Sunday, February 19, 2012

The unwatchable journey

In the nearly five years I've been writing for this blog, we've had a number of running targets - Raisin Bran Crunch (in order: here, here, here, here, and here), Burger King (too many to list them all, as we've written fully fourteen Burger King posts, but here are three of my favorites), Crispin Porter + Bogusky in general (this Quivering P. Landmass post is my personal favorite), and so forth. But I don't think I've ever been moved to write about the same ad campaign three times in eight days. Congratulations, State Farm!

Agent: "One of the best things about State Farm is our accessibility."
Guy: "Oh yeah?"
Agent: "You can call us 24/7, get quotes online, start a claim with our smartphone app - you name it, we're here, any time, anywhere, any way you want it."

"Any way you want it?" Gee, that's an awfully uncommon turn of phrase to bust out there. It's almost like you're setting something up.

Guy: "That's the way I need it."
Agent: "Any way you want it."
Guy: "All night?"
Agent: "All night."
Guy: "Every night?"
Agent: "Any way you want it."
Guy: "That's the way I need it."

This is already pretty stupid. But you know what would be way stupider? Addressing what just happened as though it were somehow a natural part of the conversation, or in any way not just some bullshit thrown together because someone inexplicably thought it would make for an amusing ad.

Guy: "We just had ourselves a little Journey moment there."

Oh, writers of this ad. What were you thinking? You guys are as cold as ice. You're willing to sacrifice our love! Hmm, bit of a Foreigner moment there. Rest assured that was completely organic, just a natural extension of what I was already writing. Because I'm hot blooded. Check it and see!

Agent: "Yup."
Guy: "Saw 'em in '83 in Fresno. Place was crawling with chicks."
[Guy's wife looks over angrily]
Guy: "I gotta go."

Just in case you thought we'd get out of one of these ads without some sort of relationship issue: nope. State Farm is getting really good at sowing marital discord, aren't they? I picture this agent meeting up with Jake at some all-night diner and chuckling about all the relationships they've ruined through their jobs in the insurance industry.

And then they end the ad by playing the actual Journey version of "Any Way You Want It." Here's the thing: if the song is famous enough to be used the way it's used in this ad, then it should also be famous enough that you don't need to ram down our throats that you're using it. Playing the song at the end of the ad would have worked perfectly for your purposes. Doing the stupid song-lyrics banter, then being like "HEY THAT WAS JOURNEY DID EVERYONE CATCH THAT THAT WAS JOURNEY," and then also playing Journey at the end of the ad... at that point I really just feel like you're insulting my intelligence...

...faithfully. (Nailed it! Totally natural!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Like a grim reaper, State Farm is there

This commercial is really weird, right? It's not just me?

Wife: "My husband Hank was always fun. Never took life too seriously."

Sad piano. Use of the past tense.

Wife: "Till our son was born. That day he bought life insurance."

Mention of life insurance. Serious-looking woman.

Wife: "Now there's no way I could send our boy to college without it."

Mention of using life insurance. Use of the first-person singular pronoun.

Wife: "If there's one thing I could say to Hank, it'd be 'Thank you.'"

Implication that speaking to Hank would be impossible, because he is dead.

Hank: "You're welcome."
Wife: "Hey, Hank."

Oh, she just sounds like she wishes he was dead. So really, while all that other stuff seems like nothing more than cheap misdirection in hindsight, don't you kind of get the feeling that this woman secretly fantasizes about her husband dying?

Announcer: "Life insurance you can use while you're still living."

Um... really? Well, let's check out the State Farm website.

Permanent life insurance policies offer financial protection in the event of your death. But did you know that they can also help you build cash value you can use in your lifetime? In fact, the cash value you build can grow into a sizeable asset that you can access by loans and withdrawals.

I don't claim to be the most financially savvy person. And perhaps someone more learned on this topic will feel free to educate me in the comments. But something about this sounds really problematic. I get that it makes sense to allow people to have early access to a potential life insurance payout lest they reach a point where they're too old to use much of it or the whole family dies in the same plane crash or something. But then, isn't that really how insurance works? You pay a fairly small premium compared to the potential payout, and the insurance company is effectively gambling that you won't ever get to collect the big money. There must be another shoe dropping here.

Unpaid loans and withdrawals will reduce the death benefit and policy cash value. Loans also accrue interest.

There it is. So look, I'm sure it was nice to have that money to send your son to college, but when Hank actually DOES die, you're pretty much screwed, lady.

Hank: "You are one lucky lady!"
Wife: [now actively thinking about killing him herself] "Mmmm-hmmmm."

I get the joke they were obviously going for, but this commercial is super morbid. And the message and tone are really undercut by the fact that the wife clearly cannot STAND her husband! (Oh, State Farm made an ad in which spouses weren't thrilled with each other? You don't say.) The whole thing is just awkward, and frankly kind of creepy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can't buy me peanut butter

Jif! Boy, you can't get that anywhere, can you?

I mean, that's the message I'm getting from this commercial. Jif, beloved regional product, and certainly not major national brand. Right?

[Phone rings]
Mom: "Hey, college girl!"
Girl: "Hey, Mom! I just got your package!"
Mom: "Great!"
Girl: "Yeah. Mom, you're the best!"

And the girl reaches into the box and immediately grabs, not the picture of her with her beloved dog, not whatever mix CD that is (and what do college kids love more than mix CDs put together by their mothers?), but the jar of Jif peanut butter that her mom thoughtfully sent, because, of course, this girl has decided to attend college in Bangalore, India, where they do not sell Jif peanut butter.

Mom: "I thought you would like it."

Is she supposed to somehow know inherently that the daughter is talking about the Jif? Telepathic moms choose Jif.

