Madison Avenue – You Done Me Wrong

I bought a new car not too long ago.  Don’t get the wrong impression; I’m not the kind of high-rolling blog writer who can afford to go out and buy a new car whenever I’m not playing squash or taking European vacations.  In fact, this was the first new car I’ve bought in about 20 years.

I took the time to shop around for a while to find the car which best suited me.  I did lean toward the more luxurious side of the middle of the road, largely because by the time another 20 years ticks by, my main mode of transportation will likely be a Hoveround scooter or a hearse.

During the shopping process,  Madison Avenue got in my head and played with my brain.

I looked at the Acura TL.  At the time, their ad campaign featured famous athletes like Calvin “Megatron” Johnson of the Detroit Lions and Olympic free-style skier Ashleigh McIvor being transformed from raw, powerful physical specimens into elegant, refined versions of themselves.  The message is simple; beneath the sophisticated exterior of this car, beats the heart of an elite performer.

This is a still shot from Olympic gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor’s Acura spot. I could have used one from Calvin Johnson’s ad, but I liked this one a little more..OK..a lot more. (Image from adland.tv)

Besides the simplicity of the message, the ad agency had the good sense to use the athletes for their bodies and personae only, leaving the spoken words for voice-over professionals.

Lincoln ads had an appeal as well.  They featured actor John Slattery, who plays the silver-haired Roger Sterling on AMC’s show about 1950’s/60’s Madison Avenue, “Mad Men“.  As a fan of the show, it’s fun for me to see “Roger” – especially in a commercial.  From a casting standpoint, he’s a clever choice.  Even people who’ve never seen Mad Men will perceive Roger, as I prefer to call him, as a man who’s arrived.  A guy who knows what he wants.  Fans of Mad Men will also see a successful man, albeit the vodka-before-lunch, womanizing, advertising mogul sort.

Sorry Roger, though the Lincolns all come with lots of cup holders, I’m afraid that ashtrays are an upgrade. (Image from theatlantic.com)

One look at Roger Sterling behind the wheel of that Lincoln and you just know that there are ample cup holders and reclining seats.  I have to admit, on some level I pictured myself driving home from The 21 Club with Mad Men sexpot Christina Hendricks draped across the passenger seat beside me.

Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks sitting right next to me in my Lincoln! Did I mention that all Lincolns come standard with dual airbags? Dunno why that suddenly popped into my head. (Image from askmen.com)

Perhaps it was my fear of having explain the busty, redheaded passenger to my wife, or maybe it was the test drives, but I went with the Acura TL.

I’ve been very happy with the car so far.  There is only one qualm really.

Recently, Acura has begun showing a new series of commercials, wherein unsuspecting characters are taken for thrilling rides in Acura vehicles, driven by the likes of loudmouth Dr. Phil and financial guru Suze Orman.  While I’m sure Acura’s ad agency has a good rationale for this new direction, it sticks in my craw to be driving a brand which has aligned itself with these two.  My gut reaction when seeing Dr. Phil and Suze is one of revulsion.  I’m not really a fan of either one of them, and on top of that, they each have “the connection” – whether it’s deserved or not, I perceive them both as darlings of one of my least favorite people, one Oprah Winfrey.

I’m praying that there’s no truth to the rumor that Acura will be replacing the voice in its navigation system with that of Dr. Phil. “You got to make up your mine an turn right onto Willuh Court! It’s time to stann-up fer yerself an do what’s right fer you!” (Image from dr-phil-blog.newsok.com)

I realize that many of my blog readers, particularly females, may take exception to my dislike of Oprah.  Sorry ladies, I just do.  I don’t dislike her because she’s a woman or because she’s black.  Nor do I dislike her because she loses more money in the cushions of the sofa at her beach house than I make in a year.  I just dislike her because I do.  I can’t explain it.  I imagine that it’s akin to the dislike a dog may have for a strange houseguest.  No matter how much affection the host shows the guest or how nice the guest may try to be, the dog just knows, on some visceral level, that the person is not to be trusted.  Given half a chance, the pooch will nip at them, or if possible, take a dump in one of their shoes.  If Oprah ever comes to my house, she damn-well better leave those stinky Jimmy Choo’s on her feet.

