Thursday, October 15, 2015

Drink this almond milk, it is my blood

The straw man is a rather popular device in advertising.  For one good example, consider that TeleFlora ad from some years back which critiqued the practice of sending flowers in a box that no other flower company actually seemed to use.  Silk went with kind of a strange variation on that.

Almond: "So... you won't taste Silk because you don't know what it tastes like."
Guy: "Right."

This is insane from the start.  First of all, it's kind of goofy that Silk has chosen as its mascot, or whatever, this bit of slapdash animation that looks like a full part of the almond plant, which most people watching this will have never seen.  I know enough about almonds to know that I'm supposed to be looking at one, but my only actual experience with the almond involves just the nut itself, not the leaves.  I guess it would be tough to have a pile of nuts on the table talking to this guy, but why did you have to go with an almond at all?  Why couldn't this be one of those ads where Jane Krakowski is weirdly invested in having her friends drink one specific beverage?

Almond: "But that's why you taste it.  To find out."
Guy: "I don't want to."

I'm really curious to know who this guy is supposed to represent, other than the patron saint of commercial actors who are utterly uncommitted to their lines.  Realistically this ad probably was written in five minutes after viewing a focus group where people expressed an ambivalence towards almond milk but then shockingly found it palatable.  But the market for almond milk seems mostly limited to people with dairy issues, and I find it very difficult to believe that those people really need to be cajoled into trying an alternative by a talking almond.  (Also: almond milk is basically pureed almonds mixed with water.  So it's at least a little weird having an almond pitching it, right?  "Drink this, for God's sake.  Do not let the genocide of my people have been in vain!")

Almond: "Why?"
Guy: "Because I don't know what it's gonna taste like."

Well this is just classic Abbott and Costello stuff, right here.  Third base!

Almond: "That's insane!  It's Silk Vanilla almond milk.  It obviously tastes like almonds."

And vanilla, I guess because maybe people aren't that interested in the taste of plain-ass ground-up almonds?  Which kind of undermines the whole point here.  But this gets at what bothers me about the argument, such as it is.  I think we all understand that almond milk is likely to taste like almonds.  So again, who is this pitch aimed at?  Other than people who can be bullied into buying a product if its spokesman calls them insane for not buying it?

Guy: "All right.  Fine."

Worn down by a talking almond in less than 15 seconds.   You're a chump.

Almond: "Thank you."

The adversarial, sarcastic nature of this commercial is sure to get people all over the country excited about the prospect of drinking liquid nuts!

Guy: "That's really good."
Almond: "No."

That is some deliciously editorial sarcasm for you right there.  "It's good?  Of course it's good, you fucking shithead.  It's SILK VANILLA ALMOND MILK, WHICH OBVIOUSLY TASTES LIKE ALMONDS."  Ads exist to sell their products and talk them up, naturally, but I can barely remember another ad where they went with "No shit our product is amazing!"

Guy: "A lot better than dairy milk."
Almond: "Mm-hmm."

They actually have fine print for this claim, which is surprisingly respectable for an ad of this nature, but I was amused to see that the taste test compared "dairy milk" (no specifics on fat percentage or anything) against, specifically, Silk's vanilla flavor.  I mean... I know there are a lot of people out there who really like the taste of plain milk, but is it that surprising that plain cow's milk would lose a taste test to something that has added sugar and flavoring?  "Yes, I will have more of the one that already tastes like a milkshake, please."  To quote the Silk almond, "No."

Guy: "I didn't know it would taste like that."
Almond: "Funny how that works."

"Buy Silk or this dickbag almond will stare you down from the adjoining refrigerator case!"

I mean, if you're concerned that the biggest problem with marketing almond milk is that people aren't willing to try it, there are like 500 different ways to make a pitch for them to try it.  I don't have a full list, but I'm pretty sure "Sarcastically calling your intended customers insane" would not rank in my top 450.  But I suppose this is better than "And I'm Super Creepy Rob Lowe, and I drink dairy milk."

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Many, many years ago, back in the deep time of this blog, my old compatriot Quivering P. Landmass wrote a post about a dumbass Beck's commercial where they talk about how their beer doesn't have helium. Quivering referenced an old saying from David Ogilvy about avoiding the use of negatives in ads. Slim Jim apparently hasn't heard this saying.

(That's two 15-second ads, of which we're only dealing with the first, though the second is, I assure you, nearly as idiotic.)

Think about this commercial for a second. I'm not going to go through it with a stopwatch, but given that it's only fifteen seconds long I'd say it spends CLOSE TO as much time on the horrifying male guts as it does on the attractive female midriffs. And that is an ENORMOUS problem. In another post from way back when, we discussed the most nauseating ads we've ever seen on TV. The embedded Starburst ad has gone missing, but don't worry: it's right here. (Note: do not watch that.) I really can't think of a worse thing to include in your ad than something intended to gross out the audience. Are you hoping I change the channel before I have a chance to get your product name drilled into my head?

The issue with the Slim Jim ad in particular is this: aside from the packaging, Slim Jims look EXACTLY THE SAME as whatever other meat stick serves as their competition. And since they don't name that competition in the ad, the only name you're getting from the ad - the ad in which meat sticks are seen being directly correlated with images we are INTENDED to find disgusting - is Slim Jim. Good work, fellas! You've successfully ensured that whenever I see Slim Jims, I will think of this ad, which uses half its allotted time showing me images of bloated male torsos that I am SUPPOSED to be grossed out by. And I definitely will not think of a "tummy party" with two attractive women, because no one in their right mind could possibly believe that Slim Jim will do anything to get them laid.

Honestly. I never liked the "Eat me" Slim Jim ads either - the one at that link, which suggests that eating a Slim Jim will cause you to drown, is particularly moronic - but they're masterpieces of the craft next to this pile of shit.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When you're Geico, you beat jokes into the ground. It's what you do.

Geico has always been somewhat unusual among advertisers in that they tend to run multiple campaigns at once. Even today, you can see Geico spots that still feature the gecko, the "everybody knows that" spots, the weirdly earnest animated ones that seem aimed at the Esurance crowd, and the "it's what you do" ads. Like this one:

Even by the standards of marketers whose idea of brilliance is "We thought of four things you can push, and Salt-N-Pepa are on line two," this is stupendously lazy. I don't really know who was the chicken and who was the egg here, but remember the Super Bowl? Remember how there were not one but TWO spots featuring beloved (?) Internet sensation (??) "goats that scream like humans?" Yeah. There were TWO. Sprint did one that might not even feature a goat (looks more like a sheep). And then Discover also did one. It's like every time two movie studios release nearly identical movies within six months of each other and you're like "Did we even need ONE movie about Steve Prefontaine?"

In some ways, Geico's ad is the best of these three, since the other two really have no jokes other than the screams themselves, which I hasten to add are not jokes. Geico, God bless 'em, actually kind of tried. But come on. All that setup, this complicated factory set, for a joke about how the word "scapegoat" has the word "goat" in it? Hey, what if a scapegoat were a REAL goat? I mean, there's literally no actual joke there, because that's where the word scapegoat FUCKING COMES FROM. I don't expect the Geico ad people to be Biblical scholars - or scholars of anything, really, up to and including ads - but Googling "scapegoat" and finding out that it's not a coincidence takes two seconds. The alternative is that they knew that "scapegoat" had something to do with actual goats in the first place and didn't care because it was such a "great" setup to get that goat scream in there. In which case, fuck them.

It doesn't help matters that this is at least the fourth ad in the "it's what you do" series. Geico is known for draining every last drop of life and humor from their campaigns, and this is no exception. I think the horror movie spot was the first in this series, and it wasn't terrible, as these things go. The Salt-N-Pepa one is okay, I guess. Then you got the camel one, which...

