Enough with the hype about "Superbowl ads!"

It's just a bunch of ads on television, like any other day.

Every other day of the year, people hate ads. Ads are the things we have developed entire multi-million dollar industries (Tivo, Hulu, DVRs, Netflix Streaming) just in order to avoid. Television ads are the one thing you can reliably complain about with anyone. 

I have never met someone who was willing to take the stance that "I don't mind the ads interrupting my television show." But I know at least a dozen people (myself included) who are content to wait an entire year (or longer) for a season of a show to come out on Netflix, rather than sit through the ordeal of watching it on television. Why? Because EVERYONE HATES ADS.
 
Except on Superbowl Sunday.
 
For some unknown reason, a lot of people get genuinely excited about the prospect of watching television ads during the Superbowl. I mean, I get that the ads are expensive. I can see how the Superbowl framing makes them seem extra special.
 
BUT THEY ARE STILL ADS.
 
People, it is time that we collectively get a grip on ourselves. Are the ads SO GREAT that they deserve your excitement? No. It's not like the ads will be handing out money to you. Or cleaning your kitchen. Or being even a fraction as entertaining as a great movie. Why? Because they are shilling Pepsi and GEICO and Ford. 
 
Cool special effects? Whatever. I mean, if you really want to watch the ads, catch them on YouTube when they get uploaded later that night. But you won't, will you? And why? Because you don't actually want to watch them! Admit it!
 
I have learned that for many people "The ads are cool" translates to "I don't really care about the Superbowl but I am compelled to attend a Superbowl party for some reason (perhaps because my partner loves it and insists on bringing me along) so this is my brave attempt to put a good face on it."
 
But come on. Let's get real. That excuse makes you sound like a tool, and an idiot to boot. I propose that instead of collectively pretending like we care about the ads, we start collectively pretending that we care about the food instead. Because "we're going to have Buffalo wings and those are delicious" sounds a lot better than "boy I love to watch those ads!"

The dumbest people in ads: Dad bracket

How many dads in ads are idiots? Almost all of them.

I have many male friends who are caring and responsible dads. I know no fewer than three stay-at-home dads who are the primary caregiver for their children, as well as being the ones maintaining the household: they shoulder the bulk of the cooking, cleaning, and errand-running duties while their wives work outside the home bringing in the primary salary. And they do a great job of it, too.

All of which makes me extremely sensitive to the issue of idiot dads. Why is it that dads are a commercial's go-to character when they need someone to be a bumbling fool? And then the wife swoops in and solves his problem with a knowing smile. As a hard-core feminist, let me be the first to say that this problem demeans us all.
 
When I started trying to pick two idiot dads in ads, I couldn't do it. Instead, I divided it into two buckets: Sick Dads and Bad Parent Dads.
 
Sick Dads are found in commercials for over the counter cold and flu medicines. These ads presume that the men in your life will be reduced to a pile of idiocy the instant they come down with a cold. They snore, whine, sneeze, and stagger through life as if they were suffering from a lobotomy instead of the common cold.

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Bad Parent Dads are dads who - through some wacky series of events - find themselves actually having to act as parents to their own children. In the real world, Bad Parent Dads typically hit, neglect, or abandon their children. But in the ad world, Bad Parent Dads do wacky things like feed their kids cereal for dinner, or try to "accidentally" ruin their daughter's too-skimpy skirt. 

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A decent parent would either sit down with his daughter and have a conversation with her about gender roles, age brackets, and inappropriate behavior, or he would throw her skirt away. A real-world Bad Parent Dad would shrug it off or ignore it. But an advertising Bad Parent Dad wipes engine grease on the skirt, assuming that it is now ruined.
 
Who wins? In the end, I think the Sick Dads are the dumbest. Because bad parenting is a choice, and being a parent can indeed be a challenging task. But any idiot knows that when you get sick, you can buy medicine that makes you feel less sick. 
 
In the next bracket, "Sick Dads" versus "Stupid Totino's Kid," I'm going to have to go with "Sick Dads." When it comes to life skills, the older you are, the more you should have accumulated. I can forgive a stupid kid's inability to feed himself more than I can excuse a grown-ass adult's inability to medicate his own illness.
 

The dumbest people in ads: pizza bracket

Who's dumber? The Totino's kid, or the Digiorno party?

Advertising often purports to solve the problems of really stupid people. I decided to start a tournament style competition to find the stupidest people in ads being aired in America today.

First up: the stupid people in two pizza-related ads. First we have the Totino's commercial where two stupid teenagers can't find a box of Totino's Pizza Rolls in the freezer, even though we can see that the bright yellow box is literally only inches away from their stupid faces.
 