Ironically, it’s thanks to the brainstorming of some modern day Roger Sterlings that my beautiful, newish car has been disassociated from Megatron and tied instead to two of Oprah’s lackeys!  I’d be less upset if the Acura TL was named the official car of the Free Jerry Sanduskie movement.

I’m wondering if the trade-in value is high enough to allow me to put myself in the seat of a new Lincoln.

Great Commercial Series – Chevy Camaro Graduation Gift

Sometimes, commercials aren’t just ads for products, sometimes they’re entertaining funny little 30 second stories. (Image from article.wn.com)

You’ll likely recall this one if you ever saw it.  A dopey high school senior gets a graduation gift from his parents.  The gift is a sad little dormitory refrigerator which Mom and Dad have festooned with a ribbon.  The gag is that it’s sitting in front of a shiny yellow Camaro convertible.  The kid, who we’ve already pegged as a little dopey, sees the car and mistakes it for his graduation present.

While the premise of the ad is simple, it speaks to us on many levels.  As parents, we realize that our ideas of gifts, while grounded in the necessities of finances, may not jibe with the preferences of our kids.  There is also a certain common sense to the parents’ choice of a dorm fridge – you graduated from high school, Tommy and you were lucky to get into a state college.  Those two facts merit a small appliance, not a muscle car.

We can recognize the unrealistic nature of youthful optimism.  Kids clearly have little if any idea about the cost of a brand new car.  The neighborhood setting of this comic tableau is decidedly middle class.  This is where working people live, not the rich folk who would possibly buy their child wildly generous gifts for fairly pedestrian achievements.

The commercial succeeds because the incredible high of a cool new car is not lost on any of us, despite the fact that we will have to deal with payments, insurance and higher and higher gas prices.  Mr. Johnson, the neighbor who the car actually belongs to, understands these things, but he is still financially solvent enough to be able to go play a round of golf.  The director cleverly leaves out the potentially awkward act of Johnson putting a full bag of golf clubs into the trunk of the Camaro before he drives off.

This commercial works for me because it speaks to so many things which have nothing to do with a Camaro.

Alright, enough of these commercials, I’ve got featured presentations to write about.

Great Commercials Series – Direct TV

This guy was frustrated over his cable service. One thing led to another, and by the end of the 30 second commercial, he ended up bloody in a roadside ditch. The not-so-subliminal message: Get our product or bad stuff could happen to you. Advertising genius! (Image from adage.com)

If you watch TV much you’ve probably seen the commercials that Direct TV runs about how life can go horribly wrong simply because you get frustrated with something as innocuous as your cable TV service.  The ads are incredibly smart, in that viewers are sucked into the concept and want to see how being frustrated with bad cable service can somehow lead to ones being left beaten and bloody in a roadside ditch, or selling their hair in Vegas.

If you don’t watch TV or you’re one of those high-brows who will only view commercial-free public TV, then you’re missing out on a funny series of commercials.  Why you’d be reading the drivel that I write when you’re too sophisticated for “The Real Housewives of Topeka” is a question which I cannot answer.

In my Great Commercials Series, I hope to spotlight a single great commercial or series of commercials, then examine what makes them so good.  In this case, I’ve tried to come up with my own version of the ad.  When reading my version, please switch the voice in your head to the actor who does the Direct TV ad voice-overs.  If you are not familiar enough with his voice, try Sean Connery or Pee Wee Herman.

Here now, is my version of this great commercial:

When your cable doesn’t work, you feel like you’re wasting your money.

