Sunday, August 8, 2010

And Now ... A Word from Our Sponsors.

OK, I don't really have any sponsors, unless you count the alphabetical and numerical monoliths that have sponsored every episode of Sesame Street ever made. Anyway, this week, I'm trying something a little different and bringing you a little commentary on a segment of American culture that permeates almost every aspect of our lives – the Palin family.

No, not the Palins. I mean advertising. We'll save Sarah for another day.

I'm confident that I’m the right guy for this job because I’m pretty sure I'm immune to the power of advertising, that I've got a bit more intellectual firepower than someone whose will is bent by the forces … ooh! A new iPhone!


Also, a new season of Mad Men is underway, and watching our anti-hero Don Draper stumble around like a common drunk is really unsettling, given that his polish, his cool are the things that drew us to him in the first place. I have a feeling it's going to get ugly for Don.

I have a tiny sprinkling of advertising experience -- in the summer of 1994, I worked as the advertising manager for my college newspaper, which was published weekly over the summer. Basically, I called local vendors and begged them to buy advertising space in the paper. I remember that being quite a trick, given that most college kids are broke (if you’ve ever withdrawn $5 from an ATM machine, you know what I'm talking about), but somehow, we filled that paper with advertising every week. I don’t recall having a full bar in my office like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but I do remember one night working until dawn to get the advertisements laid out on the page before the paper went to the printer. Good times. I miss college sometimes.

So anyway, I thought it would be interesting to review a couple of hours of primetime television and comment on the ads that we’re constantly subjected to. The whole concept is fascinating; advertising’s sole purpose is to brainwash you, and it usually elicits one of two reactions: either visceral anger and/or the embarrassing desire to watch it again. Admit it, you've rewound a commercial just to see it again.

This series of advertisements aired on NBC on Wednesday, August 4 between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. I watched them over the weekend, when I wrote this commentary.

Lastly, this column is almost 3,000 words, so I apologize for the length. I had no idea that this many commercials aired in a two-hour block of primetime television – and I even left out the movie commercials (with one exception), the promos for NBC’s own shows, and duplicate commercials from the same vendor. The good news is you can snack on this one a little bit at a time.


Vendor: Subway
Product: Steak & Bacon Melt Sandwich

Voiced over by a Barry White knockoff, this delightful offering is hawking a steak-and-cheese calorie bomb via some sort of urban marketing approach. When they film these commercials, do they have to tie Jared up and leave him in a closet? Is he even allowed to order one? What would happen if he got loose in the test kitchen?

Vendor: Downy
Product: A bottle of Downy

Downy is like the crazy old man of commercials, unafraid to bring it old school. That bottle looks the same now as it did 30 years ago. Anyway, they're pushing the idea that your sheets can smell great all week, not just the first day, because of something called “scent pearls.” I don’t know much, but I do know that Scent Pearls sounds like the name of an adult entertainment website.

Vendor: Sprint
Product: Evo 4G

This is the one with the evolutionary game of dominoes – a stone wheel knocks over the steam engine, which crashes into a phonograph, and continues a journey through a continuum of America’s technological advancement up until we reach the pinnacle of human civilization – a gigantic wireless phone that doesn’t fit in your pocket.

Vendor: Mars
Product: Pretzel M&Ms

I’m thinking if you need an advertisement to convince you to buy M&Ms, you didn’t have a very happy childhood. Although I guess I can’t give them too much grief – they are pushing a revolutionary new product that no one has ever thought of before – chocolate-covered pretzels.

Vendor: McDonald’s
Product: Frozen Mocha Frappe/Frozen Caramel Frappe

You ever get the feeling that every time McDonald’s rolls out a new product line, an entire specialty chain just files bankruptcy papers? Ordinary folks enjoying an 800-calorie coffee drink as they trudge through the monotony of their workaday lives. It’s like an Upton Sinclair novel in thirty seconds.

Vendor: Samsung
Product: Galaxy S

Cue scene of Gladiator-like battle, revealed to be occurring on a mobile phone screen. Hey! You know what sucks? Watching movies on a screen the size of a credit card! Has anyone actually watched a movie from start to finish on their phone? Yeah, neither have I.

Vendor: Wendy’s
Product: BLT Cobb Salad

I get it. You sell healthy salads.

Vendor: Nabisco
Product: Wheat Thins

The good people at Nabisco apparently operate a Mobile Incident Response Team command vehicle, which arrives at the door of a young woman who, it’s revealed, has Tweeted that her life is over because she is out of Wheat Thins. A forklift drops a pallet of Wheat Thins in her driveway.

