Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Watching too many TV commercials

November 17, 2011

Open with exterior shot of long white limo driving down a country road. Graphic points to car’s “blacked-out windows”.

Announcer overdub: “A lot of people don’t think food companies are honest about the source of their ingredients.”

Cut to interior shot of focus group sitting around a conference room table. Facilitator asks: “Do you think Domino’s wants you to know where their ingredients come from?”

Hispanic woman: “You should be able to know.”

Anglo woman: “Yeah. With Domino’s you assume the worst, so it would be reassuring to at least believe the ingredients are carbon-based.”

Black man: “I don’t know about that crust, man. Kinda reminds me of chipboard.”

Walls of conference room fall away.

Asian man: “Oh, my god. It’s an earthquake! The building is collapsing! Hand me that pizza so its rock-hard shell can protect my head from falling debris!”

Collapsing walls reveal exterior shot of expansive paper mill. Focus group surprised to find it’s now inside a large warehouse. Safety-helmeted plant worker approaches group and speaks:

“No, it’s not chipboard. Domino’s crust is made of only the finest corrugated cardboard, formed right here in this mill from virgin stands of California hardwood.”

Hispanic woman: “What’s that horrible smell?”

Worker: “That’s the smell of raw wood pulp being boiled and processed to make the grade-A cardboard that forms the base of our famous pizza.”

Black man: “So that’s how I can now order two medium-sized two-topping pizzas for only $5.99 each. You save on production costs by cooking the packaging right into the pie.”

Worker: “That’s right. By eliminating the box and building the pizza out of triple-laminated paper products, we save you money while also offering you the best quality possible.”

Announcer overdub: “Be sure to visit behindthepizza.com to see what else we’re baking into our product that you wish you didn’t know.”

Anglo woman: “I had a friend who worked at a Domino’s once. She said it’s not what’s behind the pizza you should worry about, it’s what’s behind the ovens, behind the counter, in the bathroom, under the fingernails of the workers. But seeing this paper mill somehow makes me feel better. Or at least light-headed. What are those chemicals I’m smelling, anyway?”

Asian man: “I always thought Domino’s was only slightly better than the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the subsequent world war that killed over 60 million people. My opinion of them is now much higher, considering the paycheck I’ll be getting for this commercial.”

Announced overdub: “Order your all-natural Domino’s pizza today.”

Small disclaimer type at bottom of screen: “Not responsible if delivery man slays your family. Our drivers carry less than $20 in change and make less than $15 per day. Must purchase at least 50 pizzas to receive advertised price. Must specifically ask for ‘limited time offer’ and use a cartoonish high-pitched squeak to place your order. Prices, participation, delivery area and charges may vary. We reserve the right to substitute a picture of a pizza for a real pizza.”

Possible alternate ending for release later in current advertising campaign: Focus group questions quality of meat toppings, and conference room walls fall away to reveal a slaughterhouse. Panicked cows cry out as they’re stunned before butchering. Focus group participants comment favorably on freshness of meat. “You can almost taste the blood,” one says. “Or is that the tomato sauce?”

+++

Fed up with partisan bickering among the nation’s three branches of government, Americans appear ready to install a new regime headed by the three most prominent insurance pitchmen currently on commercial television.

An all-powerful triumverate consisting of Progressive’s “Flo,” Nationwide’s “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World,” and State Farm’s “Vaguely Mexican-Looking Guy Outside a Coffee Shop” has agreed to rule the land with a sympathetic but iron fist.

“I’m ready for any change at all that will get the Republicans and Democrats out of Washington,” said Alyce Jones of Chicago. “Those insurance folks offer a goofy sincerity that seems right for these troubling times.”

“The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World has really come into his own since being lured out of his backwoods cabin and back into insurance sales,” said Rob Fallon of Las Vegas. “He’s convinced me that Nationwide wants to know everything about me so they can tailor a product that meets my needs. Have you seen the one where he’s dealing with a lady named ‘Pam,’ and he offers to change the name of the company to ‘Nationpam’? That’s the type of can-do spirit we need if we’re ever to convince the Chinese to allow their currency to float on the open market.”