When you feel like your wasting your money, you lose the motivation to work,

When you lose the motivation to work, you start burning through your sick days,

When you use sick days unecessarily, you start watching soap operas,

When you start watching soap operas, you become convinced that Katerina is having doubts about her feelings for Quinn,

When you start spending too much time worrying about the relationships of fictional characters, you forget about important dates, like your anniversary,

When you forget your anniversary, your wife gets angry and locks you out of the house,

When your wife locks you out of the house, you end up sleeping in the car,

When you end up sleeping in the car, you wake up with a stiff neck, a cramp in your leg and a grouchy demeanor,

When you wake up with a stiff neck, leg cramps and a grouchy demeanor, you look like a zombie to your paranoid neighbor,

When you look like a zombie to your paranoid neighbor, he mistakenly believes the apocalypse has begun,

When your neighbor believes that the apocalypse has begun, he gets out his cross-bow and shoots you in the head with a hunting arrow,

Don’t get shot in the head with a hunting arrow, get Direct TV.

He didn’t appear to have much facility with stringing up Christmas lights, and his mailbox stayed broken for months, but unfortunately for you, his crossbow skills were excellent (Image from thecrossbowstore.com)

I’m not expecting Direct TV to be ringing my phone off the hook, but you’ve got to admit, zombies are hot right now, and Halloween is just around the corner.

Please forgive me for not posting the actual video in this blog, and just using this link to Youtube.  I’m lazy and don’t feel like paying to upgrade my blog to put videos in it.  Be a sweetheart and use the back button on your browser to come back and let me know what you thought of the post.

Let’s drop iPhone, and Call It a Royale With Cheese

“Vincent, I already told you, I aint giving you no muthuh-fuckin massage!” (Image from Miramax Films)

iPhone ads are gradually destroying my perceptions of some great actors.

First, Samuel L. Jackson is chatting with Siri about recipes and organic ingredients for his risotto.  I realize that Mr. Jackson is an actor, and it’s not fair to only think of him as Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction”.  I also realize that Samuel is not necessarily interested in people thinking that he is Mr. Winnfield.  He’s been in plenty of movies since then, playing all sorts of characters.  Clearly he is his own man and is not to be defined by one single character.  I’m also fairly confident that the good folks at Apple paid him an enormous sum of money to do that commercial, and as such, he was obligated to follow their script.  Despite all that knowledge, it breaks my heart to see him chatting it up with an automated phone-chick for grocery shopping advice.

I like advertising to take bigger chances.  As Jah as my witness, I swear I would go buy myself an iPhone within the hour if Mr. Jackson as Jules Winnfield was talking to Siri.

Winnfield (speaking into his iPhone with a look of cool annoyance on his face and his Jeri-curled locks looking like a black Medusa) : “Bitch!  Where can I get some organic mushrooms for my muthuh-fuckin risotto?”

Siri: “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Winnfield (kicks over a barstool in the kitchen and picks up a cleaver from the counter) : “What country you from?”

Siri: “I’m sorry what did you say?”

Winnfield (holding the cleaver menacingly) : ” ‘I’msorrywhatdidyousay’ aint no country I ever heard of!  They speak English in I’msorrywhatdidyousay?”

Siri: “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Winnfield (throws the cleaver aside and pulls a large, scary handgun from his jacket and aims it at Siri, despite the fact that the phone is in his own hand) : “Say ‘I’msorrywhatdidyousay?’ one more mothuhfuckin time!”

You see what I mean?  Not only would I go buy an iPhone, but I would record the commercial and watch it over and over again, because I would be proud to own an iPhone.  In fact, I’d probably go out and buy one or two more iPhones.  If the commercial ran long enough for Jackson to actually shoot the phone, I would likely swoon.

Instead, I’m left scratching my head.  Why in the world is Samuel L. Jackson cooking his own risotto?  He should have a bevvy of super models in lacy aprons and heels cooking for him.  If one of them skinny chicks slips up and doesn’t use the organic mushrooms, well.. she gonna wish she did.

As if my disenchantment with Samuel L. Jackson’s ad isn’t enough, iPhone came out with a few more celebrity ads.