Mom: "So how are your classes?"
Announcer: "It's more than just that great peanut taste. Choosing Jif is a simple way to show someone how much you care."

Whoa, whoa, WHOA, there, Jif. Settle the fuck down. I like peanut butter and all, but throwing an inexpensive jar of peanut butter (that the girl could easily have purchased herself at like a hundred locations within a mile of her dorm) into a care package is like the definition of "minimal effort." I guess they do admit it's "simple," but I don't think that's nearly pejorative enough. How about, "Choosing Jif is a lazy way to show someone how much you care?" Or better yet, "Choosing Jif is an ineffective way of showing someone how much you care, because seriously, who gives a shit?"

Also, man does that girl dig into that peanut butter quickly. Hello, freshman fifteen!

Mom: "We can't wait to get you home!"

"Back to Lexington, Kentucky, home of the immense Jif production plant!"

Girl: "I love you, Mom!"
Mom: "I love you too! We'll see you soon."

How soon is this girl coming home? If she's going to be back home in like two weeks, did you really need to rush out this care package? Clingy moms choose Jif.

Announcer: "Choosy moms choose Jif."

I know this has been Jif's slogan since forever. And it's one of the classic slogans that like everyone knows. That said, it's kind of dumb, right? CHOOSY moms choose Jif? What exactly is choosy about picking the most dominant peanut butter brand in the United States, which is mass-produced on a grand scale? I'm not saying this inherently precludes quality or that Jif isn't any good, but selecting it isn't really indicative of choosiness. Moms who buy whatever's at eye level choose Jif. That's a bit more realistic, I think.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love is in the air, and it smells like pepperoni

In honor of Valentine's Day, get a load of this shit.

That is a screenshot of this page, which I took because since the listed end date for the promotion is 2/14/12, who knows how long it'll be up for your perusal.

I mean, holy shit, right? Look, I know this is probably just for publicity. Pizza Hut comes up with a gimmicky thing that no one would ever actually buy, it gets kicked around the web because people love that Neiman Marcus fantasy gift shit, and boom, free advertising for the $10 dinner box, which I did not previously know was a thing. But just imagine for a second that Pizza Hut was serious here. How fucking deranged is this?

First, I love that it's not a diamond ring, although if you're the kind of woman who INSISTS on an expensive diamond for your engagement ring, you're probably not going to be too impressed with the $10 dinner box proposal no matter how nice the ring is.

Then, how about a photographer AND a videographer? I'm not sure that's enough. How about a caricature artist too, and maybe a stenographer to get down every word you're saying? You really want to remember every facet of your embarrassing Pizza Hut proposal.

I also love that the stated cost is $10,010, because that includes the dinner box. Yeah, we couldn't just include that in the obscene $10,000 engagement package. That's extra. (The "plus tax" also kills me.) This is really the biggest tip-off that Pizza Hut is mostly kidding around, I think (although I'm sure if anyone actually wanted this they'd be happy to sell it). It's funnier if you take this extravagant package and make the cheap-ass food cost extra on top of it.

If you click on "more information" it gives you the press release, which only makes it clearer that this is a publicity stunt of the highest caliber. Most of the time is spent talking about the dinner box itself:

The $10 Dinner Box Proposal Package includes a ruby engagement ring, limo service, flowers, fireworks show, photographer, videographer and of course, most importantly, the mouth-watering new $10 Dinner Box.

Fitting all of these amazing items into one package echoes the feat pulled off inside the new Pizza Hut $10 Dinner Box, which includes a medium one-topping rectangular pan pizza, five breadsticks with marinara sauce and 10 cinnamon sticks with a sweet icing cup in one box for only $10.

Just by the way, that is like the starchiest thing that ever starched.

"If we’re able to fit pizza, breadsticks and dessert into one box for only $10, why stop there?" asked Kurt Kane, Pizza Hut CMO.


Perhaps my favorite part - and again, it's irrelevant because ain't nobody buying this - is in the fine print:

"We may substitute listed products with equivalent value products."

I wonder which of those products is most likely to be substituted for an item of equal value. If you're the sort of person who loves Pizza Hut so much you're willing to propose marriage over a pizza box, maybe you could trade in the fireworks show for a couple years' worth of Lipitor.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Low Voltage

The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? is an exploration of the reasons why the initial attempt at production of electric cars in America failed. Various possible reasons were cited, including the desire of the oil companies to spike a competing fuel source, a lack of appeal to consumers, and fears on the part of the automakers that long-term revenues would drop because electric cars required comparatively little maintenance.

Well, between last fall's ad campaign for the Chevy Volt and the one they've started running recently, I think I have an idea for a sequel in case the electric car fails again: shitty advertising.


[A bunch of aliens are examining the Chevy Volt in a guy's garage.]
Alien: "Chevy Volt!"
Guy: "Guys... this is the third time this week."
[Aliens look somewhat chastened]
Guy: "Okay, I'll say it again. It's electric..."
Alien: "Electric."
Guy: "But when I need to go farther, it uses gas."
Alien: "Gas."
Guy: "Please, tell me you understand..."

You know what, Chevy? Don't fucking flatter yourself. Do you think really think this idea is such a hard concept? Hey, it uses electric and gas! Congratulations, it's a fucking hybrid, except it reverses the typical order of fuel usage. EVERYONE GETS IT. It was bad enough in the initial ad where the premise was "idiots at the gas station will hassle you because they're confused, because this is just WAY too complicated for people to grasp." Now we're really out in the depths of the egos of Chevy's design team. "That's right, not even space aliens who have mastered the technology of interstellar travel understand how a car could possibly have two power sources!"

Here's how a Chevy Volt ad plays out in real life. Ready?