I mean, holy shit, right? It's bad enough that Geico can't stop reusing concepts - now they have to (a) reference their own old ads and (b) editorialize that everyone remembers and loves them? (I suppose I might buy that a few yahoos have screamed "Guess what day it is" at zoo camels in the years since that ad first aired, but literally everyone at the zoo? Also, no one is so intimately familiar with that ad that they're referencing throwaway lines like "Mike Mike Mike!") But then, when most of the purpose behind running five hundred different ads at one time is to see what sticks with people, and then reusing that over and over again, I guess I can't be surprised that anything that had any kind of legs was ridden to death. Like this:

I'm glad for Ickey Woods that he's getting a few paychecks after playing his last NFL game in 1991, but it's kind of amazing that Geico went with this reference at all. I guess when you run as many ads as Geico, you can afford to have one of your five simultaneous campaigns focus on a 25-year-old athletic footnote. And then make all your ads in that campaign about his legendary (???) love of cold cuts. (Woods' Wikipedia page claims that he has been a sales representative for a meat company during his post-NFL career, so maybe this is the weirdest kind of cross-promotion?) I mean, the initial Woods ad, like many initial Geico ads, was mildly amusing. But seriously, go on YouTube and look at all the shit they've got him in. There are literally four different "What's Cooking" videos like the one above, ALL OF WHICH ARE JUST COLD CUTS JOKES. For real. Or there are EIGHT "Ickey Reflections" videos. The main 30-second one, again, isn't awful. I would probably have chuckled to see it on TV:

That's a reasonable follow-up to the initial Ickey ad. This, however, is not:


Geico has had some funny ads over the years. But given how many they put out, it tends to make them look more like a blind squirrel than a squad of hilarious jokesters. I'm sure we're all excited to see what quarter-century-old reference they can exhume next, though! Here are some suggestions:

"When you're Wilson Phillips, you tell people to hold on. It's what you do."

"When you're Dan Quayle, you add letters to the end of words. It's what you do."

"When you're Macaulay Culkin, you booby-trap your house against burglars. It's what you do."

"When you're the Berlin Wall, you get torn down. It's what you do."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Never-ending Mazda troll

This ad is a little old, but Mazda is still running ads in the same style, so we may as well revisit it.

Realistically, I don't know what I should have expected from the people who brought us this complete mess, but man, this is some seriously self-absorbed shit right here, isn't it?

Announcer: "They called his inventions novelties, even risky. But when Thomas Edison threw the switch, it changed everything."

I'd like to know who "they" are supposed to be, but whatever. Mazda - an utterly unremarkable car company in most respects - is comparing itself to someone broadly considered to be the greatest inventor of the modern age. And they're not being ironic. All these ads talk about someone changing their field, or even the world, with a remarkable new invention. And that's like Mazda, apparently.

Announcer: "Courage. Creativity. Conviction."

Courage. Courage! Just let that sink in for a second. Mazda is sucking its own dick about how brave it is as a car company. The courage to create... a CUV! The exact same fucking model that every car company has been putting out over the last five years. Give these guys the fucking Medal of Honor, because they are just so courageous.

Announcer: "SkyActiv technology makes the Mazda CX-5 lighter yet stronger, earning a top safety pick."

Well, that's very... creative? What the fuck is SkyActiv technology? There's a brief graphic on the screen which, if you freeze it, appears to be talking about the engine - "13.0:1 compression ratio," "advanced direct injection" - which may be great, but does that actually have anything to do with safety? You'd think this is the spot where you should be talking about crumple zones or what have you.

Announcer: "And more fuel-efficient than any hybrid SUV, without compromising performance."

Think about the sheer balls-out conviction it must have taken to decide that people might like their cars to be more fuel-efficient.

Announcer: "This is the Mazda way."

At this point I just picture Mazda like Mark Wahlberg in the last scene of Boogie Nights. That's right, Mazda. You're a star. You're a bright shining star.

That's a more recent spot, and guess what? Same shit. For a company that spends so much time touting its own boldness, Mazda has no problem whatsoever trotting out the exact same spot a year later, only with the inventor of the digital camera subbed in. What's particularly ridiculous here is that (a) it's clearly not the case that the camera was "virtually unchanged" between 1900 and the invention of the digital camera and (b) once again Mazda is comparing "making a slightly more fuel-efficient crossover SUV" to a massive technological leap. Uh, it's not. The CX-5 does get pretty good reviews, but there are a lot of compact SUVs and crossovers out there and at least a couple others also do well with the critics. Don't act like nobody else makes anything remotely like your product when literally everyone does. Is it the best model in its class? I mean, it might be, right? But if so, tell me why! And I mean, tell me why legitimately, without making flowery comparisons to invention pioneers or dropping impenetrable jargon like "SkyActiv technology," which almost no one watching this ad knows anything about. (It sounds cool, though, right? Better get a Mazda to get you some of that sweet, sweet SkyActiv technology, whatever it is!)

Do us all a favor, Mazda - stop acting like you fucking invented cars. If you want to sell me a car, tell me a few things about your car. Don't jerk yourselves off on television and call that an ad. I'm not saying this ad doesn't say anything about the car - we at least hear about the fuel efficiency and something vague about a safety award - but I get so turned off by the bullshit comparisons that I've tuned out before you even start talking about the CX-5 itself. Can't you guys just make a normal ad for once?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Get bready, 'cause here I come

This is technically a public service announcement, so I feel a little bad talking shit about it. But come on, what the HELL is this thing.


Obviously, the message - folic acid in your diet can help prevent certain kinds of birth defects - is important. The particulars, though, are just awkward. I mean, white bread? Okay, enriched white bread is probably a perfectly fine source of folic acid, but how about eating some green vegetables or citrus fruits, which are good natural sources of folic acid? White bread is, literally, one of the least inherently nutritive foods on the planet. This is like one of those ads that talks about how Lucky Charms or whatever are a source of vitamins and minerals. I'm glad that producers of what is otherwise pretty much utter junk - seriously, sugar-frosted oat bits and marshmallow pieces, for BREAKFAST - have managed to artificially cram some important nutrients into their product, but don't be fooled into thinking that this is somehow equivalent to "eating healthy."

Even beyond the issues with the pitch, this is a weird ad. For one thing, it spends FOREVER getting to the point. Did this really need to be a minute long? Did we need to spend FORTY SECONDS of that minute just watching this woman follow the "bread trail?" (Also, how many loaves of bread did this guy waste setting this dumb shit up? Two? Three?) Then there's the implication of what's going to happen next - "Eat this sandwich so we can fuck!" Who says romance is dead?

I have to give them SOME credit: next to the sandwich on the plate is what looks like a spinach salad with some orange segments - in other words, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. (Though it did take me at least three viewings of the ad to notice they were there, and you see that plate for only a couple of seconds whereas bread appears in virtually every shot.) And they do mention leafy greens in the final narration. Given that the PSA was co-produced by the Grain Foods Foundation, it's a little impressive that they bothered to mention other sources of folic acid at all.

Still, there were about 500 different ways you could have made a pitch for people to get more folic acid in their diet. This has to be one of the weirdest options. "Substitute bread for rose petals to woo your lover! Make her eat a sandwich before you have sex, JUST IN CASE!" And it's one thing when actual ads drag their plots out to make you wonder what product is being sold - shouldn't a public service announcement be a lot clearer and up front about its message? Wouldn't that be way more helpful than spending 40 seconds on something so tedious that half the audience is probably ready to change the channel before they have any idea what you're trying to talk about?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I'm Insulting The Viewer Rob Lowe, and I have DirecTV

I expect that most of the issues with the Rob Lowe DirecTV campaign have been hashed out in various places over the last few months, but I don't think we could start posting here again and not talk about these ads.

That's the first in a series that has now extended to seven different spots, which is some Geico-level shit.

Rob Lowe: "Hi. I'm Rob Lowe, and I have DirecTV."
Super Creepy Rob Lowe: "And I'm Super Creepy Rob Lowe, and I have cable."

Right from the outset, this is kind of a weird pitch. Because... what is the pitch? People who have cable are creeps? Someone who is creepy definitely would have cable?

RL: "With DirecTV, you get 99% signal reliability."

The fine print here says "Based on a nationwide study of representative cities." Which seems kind of vague and evasive, but I don't know. Maybe it's true.

RL: "Now that's reliable."

Thanks for interpreting that figure for me. As the kind of creep who has cable, I'm far too busy taking upskirt photos to do math.

SCRL: "My cable's out, so I'm down at the rec center, watching folks swim."

Wow, I guess cable must be terrible. Oh, wait, this part of the ad is based on absolutely nothing. I mean, is there some figure you could be quoting about how cable is out way more of the time? As it stands, it could easily be the case that cable's signal reliability is actually 99.9%. I always get suspicious when advertisers hide figures like this. Why doesn't DirecTV want to talk numbers all of a sudden? Doesn't matter, right? The guy with cable is a creep! That's the important point. I guess.

