Have you noticed how many television commercials these days start with a question?
(And blogs too, for that matter.)
Maybe it’s an attempt to open your subconscious to the possibilities of life, including the possibility you might be interested in buying not one but two new sport utility vehicles during a single commercial break. Maybe it’s a subtle way of drawing you into the unfolding scenario, making you care about the hundreds of characters holding arrow signs over their heads while dodging midtown traffic and riding unicycles. Maybe it reflects marketing experts’ puzzlement at why anybody would buy their product, a roundabout way of asking “you don’t seriously want to buy this stuff, do you?”
Whatever the reason, I think the idea of opening with a question originated with the short teaser ads that local news operations inject into prime-time programming. They want to lure you into staying up late with the promise of some sensational breaking story, when all they really have for a lead is the new garbage pickup schedule.
“Is that someone I hear trying to jimmy the lock to your front door?” asks the inevitably blond anchoress. “Details at 11.”
“Did you know that poisonous fumes could be suffocating your children at this very moment, while you think they’re peacefully sleeping?” counters her competitor’s recently promoted sports reporter. “Don’t miss our eyewitness report later tonight. Unless you’re the type of parent who likes poisonous fumes. You’re not that kind of parent. Are you?”
Then, Fox News recognized that its viewers might wander off into the woods during even the briefest commercial message. So they started tantalizing their audience with an upcoming whiff of scandal to make sure they hang around during the break.
“Is Obama space alien, Hitler and LeBron all in one?” reads the bumper graphic leading into the ads. Then, when the news returns, it’s a story about a gerbil who paints landscapes while drumming out in Morse Code with his tiny gerbil claws that no, Obama is not these things. “At least,” taps the gerbil, “not that we know for sure.”
Now, I know these commercial queries are rhetorical questions, not designed to be answered. Playful copywriters have discovered a new way to grab your attention, and they’re just having fun with it. If you’re not smart enough to figure how to use a digital video recorder to zap through the ads, you’re certainly not smart enough to answer a rhetorical question.
This past weekend, I kept track of this latest advertising trend, and present below a sampling of these questions. And, foolishly perhaps, I try to answer them.
The financial headlines can be unsettling, but what if there were a different story, of one financial company who grew stronger?
It would make the fact that I lost my job and that my house is in foreclosure so much more bearable to know that a giant bank is feeling better now.
Can a smart phone be its own guardian angel? Can it keep an eye out for itself? And tell you where it is, when you don’t even know yourself?
I think my mind is officially blown. Are they saying that if you lose your phone you can use your phone to find it?
What if a moment standing still could be just as beautiful when it breathes? What if photography moved us, and we moved photography?
Well, then you’d have that commercial with the little girl with the hair being blown all over the place as she looks at a flower. I don’t know why her father doesn’t roll up that window for her, considering how taken she is with the begonia. Isn’t this a form of child abuse? Admittedly, not as bad as where that insurance guy offers one kid a pony and tells the other kid he can’t have one because he doesn’t have the special “equine rider” in his homeowner’s policy. But it’s certainly right up there with the ad where a skinny boy angers the local bullies, then runs and jumps in the back of his mom’s minivan, and she backs over the bullies.
What makes a Hershey bar pure?
This is only a guess but I’m hoping — fervently — it’s because it’s never had sex.
Heh, heh — no. No thanks, but I appreciate the offer. I can smooth it myself.
The best thing about the Arby’s value menu?
That there’s not an Arby’s located in my home town.
Who says all birth control pills have to be the same?
I do. My name is Rick Lawrence, and I’m head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Task Force on Birth Control Sameness.
What’s the difference between Tylenol and Advil?
With Tylenol you take two, while with Advil you take one and wait for a while to see if it works and it usually doesn’t so you take another one. That’s why they have the “1-2″ imprinted on the pill. Or does that mean you’re supposed to take only one-half? Oh, God, I think I just OD’d on Advil.
Are you trying to sleep with someone who sounds like a chain saw?
That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think? I’ll only say that it’s not the sound of a chain saw I like as much as it is the vibration.
Hey Troy — have you been using my shampoo? Because it’s for guys who want thicker-looking hair
Yes, I’ve been using your shampoo, and everybody is noticing. This stringy mullet part that comes out the back of my helmet and obscures my name to make it look like “POL[hair]ALU” would be so unmanageable without it. If I didn’t have that built-in moisturizer and those seven essential botanicals, I’d frizz up so much there’d be no domed stadium that could hold me.
What’s in your wallet?
Well, I used to have a Capital One credit card. Now I leave it at home because, after seeing the newest contract terms you’ve sent me, I’m afraid to use it. I tried for a while carrying around the contract in my shirt pocket but it weighed down my upper body so much that I developed scoliosis. After that, I dragged it in a red wagon behind me in case I needed to consult the fine print while purchasing a bagel. Eventually, I just gave up and decided to pay for everything with cash. That piece of plastic still in my wallet that I use when I want to get screwed? That’s a condom, not a credit card.