Sleepy Surfing

Dude, surfing is so totally mundane and tedious. If I didn’t guzzle a can or two of this speed-laced cough syrup every couple of hours, I’d probably fall asleep in the middle of a pipeline.

My life totally blows. I don’t know why I didn’t choose an interesting career, like quality control at an underwear plant, or accounting. Triple-checking the data on some enormous spreadsheet — now that’s a rush, my man. I bet those folks don’t have to worry about staying alert on the job. The sheer excitement of their work is enough to keep them totally pumped 24/7.


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Viva Commerce! (#23)

Dear Chrysler,

Your current ads on the eye of hell feature the following proclamation:

We don’t want to be just any car company,
We want to be your car company.

Chrysler logo

That’s a lovely sentiment. It really is. But I have to tell you, you’re not going to be my car company. I haven’t owned a car since I gave my thirteen-year-old VW (“das Spiff”) to charity in the spring of 2000. I’d just paid about $500 for some repairs, brought it in for its annual inspection, and was told that it would need another $600 or so in repairs to pass. That was the end of the road for das Spiff. Since then, I’ve weaned myself from the need and I wouldn’t want a car now — not from you or anyone else. I’ve got no use for one.

True, if I were interested in buying a car, it probably wouldn’t be one of yours, but that’s hardly the point.

Personally, I’d advise just a little patience on your part, Chrysler.

Six months from now, the idea of being just any car company is probably going to seem like a real prize to you.

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Viva Commerce! (#22)

Dear Aleve,

Aleve boxYour adverts on the eye of hell say that “only two Aleve can stop pain all day.”

I don’t see how that’s supposed to convince me to shell out my hard-earned cash to buy a bottle of your little pills. I mean, what are the odds that, of the millions of Aleves out there, I’m going to be the lucky sod who wins the jackpot and gets the two that can stop pain all day?

What if I just get one of the two? That’d be like getting cherry – cherry – cherry – lemon on a slot machine, and then no one would have a shot at stopping pain all day.

What a waste!

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So Good You Can’t Even Tell

Warner Bros logoI finally got around to watching The Dark Knight on DVD last night. Fairly impressive, but I’m not here to write about the film itself.

I was struck by a promotional video that ran before the feature, right after the god-awful reworking of Casablanca into a warning not to pirate movies (Shame on you, Ilsa).

The promo featured big, impressive, immersive shots from some big Warner Bros. movies, including A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Goodfellas, V for Vendetta, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Batman Begins. For the most part, these were shots intended to make the audience go “oooh,” like Neo stopping a barrage of bullets (ooh), or the Houses of Parliament exploding (ooh).

The voice-over that went with these big visuals went as follows:

Something has come along that changes our movies.

It changes the way you see them, hear them, feel them.

It changes the experience.

It opens our eyes to something new.

We invite you to dig deeper, to find things that you’ve never experienced before.

This is the difference between watching our movies and living them.

Experience our movies on Blu-ray.

This is how our movies are meant to be… lived

Blu-ray logoOK. It was a promo for the glory, the splendor and the majesty that is Blu-ray. Fine. But it raised a few questions for me.

As I’ve already mentioned, these were big, impressive images. I was watching on a standard DVD, on an eye of hell that’s neither HD, plasma, giant, or even flat, with the sound running through a stereo that’s about 30 years old — well, the speakers are only about 10, but there are only two of them. And I got the message that I was supposed to be impressed by these images.

So if I’m impressed, how are they supposed to sell me on ditching all of my equipment and getting a Blu-ray setup? Obviously, they can’t show me how a Blu-ray image is better than what I’ve got if they’re showing it to me via what I’ve got. Maybe they should have lowered the quality of the images they showed me, like I was watching on a pitiful portable picnic player, as little Alex might point out. Then they could have told me that if I wanted to experience the true gorgeousness and gorgeosity of the pictures and properly hear the angel trumpets and devil trombones, I’d best upgrade.

Or I suppose they might have added a few lines to the voice-over (I think it might have been Kiefer Sutherland, using his “this is America” Bank of America voice rather than his “tell me now or you’re dead” 24 voice, by the way), like

Do these scenes look good to you? Then you’re an idiot. This stuff is pure crap. You can’t see how good these scenes really are, because your hardware is shit.