Look, I’m craving an Oreo Blizzard right now. It doesn’t mean I want 600 of them in my kitchen.

Vendor: Taco Bell
Product: Cantina Taco

The best part about running the Taco Bell test kitchen is that you can create a whole new menu using items you’ve already got on hand. The Cantina taco has steak, lime and cilantro. Really reaching there.

Full Disclosure: I worked at Taco Bell in college. And after college. That foreign affairs degree sure came in handy.

Vendor: Toyota
Product: A terrifying ride down the interstate after the brakes fail

Woman stands in front of holographic images (picture the Department of Precrime from Minority Report) selecting options for her new Camry, intimating that buying your car can be done via the magic of the Internet. Not that I would want to test-drive it or anything like that.

Vendor: Honda
Product: Vehicles that aren't Toyotas

Honda has been riding this cartoon Mr. Opportunity campaign for much of the last decade. I can’t help but think about Roger Rabbit when I see these commercials. It doesn’t make me think I want to buy a Honda.

Vendor: Crest
Product: Crest Pro Health Toothpaste

I love how they make this sound like’s it’s the special stuff the dentist keeps in a safe.

If you put a gun to my head and told me my life depended on correctly identifying the brand of toothpaste in my bathroom, there’s a thirty percent chance you’d have to kill me. I’m pretty sure it’s Colgate. Could be Crest. But go ahead and keep spending $10 million a year on advertising, toothpaste guys! It’s totally working!

Vendor: Shout
Product: Color Catcher

Apparently, this product, which looks like a sheet of fabric softener, lets you run whites and darks together the same load. You know where else you can do this? College. On Cold.

It must take a hell of a leap of faith to use this product for the first time.

Vendor: Dunkin’ Donuts
Product: Jalapeno Cheddar and French Toast Twist Bagels

Young guy in a corporate cube getting work dumped on him from, as they say in Office Space, “eight different bosses.” Takes a sip of his coffee and confidently declares, “let’s do this.” The twist ending is that this is the trading floor at Lehman Brothers the day before it filed for bankruptcy.

Incidentally, I’ve never understood people who pick a side in the Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Krispy Kreme debate. It’s like announcing you like the new version of the $20 bill and refusing to have anything to do with the old one. Personally, I love all the colors in the doughnut rainbow.

Vendor: Oral-B
Product: Toothbrush

Because you need somewhere to put all the super-secret toothpaste.

Blindfolded woman walking aimlessly up and down a grocery store aisle, bathed in white light, of row after row of toothbrushes. Then … nirvana! Sharp-looking dude in a suit somehow makes his way across the River Styx-like aisle of endless toothbrushes to the wonder and terrible majesty of the Oral-B.

Not sure what the lesson is: Either men know more about toothbrushes than women, or women who go to hell are doomed to spend eternity shopping for toothbrushes.

Vendor: Applebee’s
Product: Sizzling Entrées

The Maplewood softball team is doing its postgame at Applebee’s. The players are gathered around a table, obviously recounting what I am sure was just a spectacular display of human achievement. A server goes by carrying a Sizzling Entrée, the enticing sizzle of which immediately silences the team. Because nothing says appetizing more than Applebee’s.

Vendor: O’Charley’s
Product: Two meals for $14.99 deal

By God, this plan is so crazy it just might work! Narrator explains the deal quickly and clearly. OK, I have nothing really bad to say about this one. This is in part because I got super-excited about the next commercial in the lineup, which started while I was still writing the last sentence.

Vendor: Nationwide
Product: Insurance

Insurance is really nothing more than legalized, heavily regulated gambling. You, the customer, are betting something bad is going to happen, whereas the insurance company, is betting that you’re gonna be just fine. Granted, if your bet really pays off, there’s an excellent chance that you’re dead.

I’m very excited about this commercial because I think Nationwide has hit on perhaps the dumbest advertising campaign of the last decade – “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World.” Allstate’s Mayhem guy would totally kick his ass.

Vendor: Pizza Hut
Product: $8/$10 pizzas

On an old episode of The Office, Kevin described a local pizzeria’s pie as a “hot circle of garbage.” I tell you this for no reason whatsoever.

Vendor: McDonald’s
Product: Happy Meal

Because parents don’t have enough to worry about, those devious little bastards at McDonald’s are marketing the old school Happy Meal boxes in the hope you will happily recall your own childhood, pack your kids into the old minivan and toddle on down to the Golden Arches.