RL: "I love that I can watch my shows and be worry-free."

Couldn't even squeeze in a second actual claim, huh?

SCRL: "And I love the smell of other people's hair!"

Well, I guess they had to set up that "I love" parallel somehow. Had to.

RL: "Don't be like this me. Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirecTV."

Of course, there are a lot of ways not to be like "Super Creepy Rob Lowe." Having cable would be about nine thousandth in terms of importance on the list of "Things that this fake person does that you should really not do." But implicitly insulting your potential customers for their current purchasing habits is always a really good way to move product. Like, if you were walking into a McDonald's, and some guy in a Burger King uniform started yelling at you from the sidewalk that you should eat at Burger King because only jerks and losers eat at McDonald's... is your next move to go to Burger King? I will answer that for you: it is not. (Side note: I would not have put it past Crispin Porter + Bogusky to try that when they were in charge of BK's marketing campaigns.)

So anyway, either this ad was somehow "popular" or DirecTV already had a bunch in the pipeline, because then they brought out several more. The second one was... problematic. Okay, more problematic.

It's funny, because he has terrible social anxiety! Oh wait, that's not really funny at all. That's a diagnosable psychiatric condition.

RL: "DirecTV is number one in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers."

Okay, actual claim. Not bad so far?

PARL: "With cable, you wait forever for them to show up! I hope it's not a girl."

"And I'm Super-Lazy-Joke-Making Rob Lowe. I have cable."

PARL: "...or a guy."

Social Anxiety Disorder, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association: "A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. ... The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress." Sounds like a laff riot! Suck it up and get DirecTV, you pussy!

RL: "Fact: DirecTV has been ranked higher than cable for over ten years."
PARL: "Fact: I can't go with other people in the room."

Paruresis. A relatively common phobia. Also, a PHOBIA. Like, a legit psychological issue. Not just something that only happens to weird fey losers like Painfully Awkward and Probably Not Coincidentally Kind of Effeminate Rob Lowe.

Anyway, it goes on like this. The remaining list of Fake Alternate Rob Lowes not to be like: Crazy Hairy Rob Lowe, Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe, Meathead Rob Lowe (so apparently you suck if you have no muscle but also if you have too MUCH muscle?), Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe, and Peaked in High School Rob Lowe. Laugh-a-minute jokefests all.

So let's try and figure it out. What is the pitch? What is it? If we take it seriously, the pitch is, "These weirdos have cable. Which means everyone who has cable is a weirdo! Do you wanna be a weirdo? No? Then you'd better get DirecTV, weirdo!" If it's more of a joke, then all you really have is DirecTV going, "We're better than cable! Also, have a look at these at best mildly amusing alternate Rob Lowes we came up with to tell you that."

You know what these ads remind me of? Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads. There are quite a few similarities: you've got one company treating a bunch of different companies as a single monolithic entity ("cable" means different things depending on where you live, much like how there are various manufacturers who produce "PCs"); you have the company not just claiming to be better than its competition but also depicting that competition in the form of someone intended to be less appealing; you have usually pretty vague descriptions of what the differences actually are; and, of course, you have the advertising company with a substantially smaller percentage of the market share.

I understand that whoever's behind tends to feel the need to go on the attack. It's why Pepsi goes after Coke but not the other way around; it's why Taco Bell couldn't just say "Hey, we've got breakfast food now," but felt the need to go after McDonald's in the process; it's why the political races in which the most mud-slinging goes on are the close ones. It makes sense in principle - if most people are going with your competitor already, you feel like you can't just say "Here's what I've got." You have to say "Here's what I've got and HERE'S WHY IT'S BETTER. You should change what you're doing." Again, in principle, this works. In practice, however, it comes off as insulting far too often. Taco Bell's ad attempts to suggest that Egg McMuffins are old and tired. But if you're the sort of person who eats Egg McMuffins all the time, it's probably because you like Egg McMuffins. And hey, maybe you're not going to appreciate being called old and tired for your taste preferences!

DirecTV doesn't have that same kind of problem - no one uses cable because they just fucking love cable so much - but nevertheless, this campaign implies that people who use cable are somehow inferior. Which is just sort of weirdly insulting, and hardly the thing that's going to get people beating a path to your door, especially given how strong the pull of inertia is. DirecTV may indeed be more reliable than cable, but as long as your cable is pretty reliable, I can't imagine that being compared to Super Creepy Rob Lowe is doing much to convince you to switch. There may be a subset of people who are so unhappy with cable that literally any pitch will sway them, but I'm guessing it's not huge. Oh, and I hope everyone in that subset has a clear view of the southern sky.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Karma police, arrest this ad

Sometimes you see an ad and really wonder how that company can afford to advertise. In the case of Credit Karma, I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Because it almost seems unfair to pick on an ad that clearly had no budget at all, let me start with what I actually like about this ad: the messaging. It does get a little obscured by the delivery, but there's a decent point in there about how a person's credit score can change and that just because you knew it once doesn't mean you're set for life. That's fine.

Then there's what I don't like about the ad, which is almost everything else.

Woman 1: "Oh, cool! I can check my credit score on Credit Karma!"

A+ on getting right out there with the name and what the product is, I guess. Sadly, that's the ad peaking in the first three seconds.

Woman 2: "Checking your credit score is for chumps! I have great credit!"
Woman 1: "How do you know?"
Woman 2: "Duh!" [displays tattoo reading "721"]

Not that I expected them to give this woman a real tattoo, but that could look a little less like it was done with a Sharpie.

Woman 1: "You know those change, right?"
Woman 2: "Tattoos don't change!"

Swish! Nailed that joke. What is the deal with this woman's delivery? Trying to make sure they can hear her in the back row of the Palace Theatre? Victim of a recent head injury? Under the impression this is an ad for Totino's Pizza Rolls?

Woman 1: "Try Credit Karma. It's free, and you can see what your score is, right now."

Could they not have used a take where this woman wasn't clearly reading her lines off the laptop screen? Of course, maybe it's presumptuous of me to assume that there was actually a second take. They probably had ten minutes to shoot this before the director's kids got back from soccer practice.

Woman 1: "Aren't you a little bit curious?"

The really weird thing is that this exact same line appears in Naughty Housewives 94, which was shot in the same kitchen just two hours earlier. With the same music. And the same caliber of acting.

Woman 2 [manically]: "I just got my free credit score!!!"

Woman 1 only appears from the back after this point because the volume at which that line was delivered caused her eyeballs to explode.

Announcer: "Credit Karma. Really free credit scores. Really! Free!"

I suppose I would believe that Credit Karma has absolutely zero income given this ad's budget of "one of those chocolate chip cookie party trays," but I have to think that "we give you your credit score for free" is probably not the whole story here. If you can afford ad space, you're making money somehow, and if it's not from charging for your primary service, that means one of three things: (1) your page is loaded with ads; (2) you force people to sign up to get their free score, then sell their info to third parties; or (3) you push paid services on your customers, and as long as a small but reasonable percentage of them sign up for these additional services, you've made enough to get by. Based on this Forbes page, it seems like a version of #2, although it appears that Credit Karma only gets money for a successful referral which at least incentivizes them not to just send you the way of whatever junk comes rolling in. Good for them, if so. This is still a terrible ad.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Irony thick enough to clog your arteries

They do know... right?

True story: as I was watching this ad for the first time, not knowing what it was for, I began thinking, "I wonder how ironic the punchline to this setup is going to be." And then it was. It's possible, of course, that Taco Bell is in on the joke here. But I'm not sure you can make this joke AND be in on it.

Announcer: "If you need to be told how to be a man, Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack isn't for you."

It's winking, obviously. But behind the wink it's the exact same pitch! You can dress it up and claim you're poking fun at the male-targeting advertising industry - which I'd be fine with - but it doesn't really work when your ad ends up in the exact same place. I mean, take it logically:

Real men don't need to be told how to be a man.
If you need to be told how to be a man, Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack isn't for you.
THEREFORE, Taco Bell's Triple Steak Stack is for real men.