Totino's Pizza Rolls Commercial - Freezer

 
To compound the stupidity, instead of just examining their own freezer more closely, the kids call mom. Mooooom! I'm hungry and too stupid to feed myself! Naturally mom knows the exact position of Totino's in their freezer, so she is able to snarkily guide them to nourishment.
 
Then the kid leaves the phone in the freezer. That is how dumb this kid is. 
 
But personally, I think the joke's on mom. Because you know that stupid kid is going to somehow manage to burn down the house trying to cook those pizza rolls in the microwave. That'll teach her to leave her idiot children alone for more than 30 seconds.
 
Next up: this was a tough one. Every single person in every single DiGiorno ad is an idiot. But I chose this ad, because it implies an entire party's worth of idiots are being fooled by the flimsy ruse. 
 

Digiorno Pizza Commercial: Party crasher

 
Freeze frame on the party. The man answering the door is presumably the homeowner. He is wearing sunglasses indoors, and a white scarf in combination with a three piece suit that even has a pocket square. Is he supposed to be Kanye West? Because I bet that you could fool Kanye West with a hat that says "PIZZA" on it.
 
In the background we see people dressed for a fancy party. A woman is wearing a sparkly blue dress. A man is wearing a tuxedo with a bow tie. The man next to him is wearing a fedora (indoors, tsk tsk). Is this the sort of party where you would order pizza in the first place? It looks more like a catered type of party to me. 
 
If the host of a party doesn't know whether or not he ordered pizza, what else is going wrong at that party? Did he perhaps set out wads of duct tape as party favors? Chunks of raw bacon on a toothpick as cocktail snacks?
 
Because it implies a level of public idiocy, and because it depicts a grown-ass adult being stupid (let's be honest, teenagers are stupid all the time) I deem the stupidest person in this bracket to be: The Digiorno guy.

Special K says ignore your size - but you're too fat

This new Special K ad coopts and twists size acceptance.

Every time I see this Special K ad, I grind my teeth. It starts out well: a woman (who by the way is quite slim) goes shopping for jeans. Instead of sizes, the jeans are labeled "Radient" and "Sassy" or whatever. A voice-over asks, wouldn't it be great if we ignored sizes in favor of how we feel inside?

Then the ad helpfully informs you that you can lose up to 20 pounds on the Special K diet. So here is the message of this ad: accept who you are! And also, you are too fat and need to lose weight.
 
The first part of the ad uses the language of size acceptance. The size acceptance movement says "It's okay to be larger than a size 2," and "you can be healthy over a wide range of weights." After all, we all know sickly people who are tiny, and chubby people who are healthy. Shouldn't it be more important to be healthy, and to wear clothes that fit well, regardless of what size you are?

(This kind of talk drives people rabid with fury, by the way. But it is true: on paper, I am literally as healthy as a person can be. Cholesterol levels, blood tests, blood pressure, blood glucose level - all perfectly normal. I eat well and exercise regularly. The only thing "wrong" with me is that I weigh more than a chart says that I should.)
 
Special K has a long history of telling women that "I love you but you're too fat." Their ads use the gauzy summer morning lighting of a feminine hygiene ad, and speak in the gentle sweet tones of a best friend and confidante. And what they tell you is, you're too fat. Eat more Special K and lose weight.
 
Incidentally, the so-called "Special K challenge" (which was invented wholly by the marketing department in order to sell more Special K, meaning it's not a real thing) is - irony alert! - incredibly unhealthy. A person who actually follows the Special K diet will be crash dieting, with a daily allowance of about 1,500 calories. Much of which comes in the form of a highly processed, refined, high glycemic high carb, zero fiber breakfast cereal pumped full of synthetic vitamins.
 
There is no magic to Special K. It's just corn flakes with a vitamin coating. And their ad is just the same old lies and cruelties in a different package.
 

Porsche's creepy new ad campaign

That tag line comes off a little too much like "the call is coming from the basement!"

A Toronto ad agency conceived of a novel - and unsettling - new ad campaign which unfortunately seems to be working fairly well. Expect this form of "guerilla advertising" to start popping up more often in the future.

Ad agency Lowe Roche grabbed a 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S from the dealership, took it to an upscale neighborhood, then drove it to each house in turn. At each location they positioned the car where the driveway overlaps the sidewalk (i.e. on public property) and snapped a picture that made it look as if the car was just pulling out of the drive.
 