“Like a good neighbor, that Mexican-looking guy is there, always hanging outside of cafes and introducing people to State Farm agents,” said Ronald Henderson of Atlanta. “He puts a real friendly face on the problem of illegal immigration. I’d rather see him outside a Starbucks than offering to do day labor outside a Home Depot.”

The trio would govern by fiat, announcing a new round of federal laws several times an hour on all the major networks. Viewers who don’t follow their every command will be banished to a world where modern insurance products don’t exist, and yet people somehow survive by simply being careful about how they live their lives.

Tentative plans call for Flo to head up the nation’s judiciary as a one-person replacement for the Supreme Court. The World’s Greatest Spokesperson will replace both houses of Congress, and the Mexican guy will become the nation’s first Hispanic president.

“Flo’s perky haircut and headband will look just darling accented by judicial robes,” said Jones. “And the Nationwide Guy, with that signature blue rotary phone hanging from his hip, should be able to reach across the aisle in both the House and Senate to compromise with himself. I’m finally excited about the direction our nation is headed.”

“I think the new president is hunky,” said Phyllis Lee of Oklahoma City. “That could carry some real weight in the START Treaty negotiations with the Russians.”

And you call yourselves commercial spokespeople

April 26, 2011

My first impression of TV commercials growing up wasn’t that they were too loud or too obtrusive or too untrue. It was that they were, in the word we used frequently in elementary school, “conceited.”

“Why do they brag about themselves like that?” I remember asking my mother. “Isn’t it more polite to be modest? Why do they keep telling us how great they are?”

I forget my mom’s exact response, but I’m pretty sure it involved me going outside to play until it was time for dinner.

In my senior year of high school, I entered a scholarship essay contest in which entrants were to explain how advertising contributed to our great American democracy. Sponsored not surprisingly by the local advertising council, my theme was that TV commercials and other ads represented “freedom of speech” and therefore were intrinsically good. Sure, I argued, limits were necessary in some circumstances — you couldn’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater and you couldn’t say Kentucky Fried Chicken was edible — but in general all was fair when it came to advertised self-promotion.

Needless to say, I won a $500 scholarship.

Now I am a fully matured adult and recognize the realities of the commercial marketplace for what they are. There’s no point in resisting the thousands of impressions we receive each day from advertisers. We need only do what they say and trust that they know better than us. After all, they’re on TV and we’re not.

There are, however, three commercial spokespeople frequently seen on network television these days whom I wish to address about certain issues I have with them.

Sprint

Dan Hesse has used his position as chief executive officer of Sprint to wrangle a role as company spokesman. I’m sure the ad agency Sprint works with thought the executive’s idea to put himself on television was a brilliant masterstroke of salesmanship, or at least that’s what they better think if they expect to be paid.

Hesse appears in a whole series of commercials, usually standing outside somewhere in an overcoat and scarf. He speaks earnestly and directly into the camera, trying to convince viewers he’s smart enough to run one of the nation’s largest wireless carriers even though he won’t come in out of the cold to film his ad.

One particular spot has caught my attention. In it, Hesse tells how “I looked up the word ‘unlimited’ the other day” and it said nothing about hidden fees, overage charges or any other features of cell phone billing that consumers have come to hate.

I have two suggestions for Mr. Hesse. One, next time you pull out that dictionary of yours, please look up the word “rapacious”. Or I could save you the trouble — it means “greedy and grasping, especially for money, and sometimes willing to use unscrupulous means to obtain what is desired.” This is the word I tend to think of most when I’m considering the cost of my wireless service.

Secondly, can you use your power to get me appointed to the position of authority that will allow me to enforce what I think should be the rules of public cellphone use? For example, regarding the young mother I saw pushing a baby stroller across six lanes of rush-hour traffic while talking into the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear: can I turn her in to social services so the child can be put into foster care?

I’m sure you have the power to make this happen. Just reach into that overcoat of yours, grab your smartphone, make a few calls, and I shall become Cellphone Warrior, enforcer of arbitrary rules against the kind of usage that annoys me for some reason, though I’m not sure why.