An actress named Zoey Deschenelle shows up in one.  I honestly have no idea who she is, but if that’s her birth name, then she really had no choice but to grow up and become either an actress or an international spy.  If that’s not her original moniker, then I think the pretentious name police might have a warrant out for her arrest.  The commercial is entirely forgettable.  She’s dressed in frumpy pajamas, asks the phone annoying questions and wraps up the commercial by dancing badly as she leaves a messy room.

John Malkovich also appears in a couple of iPhone ads.  Over the course of his career, he’s played a range of roles.  While I don’t identify him as directly with one character as I do with Mr. Jackson, I think of Malkovich as being a sophisticated, witty man irrespective of whether he’s on the stage, screen or walking down the sidewalk.  In the commercials he’s sitting in an elegant room with opera on in the background, and asks Siri to tell him a joke.

Siri says “Two iPhones walk into a bar…I forget the rest.”

Mr. Malkovich leans his head back in his tasteful, leather-upholstered wing chair and laughs at the pathetic attempt at humor by Siri.  To look at his amusement, you’d think he was drinking gin rickeys and trading barbs with Dorothy Parker and Burl Ives at the Algonquin Round Table.

I realize that the people at Apple are trying to sell phones, but can anyone actually believe that an intellectual, urbane man of the world like John Malkovich could possibly be amused by a stupid phone telling half a joke?  This man starred in “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway with Dustin Hoffman!  We’re not talking David Hasselhoff here.

Alas, the almighty dollar can convince even the most accomplished actors to sell soap.

Here’s a tip for future stars of iPhone commercials; take less money if you have to , but demand some creative authority over the finished advertisement.  There’s no reason you can’t plug yourselves at the same time you’re hawking that iPhone.  Think you can’t do it?  Ask Clint Eastwood how it’s done.  He did a commercial for Chrysler, probably got a boatload of cash and came out looking liker a bigger, badder version of himself than he already was before the commercial aired!  No one at the Super Bowl party I was at shook their heads and wondered how a mega-star could’ve sunken  to such a low station in celebrity life.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that one or two of the party goers ran out the next day and put down deposits on the latest versions of K-cars.

What’s it gonna be punk, the Luxe Sport Package or the Royale with leather trimmed upholstery and nav system? (Image from posters.ws)

On the other hand, if Apple decides to start using unknowns in their commercials, like say blog writers from the South of Jersey with aspirations of becoming novelists from the South of France, I’ll be more than happy to tart it up however their creative team asks me to.  Just sayin…

Tyler/Brittany/Grayson Scored The Winning Goal/Basket/Run!!

As an avid TV watcher and student of popular culture, I’ve noticed a few things about advertising over the years.  It really doesn’t matter what the product is, advertisers have any number of wily ways to coddle and woo the customer.

One proven method involves subliminally suggesting that if you buy a given product, you will magically inherit the traits of the people in the commercial.  Using the right shampoo will make your hair look luxurious and full of body, and if you read the subliminal messages, it will also take care of that crooked nose, unsightly warts and as an added bonus, you’ll shed those 35 extra pounds you’ve been carting around since the late 90’s.  For obvious legal reasons, no shampoo manufacturer is going to actually promise you much of anything beyond clean hair.  Still, the models in their ads never have crooked noses, warts or thunder thighs.  A coincidence? I think not.

For many advertisers, there is an implied promise which is even more alluring than that of physical beauty, and that is making your child into a sports superstar.  Take for example, the notion that if you buy a certain brand of minivan, your child will score the winning goal in the soccer game, and will be carried off the field on the shoulders of his or her comrades, to the waiting luxurious comfort of your shiny, stain-free mini-van.  It might be the winning run of the baseball game or the winning shot of the basketball game instead of soccer, but make no mistake about it, if you plunk down 30 large for this incredible mini-van, your son or daughter will win the game (As a point of clarification, scoring the winning touchdown in football games is usually reserved for laundry detergent ads).