Oh, and one more thing: McDonald’s also wants you to know, via the voice of an adorable six-year-old, that “some of the money” from every Happy Meal is going to the Ronald McDonald House. Funny how Junior is vague about how much money. I can tell you how much – whatever their tax lawyer says.

Vendor: Uncle Ben’s
Product: Ready Rice

I think this commercial may actually be trying to hypnotize me. Concentric circles of rice, alternating between a ring of unopened packages of rice and a ring of bowls of rice, spinning all psychedically.

Unexplained 18-minute break…

I have forty packages of rice in my pantry.

Vendor: ACT
Product: Restoring mouthwash

You think it’s possible that in some version of hell, you have to rinse with mouthwash for eternity, never able to spit it out?

Vendor: Target
Product: Back to school crap

Showcasing Ella, Elisabeth and Emily, adorable triplets whose lives are made immeasurably better by applesauce, safety scissors and nail polish. I don’t know what the hell kind of private school (my assumption based on their identical uniform-looking outfits) these girls are attending, but I didn’t see a single second of actual learning going on.

Vendor: SC Johnson. A Family Company.
Product: Swiffer sweeper

It’s 2010. Anyone else feel weird that women are always the stars of the cleaning product commercials? I’ve swiffed the ever living piss out of our kitchen floor.


Vendor: Orville Redenbacher
Product: Popcorn

Oh, the old family-in-an-RV-someone-makes-popcorn-and-Dad-gets-up-from-the-driver’s-seat-while-the-RV-is-still-moving gimmick!

Classic! Just textbook stuff right there!

Vendor: Burlington Coat Factory
Product: Back to school

For reasons that I cannot articulate, I’ve always been a bit leery of the Burlington Coat Factory. For starters, I’ve never set foot in one, nor have I ever known anyone who’s been to one. That just strikes me as strange. Honestly, you could tell me that the Burlington Board of Directors was made up of an extraterrestrial advance team, here to prep the human race for colonization and enslavement, and it wouldn’t surprise me.

Vendor: Kmart
Product: Back to school

The jingle, sadly enough, is the Go-Gos’ We Got the Beat. Every time I hear a song from my childhood in a commercial, part of me dies. Really Belinda? Not making enough off the residuals?

Vendor: Kohl’s
Product: Kohl’s cash

Ha. This is actually pretty funny. Cashier gives customer a rewards card, and then the customer is accosted by a lawyer type who tells her that her rewards points can’t be used on anything she might possibly want because of exclusions. You can thank a lawyer for every exclusion ever written in the history of the universe.

Vendor: AT&T Wireless
Product: AT&T’s dignity while Steve Jobs makes a call from his Verizon Droid

Orange silks rippling everywhere. On trees, dams, streets, telephone poles, coffeehouse music playing in the background. At the end, a disclaimer advises that “the artists Christo and Jeanne Claude have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with AT&T.”

Question 1: Who in the hell are Christo and Jean Claude?
Question 2: Do the silks belong to them? If so, did AT&T just borrow them for a couple days?
Question 3: Am I correct that Jean Claude and Christo are artsy hippie types who wouldn’t know what the f--- a wireless phone is and will likely never see this commercial?

Vendor: Yoplait
Product: Yogurt

Yogurt reminds me of soccer. People who love it, love it. For the rest of us, no commercial is ever going to convince us to buy it.

Vendor: Kroger
Product: Groceries

In my area, it’s just all out grocery store war. Kroger just detonated a funkadelic bomb, opening the largest Kroger in the state about 5 minutes from my house.

Vendor: SunTrust
Product: Banking services

This commercial pisses me off. The narration starts with this little gem: “Once, money was simple. Then, it got more complicated.” And by complicated, SunTrust means that they bankrolled a truckload of $300,000 mortgages for people making eight bucks an hour, and then acted all surprised when the borrowers, who themselves were surprised when they discovered their debt-to-income ratio was 450 percent, started defaulting,

The commercial wraps up with this platitude: “SunTrust is here to help you better understand money.” Gee, thanks, Giant Bank!

Live solid. Bank solid. Get evicted solid.

Vendor: Alcon Entertainment and Warner Brothers
Product: Lottery Ticket (In wide theatrical release August 20)

This is a movie, starring L’il Bow Wow, about a guy in the projects who’s discovered he’s won a gigantic lottery jackpot and then, after word gets out in the neighborhood that he’s got the ticket, having to survive a long holiday weekend before he can cash the ticket.