Then they printed this picture on a postcard, and left it for the home's residents, along with a note that Porsche ownership is "closer than you think."

I realize they mean it to sound like "this could be you." But to me, that tag line comes off a little too much like "the call is coming from the basement!"
 
Sadly, they have seen a surprisingly high response rate, with 32 percent of postcards resulting in a trip to the dealership's website. Although it could just be a case of curious homeowners visiting the website to answer the burning question, "Who is the creep that sent me a picture of my own house with someone else's car in front of it?"
 
This particularly odious form of customized marketing will no doubt appeal to ad campaign managers across the world. More's the pity. Imagine returning to your car from the shopping mall, only to find that someone has left a postcard under the windshield wiper with a picture of your car, sporting new tires. Or maybe as you walk through the grocery store you will be ambushed by someone with a postcard featuring a picture of you, walking through the grocery store, but with a bag of Cheetos in your cart.
 
Apartment dwellers might find themselves the recipients of photos of themselves, signing mortgage papers on their dream homes. The elderly may receive postcards of themselves, reclining on the beaches of Boca Raton. 
 
Aside from being creepy and stalker-ish, this form of advertising trades strictly on the consumer's narcissism. It only works because it's YOU in the photo (or your house). It's like a grown up version of those books you could have printed from a mall kiosk customized with your child's name slotted in as the protagonist. And what more is there to say about advertising that literally makes you a worse person by catering to your narcissistic tendencies?
 

The Smug "Gerber Life College Plan" Parents

"Oh, we actually have, because we're SO SUPERIOR."

Smugness is a tricky beast to harness. Do it wrong, and you risk having the opposite effect to the one you intended. This is certainly the case with the smug parents in the "Gerber Grow-Up Plan" commercial.

Being a parent means constantly navigating a sea of judgment, both the judgment of others and your own self-criticism. Why not leverage that process to sell life insurance for babies? That seems to be the line of reasoning.

The obvious problem is that babies do not need life insurance. It's a tragic thing if a baby dies, I think we can all agree on that. But life insurance is designed to help supplement the lost income from a family earner. Unless your baby is supporting your household as a day trader with eTrade, this is not an issue for you. 

Baby life insurance could also help cover funeral costs. But I guess Gerber executives got the willies at the thought of using the phrase "funeral costs for babies" in their ad. Can't blame 'em.
 
Instead, Gerber talks up the ability of the Grow-Up Plan to be used for college, 17 years from now, presuming your baby doesn't die and leave you the death benefit. Fair enough, and it's true that college is getting more expensive every day, and Americans don't save enough money in general.
 
But here is a tip: if you are hanging out with other parents of new babies, and they are bemoaning how difficult it is to be a parent, do not raise your hand and exclaim that you have already started saving for your baby's college tuition. Unlike the parents in the commercial, real-life parents will not be curious and grateful for this information. In fact, depending on the amount of wine being deployed at this play date, you could end up being bludgeoned to death with a tattered copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting.
 
The ad also makes it sound like it's weird and complicated to figure out how to save money for your baby's college fund. Well, it isn't. Just transfer money into a savings account. Boom: done. If you don't have a savings account already, your bank will be thrilled to open one for you. 
 
Worse, the ad implies that once you get a Gerber Grow-Up Plan, you too can become one of those smug know-it-all parents who goes around feeling superior to everyone else. Don't do it! 
 

Like Water for Beer

Miller 64 Brings Back Sea Shanty Song

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So clever and catchy - the Miller 64 commercial with its lyrical tune. Not to mention, it’s an ad with real guy appeal. Too bad the beer itself is getting so much flak. And some would even say it’s a real waste of talent to produce this engaging piece just to promote a watered-down beer. More about that in a minute.

The video begins focusing on a quick run before breakfast with the guys. They’re not dorks, either. Of course, it’s just seconds before we see the girl in a yellow bikini. Oh, yeah - gotta throw in the sex appeal. Back to the camaraderie as we see the group (including more girls) having fun at the beach and then toasting around a table. Even better, they don’t have a buzz on yet, because it is, after all, MGD 64. These guys won’t be developing any paunches, either, because of the low calorie count.

I love the song. It has a definite Irish lilt to it that’s obviously based on folk music from an earlier era of sea-going men on their sailing ships. This type of music, dubbed “sea shanties,” or “chantey,” dates back centuries, with attribution to the working man. Don’t be surprised to see this become a trend in the near future.