Guy: "Hey, I thought that was an electric car."
Volt owner: "Yeah, it mostly is, but it does use gas as a backup power source for longer trips."
Guy: "Oh, okay."

FIN, assholes. No one is confused by the Chevy Volt. And by pretending that everyone is, you're making yourselves look like supercilious dicks.

I'm not even going to talk about the ridiculous "punchline" to this ad, since it doesn't deserve comment. I will say, though, between the electric car and the aliens, was anyone else reminded of "We Do," the song sung by the Stonecutters in the classic Simpsons episode "Homer the Great," when they saw this ad? I'm just saying, if Steve Guttenberg pops up in the next Volt ad I'm gonna be really suspicious.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

America's heart valves are always closed

One of our Twitter followers, @Telos09, brought the following ad to my attention a couple weeks ago. It's been a while since we've taken a "request," for lack of a better term, so let's get into it.


Woman: "Uh, what's the Loaded Baked Potato Skillet like?"

Let me stop right here. Are there really people who go into Denny's and start asking the waitstaff to give opinions on what the food is like? This is the kind of thing you do at a real restaurant, where maybe you're not sure if the preparation is going to be what you want. Is a dish too spicy? How's the meat prepared? That kind of thing. At Denny's this is not an issue. What's the Loaded Baked Potato Skillet like? Uh, it's like we threw some potatoes and other shit into a pan and then cooked it for five minutes.

Waitress: "It's like, uh..." [makes sizzle sounds]
Kid in nearby booth: "No, it's more like:" [makes sizzle sounds]
Douchebag at a nearby table: "If you have prime rib, it's like:" [makes sizzle sounds]

Okay, everyone just shut the fuck up. And I know Denny's is just trying to work all the skillets into this ad, but prime rib? Who the fuck asked you about prime rib, dude? We're talking about the Loaded Baked Potato Skillet at the moment. Fuck off.

Old lady: "The Western Skillet's like:" [makes sizzle sounds]


The ad then cuts between all the people doing their stupid sounds in a way that reminded me immediately of the original Budweiser "Wassup" commercial from, God, what, a decade ago? On the one hand, probably just a coincidence. On the other hand, my mind went there IMMEDIATELY. I don't know. Whatever.

Woman: "Oh, that sounds good, I'll have one of those, please!"

I get the joke. It's not funny.

Guy: "I'll get the:" [makes sizzle sounds]


We then see the actual skillets, and man do they just look gross. They don't quite reach Famous Bowl levels, but they really do just look like a bunch of shit tossed into a pan. Yeah, just throw all that shit in there, and then drizzle some other shit on top of it. I am not getting hungry.

The Return of Apple Envy

Everybody wants to be Apple. Of course that's been the case for many years. And even though, in this spot, Amazon tries to brush off Apple like some failed, late 90's dot-com, I think they secretly have a little Apple envy in their system:

Man: Hey excuse me -- that's the new Kindle, isn't it, $79.

Woman: Best way to read, even in sunlight.

Great work, stop it right here. The commercial should be over at the 10 second mark. The Kindle is an awesome eReader. It does this one thing better than any other machine. Amazon differentiated itself, made its point clearly, and now they can call it a day.

Or, they can ruin the commercial....

Man: Yeah but I mean if you want to watch movies or surf the web.

Woman: I've got a Kindle Fire for that (looks a hundred feet away to a different Amazon tablet product being used by her children.)

"PUNT!" This has got to be one of the few examples in advertising where a company just throws its hands in the air, curses the heavens and says, "We give up." To have your only rebuttal be "No, but we make something else that does that" is just sad.

No one is going to carry around two devices. "This one's for readin', and this one's for videoin'." The woman's response should be that the regular Kindle isn't trying to be all things to all people -- it does one thing (displays text), and it does it well. It's for readers. End of story.

Man: Three Kindles. That's gotta be expensive.

Woman: Not really. Together, they're still less than that (points to Man's iPad.)

Yeah, fine, the iPad 2, at $499, is expensive. It's also far and away the top tablet on the market. But I can find a 16GB iPad for less than the $477 combined price of those three Amazon products. And I know this is a store return, but I still find it funny that the first one I found was on Amazon.

Man: Someone sitting here?

Woman: My husband.

Man: Yeah...

And a weird, anticlimactic ending to boot. Was there really enough sexual tension between these two that the audience had to see how the interaction ultimately ended? And judging by the man's resignation, he appears to be jealous of the unseen man's wife simply because this family owns three Kindles. So peculiar.

Amazon, this is not the way to go after Apple. You make fine, lower-cost products, and there's a market for that. But you don't make iPads -- and expecting people to haul around two tablet devices instead of buying an iPad is laughably dumb. So stick with your strategy -- and don't bring up Apple unless you actually have a claim to make.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Get to a better kitchen

I've talked before, on several occasions, about the perils of having unlikable people pitching your products. Recently, in particular, it seems to be obnoxious couples. People who I would leave a party early just to avoid. Right, Sears? Right, Toyota? Yeah. Well, don't worry, you guys aren't alone. Here comes State Farm to join the party!

Again... why would I want to be like these people? At least the obnoxious assholes in the Sears and Toyota ads appeared mostly to get along with each other.

[Wife is singing karaoke to TLC's "Waterfalls"]
Husband: "Oh, look! Mommy spent your diaper money on a karaoke disaster!"

Instantly I hate everyone involved with this ad. What is the insistence on depicting relationships where people spend most of their time bickering? Also, fuck this guy and his supremely hipster mustache.

Husband: "I thought you were getting renter's insurance."

"And because I am an asshole, my immediate assumption based on this scenario not perfectly matching the one I expected was that you did something incredibly stupid, and then I yelled at you about it, despite having no actual information. This is what marriage is like."

