Kate Koenig, Arts Editor
You know what really grinds my gears? Bad advertising. In particular, bad television commercials.
It’s a challenge not to hate advertising from the get-go; all of it is geared towards manipulating you into spending your money on something you more than likely do not need. It’s the heart of consumerism. It doesn’t care about you as an individual, it cares about you as a member of a demographic, and how keen you are to reach for your wallet every time the impulse strikes. And what amplifies all of these irritating qualities is when commercials show no creativity whatsoever.
I suppose there are some up-sides to the existence of television commercials. They give you an opportunity to get up and fix yourself a sandwich at lightning speed, which not only can become a personal accomplishment but can also better equip you for other times in your life when you need to prepare sandwiches quickly. Commercial breaks also can allow for you to watch two shows at once, by flipping back and forth between channels when the ads come on (which can be another fun game). And every once in a while, you’ll see a commercial that has the entertainment equivalent of an animated short, that puts a smile on your face just as easily as does hearing the theme song from The Office.
But for the most part, TV advertisements are a mess of expendable ideas and door-to-door salesman dribble.
Exhibit A: Geico.
Geico used to have good commercials back in the 90s. I remember one where a waitress solves a customer’s complaint about not having asked for mayonnaise by wiping the dressed bread clean on the edge of the table. Things took a turn for the worse with the caveman campaign, originally started in 2004. But what really pains me about Geico commercials is the use of that stupid gecko. There’s just nothing appealing about it. He’s fragile, tells terrible jokes in a completely uninteresting Australian accent (when accents are usually a prime source of entertainment), and is as pathetic a choice of mascot as Syracuse University’s “Otto the Orange.” If you’re going to choose an animal to represent you, don’t make it a tiny boring lizard.
Exhibit B: Car commercials.
All of them. When’s the last time you saw an interesting one? Car speeds through winding forest road. Car speeds down open road in Nowhere Land. Jeep successfully clambers and bumps its way through a swamp. There are never any other cars on the road. And how many people with Jeeps do that much off-roading? I can’t remember a car commercial that didn’t follow one of those formulas. At least if you’re going to do that, use a good song to back it up. There was one that employed the Johnny Mercer 50s tune “Ac-Cen-Tuate the Positive,” which was a joy to watch just for the music. Hey car ad designers: more of that, please.
Now, every once in a while, you’ll see something funny, creative even, in a television commercial. It can be rather uplifting to see something offbeat and interesting. Coke has produced some rather beautiful ones – one that involved a bug’s-eye-view outdoor setting and music from “Peter and the Wolf” (search “Coca-Cola Heist” on Youtube) and another from the Super Bowl years ago where the world behind the façade of a Coca-Cola vending machine is revealed to be an endearingly busy “Happiness Factory.” I personally am thoroughly amused by Allstate’s “Mayhem” man, the evil spirit-esque character who gets injured repeatedly but remains unfazed and threateningly smug. And if you’re intrigued by charmingly old-fashioned things, look up an old Good & Plenty ad starring “Choo Choo Charlie.”
With the amount of hatred I have for most advertising, it’s almost a reason to get into the field just to improve it. Maybe when it comes down to it though, the best way to make a bad commercial worth watching is by picking good music for it. Either way, in the end I am much more inclined to race to the kitchen for some speedy sandwich assembly than to sit through even one 15 – 30 second waste of my hard-earned, television impassioned, American free time.