So maybe it's not a perfect syllogism, and the first premise is implicit rather than stated outright (but it's pretty clear in the implication), but it's easy enough to follow the line Taco Bell wants you to draw mentally. Even as they poke fun at ads telling you how to be a man, they are TELLING YOU HOW TO BE A MAN. Eat the Taco Bell Steak Stack and prove your manliness. Better yet, prove that you're not affected by ads telling you what manliness is! Other ads, that is. Not this one. Let this one tell you. (Hint: it involves a shit-ton of steak.)

If you want to sell your Enormous Steak Flatbread (protip: "Stack" is not the most appealing description of food) to a male audience, that's fine. But what's the point in being all fucking arch about it? "Selling things based on questioning your masculinity? We would never do that. PS real men eat Cheesy Steak Logs from Taco Bell." Just make a regular pitch, assholes. (By comparison, here is another current Taco Bell ad that is completely straightforward, gets its point across, and gets out. It would have been so hard to do something like that again?)

Monday, February 9, 2015

If your dick joke lasts longer than 60 seconds, consult a physician

Remember: this cost Fiat nine million dollars.

It's sort of an interesting counterpoint to Chevy's "drive a truck or never get laid ever" pitch that small car makers often seem to go in a similar direction, especially when marketing their slightly larger models. During the 2011 Super Bowl, for instance, Mini ran an ad that winkingly compared the trunk space in its four-door Countryman model to anal sex. A year later, Fiat explicitly cast its Fiat 500 Abarth model as a sexy Italian woman. And here we have Fiat again, inviting you to think of its four-door 500X as the product of an erection pill falling into a smaller model. (Less obliquely, of course, it also shows you several women purring over it.) The pitch, it seems, is this: really tiny cars aren't sexy. But we also make SLIGHTLY larger cars! And those are TOTALLY sexy.

Per the Chicago Tribune, subcompact crossovers - the vehicle subsegment in which the 500X is classed - are the hot thing in the automobile world. With that in mind, an ad that pushes them as sexy - when "practical" seems more their speed - feels like an odd play. I understand that "practical" is usually reserved for cars that are being sold to parents, and this type of car is apparently chasing younger urban dwellers... but still. Sexy? The whole point is a car that's small but not TOO small. Easy to drive and park but you don't hear this in your head every time you see one go by. Useful. Not sexy.

Here's a five-year-old ad for the Nissan Juke, one of the first subcompact crossovers to hit the market (here sold as a "sport-cross"):

It's true that that ad also felt the need to have multiple women act impressed by our hero. But it does at least show a few things that the car, you know, can do - the turbo boost, the fact that it can fit into small parking spaces while still having some power (a concern that a lot of people have with small cars, clearly), Bluetooth and pop-up navigation. Even as the ad has plenty of... well, if not jokes per se, at least bits that are intended to be amusing, it still gets across the key points about the Juke.

Meanwhile, what do we know about the 500X after watching that Fiat ad? For one thing, the car doesn't show up for 40 seconds of a 60-second spot; by comparison, the Juke is literally the first thing we see in the Nissan ad. And in fact, the car that shows up at the 40-second mark ISN'T the 500X - we don't see that in full until the 49-second mark, after the smaller Fiat has had a chance to, uh, become engorged with... look, forget this. The point is, I count fewer than three seconds of seeing the car driving in the Fiat ad, and none of them are in an American city, which is a little odd considering that this car is presumably being marketed to urban Americans. (On the bright side, I'm very confident I'll be able to maneuver the 500X should I ever find myself driving one in Tuscany.)

I've never been a big fan of car ads that don't show the car driving (like the middle ad from that Dodge post, which is far too busy calling you gay to show you what you'd actually be getting if you succumbed to their sales pitch). Unless what you're really desperate to sell me on does not involve the driving experience itself - like that Mini ad, which really is just focused on the trunk space - you should probably try to show the car in motion for more than a couple seconds. I mean, this ad features an ersatz Viagra pinging around some Italian town for fully twenty seconds. It spends twenty more seconds just on horny old people. The car itself? Eh, who cares.

This isn't a really terrible ad by any means, but Fiat could easily have saved themselves $4.5 million and cut it down to 30 seconds by trimming the fat from the opening 45. Maybe they would have had room for a few more shots of the car actually driving? Or, I don't know, a second joke?

Friday, February 6, 2015

The trouble with Triscuits

Triscuits are okay, I guess. And these ads aren't super offensive or anything. But I mean, come on.

It's always funny seeing "recipe suggestions" on the side of a box of crackers, but this is some next-level shit right here. Imagine, if you will, taking out an avocado, peeling and slicing it, grilling a chicken breast, slicing that, and then taking out a handful of Triscuits and carefully arranging small amounts of the avocado and chicken on top (in the space of what, maybe four square inches?). And then drizzling some sriracha sauce on there, just for good measure. I suppose if you were trying to make the world's most depressing hors d'oeuvres, this is kind of okay? But Triscuit is trying to position this as some sort of anytime snack, right? Negative bonus points for trying to make the barely-pronounceable portmanteau "avochickirachascuit" happen.

Same deal here, except probably even worse. Spend all that time shredding a cucumber, tearing up mint leaves, crumbling feta... just to fit a tiny spoonful onto a little cracker?

The slogan Triscuit is rolling with here, "Made for more," is really the problem. The implication is that Triscuits basically only exist to be used as little edible plates. But why do I need a Triscuit at all? If the only real point behind the Triscuit is providing a way for the cucumber-mint-feta salad I just created to get into my mouth, I might as well just eat it with a spoon and save myself the Triscuit calories, right? Failing that, there are like eight million other food items I could use to help transport tiny amounts of legitimate food up to my mouth besides Triscuits, which apparently have almost no taste if you believe these ads since they're suggesting they're only made TO be topped with something that contains actual flavor.

Triscuit is absolutely 100% serious about trying to get super-fancy with Triscuits, by the way. They've even recruited Martha Stewart:

I love how she really just says "crackers" the whole time except when she's clearly reading off cue cards. (There's also something slightly weird about how the box looks - I think it may just be that the bright yellow stands out among the otherwise muted colors of the kitchen, but it almost looks like it was CGIed in, or at the very least given its own key light.) Regardless, listen to the times she gives, in minutes, for how long it will take to cook the peas and salmon. Can you imagine spending upwards of twenty minutes - probably closer to half an hour when all cook and prep is factored in - just to ready a snack for yourself? She does seem to be pushing them as hors d'oeuvres, to be fair, but then there's this:

Martha: "Triscuit crackers are substantial enough to hold lots of your favorite toppings, whether you serve them when you entertain, or as an afternoon snack."

Yeah, look: I'm not spending 20-30 minutes cooking up a salmon recipe to put on a TRISCUIT, no matter how delicious it might be, for a quick snack. If I'm eating Triscuits as a snack, I'm pulling the box out and using them as a delivery system for the least complex foods you can think of - slices of cheese or a dip of some sort. I'm not sautéeing swiss chard or letting berries macerate for FORTY-FIVE FUCKING MINUTES.

If you want to see Triscuit really go crazy, head on over to their Pinterest page, as mentioned in the ads. They keep trying to pull off the clunky portmanteaus (portmanteaux?) and ludicrously complex recipes while positioning many of them as "anytime snacking." Sure, any time! Just roast some squash and beets and jam those on a tiny cracker to make the "Squarrobeetscuit" whenever the mood strikes. Not weird at all! There's also a section for pretty much every holiday or general occasion. Involve Triscuits in every aspect of your life! Never eat or do anything unless it involves Triscuits! Thanksgiving leftovers? Slap 'em on a Triscuit and go to town. Super Bowl party? Impress your football fan friends with dainty little cracker-based hors d'oeuvres, I guess! Valentine's Day? Smear some red berries on a Triscuit cracker and watch your significant other be impressed! Later that night, don't forget a box of Triscuits on the bedside table for the perfect post-coital snack! Munch on Triscuits at the hospital while watching your wife give birth! Name your first-born child "Triscuit" - works for a boy or a girl! And be sure to have yourself buried with a box of Triscuits for amazing snacking in the next life!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Colorado, why don't you come to your senses

A few years ago, Dodge ran a campaign that I tore into on this here blog. The premise of that campaign was, predominantly, that Dodge cars were manly cars for men. (The kind of cars you could drink a Dr. Pepper Ten while driving, perhaps.) The ads were laughably inconsistent - when marketing the Charger, Dodge implied that it was unmanly to drive a minivan, but as soon as it had to sell the Grand Caravan, suddenly driving a minivan was the manliest thing on God's green earth. It was really kind of pathetic. Fortunately, Dodge has backed down from this embarrassing stance. Unfortunately, here comes Chevy to fill the void.