Those of you who've been kind enough to read my most recent manuscript will understand why this movie may well drive me insane.

Vendor: Verizon
Product: Droid X

This new Droid is going to have mobile hotspot capability, which is a really cool feature. If only there was a way to get this capability on my iPhone!

No, I've never been to Why do you ask?

Vendor: Chili’s
Product: Handmade Burgers and Fries for $5.99

You could take your family of four to Chili’s, have everyone order the $5.99 burger special and walk out an hour later having dropped sixty bucks. This astounds me.

Vendor: Kia
Product: Sportage

Don’t you just want to give Kia a big hug? Look at their cute little SUV!

Vendor: Unknown Movie Studio
Product: Diary of a Wimpy Kid DVD

Awesome. Just what my kids need. Another DVD.

Vendor: Dairy Queen
Product: Mini Blizzard

Like I’m getting the Mini Blizzard. If I were in the CIA and I was captured in the field, the North Koreans could just ply me with a medium Cookies-and-Cream Blizzard and I’d be telling Kim Jong Il the nuke codes.

You know, if I were in the CIA.

Which I’m not.

Hey, look, a new iPhone!

Vendor: Procter & Gamble
Product: Bounty

Bride plops her wedding dress on a white countertop, presumably more interested in showing off the fact that her Bounty paper towels can keep her countertops operating room clean. As Mrs. Corner just asked, who in the hell puts their wedding dress on a countertop anyway? And I don’t know about your kitchen, but in mine, the paper towel is the first of about four steps I take to get the kitchen counter clean.

Vendor: Ford
Product: Fusion

Guy in baseball cap noting that the Fusion is going to hold its value better than the Toyota Camry. Not impressed. These days, Wile E. Coyote’s ACME rocket pack holds its resale value better than Toyota.

Vendor: The Dump
Product: Furniture

Yet again, those crazy guys at The Dump … wait for it… bought more mattresses than they have room for! Do they even have Orientation there?

Vendor: Red Lobster
Product: Crabfest

How has humanity not exhausted the supply of shrimp and crabs?

Full disclosure: As I've previously discussed, I have a sordid past with Red Lobster.

Vendor: Macy’s
Product: Housewares

I considered leaving this out because I can't think of anything snarky to say about Macy's. When the holiday season rolls around, who's pulling your ass out of the fire? At ease, Macy's.

Vendor: Verizon Wireless
Product: Verizon Wireless

We’re not AT&T! Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap! We’re not AT&T! Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap!

Vendor: Mexico
Product: Traveling to Mexico

Come visit Mexico! The odds that you won’t be killed by drug gangs are really good!! Like 90-95 percent


  1. Damn shame you didn't get the Hyundai ad where they secretly spy on people driving their cars, and play back the evidence showing people being surprised that their cars do not, in fact, suck balls. So many wrongs!

  2. Two things strike me (well many things do, but in particular) about two of these commercials. First, animating M&Ms and giving them humanesque personalities makes me feel really creepy eating them. And second, I think it's really creepy having a skeevy mop stalking a woman who prefers Swiffers. Why can't these two commercials just be normal and show good products instead of causing me to lose sleep worrying about stuff that should never ever be creepy?

  3. Anon @ 7:10 p.m. -- yeah, there were a few I was hoping to see that didn't come on. the hyundai would have been a good one.

    Anon @ 8:04 -- if I see an ad with a clown, I'm not buying the product.

  4. Well done, sir. It's funny, and possibly ironic, that you DVR'd two hours' worth of television just to watch commercials, while many of us watch DVR'd programs in large part to be able to fast-forward through said commercials. Except for the Dos Equis guy. Definitely rewind to watch those.

    No GEICO commercials, really? They seem ubiquitous. I want to gag the overly earnest-looking guy who furrows his brow and asks whether you can really save money by switching to GEICO, and then answers his own question with another question. (However, the one with R. Lee Emery is pretty funny, at least the first 10 times you see it, and so is the one of the GOOOOOOALL guy doing play by play for a chess match. "Esta pensando ... Esta pensando ..." - "He's thinking ... He's thinking ...")

  5. Jean Claude and Christo are responsible for one of the most retarded wastes of money on "art" ever in the history of the world which AT&T is trying to distance itself from:

    Despite coming off as total a-holes on their site, they don't mention that this cost in excess of $10 million.