Listen Brittany! We didn't buy that new mini-van so you could sit on the damn bench! Now smear a little dirt on your cheek and go win the game, and for God's sake, try to look enthused about it! (Image from pranamama.com)

Parents have no bounds when it comes to doing anything and everything they can to ensure the success and popularity of their children.  Trust me on this one, I have kids.  OK, you got me, I had kids.  They’re all young adults now, but I have my memories.  If some slick huckster on Madison Avenue implanted the germ of an idea in my head that buying the right mini-van would improve one of my kids chances of scoring a winning goal, you know damn well I would have bought it.  Crash rating?  We don’t need no stinking crash rating!

Now that my kids are older, I can look back with some degree of objectivity on all of this subliminal advertising insanity.  While I wrote that any number of sports could suffice, I’ll stick with soccer for this hypothetical discussion.

On any given weekend day, there are easily a hundred thousand little league soccer games being played all across America.  A standard soccer game will have 11 players on each team.  Only one team can win – there are no ties in mini-van commercials, so we’ll eliminate the 11 players on the losing team.  One of the players on the winning team is the goalie, and unless they make an incredible kick, the goalie is highly unlikely to score the winning goal.  The goalie, especially in little league soccer, would be much more likely to score the winning goal for the other team, however this would probably not result in his or her being carried off the field a hero.

Another factor is that, despite the best efforts of league organizers at spreading the talent evenly among the teams, there are often powerhouses and cellar dwellers in many soccer leagues.  The disparity of talent will result in lop-sided wins or losses.  It’s a simple fact that no one will carry you off the field for scoring the winning goal if it happens 3 minutes into the game in an eventual 10-2 blow out.  Therefore we can safely eliminate half the games being played because they’re blow outs.

Yet another issue is the incidence of overly involved parents.  In a few of these games, despite the outcome, some Dad will go berserk and charge onto the field to assault the referee.  This will result in the game being called on account of boorish behavior, and no one will be carried off the field with the possible exceptions of  Dad being carried off in hand-cuffs and/or the referee on a stretcher.  This may present an opportunity for police car or ambulance advertisers, but admittedly these are niche markets at best.

Of the remaining eligible kids who could possibly score the winning goal, still more must be ruled out.  In commercials, it will be the smallest, scrappiest, cutest little goomer.  He or she will have a small scuff of dirt on their little determined cheek, and they’ll make a face of utter surprise and delight after scoring.  Therefore, none of the bigger kids on the team can score the goal, because they would appear to be a bully or a ringer.  None of the clean faced kids can score it, that just wouldn’t look right.  Finally, none of the really incredibly talented kids can score it because they would never be able to fake the look of surprise and delight, because as an elite 3rd grader, they knew that shot was going in.

I know I’ve lost some of you by now, so allow me to lose the rest of you by introducing a summary in mathematical terms:

100,000 soccer games X 2 Teams of 11 players                                  =  2,200,000

2,200,000 players minus 1,100,000 losing players                                 = 1,100,000

1,100,000 players minus 100,000 goalies                                              = 1,000,000

1,000,000 players minus 500,000 players in blow outs                           = 500,000

500,000 players minus 50,000 players in games called due to Dads       = 450,000

450,000 players minus 400,000 players who are

too big, too talented, and/or too clean                                                        = 50,000

50,000 players minus 40,000 players who’s parents

missed the game due to work or other obligations                                     = 10,000

10,000 players minus 6000 players who were distracted by

planes overhead                                                                                           = 4000

4000 players minus 2000 players who fell down or burst into tears

for no apparent reason                                                                                 = 2000

2000 players minus 925 players who were called offside

by that idiot ref                                                                                              = 1075

1075 players minus 274 who stopped to tie their cleats                                   = 801

801 players minus 211 who missed the game due to dance recitals               = 590

590 players minus 562 who are in sportsmanship leagues which forbid

gloating or being carried off the field by teamates                                            = 28

So there you have it.  By my highly scientific calculations, 28 players out of 2.2 million will score the winning heroic goal as portrayed in mini-van commercials.  Not exactly Mega-Millions long shots, but far from a slam dunk.