There needs to be some comparison if I’m to be convinced that what I don’t have is better than what I have. Remember the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati? The first few bars were engineered to sound like AM radio, and then it opened up to something fuller, so even though you were listening to the whole thing through a tiny, tinny monaural speaker, you could hear the difference. You got the message that AM radio sounds like KRaP.

And there’s that last line in the promo: This is how our movies are meant to be… lived.

Is it really? Have they forgotten about movie theatres, many of which still have bigger screens and better sound systems than the average living room? Are they suggesting that this is what the filmmakers had in mind?

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It’s No Toyotathon Without You

Squire FridellThey say it’s Toyotathon time.

They’re calling it “The Toyotathon of Toyotathons.”

They lie.

Without my man Squire Fridell whipping us into a frenzy, I say it’s no Toyotathon at all.

Come back to us, Squire, we need you! I’m sure you’re very busy running your little winery, but come on, man! It’s Toyotathon time, and you’re the Toyotathon guy! Can’t you come out of retirement once a year, at this extra special time, to bring back the spirit of the Toyotathon?

If you can’t make it, do you think your daughter would consider taking up the tradition?

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Viva Commerce! (#21)

Dear Marshalls,Marshalls logo

Welcome to Remedial Discount Mathematics. Shall we begin?

Your ads on the eye of hell say that a shopper can save “up to 50%” off of department store prices. As an example, you show a sweater, priced at $40.00 at the department store.

How much is up to 50% of $40.00? That’s right, it’s anything from 0 to $20.00. So if your customers can save up to 50% on that scarf, how much can you charge?

No, if you charge $19.99 they’re saving more than 50%, which is more than “up to 50%”. See, a price of $19.99 represents a discount of $20.01 from the original price of $40.00, and $20.01 is 50.025% of $40.00.

50.025% is actually more than 50%, and “up to 50%” isn’t supposed to go higher than 50%.

Maybe we can get Capt. James T. Negotiator to tutor you. He had a similar problem last year.

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Buy Our Product. Hurt People.

Advertising is often about comparison: our product is better than their product.

It’s not uncommon for that to extend to a representation of the people using the products. That is, because our product is better than their product, the users of our product have some advantage over those who use their product. They may be happier, more successful, sexier, wealthier, etc.

Sometimes, this rubs off on the user of the superior product, making them kind of cocky. They’ve made the right choice, and they seem to feel that that makes them better than the poor slob who’s stuck with Brand X.

It’s one thing for the winning consumer to be a bit of an asshole, but some advertisers now appear to have decided that picking the right product gives one the right to take things a step or two further.

National Car Rental logoIn a current spot for National Car Rental, John McEnroe explains the advantages of National’s Emerald Club and its new Emerald Aisle (faith and begorrah) feature along with the luxuries offered by them: not only can you bypass the counter and all the paperwork, but you just go into the lot and pick whichever car you’d like.

Sounds pretty good, right? Keep in mind that this is John McEnroe, who is equally famous for tennis and temper. He demonstrates his freedom of choice in a lot full of cars by yelling, “Hey, Pal! That car’s mine!” at what appears to be one of maybe three other customers there, pulling a tennis racket and ball out of his carry-on, and serving the ball right into the poor man’s head, knocking him to the concrete, coffee cup, briefcase and all. If the tennis ball doesn’t give him a concussion, I’m sure the pavement does.

It should be noted that the Emerald Club rules stipulate that:

National Car Rental may disqualify any Member for any reason including such Member’s unacceptable driving record. Such disqualification is effective when it is entered into National Car Rental’s computer system.

I wonder if “any reason” includes assault on fellow Emerald Club members.

We’ve got a similar situation with Hall’s cough drops.

In the old days, a Hall’s ad would involve a person who had a bit of a cough or congestion. They’d pop a Hall’s and that menthol-lyptus stuff would go to work, sending waves of gentle, healing warmth through them, and they’d find themselves cleared out, comfortable, and happy. Nice and simple. But no more.

