Something has happened out there in the marketing and advertising world. I cannot put my finger on when it happened, but happened it has. The inanimate has become animate and the person has become secondary (more on this in Friday’s Post). So what has caused this great shift? Where the person is merely a supporting a player to the star of the commercial: a bug, a mop, phlegm? Let’s look at a few examples:
- Several insecticide commercials (Raid in particular) feature talking cartoon bugs fleeing in terror before being mercilessly destroyed by a cheerful housewife with a spray can. One Raid commercial even had a cockroach maternity ward get wiped out this way. Cute, right? Certainly not offensive, they were bugs afterall.
- Along a similar line has a commercial for stain remover showing a talking carpet stain get dissolved and wiped out of existence by a cheerful housewife while he directly begs her to spare his life. , it was a stain afterall.
- A commercial from many years ago, for some store, showed two talking trees announcing the store had a big sale on all wood products. One of the trees asked where they’d get all that wood from. Cue the offscreen sound of a chainsaw starting up, and the two trees screaming in terror. Charming, right?
- An Ikea commercial shows an old lamp being replaced and abandoned. Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you are crazy and overly sentimental. The lamp has no feelings! And the new one is much better.
- However, a sequel commercial showed the lamp being taken in by a cute little girl, which has made many of you feel happy for this lamp. Oh no, that’s not crazy. Reusing things is much better, right? By the way, Both ads directed by Spike Jonez.
- In a strange subversion, Swiffer commercials used to have a mop being sad that a woman replaced it with a new Swiffer. Playing sappy sentimental music adds to the manipulation resulting in audiences which must have felt sorry for the mop, because in later commercials the mop actually gets into a relationship with several other objects. The commercials even say to not feel sorry for the mop. Utter nonsense.
- Not learning their lesson, more recent Swiffer ads show a mud stain that looks and acts like a human Valley Girl in a brown dress or a film that looks and acts like a human classic movie actress in a gray dress who refuses to let a mop take her away and falls in love with the Swiffer. I can already imagine the emails they must be receiving.
- Many commercials with sentient food (such as some M&M’s commercials) have them being either eaten or being chased around to be eaten.
- There was an M&M’s commercial where Red, Yellow and Crispy are seen eating bags of their respective type. Patrick Warburton walks in, and questions that, while he’s eating M&M’s too, they’re basically acting like cannibals (who doesn’t love a good cannibal joke?). They proceed to swap bags and before he takes them away in disgust. The whole concept is ridiculous.
- Currently airing is a commercial that has the Brown (female) M&M being warned to stay away from a chocoholic at a party. Brown’s reaction? Set Red up on a date with the woman so she can eat him. Hilarious!
- An old Fig Newton commercial features a talking fig (an obvious guy in a fig costume) in a huge barrel yelling, “Fire! Fire!” and pleading like this: “I love Fig Newtons, but only when I eat them, I don’t want to be one!” When some kids run up and ask him “where’s the fire”, he replies, “Would you come if I’d yelled, ‘Newton! Newton!’?” Huh? Who gave the green light to this?
- One lotion commercial features a talking rash, who wheedles the woman it’s on to scratch him. He panics when she decides to use the lotion instead. A talking rash, who wouldn’t fall in love with that? Why not talking lotion? Talking lotion that puts out the fire of burning itchy rash? Nope, talking rash.
- Pop Tarts. The commercials feature Pop Tart characters and even give us glimpses into their hopes and dreams as well as showing them running in terror from the humans trying to eat them. One commercial has a male Pop Tart looking for his girlfriend when a human suddenly pops up and says, “She was delicious,” and then throws him into a toaster. The humans come off like psychopaths.
- Ads for Mucinex, a respiratory decongestant designed to cause mucus to loosen and come up more quickly, feature sentient globs of mucus happily making a home in somebody’s lung. They’re usually played up as total jerks who get comfortable by deliberately making their unwilling host uncomfortable, and tend to be incorrigible slobs, so we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with the humans who use Mucinex. Yea! One for the Humans!
So here is my question, who in the hell okays these awful ads? I get who comes up with them. I have hit the wall of all nighters’ and the desperation point when almost anything looks like genius, so I don’t really blame the ad agencies, per se. I should say I don’t blame the creative team. But what about their bosses? What about the clients? It seems like somewhere along the way and there are a lot of people along the way, someone should have said; This is crap! We can and should do better than this. Yet no one did. And so our airways are flooded with this crap and if I know anything, it is crap begets crap, just as quality begets quality. Shouldn’t we, all of us, shouldn’t we want more than this crap? Shouldn’t we demand more than this crap?
I ask myself, do you think the advent of the fast forward button has added to the general demise of the quality of commercials? And I answer maybe yes, maybe no. I think back many years to before the fast forward button and there seemed to be some good quality ads on. Here are a few that I still remember like yesterday:
1960’s- Jack Guilford The greatest snack ever made Cracker Jack 1970’s
1960’s Mr. Whipple Don’t Squeeze the Charmin Charmin Bathroom Tissue 1983-ish
1974- Various Taste Great, Less Filling Miller Lite
1976- Paul Anka Times of our life Kodak Cameras, film and paper
1977- James Garner & Various Various Polaroid Cameras 1983 Marriette Hartley
1978-ish David McNaughton I’m a Pepper, He’s a Pepper, Dr. Pepper She’s a Pepper, Wouldn’t you like to be a pepper to?
1979 Mean Joe Greene Hey kid catch (jersey) Coca Cola
1984 3 Old Ladies Where’s the Beef Wendy’s
1999 Various Wassup Budweisser
I think the first thing that you will notice is that none of these commercials that I have listed have inanimate objects in them. The second thing you will notice is the people are all the main focus interacting with the product. The third thing you will notice is that all these ad ran before the turn of the century. That is not to say that there have not been any good ads sine the year 1999. Not at all I can think of several. But the ads, or rather the commercials I have listed here are commercials that I have remembered for all these years. I have not only remembered the commercial, but I have remembered what they were selling. These days I usually look at my husband and ask what the hell was that? For example, there is currently a Fidelity ad running that shows people working out in a gym. Okay, I remember it mainly because of the music, I get what they were going for, but is this really an ad you are going to remember ten, twenty, thirty years from now?? I doubt it, and same for all the inanimate object ads I listed above. I do remember two inanimate ads from long ago in my youth, one was the “roach motel where roaches check in, but they don’t check out.” And there was a cartoon roach with a hat and a suitcase checking into the roach motel. The other was for dog food, Chuckwagon to be precise. is showed an miniature chuckwagon being chased by a dog right into the cupboard or TV. The ads ran from around 1970-1987. There is nothing better than a good commercial, and nothing worse than a bad one.
I just wish there were more good ones for all of us to enjoy.