T-Mobile

When I was in second grade, I had a crush on a little girl by the name of Cory Boulter. To show my affection, and to convince her I was someone she should not just like, but “like like,” I would give her my lunch money every day. It wasn’t much, even in those pre-inflationary days, when a quarter could still buy you choice of salisbury steak or sloppy joe, tater tots, creamed spinach, applesauce cake and milk. But I thought if I gave her enough quarters, she’d get the idea.

Hey, it worked for Donald Trump.

Today, I have that same innocent, pre-pubescent crush on the so-called “T-Mobile Girl.” I’m eager to sign not just one two-year contract with her company, but as many as they’ll let me sign. Just in the hope that she’ll notice me and maybe consider my offer to squire her to the Norland Elementary School Spring Dance.

She’s so cute! Though she might also be sexy, my affection for her has nothing to do with such a base, animal attraction. See how she swirls her kicky pink sundress as she prances past the T-Mobile logo? Notice how she almost bites her lip with coy insouciance as she watches some shlub complain about excessive buffering on his device? I could be that shlub, if only she’d give me a chance.

Unfortunately, the recent announcement on Wall Street that AT&T will soon be acquiring T-Mobile will probably crush the dream I have of the two of us skipping through a daisy-filled meadow, our young hearts pounding first from the exertion and then, as we tumble into the grass and our eyes meet, with an intense passion. Unless the Federal Trade Commission intercedes and considers the proposed merger to be monopolistic.

Please, FTC, I beg of you! Allow our relationship to bloom! I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll only block this acquisition. It not only excessively dilutes shareholder value; it’s also dilutive of a love that no federal regulatory agency could ever understand.

Domino’s

Finally, I wish to address a bright but misdirected young man by the name of Tate Dillow. He’s as plain a fellow as T-Mobile Girl is sparkling. Yet you have to admire his passion for creating the perfect boneless chicken nugget to accompany Domino’s pizzas.

Tate is the guy you see in the current ad campaign, reluctantly brought to center stage as the master chef who will create the perfect chicken to accompany tasteless, cardboard-textured pizza. A handheld camera watches him schlep around his kitchen, fretting over whether people will like his real-not-preformed chicken and, by extension, him.

His boss and the company’s marketing department have devised special packaging that allow consumers to weigh in on whether or not Tate should keep his job. “Did We Get It Right?” asks the type on the box. Our choices include “Nope,” “Almost” and “Yes We Did!”

Tate scowls at the camera as CEO Patrick Doyle describes how the survey will work. “I don’t like it,” Tate says of the feedback, and you get the vague impression he’s willing to do something about it (like travel around the nation to each of the 2,000 Domino’s franchisees and personally spit on every order).

Unexplained is how the box, once checked-off, makes it back to corporate headquarters. I’m guessing they have the same crews that collect “fresh” pizza ingredients from dumpsters being on the lookout for this discarded packaging.

Or, you can simply go to dominos.com and watch the Facebook and Twitter feeds coming in, like these that showed up just today:

The new chicken is horrible. The new ones are tasteless, tough, and a total disappointment. Sorry Tate but I don’t like the new chicken at all and won’t order it.

[Domino’s chicken] is, was, and always will be nasty. Found a big chunk of dark mystery meat in it one time.

Absolutely terrible. Ridiculous that this is what Domino’s can offer. Screw you Dominos. Take you ads and stick it up your ……

Just ordered the wings…They were soggy and meh.

Overpriced, tiny little nuggets that have no flavor.

Your chicken sucks.

Don’t let these nay-sayers get you down, Tate. I don’t want to be reading about any incidents of workplace violence up there in the Domino’s labs. Your life could always be worse. You could be a chicken.

This post not available in stores

January 14, 2009

With the poor economy continuing to affect TV advertising revenue, you see more and more direct marketing commercials selling items that are “not available in stores.” These ads typically feature extremely agitated pitchmen, a toll-free order number, a price that’s typically $19.95, and tiny-font shipping and handling charges that run you another $12. If you order now you can get two, and don’t forget that these items are not available in stores, probably because the idea behind stores is that they offer products people actually want and need to buy.