A version of this ad, though perhaps not the exact same one, aired during the Super Bowl. And Chevy's pitch is right there on the table: buy a truck or you're a loser.

Announcer: "Can a truck change how people feel about a guy?"

Maybe? People feel different ways about people for all sorts of reasons. The real question is whether said guy should make important purchasing decisions based exclusively on that.

Announcer: "We talked to real people. Not actors."

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. But let's assume these are real people; who gives a shit? Real people are just as likely to give you the answer they know you want to hear as an actor you've handed a script. Especially when giving the right answer is going to get them on television.

Announcer: "We showed them two pictures of the same guy in the same location."

Right away you can see the problem with this, right? People aren't stupid. You think they didn't know this was the same guy? You think they didn't know the only difference in the photos was that one guy was standing in front of your truck and one was standing in front of a Honda Civic or whatever? So with that in mind, how much weight do you REALLY want to put in their answers? Oh, all of it? Okay.

Interviewer: "Which man is sexier?"
Women: "Truck."
Woman: "That one has way more sex appeal."

That's right, guys: unless you drive a Chevy Colorado, no woman will EVER want to fuck you. Mark it down!

Woman: "This [car] guy is definitely the guy your mom wants you to marry, and this [truck] is the guy you're gonna run off to, and leave him, to be with him."

I'm thinking car guy dodged a real bullet on this one. Seriously, though, am I supposed to be taking any of this seriously? These women know why they're there. Fuck, the truck has a prominent Chevy logo while the car isn't even marked. We're here to talk about a truck. And then they get asked an insipid question like judging the sex appeal of two identical guys based solely on the vehicle photoshopped in behind them. What are they gonna say?

Announcer: "You know you want a truck."

I hated it when Kraft tried to use this kind of slogan, and I hate it now. Trying to tell me, the consumer, what I want is just the most embarrassing kind of desperation. You can't just encourage me to buy your product? You have to try and be like, "I know you don't think you want this. But you do! Secretly you do. Chevy sees into your dreams and we know your darkest fears. Buy a Colorado... unless you want people to find out what happened at summer camp in 1994?"

Here's the thing about this when it comes to the Colorado (or any truck) in particular. If you need a truck, go ahead and get a truck. Like, do you have a boat you need to haul out to the lake and back? Great! Get a truck! No problem here. But you don't need to sell trucks to those people with this angle because (a) they probably already have a truck if they need it for real reasons and (b) they do know they want a truck and so don't need to be told that. So who is this marketing to? Guys in general. Guys who drive compact, or maybe midsize, cars like the total weenies that they are.

For instance, take a look at this spot:

This doesn't even make a ton of sense, really. So we have this one guy arriving at the office on what is presumably supposed to be a Monday morning, and he's driving what looks like a Honda Civic or similar. He gets to be represented by a Carpenters song. But then he crosses paths with our bad-ass hero, represented by AC/DC, who drives the Chevy Colorado. But what is the deal with his work schedule? Has he been there all night? All weekend? Or does he just get to come and go as he pleases, because... he drives a truck? Also, there's no visible reason in the ad for him to have or need a truck. He has one because he wants to, I guess. Which is fair enough. But is that really practical? Am I really supposed to be super impressed by a guy who drives a truck in the city for no reason?

Just to ram it home, here's Chevy's copy below that ad on YouTube:

"When you're behind the wheel of Motor Trend’s 2015 Truck of the Year, you sit differently and you walk differently. And suddenly the world is different. The world is yours for the taking."

Look, bullshit, okay? You walk differently? Come on. I know advertisers are pretty much obligated to pump the shit out of their products, but this is just nonsense.

(Oh, and lest we think that Chevy is not completely serious about pushing this angle to the limit, just check out some of the ancillary content they've got on YouTube, which includes "We gave this guy a truck and it improved his dating profile" and, no shit, "We made a fake deodorant and some people bought it, therefore trucks are cool." I really don't even have anything to add here.)

Let's get back to fundamentals for a second. Back when I wrote that Dodge post, I cited market research showing that women made more than 50% of all new vehicle purchases and influenced 80% of all vehicle sales overall. That was five years ago, but I can't imagine things have changed TOO much since then. In addition, according to this review of the 2015 Colorado by one of the editors at, the midsize truck segment has been "withering away for years." If you're trying to kickstart it, do you really want to market yourself so narrowly? You're pretty much ignoring women entirely! Of course, you're also marketing your truck almost exclusively to the kind of man who doesn't really need a truck but is worried about being seen as less sexy, or as the kind of pansy who owns birds instead of a German shepherd, or as soul patch guy instead of mutton chops guy. (Side note: holy FUCK these ads are embarrassingly reductive.) So, not really opening up a big segment of the market there, maybe?

I'd guess the midsize truck market is kind of a tough sell. If you need a truck regularly, you might prefer a larger truck (like Chevy's Silverado, the GMC Sierra, the Dodge Ram, etc.) that can handle a wider range of activities. And if you rarely if ever need a truck, there's not much reason to buy a truck, is there? One can't help but wonder if GM's push here is based on the hope that plummeting gas prices will make people more willing to buy enormous, impractical cars again. (I mean: remember how ubiquitous Hummer was for a while? Did you know that brand became completely defunct five years ago? There's a reason for that.)

But of course, people aren't just going to buy big-ass trucks they don't have any need for, no matter how cheap gas is. So what's the next move? Try to make it about image. Sure, you may not NEED a pickup truck. But aren't they cool? Aren't they rugged? Wouldn't you feel like more of a man if you were driving one? Look, Chevy, I can get a German shepherd for a lot less than the cost of a truck that will apparently make children think I own one. Building a whole ad campaign around lazy stereotypes aimed at insecure single men in the 25-45 age range might work, I suppose. But you guys better pray that gas prices don't rebound any time soon.

What really kills me about the whole thing is that Chevy's first piece of Colorado-related content on YouTube (which I've never seen on TV, needless to say) is actually pretty good:

Like, that's an acceptable amount of swagger for a car commercial. And it actually shows the truck being used in places where I'd expect to need or want a truck. It shows some things it's good for. It shows people of both sexes using the truck! And most impressively, it doesn't bother trying to call you a wuss if you aren't interested. So, obviously, Chevy dumped it when it came time to truly market the Colorado. I mean, advertising that isn't insulting to the viewer's intelligence? Who'd want that?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Screw you and the tweet you rode in on

I will confess to being very confused about what this ad is trying to accomplish.

First of all, I continue to be impressed that Papa John's is utterly incapable of making a commercial for their cheeseburger pizza that makes it look even slightly appealing. Look at that thing. It looks like a real chef overturned his scrap bucket onto it. And that cheese looks like Elmer's glue. I ate a lot of Papa John's pizza in college and it was fine, but who is really demanding these complex, evoking-other-foods recipes anyway? Well, I guess we're about to find out.

Papa John: "When we stopped selling the cheeseburger pizza, boy did I hear about it. @BiggBill7 writes..."

Well, we can all see what he wrote. This is an actual Twitter account with literally just those three tweets, posted back in November. The account has also favorited 13 tweets, 12 of which were posted by Papa John's (the last one merely references Papa John's). In other words, this account was almost certainly created by some Papa John's marketing intern (or an intern at their ad agency) several months ago JUST to set up this AMAZING ad.

So anyway, Papa John reveals "Big Bill" as... some eight-year-old kid or whatever. That is the punchline to this ad. The question is, what's the joke here? Who or what is it on? Is it:

(a) Poking fun at the kind of people who would go on Twitter to complain about not being able to get a specific variety of pizza anymore by implying that they're all children?

Ineffective, if so, since Papa John is openly suggesting that he brought the pizza back at least partly in response to such complaints. Also maybe kind of needlessly insulting to what I'd think would be a key demographic?

(b) Suggesting that the best market for a "cheeseburger pizza" is grade school children?

Kind of a problem since children don't usually make household purchasing decisions.