Wife: "Done. I got our stuff covered for like four bucks a month."
Husband: "Four bucks, huh? Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
[Agent appears]
Husband: "Hey, Clyde, why is my wife lying about our insurance?"

You are SUCH an asshole. Man, I can't wait until this guy gets his comeuppance.

Clyde: "When you have State Farm car insurance, you can add renter's for about four more bucks a month."
Wife: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there - with an apology!"
Clyde: "It doesn't work like that, Julie."
Husband: "Boom."

Look, what the fuck? First of all, since WHEN does it not work like that? This is literally the first time in all of these stupid spots that someone has not gotten what they asked for, and that included having "the girl from 4E" suddenly appear in your apartment for sex. Second of all, why, exactly, is the wife made to look stupid here when the husband is an asshole throughout the ad and then CONTINUES to be an asshole despite being completely wrong? Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there with divorce papers.

This isn't the only State Farm ad currently running that I have this sort of problem with, either.

[Husband is on the phone in a darkened living room]
Husband: "Yeah, I'm married - does it matter? You'd do that for me? Really? Yeah, I'd like that!"

See, it's funny, because it sounds like he's talking to a phone sex operator! Or whatever. State Farm, I don't think you understand that you cannot have this be the opening joke and then ALSO go where you go with this.

Wife: "Who are you talking to?"
Husband: "Uh, it's Jake, from State Farm. Sounds like a really good deal."
Wife: "Jake from State Farm, at three in the morning? Who is this?"
Husband: "It's Jake, from State Farm."
Wife: "What are you wearing, 'Jake from State Farm?'"
Jake: "Uh... khakis?"
Wife: "She sounds hideous!"
Husband: "Well, she's a guy, so."

Here's why I hate this ad: why is the wife being made to look like a total psycho? It's actually a bit different from the last ad. In that one, the woman is right but is refused the credit she deserves. In this one, the woman is wrong - but the problem is that the ad casts her as not just wrong (since it sets up a scenario where you'd expect her to misjudge) but completely over the top in her wrongness. In the first ad, the husband is over the top in his wrongness, but he is allowed the last laugh without ever having to admit he was wrong. In the second ad, the husband again gets the last laugh, and he doesn't ever have to admit that, let's face it, talking to State Farm about your policy at three in the morning is maybe a little weird and suspicious.

Even in other ads that don't come down so heavily on the side of the man (and unaccountably so at that), State Farm seems to relish depicting conflict between the sexes, be it a wife demanding to know how her husband came by a falcon (do note that every single person in that ad shown with an extravagant purchase is a man, which is sort of sexist against both men and women at the same time, an impressive feat) or a couple fighting at the scene of an accident and using the "power" of State Farm to change each other into different people. (Again in that second one the woman clearly comes off worse. And again, the jingle can turn your girlfriend into a statuesque model in tight clothing but it CAN'T GET YOUR HUSBAND TO APOLOGIZE TO YOU FOR BEING AN ASSHOLE?)

Maybe there's some study I'm unaware of which shows that couples who fight all the time (and thus are most likely to recognize themselves in these ads) buy more insurance than couples who don't. But I kind of have a hard time believing that. If anything, insurance (given its necessity in the modern world) is one thing that there's no reason for couples to fight over. So what does State Farm do? Introduce all kinds of other conflict in its insurance ads. Because you know what's funny: a nice awkward bit of bickering between a couple you don't know, right in front of you. Sorry, did I say funny? I meant excruciating. Like a good clicker, my remote control is there - with a new channel whenever these stupid things come on.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Out-of-ideas men

If you're anything like us, you probably watched the Super Bowl this year trying to figure out which of the awful ads were the responsibility of our favorite whipping boys, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Amazingly, according to the Ad Age listing of the game's ads, the only CP+B offering on the entire broadcast was the Best Buy ad with all the designers. It was a fairly bland ad (though the Alec Baldwin joke drew my only chuckle of the entire broadcast) and it ends awkwardly, but it certainly was the opposite of what we usually associate CP+B with - nonsensical high-concept premises and over-the-top editorializing of the company's products.

This latest Domino's ad, while perhaps not as grating as much of the CP+B fare previously discussed on this blog, settles squarely in the latter camp.

That's right: Domino's is PROUD to have come up with this product.

Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle: "At a big company, new ideas don't usually come from the local store level."

I just want to interrupt for a second here. Do you not totally hate this camerawork? The obsession with handheld is one thing if you're shooting some movie that you want to look like cinéma vérité, but this is a Domino's commercial. I don't need the little zoom on Patrick Doyle's face while he's talking to me (by which I mean someone JUST to the left of the cameraman), thanks.

Doyle: "But a great idea can come from anywhere."

And so can this one!

Brian Edler: "I'm Brian Edler, and I created the new Domino's Parmesan Bread Bites. They're freshly baked pieces of bread with garlic and parmesan."

So... they're breadsticks. Only you chopped them up. Is there any way that the idea didn't come to Brian in something like this fashion: "Hmm... we've got all these bits of dough left at the end of the pizza and breadstick-making processes. We could just throw them away, but that's wasteful. We could refine our process so we don't end up with these extra bits... nah. I know! We'll toss them in the oven, then coat them with oil and cheese when they come out, and call that another side dish! Someone get corporate on the phone, because I am a FUCKING GENIUS."

Bob: "The test kitchens at Domino's haven't come up with this, but the guy in Findlay, Ohio did. That's what's awesome about this."

Is anything awesome about this? I guess it's nice that Domino's is willing to solicit new ideas from the local store level, but who wouldn't do that if it were a sufficiently good idea? It doesn't seem like this really puts Domino's on the absolute vanguard. Especially since this product is fucking stupid.