It used to be that you only saw these commercials late at night, when you were so worried about how you’d deal with sudden urges to fish that you couldn’t sleep. And mercifully, there would be an ad for the “pocket fisherman.” Now you’re likely to see these kinds of spots any time of the day or night. An NPR report recently explained the trend: as traditional advertisers reduce their budgets, local stations make leftover air time available to these low-end buyers at drastically reduced rates. One ad buyer interviewed admitted he was a “bottom feeder,” which I think would be an excellent name for a product: Try the BottomFeeder! You’ll never need to buy bathroom tissue again!

A lot of the trailblazers in this industry have unfortunately been made archaic by modern technology. The Ginsu Knives, famous for cutting through a can, were so sharp and awkward to use that most of their purchasers accidentally slashed their wrists. The Medic Alert bracelet, for when you’ve fallen and can’t (or simply don’t want to) get up, was antiquated by the cell phone. The Clapper, which allowed you to turn stuff on from across the room, was discontinued when seniors began using the Segway to travel effortlessly about their homes from light switch to light switch.

One of the promoters currently most in demand for these frenetic spiels is a bearded, raspy-voiced fellow named Billy Mays. Son of baseball’s Willie Mays, who roamed centerfield for the San Francisco Giants for over two decades on his way to 12 Golden Gloves and the Hall of Fame, Billy wanted to get out from the shadow of his famous father. His big break came in the ‘90s when he was selected to be spokesman for the Bedazzler, a tool that embedded plastic gems into jackets, jeans and that household pet desperately in need of a makeover. He later sold items like OxiClean, the Mantis Tiller and Miracle Whip (I can’t remember ever seeing him hawk the well-known mayonnaise substitute, so I can only guess this product was instead some kind of domination device).

Described by The Washington Post as having a “signature yelling approach” and being “known for screaming in lieu of talking during infomercials … a full-volume pitchman, amped up like a candidate for a tranquilizer-gun takedown,” Mays was last seen branching out into the service economy. He was recently named the new voice of iCan Benefit Group, “the first company offering health insurance Billy Mays has been excited to endorse.” (He’s endorsed many other insurance plans, but steadfastly refused to be excited by them until now.) I anticipate a not-too-distant future in which Billy sells everything from mutual funds to cremation services in his classic manic shriek.

Mays is not affiliated with the infomercial product that most recently has been all over the airwaves — I mentioned him mainly because I wanted to see how many readers would buy the Willie Mays connection. I’m talking here about the “Loud and Clear” sound-amplifying device that fits in your ear like a Blutooth cell phone apparatus. No longer will your difficulties interpreting sound be obvious to all who can see the electroacoustic device in your ear; now, they’ll think you’re just another self-absorbed tool enamored with pointless technology that hangs off the side of your head. I can hardly wait for the next-gen app that enhances your smelling abilities with the brushed-steel device that protrudes from your nose.

Rather than using a spokesperson, the Loud and Clear commercials feature actors pretending to go through their daily routines enjoying the life-enhancing properties of a monstrous hearing aid. There’s a guy in bed next to his annoyed wife, who’s giving him dirty looks because the TV is too loud for her to sleep, until he discovers the Loud and Clear and can turn that damn thing down. There’s a woman rocking out to the kitchen radio while her husband tries but fails to concentrate on his laptop work. Rather than asking him to get his stupid computer off the kitchen table, she’s seen moments later happily accessorized in her Loud and Clear. Others are involved in a number of activities designed to demonstrate that today’s seniors aren’t your father’s old people – they’re energetically playing bingo, strolling through the woods in tight jeans, and listening in on two neighbors having a private discussion across the street.

This last example hints at the more malicious uses of the Loud and Clear, which are also illustrated in the commercial with a surprising lack of guilt. One scene shows a guy, hopefully a private detective, sitting at the wheel of his parked car with the amplifier in his ear and a camera in his hands. He becomes suddenly attentive, clicks the camera at some off-screen scene, then nods in quiet satisfaction at how easily he was able to get naked pictures of his kid’s hot teacher. I’m not sure how the hearing device helped with this, unless maybe it keeps him on guard for the piercing sirens of approaching squad cars.