(c) Just a lazy joke with no real thought behind it at all, which frankly is what you'd expect from a guy who thinks he should appear in all his own ads and that putting pickles on a pizza was somehow a good idea?


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The perfect beer for people with no tastebuds

The Budweiser ad with the dog and the horse was probably the most popular of the Super Bowl, for obvious reasons - people love cute dogs. Sure, those ads have nothing to do with Budweiser, but it doesn't matter. Fortunately for our purposes, Bud wasn't satisfied with just having a cute ad and getting out.

Remember: Bud spent nine million dollars to air this. Let's play a little game of Text/Subtext, shall we?

Onscreen text: "Budweiser - proudly a macro beer"

"Proudly produced in a giant factory. Proudly made by a soulless multinational. Proudly indifferent to craftsmanship."

Text: "It's not brewed to be fussed over"

"It's not brewed to taste good. It's not brewed to taste like ANYTHING. It's brewed to go down quickly and easily. It's brewed to get slammed. It's brewed to be sold in a 24-pack."

Text: "It's brewed for a crisp, smooth finish"

"It's brewed so you don't have to think about it. Down the hatch! Here comes the alcohol, bloodstream!"

Text: "This is the only beer beechwood-aged"

"Please don't ask what it means that no one else cares about beechwood-aging. Like, really, if that were so great someone else would probably do it, right?"

Text: "There's only one Budweiser - it's brewed for drinking, not dissecting"

"What kind of flavor profile are you getting?"
"Uh, absolutely zero."
"Yeah, me too. Basically just tastes like piss water."
"But hey! It's got alcohol in it! Let's just pound this shit and get wasted!"
"Aw yeah, bro!" *bottles clink*

Text: "The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer"

"The people who drink our beer are people who like to use beer as a way to wash down chicken wings."

Text: "Brewed the hard way"

"Just kidding. Brewed in enormous brewing plants that have been set up to streamline the creation of beer over years of mass production."

Text: "Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale"

"Beer isn't for SIPPING like some nancy boy! It's for CHUGGING! Swallowing by the GLUG. Finishing a bottle in UNDER THIRTY SECONDS. Because this is about taste! And how we lack it entirely."

(Also, as has been pointed out in many places already, Anheuser-Busch recently bought a microbrewery that makes a beer almost identical to the supposedly hyperbolic concoction they're making fun of here. Awkward!)

Text: "We'll be brewing us some golden suds"

"Our beer looks and tastes like it came out of a mop bucket that someone pissed in! THIRSTY?"

Text: "This is the famous Budweiser beer"

"Proving vaguely acceptable to millions of palates, truly enjoyed by none."

Text: "This Bud's for you"
Tiny fucking text: "Enjoy responsibly"

"Budweiser! Produced in huge quantities so you can DRINK IT in huge quantities! But uh, you know, don't have TOO many. We guess. Someone made us write this. So we wrote it as small as possible. Just keep drinking."

Ad Age published some quotes from Budweiser VP Brian Perkins that, much like this ad itself, are almost hilariously clueless. Perkins claims the ad is not an attack on craft beer - which I suppose he'd have to claim, given that Anheuser-Busch now owns a number of craft breweries. It's an attack on pretentiousness! The pretentiousness of wanting your beer to have character, I guess, and not be made to wash down without a second thought. Soooo snobbish.

We've talked about this kind of ad a number of times over the years: the ad that markets itself only to people who already use the product. It's like a high-five to the dude who's tossing cases of Bud into the back of his truck in the middle of Nebraska, or whatever. Which of course is ironic because the ad primarily shows people drinking Buds in upscale urban bar settings, which is probably the last place in America where a group of friends comes in and asks for a round of Budweiser. In fact, that Ad Age article reveals that Bud has had trouble gaining traction in the under-30 set, and suggests that going back to the old "This Bud's for you" slogan is actually a way of turning their focus back to older people. Older people who, I guess, just want to throw back a few.

But you can see why Bud would go on the attack. This is a very political way of selling something - if you're not with us, you're against us. Should we try to win over new customers? Nope. And that's not wrong - if you're a "pumpkin peach ale drinker" (excuse me, "sipper"), you're not seeing a Budweiser ad and thinking, "You know, I'm really getting bored with drinking interesting beer! How about the single most boring, mass-produced lager on the planet instead?" It's like McDonald's running an ad that makes fun of molecular gastronomy. The Venn diagram was already two perfect circles. This isn't a conversion exercise. It's the beer ad equivalent of Donald Trump demanding to see President Obama's birth certificate - red meat to try and fire up the base.

Bud claims this is still about winning over new customers, but no. If you had a bunch of friends but knew a few people who didn't like you, would you spend time trying to make those people into your friends? Or would you hang out with your actual friends and talk shit about those people? Most people would do the latter, and that's what this is. Bud isn't reaching a hand out to non-Bud drinkers. It's flipping them the bird. "This Bud's not for you. Because you don't want it anyway. So fuck you." I guess that was worth nine million dollars.

Shh, don't tell 'em

Do you think Nissan actually knows what "Cat's in the Cradle" is about?

A quick refresher: "Cat's in the Cradle" is a song about a father who never has any time for his kid. The kid nevertheless talks about wanting to grow up to be like his father - and then, lo and behold, he does, growing into a man who is constantly busy and never has time to spend with his father, who has aged into a regretful old man upset with himself for ignoring his son all those years. That song is BRUTAL AS FUCK. That it's somehow turned into a fatherhood anthem just because the word "Dad" is in the lyrics is right up there with "Born in the USA" in the all-time "no one listened to these lyrics besides the chorus" rankings.

The question is what Nissan is even trying to do here. The plot of this ad: race car driver has a kid. He's never at home because he's off nearly getting killed in his race car. Then at the end he actually shows up for a change! And he gets a hug. The end.

This could have been a contender for the SkyMall Championship Trophy in our Super Bored Awards. Because what the fuck. The dad is a race car driver in a Nissan car. So, in other words, all the anguish and emotional distance being experienced by this family is at least partly Nissan's fault! "Yeah, sorry I missed your birthday, son, but I was off driving around in my sweet-ass Nissan race car!"

I suppose Nissan has to know what "Cat's in the Cradle" is about since the plot of the ad basically dovetails exactly with the plot of the song (though really just the first two and a half verses). But how did they think this was going to sell cars? This is one of those "the only important thing is getting our name out there" ads, which I've never thought made a lot of sense coming from companies whose names are already well known. If you're Nissan, I don't think there's a ton you can do to boost your Q rating compared to, say, Mophie. But you can probably screw it up! And one way to do that is by making a weird, depressing ad that has nothing to do with your actual products. I guess we see a new-looking Nissan at the end. You need eagle eyes to spot the model name, though. Worth it.

In case you think that Nissan really gave any significant thought to this "#withdad" campaign they're running, check out this thing that supposedly was intended as a "teaser" for their Super Bowl ad:

Setting aside the fact that this barely constitutes a "prank," this video of an apparently stay-at-home dad having fun with his kids is literally as far as possible from the plot of Nissan's Super Bowl ad as I can even imagine.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and a ball-filled room
When ya comin' home dad, I'm home right now
I don't have an actual job, son, so I'm here all the time

Also: the idea of filling a non-ball-pit room with balls? Not new. I'm sure your wife appreciates how annoying you've made her life after her 40-minute commute, though.

And here's another video (this one part of a series on YouTube) about the Matthews family, who have been playing in the NFL for three generations. This isn't bad for like, a SportsCenter piece. But what value does it have as Nissan content? Oh, but there are dads in it! So hashtag that shit up, man!

This is just incoherent, right? It has nothing to do with anything. Nissan wants to make a bunch of branded content with dad stuff because... what? Are dads their key demo now? "Nissan! The perfect boring mid-size car for your boring middle-age dad life!" I guess it's a change of pace from the usual push to market everything to the 18-to-34 demographic, but linking a bunch of totally unrelated stuff together with a dad-related hashtag is super uninspiring. You can practically see the marketing meeting in which this was conceived.