Lauryn: "You know, I think Brian should be the CEO of Domino's."
Doyle: [laughs for a couple seconds] ""

Really nice of them to flatter this guy for his brilliant idea, then take a total shit on him at the end. I mean, obviously there's no way he should be the CEO of Domino's, least of all just for coming up with this shitty product, but was this part really necessary?

Announcer: "Get 16 Parmesan Bread Bites for just a dollar..."

I love how they're asking you to buy what is effectively scraps and acting like it's such a deal that they're only charging a dollar.

Announcer: "Share your ideas at"

Whoa. WHOA. Are you serious, Domino's? This is what you're doing now? You're actively going to ask members of the public to just hand over ideas for you to steal? This is ridiculous.

And yes, they are EXTREMELY serious:

I feel really bad for the intern who has to comb through the "Idea Box" submissions looking for the one or two that are even remotely usable. But this whole concept is a joke. I don't know what the "reward" they're handing out for ideas is, but somehow I get the feeling that it's a lot less than what a really good idea might make Domino's in profits, and probably a lot less than what it costs to pay the salary of an R&D guy. This is the most brazen attempt to get the consumer to do a company's job for them since AT+T thought people might be willing to pay for a t-shirt with a stupid mashed-up place name on it, you know, like those retarded commercials they used to have. (Can you imagine being the person who actually bought one of those and now having to explain it to people every time you wear it? I really hope no one was that stupid.)

Asking people what they like and don't like about your company and its products is one thing. That's obviously the way Domino's decided their old pizza was crap and changed the recipe, and then made a whole series of ads making a big deal about how they did that. But saying, "You know, we're kind of out of ideas over here at Domino's... do you think you could maybe... tell us what we should do? Please?" That's really just kind of sad.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Repulsion comes standard

How about another supplemental award? This one we'll call The Creepiest, Most Off-Putting CGI Award. And the winner is...!

This ad is supposed to be funny and/or appealing.

Salesman: "Have you decided which vehicle you want to go with today?"
[horrifying CGI monstrosity version of the customer emerges from his back; music plays]
CGI horror: [singing] "Hey baby, I want that car / Hey baby, I really want that car / Let's get that car..."
Customer: "Yeah, that's my confidence, it's been coming out of me ever since I went on"

I can think of many, many ways to depict someone as being confident. has used at least a couple of them in earlier ads. This is... not one of the ones I would have picked.

Customer: "I compared gas mileage using their side-by-side comparison tool, and uh, this one would be great."
CGI horror: "Hoo! Yeah baby, let's get those keys and go!"
Salesman: "I'll get the keys."
CGI horror: "Woo!"

Quivering and I were talking about this earlier, actually. Why is it that so many ads try to be funny and so few of them are? We came to the conclusion that most people who are funny enough to write successful jokes for a national ad campaign probably have better things to do with their joke-writing talent than write commercials. There's a reason why Will Ferrell's Old Milwaukee spots have captured attention, and it has a lot to do with the fact that Will Ferrell is way too talented of a comedian to be doing spots for Old Milwaukee.

This ad thinks it is funny. There's no disputing that. But the only thing in the ad that is supposed to be funny is the horrible "confidence" singing. And it's not. I know that humor for most people follows the old Potter Stewart line about pornography - "I know it when I see it" - and so maybe it's futile for me to ask people who think this is funny (and, amazingly, they are out there) why they think it's funny. But I can't for the life of me figure out why this is funny or how it even is supposed to be. It's a creepy bit of CGI singing in falsetto that it wants a car. Who fucking cares? That's really what passes for a joke here?

Here's Ad Age's take on the spot, which they rated as one of the best of the Super Bowl - for real:

The first response to this commercial, in which a second head is singing that he wants this particular car, will be this: WTF? The second will be, "Wait, let's watch that again." Ultimately, this polarizing ad will push viewers into "love it" or "hate it" land with no room in between. The spot is made by the facial expressions of the main head and the singing of the second head—and that song, which will become this year's "Give me back that Filet of Fish." Me? I'm loving it.

Well, he nailed my initial response. And he was right that this is likely to be a love it or hate it ad, though it's still not clear to me why anyone would love it. But watch it again? I could barely stomach watching it a second time to transcribe it for this post. As for the song becoming this year's "Give me back that Filet of Fish" - apparently that's supposed to be a compliment? That singing fish ad made me want to stick my head in an oven. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

This commercial isn't even sure what it's saying, because it's too busy falling all over itself trying to force a terrible joke. So if you go to you'll become confident! And that's a good thing! Except that the "facial expressions of the main head," by which "the spot is made," give every indication of being embarrassed by, and somewhat exasperated with, the "confident" singing head. I'm expected to think the creepy second head is a good thing? I don't.

A lot of ads have this problem. They want to make what they hope will be a funny joke, but then apparently they decide to hedge their bets by having the characters in the ad seem weirded out by, or somehow upset with, the source of the joke. IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. If you're going to do this shit, you have to sell it. If you want an ad where a guy feels more confident after going on and using their comparison tool - great! Do that. If you want an ad where you just do some wacky shit, fine, I guess. Jamming them together is super pointless. Especially when all the comparison tool told the guy is which car gets better gas mileage, which last time I checked is usually one of the first pieces of information stamped on any showroom car anywhere. All we end up with here is an ad where the guy is really confident for no good reason but seems to feel ashamed of that fact. This was supposed to make sense? This was supposed to sell me on It's a lousy pitch even if this spot didn't feature creepy-ass CGI and a "song" that makes me want to stick knitting needles in my ears.

