in Charge becomes a bone of contention. Mend the rift with a trip to the art museum (although not on Tuesdays, when it's closed) or a bouquet of Dendrobium kingianum. Also, here are next week's winning lottery numbers: 5, 12, 29, 34, 48 and 7 on the mega ball."

Seriously, what the fuck. This is not what horoscopes are, to say nothing of the fact that most people could not possibly give a shit about horoscopes and anyone who really cares about them isn't going to need to obtain them via text message. Other than that, this service is extremely useful.

I guess I can see where KGB could have its uses, assuming it works properly, but in any normal situation it's no more valuable - and factoring in time concerns, less - than sitting in front of a computer that's hooked up to the internet. All that and these commercials are annoying, stupid, and give just the barest hint of what this service might be good for (unless it really doesn't do any more than these three ads suggest, in which case it's virtually useless). And it has a terrible name that somebody already used. Wait, I've got another one they can use instead: "Red Guards of Knowledge." No?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This ad stinks

Get it, stinks?

Pepe Le Pew. The most romantic character in all of media. The first thing I think of when I think of Valentine's Day. I mean, right?

Assuming you even remember Pepe Le Pew at all - given that his heyday was in the 1950s, although obviously Warner Brothers cartoons of that era have been fairly ubiquitous over the past half-century - you might remember that he really isn't a romantic character. He's a would-be romantic character, a stalker and borderline sexual predator who holds no attraction to his prospective conquests in all but a couple of cartoons. AT&T takes this even further by giving him dialogue that barely rises above the level of "conversation heart." Is "I MEES U" (would he really misspell words just to match his accent?) the best we can do here? Is that really driving anyone wild with passion? "You miss me? Take me now, you Gallic stud!"

AT&T also seems to be taking pointers from US Cellular.

Voice-over: "Only AT&T lets you connect this Valentine's Day..."

Are all other carriers going into some sort of freeze I don't know about?

Voice-over: "...with the new Samsung Propel."

A phone that can text message? Be still my heart! Anything else distinguishing about it we need to know? No? Okay. Show me some more amorous cartoon cats. Yes, the phone has a sliding QWERTY keyboard, which is shown though not mentioned out loud, but there are plenty of phones these days that offer this feature. Also, if the big deal is that the phone has a QWERTY keyboard, why is Pepe stuck typing the absolute most basic of text messages? "I miss u" might have been the first text message ever sent from a phone. Do you need a QWERTY keyboard for that?

Also, I don't know if you've heard, but Propel is already a product. Have we really run out of words that soon?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bored Awards II

In the mid-eighties, the marketing world pulled one of the great snow jobs on the American television audience. They somehow convinced people not to change the channel during Super Bowl commercial breaks. They told us that commercials aren't just 30-second sales pitches, but entertainment, something to look forward to, the "best" "part" "of" the "Super Bowl." It's kind of like how financial services companies somehow convinced us over the last 15 years that our 401(k)s were totally safe, and that the money was not at all entirely fictional and tied up in worthless housing debt. I guess Americans are just suckers for big, faceless corporate bullshit.

Super Bowl commercials, as you should know by now, are poor entertainment. If you watched the Super Bowl for the ads and not for the game, I'm sorry. You should have watched a movie, read a book, spent time with your loved ones - anything else, really. And not only were the commercials not entertaining, many of them didn't even succeed in their actual job of, y'know, selling something. Here, then, are our picks for the worst commercials, by category, of Super Bowl XLIII.

The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad

Windier: All right, it's questionable how well this ad really "sells" Coke. But there are only a few companies that can actually get away with making ads almost wholly off-message, and Coke is one of them. It's a nicely-designed ad, the music works well, and the butterflies faking the Coke bottle is priceless. And if just one Coke drinker is educated about the serious risks of insect-related beverage theft, it was worth the millions the ad cost to create and broadcast.

Most Overproduced Ad
Winner: SoBe Life Water

Quivering: Oh, SoBe. So predictable. You won this coveted award last year, and you did not disappoint in 2009.

If you think you know what's going on in this commercial, you are probably either seven years old, really high, or the person who directed the ad. It starts out with the stale joke of football players doing ballet, then clumsily segues into poorly-animated lizards, then shoehorns in characters from the upcoming Dreamworks movie Monsters vs. Aliens, and then - okay, I have no idea what happens after that, because I was on the floor twitching by then. It's stimulation overload. And totally painful and creepy. Maybe the whole thing paid off if you wore 3-D glasses (for the version that aired last night). Somehow, I doubt that.

(Note from Windier: It did not. And my eyes were on fire by the time it was over.)

Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award

Windier: Man, Vizio TVs must be inexpensive. How else can you explain an ad like this, which screams "We are absolutely blowing our entire budget on the cost of airing the ad, so we need to be able to make it for $7.50 and a box of cookies"? The whole thing looks like it was created in PowerPoint for a shareholders' meeting. Throw in a clunky joke involving the economy and the actual specs of the TV zooming past at light speed and you've got yourself an ad that manages to live up to both aspects of this award. And who chose that moving background? I think I'm going to be sick.

Worst Use of "Humor" Award

Quivering: This one really chaps my hide. They manipulate you with babies, and then use goofy humor to make light of the economic plight that they helped create.

Baby: "You know, it's times like these that eTrade can really help you replan your investments."