Exec 1: "Okay, here's the pitch: dads."
Exec 2: "What do you mean, dads?"
Exec 1: "Dads! Hashtag, 'dads.' 'Nissan: the boring car for boring dads.'"
Exec 3: "Yeah, we're not gonna-"
Exec 1: "Okay, forget the boring part. But trust me: dads. What do you think of when you think of dads?"
Exec 2: "Um... football?"
Exec 1: "Great! What about you?"
Exec 3: "Miserable absentee bastards."
Exec 1: "Oh! That's, uh, that's very specific..."
Exec 3: "Lousy, no-good, never home, never said he loved me, missed all my soccer games, rat-fu-"
Exec 1 [jotting down notes]: "Yeah, no, this is good stuff, Phil. I think we can make this work."
Exec 2: "And this is going to sell Nissans?"
Exec 1 [shrugging]: "I mean... it might?"

Monday, February 2, 2015

Would you like mawkish sentiment with that?

You'll sometimes hear it said that certain companies or products are so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that they don't need to advertise. That's probably true to some extent, but logically, if it were really true, those companies wouldn't be among the most prominent in the ad world, would they? Coke is one that comes to mind - what's the longest you've ever gone without seeing a Coke ad on TV? McDonald's is another. There are thousands of McDonald's locations all over the country. Do they need to advertise? Maybe not. But they ALSO don't need to do shit like this. And yet here they are doing it anyway.

Let me pre-empt the lovefest by getting this out of the way: McDonald's does not give a fuck about you, except inasmuch as you are a person with money.

Cashier: "Hi, welcome to McDonald's, how can I help you?"
Guy in Knit Cap: "Two hash browns and a small coffee?"
Cashier: "You know what, for your payment today - do you have your cell phone with you?"
Guy [warily]: "Yeah."

That guy is right to be suspicious, IMO. How often do you go to some store and they want your e-mail so they can send you coupons every day for the rest of eternity? He's probably expecting them to be like "Do you have your cell phone with you? Well if you install our app you can save EIGHT CENTS on this order!"

Cashier: "Dial up your mom, tell her you love her."

Dude continues to stare at the cashier. And he's correct to! Because this is weird.

Here's a question I have about this. It does seem like these might be real people. But what weird Stage McDonald's are they walking into where all the cashiers are these super-peppy, good-at-selling-this-bizarre-concept non-sullen-teenagers? Maybe this was shot in Los Angeles where every McDonald's is probably stacked to the brim with Juilliard graduates.

[Twinkly piano music starts.]
Guy in vest: "Excuse me?"

That guy actually seems like he might be a little pissed. "My mom died two years ago, you fuckhead! Just give me my damn hash browns!"

Woman in coat: "Hey mom, just wanted to let you know that I love you..."

"Hey mom, just wanted to let you know that I would never have made this call if I weren't being forced to do so by a multinational corporation pretending it cares about family values!" Seriously, how pissed must that woman's mother have been when she saw this commercial for the first time? "Wait a second! I thought that was just a spontaneous call from Megan! It was so sweet! And she really only did it to get a free hamburger? GOD DAMN IT."

Guy [looking vaguely embarrassed]: "Te quiero mucho."
Old guy: "How about you just tell me how much it is?"
Cashier: "That is how much it is! Boom!

What percentage of the time was that the initial response? "Quit fucking around and just give me the total, man."

Female cashier: "Your payment today will be... tell me what you love about your son."

Starts to get a little suspicious here. How was this arranged? They're acting like they're reading it off the screen, but it's not like the screen is going to know that the person who just walked up has a son, much less that he's conveniently standing there. If this was improvised because these cashiers are really actors, then I somehow doubt - even if McDonald's legitimately runs this promotion across the United States - that your experience will match this one. (Also, McDonald's is franchised. I wonder if a lot of franchise owners - who can pretty much do whatever the fuck they want within reason, as evidenced by the recent revelation that the McPizza is still being sold at two stores in the Ohio River valley - are lining up to give away free shit by telling their 16-year-old register drones to ask every 500th customer to hug their kids or whatever. Remember, prices and participation may vary!)

Mom: "I love... his compassion for other people."
[Other patrons applaud]

Oh come on. This didn't fucking happen. Unless McDonald's is treating this like waiters at a chain restaurant announcing a birthday. "Attention McDonald's guests! We know you had to pay for your food, but up front here we have Cheryl, and we've decided to let her pay using a sappy challenge question! Cheryl... name something you love about your son!" And the other diners are... happy she loves her son? Really pleased they got to partake in this spectacle? Or... taking direction from the person who brought all the cameras into the restaurant? I'm thinking it's that one. If I were just sitting in a McDonald's you can bet I wouldn't start clapping for ANYTHING that happened, not least because I'd be too busy feeling pissed off that I had to eat at a McDonald's.

Other female cashier: "The total says that she has to dance, right now!"
Women: "No!"

I hear ya, ladies. Oh, and then you see several cashiers dancing with the customers, and again you hear cheers and applause in the background. McDonald's REALLY wanted people to know this was happening. Or, more likely, everyone there knew a commercial was being shot. Much like that Bud Light ad from last night, it's almost impressive how quickly we go from "hidden cameras" trying to make the whole thing seem as real as possible to some obviously fake, scripted bullshit. Even if the people in this ad are real people who happened to walk into a McDonald's that day, and even if they didn't know they were going to get free food for embarrassing themselves on national television, I'm pretty sure they had some idea they were on camera.

Other female cashier: "That strawberry sundae's waiting on you!
Raising the roof guy: "Strawberry sundae!"

And again, CHEERS AND APPLAUSE. "Hey, we gave away one of our cheapest items! LOVE US."

Other female cashier: "You paid with lovin', that's all we need."

And finally we get to the point of this gross, cynical campaign. "Pay with lovin'." There's an onscreen graphic right after this which says, "Through February 14, McDonald's will randomly select customers to Pay with Lovin'." Wow, less than two weeks. You spoil us. (The fine print, which states that no purchase or order is necessary, is curious. I suppose that's a legal necessity but how would that even work? I walk into a McDonald's and go "Hey, can I get some free food if I hug my family? No? THEN I'M FUCKIN' OUTTA HERE.") What's "lovin'" about raising the roof anyway? Did they try asking that guy to tell various family members he loves them and he just kept going "Dead. They're dead. She's dead too. Can I just have my sundae?"

Female cashier: "Your total is one big family hug."

Sorry, but if you need McDonald's to inspire you to display any affection towards your family members, you've got way bigger things to worry about than the three bucks you're saving on your free Big Mac.

Let's be clear here: McDonald's does not care about you. They don't care if you love your mom. They don't care if you hug your kids. They care about your money. This ad campaign/promotion, by suggesting that they DO care if you love your mom and DON'T care about your money, is the most revolting kind of calculated, manipulative bullshit there is. It's true that McDonald's isn't going to worry too much about your money on a single trip. They can afford to give away a few thousand orders, or however many are going to fall under this 12-day promotion. What they want is for you to associate them with "lovin'." If hugging your mom gets you free food at McDonald's, that just might encourage you to go back to McDonald's! Because (a) you might get something free again (spoiler: you won't) and (b) you feel like McDonald's cares somehow. They don't. This whole campaign is basically a social psychology experiment with your money as the dependent variable.

Why should McDonald's care about you, of course? They're a company, and they have a bottom line. Getting you to come in and spend money there is part of that bottom line. And that's fine. But it's the WAY they want to get you in the door that I have a problem with. As annoying as I found ads like "The Quarter Pounder with Cheese knows you're eye-fucking it" - oh, did I ever - at least those dealt with McDonald's products. The only products even mentioned in this ad: hash browns, coffee, and a strawberry sundae. Because for the purposes of this ad, it is irrelevant what McDonald's sells. They could be a fucking hardware store for all we care. This is about manipulating the consumer. This is about getting you in the door not because you really like the product but because you've formed certain mental associations about the people behind the product. Yeah, advertising is all about social psychology in a lot of ways. But it's rarely quite this craven.

Just remember, this is the same corporation that is run on the backs of people who it even admits will need a second job just to make ends meet. (If you've ever wondered why McDonald's is staffed largely by teenagers, it's because only people who don't pay rent can afford to fucking work there.) Maybe instead of giving away food to people who, having walked into the restaurant with the intent of ordering and paying, can obviously afford it, they could use that money to pay their employees a living wage. Sure, it's not as warm and fuzzy as two weeks of food for hugs, but it would sure do a lot more to show "lovin'" in the long run. Oh, but if they started paying people more they'd probably have to do that forever! And that, unlike manipulating you into going to McDonald's more often, is going to cut into profits. Oh well!