Last year's ad, for those of you lucky enough not to remember it, was four "jokes" in thirty seconds. This year's ad is one joke, and it's even less funny than any of those four, all of which were awful. Give some credit: they're getting more efficient at making bad jokes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This ad deserves the death sentence on twelve systems

While the "Darth Vader Kid" ad did not win our Least Shitty Ad award during the 2011 Super Bowl, it certainly was in no danger of winning one of the bad awards. Nor was this year's follow-up, which for most of its length is actually pretty good and might have contended for Least Shitty Ad. Then it takes a turn. Thus, we present:

The Ian Malcolm Memorial "Your Scientists Were So Preoccupied with Whether or Not They Could, They Didn't Stop to Think If They Should" Award

And your winner... that's right, it's Volkswagen!

This ad is a minute long. For the first, oh, 42 seconds, it is at least passably amusing and certifiably adorable. The fat dog is getting himself into shape! It's cute. Sure, it's barely an ad for the car, but we at least see the car, and VW is really counting on the fact that people are generally familiar with the Beetle anyway. Really, so far, so good.

Unfortunately, ads aren't 42 seconds long. It's at this point that we pull out to reveal that the first 42 seconds were actually being watched on a TV in the Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars (I guess ads are 42 seconds long in galaxies far, far away). And then we get this nonsense:

Evazan: "That was great!"
Ponda Baba: [grunting noises]
Evazan: "No, the dog is funnier than the Vader kid." [begins to choke]
[Darth Vader, across the way, is Force-choking Evazan; finally he relents]
Evazan: "Sorry."
[Vader storms out]

And, scene.

Look, I like Star Wars. I only had to look up one of those character names, even. But what was the point of this? The ad with the dog has nothing to do with Star Wars, nor did it need to. And make no mistake about it, Volkswagen wants you to associate this ad with dogs AND Star Wars - just look at the teaser they put out a couple weeks before the Super Bowl:

Volkswagen is hardly the first advertiser to call back to a commercial of theirs that was popular in a previous year. Really, it happens all the time. But that doesn't make it funny when there's no legitimate tie-in anywhere to be found. All I get from this ad is that VW thought, "Hey, we've already got the rights to use the Star Wars characters in our ads... let's do it again!" But then they couldn't think of anything else to do with them, so they just had two super-fringe characters step in to editorialize on the unrelated ad they'd already created.

Hence why VW gets this additional, made-up award: for doing something that they COULD do without apparently ever stopping to ask whether they SHOULD do it. As much as I like Star Wars, it isn't inherently funny. Volkswagen would do well to remember that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baby, baby, baby, no

As usual, there were other ads from the Super Bowl that we easily could have mentioned, and just didn't quite have room for. That doesn't mean they're off the hook. Over the next few days, I've got a few additional "awards" to hand out.

The Chris Hansen "What are You Doing Here?" Award for Most Inappropriate Use of Underage Characters

And the award goes to... E*TRADE!

This is a fairly innocuous commercial - certainly by E*TRADE's low standards - but oh boy, then it gets to the end.

Dad: "I look at her, and I just wanna give her everything."
E*TRADE Baby: "Yeah, you know, 'everything' can cost upwards of [whistle]."
Dad: "I did not wanna think about that."

It really sucks the way stuff costs money and stuff.

E*TRADE Baby: "Relax, relax, relax - look at me, look at me. Three words, Dad: E*TRADE financial consultants."
Dad: "So I can just go talk to 'em?"
E*TRADE Baby: "Just walk right in and talk to 'em. Dude, those guys are pros. They'll hook you up with a solid plan... they'll-"

So far, so boring. Hey, the commercial's almost over! We're 21 seconds in! What could possibly ruin this?

E*TRADE Baby: "Wait, wait, wait a minute. Bobby? Bobby, what are you doing, man?"
Bobby: "I'm speed-dating!"

See, it's funny, because... um... there's a bunch of newborn girl infants lying prone in their bassinets, and this older boy infant is walking around... like... trying to hit on them? That's the... joke...


E*TRADE, what the fuck is wrong with you? I can maybe forgive babies watching animal mating videos, but you've already had an ad featuring a baby cheating on his baby girlfriend with a slutty, "milkaholic" baby, and now this shit. Given that the girl babies in this ad don't get to talk or move, and that this is happening in full view of one of their fathers, I'm going to go ahead and call this the worst one yet. How much lower can they even go? Anything worse than this I don't think you could even show on television. I'm no big fan of M.I.A. and I had no use for her flipping the bird during the halftime show, but how is that more offensive than E*TRADE implicitly discussing the sex life of babies year after year??? Time to step in, FCC.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bored Awards V

Four years ago, the Giants and Patriots met in the Super Bowl, and we published our first Super Bored Awards. This year, the Giants and Patriots met in the Super Bowl again, and here we are with the fifth installment of our yearly look at the worst of the Super Bowl ads. It was sort of a dull year for Super Bowl ads, but I feel like I say that every year, so let's just dispense with the pleasantries. Even if this year's crop of ads wasn't thrillicious, it sure didn't leave us wanting.

The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad
Pepsi Max

Quivering: Well, we named this award "Least Shitty Ad" for a reason. And this year, perhaps more than ever, it was a real struggle to find an ad we didn't hate. Pepsi has had quite a few of these Pepsi/Coke delivery guy ads (and they've used "Your Cheating Heart" before, too). It's not a bad idea - at least it has a product-based message. This particular version speaks to product benefits as well as product differentiation (lots of Pepsi taste, no calories, better than Coke Zero). The ending is relatively funny - the cameo with Regis is a little over the top, but given the fact that this is the Super Bowl, you have to expect something like that. Overall, it's a fine effort. The Camry Effect commercial was well done, but not quite believable, and the brown M&M commercial was okay, but still goofy (and we're just not fans of that whole M&Ms as living creatures concept). Overall, Pepsi Max edged out the weak competition to win Least Shitty Ad - but don't feel too good for PepsiCo until you read all the way to the end.