Maybe those crash ratings are worth a second look after all.

Advertising in the age of E.D. drugs

The Astoria Column - How has this not shown up in a commercial?

Over the past several years, big pharmaceutical companies have begun spending increasingly huge amounts of money on advertising for almost all of their products.  They’ve always given out pens and mid-size sedans to doctors, but now they’re also bombarding the airwaves telling Average Joes the great news about how well their products work.

Before this advertising blitzkrieg, relatively few people even knew what E.D. stood for.  Now, thanks to countless commercials, millions of Americans are exposed to those letters every day- especially if they’re watching golf or NASCAR.  Erectile Dysfunction medications are being hyped all over the tube like Color-Safe Fabric Softener and Ginsu Knives.

For obvious reasons, the ad agencies have to find ways to sell the E.D. products without actually showing how well they work.  The two biggest purveyors of woody medicine have fairly different approaches to the task.

The first manufacturer’s strategy shows men being men.  Sometimes they’re sailing, but usually they’re driving – classic muscle cars or pick-up trucks hauling horse trailers.  The sound track is often some fairly obscure blues track.  Fans of the Howlin’ Wolf such as myself will take note when hearing his familiar guitar licks on the TV.  At first we’re tickled because someone somewhere took the time to find this cool song and put it on TV.  Then a moment later, we’re disheartened to realize it’s being used in a commercial for boner pills.  The ads focus on portraying these handsome, accomplished men as masters of their own destiny, having figured out how to get where they want to be in life.  The unspoken message is this: If you can figure out how to get that horse trailer unstuck, you can certainly  figure out how to solve the linguine-in-the-pants problem.

The ad agency for the other main pharmaceutical company goes with a different approach.  They show men and women engaged in mundane, mutually tedious activities.  Then they brush elbows, and the garden shed they’re working on re-organizing magically morphs into a Tahitian love-hut complete with tropical breezes and an ocean view.  They discard their work gloves and start slow dancing onto the lanai.  As always, the commercial ends with the two of them sitting alongside one another in matching bathtubs watching the Polynesian sun set.  One could argue that if those pills worked so well, the two of them would have jumped into the same tub.  This particular Madison Avenue approach puts the emphasis on the romance and emotional connection of sex, rather than the dirty, sweaty aspects of it – otherwise the “erections lasting longer than 4 hours” part would be part of the sales pitch, not part of the disclaimer.*

Speaking of disclaimers, there’s also the one which warns users to “consult with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to have sex in the first place”.  Like any disclaimer, it’s there for legal reasons. In lay terms it’s because unlike the rugged horse trailer drivers in the commercial, the actual users of the pills may not be quite so fit.  In other words, many of the actual users of these pills may bear more of a resemblance to the Michelin Man than to the Marlboro Man.

When it’s all said and done, ED drugs and the rest of the pharmaceutical goodies in the world are hawked no differently than any other products.  The subliminal psychology is used and abused to give people all sorts of messages which are patently absurd.  You may suffer from that medical problem, but you’re no more that guy in the vintage Camaro than your wife is the smoking hottie in the air freshener commercial.

Now go enjoy yourself.  If things don’t change in another 3 hours and 52 minutes, you’re going to have to seek medical attention.

*Now that I’ve written this, the company has stopped using the powder-room-with-the-backed-up-toilet-morphing-into-a-mountain-cabin-with-canopy-bed approach and just shows men and women getting close.  They share crossword puzzles and snuggle on couches.  Anyone will tell you that there’s no better way to kill desire than sharing a crossword puzzle – I mean, who could be attracted to someone who couldn’t come up with the five letter word for “calcified instrument of lovemaking(?)”, beginning with b.  The twin tub part has now been reduced to a stylized logo at the very end of the ad.  I’m trying to write here!  Couldn’t you guys leave well enough alone and not change your commercials long enough for my references to be topical!?