In a current spot on the eye of hell, our protagonist is in an elevator, standing right in the middle of the car. The door opens, and someone walks in. Our hero is pushed a bit to the side, expresses a touch of irritation on his face, and moves back into the middle of the car. The door opens again, and again he has to move out of the way to let someone through, again he becomes a little irritated, and again he moves back into the center of the elevator. The door opens yet again, and our hero is not a happy guy. You’d think that by now he’d have figured out that if he moved into a corner of the elevator, he could finish his ride thoroughly untouched, but he seems to believe that he has the right both to stand in the center and to have an invisible buffer zone around him. He thinks that other people should enter the elevator by pressing themselves up against the wall and squeezing by him as carefully and respectfully as possible.

So what does he do about it? He pulls out a Hall’s and pops it into his mouth. We see those waves of warmth and comfort like before… but something is different. Those waves are now weapons, forcing the other people up against the wall and literally flattening them — most likely causing permanent damage, perhaps death.

Is this really the message advertisers want to send? When did it become necessary for consumers to feel so superior for purchasing the right product that they believe they have the right to kill?

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Choosing An Announcer

Obama coinSo, you’ve come up with the idea for a new product that you believe is going to tap right into the current zeitgeist and really excite the public. Congratulations. Obviously, you’re going to advertise online, since that’s such a cost-effective medium these days. Are you thinking about running spots on the eye of hell as well? That’s going to increase your costs, but it will guarantee a lot more eyes. And don’t forget that you don’t just have to pay for the time your ad spends on the air. You’ve also got to deal with the cost of production, which is likely to be a lot more than your web development budget.

A big part of that budget is going to go to getting a voice-over artist to read your copy. My advice is to spend the money to get this right. Listen closely to the people you audition. Obviously, you want them to convey the right mood. You want them to be able to get your audience excited about your product. But you also want them to sound like they know what they’re talking about. For example, if your product is powerful, and you want to make sure the public knows the product is powerful, be careful to hire an announcer who can say the word “powerful” without it coming out as “parful.”

Let’s say you’re selling a limited edition, uncirculated inaugural coin, layered in pure 24 karat gold. Sounds good? Well, that depends on how your announcer says those words. Don’t make the mistake these folks did.

Innoggeral? Uncirckalated? Those aren’t words. Laird is a word, albeit a somewhat archaic one, but I don’t think you want your potential customers to think they can buy a Scottish landowner who’s been dipped in gold — not from you, anyway. You’re going to have to deal with an awful lot of returns if you make that mistake.

Let this be a warning to you: if you’re going to advertise in a medium that requires voice-over talent, either choose an announcer who can say your words, or choose words your announcer can say. I don’t think that’s asking too much of you.

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Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

No, this post is not about Mao, or even Billy Bragg. Rather, it’s about an advance I have to admit I’d waited for all my life, and had frankly given up on seeing come to fruition. Why? Because it’s an advance on the eye of hell, where things change pretty damned slowly. In fact, the advance is in advertising on the eye of hell, where things, for the most part, don’t change at all.

I wrote a couple of years ago (yikes! I’ve been blogging for two years!) that words like “period” and “menstruation” had finally started replacing “time of the month,” although such things are still visually represented by blue fluid. This is easily as big as that.

Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing bottleI think I was about 10 or 11 when I first noticed the problem. I’d see ads that spoke of a special little town called Hidden Valley, where the kids never complained about eating their vegetables, because they all came with a thick coating of mayonnaisey spoodge that made them oh-so-tasty. I’d be watching these packs of kids happily downing their dripping broccoli, and it occurred to me that they were all white! The happy town of Hidden Valley was restricted!

Well, this week I saw an ad for Hidden Valley in which the veggie-lovin’ local kids were crowding around what looked like an ice cream truck, which in fact, served cones of salad drowning in the glory that is ranch dressing. And among those kids, I was astonished to see one or two of African descent! At last, these children were being judged not by the color of their skin, but of the content of their salad cones! It was beautiful.

