Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wow! That's an awful commercial!

By this point I'm sure you've all seen that god-awful Staples "Wow, that's a low price" ad. You haven't? But you'd like to punish yourself? Well, okay.

That commercial, however, is not why we're here. We're here because of this one:

That's veteran character actor Joey Slotnick (I did not have to look this up in any way. Is that weird?) as the audience surrogate. And if you saw a guy doing that in a Staples, you would, in fact, probably react exactly as Slotnick does here - with grimaces and eventual sarcasm. But Staples isn't here to bury its ridiculous yelling pitchman. No, he wins this little duel, by smugly pointing to a price that is, in fact, so low that it would apparently cause anyone to go apeshit.

What is really the point here? This is easily one of the five most annoying pitchmen in history. That seems like exaggeration, but think about it. How many characters can you name off the top of your head who are more hateable? I might be able to come up with a handful, but even after I did that, I would have to concede that most of those characters at least have some sort of personality. This is just crazed yelling by an escaped mental patient. Not only is it obnoxious, it's some of the laziest writing you'll ever come across. Bear in mind that this ad is ostensibly supposed to be funny. So where's the joke?

And that was just the first ad. The fact that Staples had the gall to put this second commercial on the air shows that they recognize how stupid and annoying the first ad was. Here, they're admitting that they quite frankly don't give a shit. Why? Because for every reasonable person who hates these ads, there are apparently two who think it's hilarious to recreate them and post it to YouTube. This may not be the single laziest major-corporation, nationally-televised ad campaign in recent memory, but I can't think of any that are markedly lazier.

And the second ad is worse than the first. The first ad, while thoroughly unfunny, at least attempts a punchline.

Lunatic: "Wow! That's a low price!" [x3]
Female Employee: "How many products do we carry?"
Male Employee: "Seven thousand."
Female Employee: "I'll get him a cart."
[more crazed yelling]

Painfully bad. However, it does follow the basic structure of a joke. The second ad? Not so much.

Lunatic: "Wow! That's a low price!" [x3]
Man [sarcastically]: "I'm sorry, did you say something about a low price?"
[Lunatic points smugly]
Man: "Wow! That's a low price!"
Lunatic: "I know!"

As McBain might say, dat's de joke. In the first commercial, there's a bad joke surrounded by obnoxious yelling. In the second ad, Staples basically says, "Hey, we know you hated that first ad. So guess what? Now we're not even going to pretend there's anything else going on! We don't care what you think. We're going to shove this awful shit down your throat until you choke on it."

A couple posts ago I talked about those awful Toyota Sienna ads and how I didn't understand why you'd make an ad in which the presumed protagonists and pitchmen are so loathsome. But this really is what we've come to in advertising, isn't it? The point of this ad isn't really to be funny. Not even Staples could possibly think this ad was legitimately funny. But while it's unfunny and stupid and annoying... it is distinctive. In those Sienna ads, that family is awful and I have no desire to emulate them. But I did remember the ad. I personally don't believe the old adage "There's no such thing as bad publicity" - there have been ad campaigns that have led me to stop using a product because I hated them so much. But I'm starting to feel like maybe I'm shouting into the wind here.

If there's one thing I've learned in three years on this blog it's that corporations, almost to the last, are simply not interested in making good advertisements. They're interested in making money, and if Jay Leno, Jersey Shore and the Transformers films have taught us anything it's that in mass culture, there is no prerequisite of quality or value for success. Why does Staples make an ad like this? Because it's cheaper than making a good one and because they don't think it matters. And the sad part is they're probably right.

This is probably reading like a sign-off at this point, and it's not. We're not closing the blog, and in fact I've added a Twitter account - you can follow @windiermegatons if you want - so that I can throw up the occasional bite-sized thought on ads that annoy me but don't quite merit a full post (although sometimes, as with Buffalo Wild Wings, I get there eventually). But I'll be honest: this ad is so bad it's pushed me to the edge of the abyss.


Anonymous said...

I was happy before I read this post and found out this commercial exists.

some guy said...

At my work is a television playing msnbc all day (which is bad enough) but the first time this ad came on literally everyone turned around and started cursing this putrid pile of filth. Subsequent viewings elicited groans of agony. I don't hit the mute for just anything but in my house this one will get the channel changed and the way I see it, networks should have a minimum standard of view-ability before they start losing watchers and revenue. In summation, I'd personally like to beat that screaming idiot with a sack of oranges.