Generally, though, the Loud and Clear is shown engaging in harmless fun. There’s a party scene where a trio of attractive women are chatting, then the shot widens to show the eavesdropping stud who’s delighted to learn they’re talking about him. There’s a hunter in the woods — hopefully not the same woods with the tight-jeaned woman — using the hearing enhancer to listen for the rustle of live game. I only hope the L&C has a volume control handy, because when he lets loose with that shotgun, he’s going to get way more amplification than he bargained for. There’s a quiet conversation at home with the family, above a caption that reads “HEAR PEOPLE AROUND YOU!”

Probably the worst, most devious thing about this product is that I want one. I can tell that my hearing has declined in recent years, and I recognize that it would be nice to watch television and have some idea of why Howie Mandell is beating that guy over the head with a baseball bat. My world could be so much richer.

Actually, I think I’d like to have two, one protruding out of each ear. Maybe if I order now…

 

Amusing ads from the local paper

January 11, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about (made fun of) some of the news items I found amusing in our small hometown newspaper. Today I’m going to mock the advertising side of operations.

From an ad for a local car dealer: “Free breakfast with the purchase of any new or previously owned vehicle.” Some are offering thousands of dollars in cash back, some are giving away gas cards, one carmaker is even offering to take the car back with no obligations if you lose your job. But how many will give you a cup of coffee and a free McMuffin (and hash browns) with your new Ford Focus?

From another desperate car dealer: “All credit applications accepted.” Note that they used the word “accepted,” not “processed,” “read,” “considered,” or “acted upon.” This same dealer also offers something special on their website: “up to 60 photos per car.” I would never consider buying a car online with only 40 or 50 photos, but somehow 60 seems like the right minimum.

From a fitness center trying to lure new customers with the high quality of their personal trainers: “Not all personal trainers are equal. At BOROCK, our standards are high. Our trainers are specially eductated [sic] to offer you the best in fitness.” Proof positive that you don’t have to be a good speller in order to clean and jerk 350 pounds.

From the county’s newest independent assisted-living facility: “Enhanced dementia care. Beside Outback Steak House.” The convenience of this set-up is that if your elderly Alzheimer’s-addled loved one does wander away from supervision, you know where you’ll find them – face down in a Bloomin’ Onion.

From a furniture store promoting a mattress sale: “Purchase any Tyndall Pedic Visco Memory Foam Mattress Set during this sale and receive a $1000 shopping spree.” That’s a lot of adjectives to describe a mattress set. But even more interesting is the adjacent picture of an astronaut fully dressed-out for an extra-vehicular spacewalk. The apparent connection is that the mattress features three layers of “certified space technology,” whatever that is. Among other features of the bedding listed in a bulleted checklist: “fibromyalgia, hands tingle, lower back pain, pain sitting at desk, nervous leg syndrome, diabetes, pain driving, arthritis, hurting shoulders, many other sleep problems.” These are listed as features that will come with the mattress, but I’m pretty sure they mean these problems will be alleviated, not imparted.

From the owner of an air conditioning and heating firm that suffers from the sad but silent epidemic of mental illness which accompanies price reductions everywhere: “AM I CRAZY? I’m offering my $179 furnace super tune-up for only $89… and I guarantee your system won’t break down this winter or this service is FREE!!!” Accompanying the offer is photo of owner Charlie Reid, known to his friends as the “King of Comfort.” I just love a promotion that offers you more of the same defective product or service if you’re not satisfied the first time. “If you don’t like our meatloaf lunch special, here, have another one.”

From another heating and cooling company, this one a bit punctuation-challenged: “Comfort you can depend on, is just a phone call away.” The ad also proclaims “from all of us to you – Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Speaking of Jesus, the most touching of all advertisements in the paper are those located on the obituary pages, remembering beloved family members who have passed on. An elderly lady who died in 2004 is wished “Merry Christmas on your 5th Christmas with Jesus.”

Obituary pages, though very sad for obvious reasons, have a certain something about them I’ll be addressing in a future posting. Look for it soon.