Of course, salad dressing is just one example of the long list of products that have been segregated on the eye of hell all these long years. For decades, Madison Avenue has tried to convince us that separate detergents, fast food establishments, shoes, and pet foods could be equal. Those days may at last be gone.

eHarmony logoThink about dating services. For as long as they’ve advertised on the eye of hell, they’ve demonstrated their successes by showing us couples who always just happened to share ethnicity along with chemistry. Was it a decades-long series of coincidences, like the coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? I doubt it. I don’t know if they ever had rules regarding interracial couples, and if they did, I don’t know when those rules changed, but on the eye of hell, it had always clearly been a strict “no miscegenation” policy.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for eHarmony (one of the first, I believe, to do without the presence of Dr. Neil Clark Warren) in which a black man was shown next to a set of three thumbnail images of women, apparently representing the choices picked for him by their computer. Two of them were black, but one was white.

Then, just last week, I saw a spot for the service that showed three happy couples, two of which were of mixed ethnicity. Wow.

I have to wonder what the cause of this long-delayed advance might be. I suppose it’s possible that the fact that we’re (hopefully) on the verge of electing our first mixed-race president might be an indication to the ad execs that we just might be ready for such a radical concept. I really don’t know, but I’m glad to see it finally happening.

Next up: gender roles and sexuality. Don’t hold your breath.

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Viva Commerce! (#19)

Dear Hertz,

Hertz logoI was hoping we could discuss your recent spot on the eye of hell. There are a few things in there that I find a bit surprising.

We start off with Mr. and Ms. All-American-Youthful-White-Couple. Ms. AAYWC is in the passenger seat of a little yellow convertible. Mr. AAYWC, from behind the car, runs up to the rear bumper, and launches himself off of it, flipping over the car and into the driver’s seat, then immediately zooms off.

Questions and Comments

  • Those shiny, colorful bumpers on contemporary American cars are really just bumper covers. They more decorative than anything else. I don’t think they’re intended to support your weight, even if you’re Mr. All-American-Youthful-White-Couple.
  • That leap into the car is somewhat reminiscent of the old Hertz ads in which OJ Simpson is carried through the airport and into his rental by the omnipotent, invisible hand of Hertz. In this case, however, there’s no indication that Hertz is helping with the trick. If that’s correct, he’s jumping on his own, and that’s somehow more worrisome than the magic realism you utilized in the past. I sure hope he managed the jump without hurting himself.
  • I didn’t see you (or your lovely companion, for that matter) buckle your safety belts before peeling out. I don’t know what state you’re in, but I don’t think that’s legal.

Back to our exciting commercial. We see the happy couple zipping around in the car. From a bird’s eye view, we see them weaving through highway traffic at high speed — significantly faster than anyone else on the road. They drive by a crowded gas station because Hertz, unlike other car rental agencies, will fill the tank for them for just a nominal fee. Finally, we see them driving past an airport, apparently faster than a jet that’s taking off behind them. And all the while, the car leaves a glowing yellow trail behind — sort of a cross between a contrail and a thick, radioactive lemonade.

Further Questions and Comments

  • I wonder if they’re even bothering to signal their lane changes on the highway. Clearly they’re speeding, acting without any regard for the safety of their fellow drivers.
  • Is that yellow cloud the car is spewing at all dangerous? It doesn’t look like it dissipates very quickly. Instead, it just lays there, menacingly glowing at those you’ve left behind.
  • Can you imagine how those poor souls at the gas station feel? We only get the briefest of reaction shots of them, and they just seem confused, but I’ll bet that within a few seconds at least some of them are bound to wonder if that mysterious yellow fog might explode.

So, let’s see what we’ve got here. You’re performing acrobatics to get into the car, you’re not wearing safety belts, you’re speeding, you’re switching from lane to lane like you’re running a slalom, and you clearly have no concern for the health, safety, comfort, or even vision of other people, be they other drivers or pedestrians.

And at no time do you offer any sort of caveat to the viewer. I’m sure you don’t want your customers to take part in these activities, particularly in your vehicles. Maybe you should consider adding a little note of warning at the bottom of the screen. Something like “do not attempt” ought to get the message across, don’t you think?

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