DATE: 9/15/2004 11:16:00 AM
"Comcast has the hook-up."
"Yeah, it's like tot-ally..."
I can't believe these words are actually coming out of my radio speakers. For at least the 27th time during this lunch break, they're playing that commercial--the one where actors who are clearly in their mid-30's attempt to use "lingo" to be "down" with the "hip crowd" because they're trying to advertise to students moving in to college dorm rooms and off-campus apartments.
Meanwhile, if these actors could be any more excruciatingly awkward in their impersonation of teenagers, I would be amazed. At one point in the spot (which probably only lasts 30 seconds but feels like 30 days) one character mentions OnDemand services, and another says haltingly, "Is that where you can LIKE watch it like it's a 'DVD'?" You can hear the quotation marks in midair.
It could just be me, but it seems like there are a lot more commercials becoming that commercial lately. Am I just getting old and uncool? Or have advertisers succeeded in lowering our collective IQs to the point where the vast majority of people find these recurring annoyances acceptable? Granted, there's only a certain number of ways you can sell a product--and most of the good ones have been taken by that Snickers "Not Going Anywhere For a While?" campaign. Talking heads in commercials are probably always going to state the product name in full--"Kleenex brand facial tissues", instead of "tissues" or "Kleenex," "MacDonald's Chicken Selects", instead of "those new chicken thingers what they got up at Mickey D's now." This is okay with me. I understand that advertising is designed not to be artistic but to pound a product name into your head over and over again. And hey, maybe annoyance helps--after all, it makes you remember the commercial, right? My annoyance is such that it has inspired this blog entry, which in turn mentions "Comcast" as the first word. It also mentions "OnDemand", another trademark of Comcast. Twice now.
Still, is it too much to ask that advertisers at least make an honest attempt not to insult our intelligence as they take up 30% of the television and radio programming we're attempting to enjoy? It can be done--there have been commercials that have come close to comedy sketches to me--most memorably the commercial where the little sunshiny character chases terrified children through a house, a clear parody of the Downy bear. The Miller for President beer campaign (which uses an election-year environment to its advantage) is pure genius, and even resurrecting the talking iguanas probably hasn't helped Bud recover from the damage.
But these shining examples of commercials-as-quality-entertainment have become fewer and farther between, as more and more advertisers seem content to take the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" route--product promotion through sheer irritation.
Another example of the current onslaught of marketing ineptitude from many companies is a commercial for a car dealership, also on the radio, in which the spokesperson speaks through a bullhorn to emphasize points in his sales pitch, which is annoying enough. But at the end, the bullhorn feeds back with a high-pitched squeal, at a high volume over the airwaves. I don't know about you, but I want compensation for having to endure this abuse. And while it's made the product memorable, all that commercial has succeeded in doing is convincing me that I will probably never buy this brand of car.
If I ever have to see that "What is there to do in Philadelphia?" commercial again, I'm going to put a foot through my TV. Actually, I'm full of shit, because I'll probably see it tonight as soon as I flip to the baseball game, and during every commercial break thereafter, and just take it like the little capitalist bitch I am. But that's another one I hate. I have the whole goddamn thing memorized now, when it wasn't that good a commercial to begin with. And you know what? I am probably less likely now to want to visit Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell and cheesesteak be damned) or to fly the airline advertised in the spot. Probably not what the advertiser had in mind when they put this commercial on the air. Clearly. In fact, they were so impressed with it that they bought just about every spot there is on Red Sox game broadcasts, the better to bring its genius to us at every opportunity.
Which is another thing about that commercial. Whenever there's a commercial that makes you, to borrow a phrase from Andy, "regret ever having been born", whatever genius came up with it also sees fit to bring it to you approximately every five minutes. All of this while genius spots like the commercial where Randy Johnson plays dodgeball are seen once, maybe twice, and never heard from again.
Bernie and Phyl, for example. They've made approximately 85,438 terrible, screeching, grainy, low-budget commercials, somehow blackmailing sports stars from Adam Vinatieri to Joe Thornton to Tim Wakefield to appear in these miserable spots, and they're clearly not stopping anytime soon. Are people just afraid to tell them that their voices and grating N'Heeempshyah accents are among the most horrifying sounds ever to traverse a vacuum tube? How do they even convince themselves that these commercials are actually a good way to sell a product? Or Bob the mattress guy. We have to see his ugly mug all over the screen right after the Philadelphia commercial all the time, demonstrating a convertible sectional as if it's the second coming of Christ. Holy crap, Bob, I've never seen such a thing. At least since the last time this retarded commercial was on.
In his companion rant to this one over on his blog, Steve emphasizes mysogyny and the general decay of human decency as facilitated by commercials. Which is fine by me (and kinda cute--he's my little feminist), but where my problem lies isn't with the fact that marketing is driven by craven, shameless, amoral, greedy hucksters but by the fact that they can't at least go on about their manipulative business with a shred of creative flair or entertaining innovation. In other words, it's the quality of their drivel that concerns me.
This may be why I hate George W. Bush so much, as a matter of fact. It's obvious he's not the first President to be a barely-literate fortunate son catapulted to riches and power by dint of his family's name and willingness to pull strings; in fact, I struggle to come up with one who hasn't been suited by that description to some extent. He's also not the first of our leaders to screw over the working class while benefiting rich cronies--hell, that seems to be what government is for. But he just has no style in doing it. No finesse. No nuance. No subtlety. At least buy us a nice dinner before fucking us up the ass, you know? But no. Instead, we get "subliminable". Instead of even one more playing of Randy Johnson playing peg-off with assorted idiots, we get another 1,236 visits with Bernie and Phyl, and keep 'em coming. Instead of a President who says, with a wink and a grin, "I didn't inhale," we have a President who blabbers, "You got to make the pie higher." They're both total assholes. But Dubya makes it so unpleasant.
For some reason, the assumption that people want to be talked to as equals, sold a product, convinced as dignified individuals to invest their hard-earned money one way as opposed to the other is a more difficult proposition than the idea that if you feed people shit for long enough, sooner or later they'll acquire a taste for it.
The sad thing is that I can be as pissed off as I want to be on this issue, and I'd still be in a hopeless minority, just like I am in thinking that Britney Spears is completely un-talented except in her ability to be a stripper on a national stage; just like I am in thinking that Nicholas Sparks' writing is an insult to the pulpy mass-market paper it's printed on; just like I am in thinking that celluloid film has been all but lost as an artistic medium thanks to its abuse by unimaginative special-effects junkies. If there's anything I've learned, it's that the slippery slope doesn't end here--not nearly. In fact, just when you look around to find yourself surrounded by shit is usually when someone up above flushes you into an exponentially worse situation. So what's my point? There is no point, I guess. That commercials suck is a truism, and something I'll just have to learn to deal with--while boycotting the occasional egregiously advertised product along the way.
All I ask, though, is for a little more quality here and there. Sure, sell me stuff, make my disposable income live up to its name, but at least entertain me while you're doing it.
If that's not your plan, though, really, would it kill you to at least bring back that Randy Johnson spot? Just for one freakin' day?