Oh, yeah, sure. Just go open an online trading account and jump right into the stock market! Hey, just because professionals with years of experience and Ivy League MBAs lost a third or more of their wealth in one year doesn't mean you won't come up a big winner! And you may lose a few bucks now and then, or possibly your retirement, savings and house. But so what?! At least those babies were funny, right? (As we all know, tired references to songs that stopped being popular 20 years ago = comedy gold.)

Dishonorable Mention: Doritos

We would be remiss if we did not call out Doritos for some really bad commercials this year. This one in particular was part of the consumer-generated "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign, where people sent in their own Doritos ads. I wish I could say that regular people were better at making ads than many of the hacks who do it for a living, but, well, maybe not. This commercial combines hamfisted acting with cheap crotch-hitting jokes. I'll bet you anything that better ads were submitted, but the Doritos people just wouldn't know a good TV spot if it were hurled at their junk from point-blank range. Hey, I just got an idea for a follow-up commercial!

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

Windier: I'll admit that this nonsense is an improvement over the normal Cash4Gold ads, which mostly feature elderly women with facial expressions suggesting that a positive testimonial is the only thing that will get the gun pointed away from their heads. On the other hand, are we sure they aren't doing mostly the same thing here? Hammer and Ed McMahon have both had significant financial troubles in recent years, and while they might be satisfied customers as a result, I'm guessing Cash4Gold was able to use this fact to hire them. Why else would anyone recognizable be caught dead in a Cash4Gold ad? (Negative bonus points for forcing Ed McMahon to deliver a bastardized version of his most famous catchphrase.)

Flimsiest Pretense Award

Quivering: Danica Patrick wasn't hot last year. And a year of not winning the Indy 500 didn't make her suddenly hotter (or a better actress). The internet domain name purveyor won this award in 2008, and we predicted it again this year based on the spot-on Ad Age description. Let's just say there wasn't an easier bet to be had on Sunday.

Let me try to capture the strategy behind this commercial:

Step 1: Objectify women;
Step 2: Make men look like primates;
Step 3: Use a sports celebrity completely out of context;
Step 4: Sell internet domain names.

Rock solid, don't you think?

Dishonorable Mention: Castrol

Inter-species makeout session alert! Man, I can't believe how hilarious that commercial is, or how much it makes me want to buy motor oil. Right after I finish vomiting.

(Side note to Castrol: Chimpanzees are not monkeys. They are apes.)

SkyMall Championship Trophy

Quivering: Let me preface this by saying: I get it. I get what Pepsi is doing - the whole "we're appealing to the young, hip demographic before they get too addicted to Coke products" thing. The new billboard/print campaign is interesting, and the logo looks a lot like Obama's campaign logo - I respect what they're trying to do.

But this ad is just an odd way to sell your product, and that's what the SkyMall award is for. First of all, the implication that is the heir to Bob Dylan is a little odd. I know he had the Obama song, but let's not rush into this. Let him record a few more seminal albums before we refer to him as the voice of this generation or whatever. Also, it takes a damn long time to get to the point of this ad, or before Pepsi is mentioned. Not sure how a minute-long hodgepodge of random pop culture symbols (VWs, Gumby, Shrek, etc.) sells me on a can of cola, either.

(Addendum from Windier: If the guy whose group was responsible for "My Humps" is the next Dylan, then watch this: "Dip dop a ringy dingy doo!" I'm the next Charles Dickens, motherfuckers.)

Worst Super Bowl Ad of 2008

Windier: What makes this ad the worst of its Super Bowl class? What gives it the enduring shittiness to ring through the ages as the most painful example of advertising from a night filled with painful examples of advertising? Why do I hate it so, so much?

First of all, it uses the by-now hackneyed "list" premise, which should have been permanently retired after the classic FedEx spot from a few years ago. More importantly, it combines the list idea with droning, tiresome, and eventually quite painful repetition. How much footage did they even have to shoot for that minute-long ad, 25 seconds' worth? You say economical, I say really fucking annoying. It doesn't help that none of those things are more than vaguely funny. Woman yelling? Not funny. Guy getting called a dummy? Certainly not laugh-out-loud funny, but perhaps slightly amusing. Woman riding a seal? Not funny. (By the way, if you can't make a woman riding a seal look convincing, don't fucking use it in your ad. Do you have any idea how many people are going to see this thing, most of them in high-definition?) Fat guy crying? Not funny. Cheap-looking koala puppet getting punched? Not funny. Gross bald guy in a Speedo? Guess. So if none of those things is funny once, why should any of them be funny by the third or fourth time I'm forced to sit through them? Answer: they're not.

Furthermore, the whole thing is just counterproductive. I don't see how ugly half-naked people sell things, whether used to imply the consequences of not using the item/service being promoted or not. (One of these years I'm going to save up a couple million bucks and buy an ad that's just 30 seconds of a hairy guy in a thong, and at the end he holds up a sign that says "" for four seconds. How many hits do you think this site would get the next day? Negative a jillion?) But even beyond that, if I weren't watching the whole ad because I write for this blog and thus felt compelled to do so, I would have changed the channel before the 30-second mark (not even seeing the Speedo guy), as any sane person should have. And that's 30 whole seconds before we actually find out what company the ad was promoting. Sure, it might have been CareerBuilder, but it might also have been HotJobs, or SimplyHired, or Monster. (Monster actually ran an ad during the game, and it was half as long, to the point, and really not annoying in any way.)

Congratulations, CareerBuilder. When you make an ad this unwatchable and bury your company name in the last three seconds, it's probably time. To hire a new fucking agency.