Super Bored Awards VI

Oh hey there.

You may (probably not) have noticed we haven't posted in a while.  But if there was one thing that was going to drag us out of retirement, it was another Super Bowl with its terrible, terrible "event" advertising.  So of course here we are.

The Apple 1984 Memorial Award for Least Shitty Ad
Winner: BMW

Celebrity cameos are rarely inspiring.  And it's slightly annoying for BMW to compare its electric car to the entire internet.  But despite that, this ad is pretty clever.  The Gumbel/Couric clip is infamous for how hilariously tone-deaf it sounds twenty years later (let's face it, it sounded tone-deaf five years later), and BMW does a pretty good job playing it off against the continuing struggle that people have with getting into the concept of electric cars.  (While no one is quite as confused about them as this ad, or that old Chevy Volt one, would imply, it's certainly true that they have not gained the traction they probably should.)  Also, this is an ad that is VERY direct about its product, a relative rarity during the Super Bowl.  Credit where credit is due.

Most Overproduced Ad
Winner: Mophie

Mophie should also probably win an award that we don't give out (although the Cheapest Budget award gets halfway there) called "Who knew that was something that could afford to advertise during the Super Bowl?"  But really, just look at this thing.  All that CGI.  All those apocalyptic sets.  They had to build at least one set that could rotate, by the looks of it.  And for what?  A mediocre joke about God's phone battery running low.  (And they didn't even go for the bonus "Me darn it" joke!  What's up with that?)  Also, doesn't God live up there?  Like, he has a power cord, right?  This premise isn't even internally consistent.

Cheapest Budget/Clumsiest Execution Award
Winner: Chevrolet

Frankly, Chevy's "You know you want a truck" pitch annoyed me all night.  This probably wasn't the worst of their ads, but considering that nearly all of it is a black screen with text on it?  It's a shoo-in for Cheapest Budget.  Also, the suggestion that I go sit in a car to watch the Super Bowl is entirely comical.  Why wouldn't I just go out somewhere at that point?  What if I'm hosting a Super Bowl party?  Complete nonsense.  I suppose it gets its point across - this truck has built-in wi-fi! - but it does so in the laziest fashion possible.

Worst Use of "Humor" Award
Winner: Pizza Hut

This one actually aired before the Super Bowl, but it came on again during the game, so here it is. I must admit I don't totally hate this ad, but it makes several key mistakes. For one thing, I find it strange that the ad makes a completely unattributed reference to the Dez Bryant non-catch in the NFC Divisional round game between the Cowboys and Packers yet thinks you WON'T know who Rex Ryan is. (If you need to have a character say your celebrity cameo's name out loud, you should not be using that celebrity for your cameo. Also, if you don't know who Rex Ryan is, will hearing his name help you? It's like this is just to impress the non-football fans. "I don't know who that dude is, but he must be a famous coach because they said his name out loud! Pizza Hut is obviously great!") But the simple reason it ends up in this spot? The utterly gratuitous nut-shot, which is only there in an attempt for the cheapest possible joke. You didn't have to go there, Pizza Hut.

Flimsiest Pretense Award
Winner: Game of War

Word to the wise: "Free to play" means very little coming from an ad for a game that evidently had FOUR AND A HALF MILLION BUCKS to drop on this ad (and that's just for the ad space itself). But seriously, look at the "game play" at the end of the ad. That's what the game looks like. It doesn't look like a complex battle on a movie set. And it SURE doesn't have anything to do with Kate Upton's heaving bosom. But, give it to these guys: they know who they're marketing to.

The Carlos Mencia Book Prize for the Most Egregious Use of B-List Celebrities
Winner: T-Mobile

This is always one of the most competitive categories, because advertisers seem convinced that as long as you vaguely recognize a person in their ad, you're more likely to buy their product. Snickers inserting Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi into the Brady Bunch - a double "Hey I know those things/people!" - was a strong contender, especially since that "You're not you when you're hungry" gimmick is wearing super thin. Lindsay Lohan's appearance in an Esurance ad was also right up there (and man, Lohan is looking rough). But I had to go with T-Mobile because "egregious" is right there in the name of the award. And why did these mildly famous people need to be in this ad? At least the Snickers ad is dependent on having famous people in it. The only joke here that is even remotely dependent on these women being sort of famous is the idea that they MIGHT have mansions (albeit not actually having them). But it's still not necessary. Any two commercial actresses could have handled this and probably would have come cheaper. Maybe they wrote this ad themselves? That's about the only explanation I can think of.

The Bad Idea Jeans Award for Most Epic Miscalculation
Winner: Nationwide

If you were on Twitter during the game, you would have noticed that this almost immediately became one of the most talked-about ads. And not in a good way. I'm actually reminded quite a bit of the ad we started this category for: that Groupon ad from a few years ago that actually ran in the opposite fashion. That one pretended to be serious, then pulled the rug out and made a joke out of its subject. This ad, meanwhile, starts with a whimsical premise and then rug-pulls into abject horror. The bigger problem, of course, is that this is an insurance company - in other words, you give them money to cover your losses if something bad happens. You know, something like your KID DYING. Nationwide claims that this was just about "starting a conversation," but conversations aren't normally started by warning someone about their child dying and then staring at them until they back away uncomfortably.

SkyMall Championship Trophy
Winner: TurboTax

As always, the SkyMall trophy goes to the weirdest attempt to sell a product. And as always, you could frankly give this to almost any Super Bowl ad. Skittles is pretty much a lifetime WTF achievement winner at this point, for example. But I had to go with TurboTax here, because... um. The premise of this ad is that if TurboTax had existed in 1776, the American Revolution wouldn't have happened. Which, uh, means we would all be living as British subjects right now. Was this ad written by Benedict Arnold? Bonus points for how overdone this ad is. You went to all that trouble and literally the only message is "TurboTax makes doing your taxes easier," which is a message I think most people get simply from hearing the name TurboTax. Coulda saved you NINE MILLION BUCKS since apparently this ad was sixty seconds long? This ad also sucks because of how weirdly glib it is. "Sure the US tax code is notoriously byzantine, but at least we don't charge you to file!" Way to clear the lowest possible bar, dudes.

Worst Super Bowl Ad of 2015
Winner: Bud Light

Plenty of strong contenders for this one as well. Could've been the Fiat ad that was basically a nine-million-dollar dick joke. Could've been the Mercedes-Benz ad that rewrites the ending of the Tortoise and the Hare so that the tortoise not only wins but also gets to fuck the hare's wife for some reason. Could've been the Fifty Shades of Grey or Ted 2 trailers just on principle because I can't fucking believe EITHER of those movies exists. Or it could have been the mawkish claptrap that was McDonald's pretending it cares about you as anything other than a revenue stream. But in the end, I had to go with Bud Light.

As I tweeted, "Bud Light: the perfect beer for when you are so clearly an actor it's painful." I don't know why they even bothered saying "Hidden cameras!" at the beginning as if the way the commercial proceeds is going to lead me to think I'm actually watching events that just spontaneously unfolded. Well, obviously they didn't - even if this were real, Bud Light had to set them up. But you know what I mean. Listen to that guy's incredibly unconvincing response when he comes across a giant quarter sitting on the sidewalk. But then, when you're tasked with being handed a Bud Light and selling the line "This is all I've wanted all day," I can see where it would be hard to convince. Look, this concept was kind of funny (if similarly unconvincing) the first time they tried it, with that dude bouncing from one random encounter to the next. But this is literally one thing - Human Pac-Man - being played by a guy who isn't famous but also does not come across as a convincingly real person who was actually just thrown into this weird situation. Also, Human Pac-Man isn't that funny or interesting. Also this ad is NINETY SECONDS LONG. Bud Light spent $13.5 million to remind me that their product exists and that there are people out there who are so desperate for shitty beer that they'll leave a bar they just walked into, walk down the street, blunder into a human-sized video game that Anheuser-Busch could get the rights to, and then act super excited because as their prize for having to go through all this rigmarole they received ONE BOTTLE of shitty beer. Congrats, Bud Light: your tedious slog through a fake urban wonderland was the worst Super Bowl ad of 2015.