Most Overproduced Ad

Windier: In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Ford got pissed and demanded that NBC and/or GM pull this ad, though it obviously didn't happen. You can see why they might have been upset. You can also see what makes this ad overproduced. Look at how much must have been spent on set design. And to what end? The commercial really says nothing about Chevy trucks. I know they describe themselves as "the most dependable and longest-lasting" but anyone can toss out adjectives like that, especially when it depends on what standard you're applying (in its beef, Ford claimed that it had more trucks with 250,000+ miles on them still on the road than any other automaker). It basically comes down to Chevy calling its trucks apocalypse-proof (a silly, unsupportable assertion) and taking a cheap shot at Ford. Was that really worth the effort?

Also, where are the wives/children? Or is there just something else going on here that I don't really want to know about? "Where's Dave? He knew we needed six guys for the ideal post-apocalyptic circle-jerk! Man, now I'm going to have to stand all funny."

Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award

Quivering: Around 30 years ago, a young Will Shortz (well before he was crossword editor at the New York Times) submitted a puzzle he had constructed to the NYT editor at the time, a stodgy, mustachioed relic named Eugene T. Maleska. Shortz's crossword was rejected because it had the word "belly button" in the grid. Maleska felt that people doing the crossword puzzle while sipping their morning coffee would find the mental image of a belly button to be objectionable. Well, times have changed and now the navel plays a much more agreeable role in our society. But do you know what doesn't play an agreeable role in our society? Urine. Urine isn't fun to think about at any time. Which is why TaxACT's concept for this commercial is such a head-scratcher.

This commercial certainly looked cheap, but it was its crude toilet humor that sealed its selection for clumsiest execution. I just can't believe that there wasn't a better idea for a commercial about a tax filing website. What people will remember about TaxACT, if they remember anything at all, will be "Oh yeah, the kid who peed in the pool." It won't be "free tax return" or "no restrictions, rebates or gimmicks", or "TaxACT is the best tax site." It'll just be "piss." Please tell me how that's going to help anyone.

Worst Use of "Humor" Award

Windier: Several years ago, my (now infrequent) co-author Quivering wrote one of my favorite posts on this site, about maybe the worst ad we've ever covered: the Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates laugh-a-minute extravaganza for Microsoft. A decade removed from his heyday, Seinfeld was excruciatingly unfunny in the ad, leading me to write the following in the comments:

"I can't decide whether Seinfeld himself has become impossibly unfunny over the last ten years... or whether it was the brilliant, brilliant minds at CPB who wrote the awful Seinfeld-style ersatz comedy in this ad that makes him sound like a terrible parody version of himself."

Well, having seen Seinfeld in this year's Acura ad, I think we have our answer, and for once, Crispin Porter & Bogusky aren't to blame. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Seinfeld wrote this commercial himself. But there's something extremely sad about watching him try to relive past glories with graying hair and a delivery that simply lacks the pop it had when he was doing a pretty good series of American Express commercials in the late 90s. Also, when an ad has "web extras," that's almost never a good sign.

Why, just look at all the hilarious quips that had to be cut - CUT! - from the final product! I'm pretty sure Seinfeld's laugh at the end of that video is one of the few this spot earned from anyone, anywhere. You have to do more than trot out ancient pop culture references to be funny - just ask Matthew Broderick and Honda. The cherry on top of this bowl of shit masquerading as a sundae, however, is the sudden appearance of Jay Leno, a man who has actually gone longer since last being funny than Seinfeld himself has. Why is he there, anyway? I know he's a car buff, but does anyone care about that? If Seinfeld was going to echo the "Newman!" line, wouldn't it have been at least as funny to have Wayne Knight show up? I'm pretty sure he would have come more cheaply than Leno.

All right, enough about this garbage. Ah, one more.

Frankly, Seinfeld probably did come up with most/all of this material himself. And it's terrible. The best part is that NO ONE IN THE COMMERCIAL THINKS HE'S FUNNY, and he's trying to impress them. Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home, getting more and more tired of him. Money well spent, Acura. I guess when you're selling a car that doesn't really exist yet, there's only so much you can do.

Flimsiest Pretense Award

Quivering: The reason this goes to Teleflora, and not Fiat (which basically ran the same ad), is that Fiat at least had a modicum of irony (at the very end). Teleflora's commercial is just a balls-to-the-wall fuckfest. "Give and you shall receive," "Happy Valentine's night," images of lipstick application and stilettos - this is the commercial equivalent of a porno that starts with a pizza delivery guy knocking at the door. Teleflora's subtlety reminded me of this recent South Park. Even within the context of Super Bowl ads, Teleflora makes GoDaddy commercials look like Bronte novels. And also? Everyone knows that diamonds are the only surefire way to get that blow job.

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

Windier: There were a lot of potential candidates here, really - Century 21's use of Donald Trump, Apolo Ohno and Deion Sanders made for another good one - but I couldn't turn down Skechers solely for how gratuitous, pointless and just plain lame theirs was. Mark Cuban, really? That was your best idea for a coda? And "What do you mean you want a new contract?" is a crushingly unfunny joke. Having the chubby dog turn out to be owned by an actual athlete would have been more clever, though I guess most athletes already have shoe deals with companies whose athletic shoe brands are slightly more valuable than Skechers'. Then, of course, there's the idea that Skechers is comparing its customers to tubby bulldogs... but then we're no longer talking about pointless semi-celebrity cameos.