As a final note, the low-carb, low-calorie beer market is afloat with bad reviews, along with some who think it’s a good idea. There’s Michelob Ultra and Budweiser 55, which really goes to the basement on full-bodied taste, according to some. But, if someone’s going to down a 30-pack over the course of an evening, that’s probably not the right market for such a beverage.

So, back to the healthy-conscious folks who enjoy life to the fullest and don’t want to get a buzz. This one’s for you.

Taco Bell Ramps Up Its “Spanish” Heritage

Says No Mas to Tired Cliche

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Surely I’m not the only one who got tired of “think outside the box” way back in the dark ages when businesses were encouraging staff creativity. When Taco Bell borrowed it to “Think Outside the Bun,” it very nearly did me in.

Now, with a new cantina style menu, the suits and creatives have finally decided an overhaul is needed. They’re also assuming that just about everyone, everywhere knows some Spanish. Don’t we? The new tagline is “Live Mas,” which translates into “live more,” in case you need a little help with that. This isn’t their first attempt to teach English speakers a foreign language. Remember the Chihuahua and the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” commercials. (Hint: “I Want Taco Bell.”)

Their Youtube video, titled “Pockets” is more of a mood-setting than a push for the chain’s food. At the end, their big reveal is a Slab Hauler (non-relevant, but that translates into “losa transportista”) theater stub and a packet of TB’s hot sauce. Must have been some good time, huh? It’s a nice warm fuzzy that lets our imaginations go to work.

There are naysayers, of course, and this is coming off a bad year of accusations about their meat (or lack thereof). Some critics are stating they’re overreaching - it’s just fast food, after all, and cheap stuff at that. Now seems to be a good time to re-brand and if this new approach works, that’s great. At least the call to “think outside” is dunzo.

While I might not be a Taco Bell fan, the Border Sauce label with the “Fire” imprint makes we want to swipe a few packets.

Fiat Embraces the Bad Boy Image with Charlie Sheen

House Arrest is a good thing, apparently

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Fiat’s bad boy, the Abarth 500, pairs up with a real life bad boy, Charlie Sheen. A good-sized mansion provides plenty of room for this speedy little car as it races around rooms and down hallways. When it stops, to a crowd of cheering guests, out steps Sheen complete with ankle monitor. The tag line “Not all bad boys are created equal” pretty much says it all.

This is the ad we did not see at the Super Bowl - apparently, it wasn’t ready for prime time. Instead, the company ran a spot titled “Seduction.” Before that, Jenny from the Block took a turn in the Fiat, but then got her chops busted for not really tooling around the “Block.” With that particular ride ripped out from under the car company, it was just another blow to the Abarth’s sorry launch to begin with.

They’ve done an excellent tie-in that may turn off those opposed to sex, drugs, and bad behavior. But how big a group is that, anyway? Hopefully, Fiat won’t get any flak for that. Especially after the Lopez fuss.

So bad advertising now turns to the bad boy himself for a re-boot. The former “Men” star has had an interesting last few months at best and haven’t we all followed along? Sure, we have. The video is well-done in my opinion, but it also suffered from the backlash of Sheen’s most recent behavior. Critics who agreed that the whole warlock and goddess stuff was just silly, out of control, or downright wrong probably won’t be flocking to buy a Fiat any time soon.

Surviving the End Times with Advertising

Beer, Body Spray, Trucks are Survival Tools of Choice

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Popular brands are preparing us for the Apocalypse - one commercial at a time. Advertisers are taking Mayan predictions seriously, but with a touch of humor. And it’s all to sell stuff, of course. If you own any of the featured products, you’re in luck, however.

The End may have begun with Lynx body spray. It’s a manly product that obviously is a must-have on this commercial’s wooden ark. The sparse accommodations, built single-handedly as we watch, are getting spiffed up for the influx of females. Just before they begin boarding - two by two - the man of the hour adds a few spritzes of Lynx.

Survivalists will also want to head down to the local Chevy dealer post-haste. The Silverado is our truck to save the day; forget Ford (according to the commercial). Out of the rubble, a bevy of Chevys comes rumbling to center stage, complete with male drivers, a dog, and raining frogs. Oh, and a box of Twinkies.

If there’s no room in the ark and you can’t afford a Silverado, you might still survive. Just pick up a six-pack of wheat beer from Anheuser-Busch and you’ll be in good shape. If not a little jollier. But first, there’s destruction, crevices, flames, and a guest appearance from a large lizard with flashing red eyes.

With the predicted end just a few months away (December 21, 2012), there’s still time to take stock of how you smell, make a change in driving habits, and grab an ice-cold bottle of Shock Top.

Prepare now - you’ve been warned.

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