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?


Anonymous said...

What is with the Google obsession?

Also, there is a new Raisin Bran Crunch commercial. I know because it has played six times in about forty minutes.

Windier E. Megatons said...

It's not a matter of being "obsessed" with Google. I'm pointing out that in a world where Google exists, a service such as KGB supposedly offers strikes me as almost entirely inessential. I can look up anything I want on Google - why do I need to text some service?

capewood said...

This is not knowledge generation. Answering a question which has an answer is not generating knowledge. And some of this stuff in opinion. The best cheese steak in Philadelphia? Is that with or without? To answer the question about the hamsters you'd need to know more than what type of hamster. For one thing, you'd have to know from where on the earth. The surface height varies by much more than half a hamster (I love the precision of the answer). And one last thing, if you can't tell the difference between shit and shinola, you have poor judgment, not necessarily a lack of knowledge.

Quivering P. Landmass said...

This is the problem with having advertising agency copywriters attempt to write things that sound smart. I know a few of them. What they do well is write 3-4 word headlines that are fun and memorable. What they do NOT do well is A) do research, and B) write intellectually about facts and figures. Being academically smart is not really what they do.

TRichter said...

You know, that defines exactly why I hate advertisers and most commercials make me want to throw the nearest sharp object through my TV. It also explains my blatant misanthropy, but I already knew that. Most people, even those of positions of privilege, authority or influence are incredibly, incurably stupid.

And these guys make them all look like a Jewish theoretical physicist...

Patrick said...

On the shinola thing. There's a phrase that goes "you don't know shit from shinola". The way they edit it, it's implied that shinola is on the right, and shit is on the left. Her response indicates an ability to discern shit from shinola, in keeping with the theme that she's really smart. It's actually the only somewhat funny bit in these crappy ads. Also, it's a little ironic that it turned out that you guys didn't really...know shit from shinola. :)

Windier E. Megatons said...

I'm aware of the expression's existence, but the fact that they tried to depict it as an actual shiny-surfaced product that needed identifying (when Shinola was a brand of shoe polish) didn't make a ton of sense to me. Also, it's not 1948. I'll grant you it's more clever than anything else in the series of ads, but that's a low bar to clear.