The Bad Idea Jeans Award for Most Epic Miscalculation
Bud Light

Knitwear: While this is nowhere near the level of the ad we created this award for (last year's Groupon disaster), it is kind of a bummer that Bud Light is championing a great cause like adopting a rescue dog by implying that the best thing to do with a free, mangy orphan puppy is to turn it into your personal beer slave, Manchurian Candidate-style. I know this ad is supposed to seem fun, but I just feel sad for the dog. He's been so heavily conditioned that he can't even tell the difference between someone calling "Here, Wego!" and someone just yelling out "Here we go," forcing him to roll in a keg at least twice his size just to accommodate the latest round of partygoers. Talk about a dog that could stand to be rescued!

SkyMall Championship Trophy

Quivering: The Skymall Trophy is all about the weirdest attempt to sell a product. Toyota just blew everyone out of the water to take the crown this year. This commercial makes no sense, on any level. We learn not one thing about this "reinvented" Camry. Not one thing. After they show the car, the next 26 seconds are just nonsensical reinventions that A) are not funny (which was clearly the goal of this commercial) and B) have nothing to do with marketing an automobile. Here are just a few thoughts on the "reinvented" products Toyota made up:

* How is a baby that's also a time machine helpful (or funny)?
* The reinvented DMV is just a regular DMV, even staffed by surly, unhelpful federal employees - the only difference is that it's stocked with various time-wasting attractions. Shouldn't a truly reinvented DMV be one that is so efficient you could just walk in and walk right back out (without having to spend time on a mini golf course or at a petting zoo)? Or how about just putting the whole DMV online?
* Reinvented rain that makes you thin just has too many problems to enumerate.

Congratulations, Toyota, on making a commercial that is unfunny, painfully bizarre, and unrelated to your product. Hey, maybe you can start pitching some of those reinvented products to the SkyMall catalog - it might just be a perfect fit.

Worst Super Bowl Ad of 2012

Windier: If not for Ben Kingsley's appearance in The Love Guru, Elton John would have provided us with the most embarrassing acting role by someone knighted by the Queen of England. But it's not really his fault, aside from accepting the part, since this ad was clearly doomed from the start. What a mishmosh. Elton vamping, a bizarre use of the not-at-all-dated "Hot in Herre," a thoroughly pointless Halle Berry cameo (seriously, why is she even there), an excruciatingly unlistenable dance remix of "Respect" from some woman who won "The X Factor" last year, the nonsense premise of a monarchy based on Pepsi rationing, what seems like a weak homage to Apple's 1984 ad... this isn't an ad, it's like the physical manifestation of one of the clubs described by Stefon.

The icing on the cake is the Flavor Flav cameo that literally has nothing to do with anything. If Flavor Flav had been the first act in the ad, maybe his presence down there would make some sense. Instead it comes completely out of nowhere and clearly signifies Pepsi going for the cheapest laugh there is. (That's right - I hereby declare that "the pointless, otherwise joke-free presence of a goofy B-list celebrity" is a cheaper laugh than "the nut shot.") It's lame, it evidences no thought on the part of the people who wrote this ad, and most importantly, it isn't funny in spite of the fact that it's clearly supposed to be. I would rather hang out with the Coke polar bears and risk getting mauled than watch this shit again. Congratulations, Pepsi: your insane fever dream is the worst ad of the 2012 Super Bowl.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Oh, hi there

Yeah, I guess it's been a while. You know how it goes. Fortunately for us, if there's one thing that can generate a bunch of posts in a pretty short time, it's the Super Bowl. Expect the Super Bored Awards (the fifth edition!) sometime next week, hopefully sooner rather than later. For now, let's discuss something else.

Did you ever notice that ads that describe themselves as "banned from the Super Bowl!" usually had no hope of airing in the first place? Did you further notice that they usually aren't very good? One suspects that the ad agencies are expected to come up with something that can be posted online as "banned!" and don't exactly assign their best people to the task. How else would you end up with something like this?

Where do you even start with this one?

Let's pretend for a second that its premise isn't stupid and appalling. Isn't it just way over the top? We really couldn't get across the idea that this guy is a bad apple without things like the leering pre-rape-and-murder grin or the sounds of a kitten being burned alive? I suppose that is "the worst that could happen" but putting it in an actual commercial (even a "banned" one, and clearly one that knew it was going to be banned) just strikes me as untoward.

Beyond that, of course, the premise is fucking retarded. Mostly because, by making your "worst-case scenario" so monstrously over the top, you've trivialized the importance of condoms. I don't want to get up on a sexual health high horse here, but yeah, condoms have a purpose, and it's a purpose slightly more realistic than "preventing the next Hitler." There are myriad reasons why a young woman may not want to get pregnant by some random schmuck, and "dying in childbirth while producing the most evil human of all time" is pretty fucking far down the list. And even beyond the pregnancy issue, if you're just kind of having sex with whoever, hey, how about diseases? Besides, did you ever notice how most condom ads focus on the selling point "Hey! Sex with condoms can still be totally pleasurable!" That's because everyone knows there are reasons to wear condoms, and when people don't, it isn't because they're ignorant of those reasons but because they're weighing them up against sex with condoms not feeling as good as sex without. So focusing a condom ad on scare tactics is pointless.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the ad, from an ad standpoint, is that it basically negates the product's usefulness by implying that the only reason to use it is to prevent the unlikeliest scenario of all time. It's like running an ad for car insurance that shows a car being hit by a meteor, then stomped on by a T. Rex. Maybe that's a passably diverting commercial, but if you don't have car insurance, you're not watching that thinking "My God! Terrible things really do happen every day! I need to be covered!"

So what are we left with? An ad that's too creepy to be funny, too outlandish to be convincing, and just plain too stupid to be effective. I'm guessing Durex is perfectly fine with saving the millions it would have cost to actually air this ad anywhere near the Super Bowl.