Hermann Hates ADVERTISING
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 6 May 97 13:25:53 -0700
Subject: Hermann Hates ADVERTISING
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
Hermann Hates ADVERTISING
--a column endorsed by Nobody--
Copyright 1997 by Andrew Hermann
Right this moment, somewhere on Madison Avenue, someone in a roomful of
ad execs has just had a blinding flash of insight into the identity of
their latest client's customer base. "I know," he (or she) declares in
that tour-bus guide tone of forced enthusiasm employed by people
habitually required to be "creative" in climate-controlled conference
rooms full of men and women clad in militaristically uniform business
attire "I know who our target audience is for this product!"
The soft idiot murmur of cynicism and ennui subsides. "Who?" the other
execs ask this unaccountably inspired young associate. "Who are they?"
And the young exec proudly announces, "They're assholes."
This is the only possible scenario I can envision that would explain the
existence of some of the commercials currently on television.
Of course TV ads have always been inane. How could they be otherwise,
given some of the products they've had to flog? Even classics like "Plop
plop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is" are, if one pauses for a moment
to consider them on their own merits, so utterly absurd that one has to
wonder how everyone managed to stop laughing long enough to get anything
But there's a madrigal-like innocence to "Plop plop fizz fizz" when
compared to some of the cynical, assaultive dreck that has bombarded me
between innings this past month. You'd think, based on our television,
that this is a country run on bad beer, fast food, soft drinks, action
movies, mind-numbing video games, and luxury cars, computers, electronics,
and gym shoes affordable to only about two percent of the population.
What better evidence do you need that the economy is increasingly run more
on sheer bully pulpit propaganda than supply and demand?
The most alarming trend I've noticed lately is that major market products
are now openly attacking the little guys in an apparent attempt to
eleminate mom-and-pop competition once and for all. To take potshots at
one's smaller competitors on primetime TV, a setting they can't possibly
afford to fight back in, strikes me as the apex of market crassness.
Take, for example, the Coors spot in which two cowboys saunter into a bar
and are offered the "featured brew." The first cowboy smears a grubby
thumb across the condensation on the bottle and jeeringly reads the
ingredients, noting that the beer is "raspberry flavored" or some such.
After a brief manly chuckle at the expense of the sissies who would drink
such designer crap, the cowboys demand that the barkeep serve them up a
"real beer." What they get, of course, is not real beer at all, but
Coors, i.e. the bitter, watered-down spoodge of clear mountain streams
(by the way of the Coors, Inc. filtration plant--why don't they even show
a soft-filter shot of THAT, I wonder?) and whatever stray ingredients find
their way past the corporate profit margin cutoff.
The message of this ad, as far as I can tell, is that real men don't drink
"designer" beer that has all that extra shit in it, i.e. berries, wheat,
malt, yeast, hops, and anything else smacking of flavor. Instead, real
men drink mass-manufactured horse-piss. Sure, it tastes terrible and
makes you pee almost on contact, but if you can't take it, you're a wimp.
And you wouldn't want your friends to think that.
Who in the world actually buys into advertising like this? The assholes,
of course. Apparently it's a growing market.
Take also--and burn every last print, if you can--the new ad for Dunkin'
Bagels. I know I just sang the praises of Dunkin' Donuts (sort of) in my
last column, but now, I feel the need to atone.
This spot, in case you haven't seen it, features that ubiquitous Dunkin'
Donuts guy squaring off for a Wild West-style shootout with some local
mom-and-pop bagel baker, represented, in a startlingly original touch by
the Madison Avenue wonks, by a hulking, pudgy-faced, receding-hairlined
guy--the kind of actor who probably gets beaten up by a Chuck Norris-type
in most of his roles--wearing a greasy apron that says "Bob's Bagels."
At least they had the good sense not to call it Moe's Bagels or to cast
a Rod Steiger type, but the good sense ends there. These two face off,
and the joke is--brace yourself now--that instead of drawing revolvers,
they draw bagels, which they then proceed to bite into. Bob's bagel is
stale and unchewable, of course, whereas the Dunkin' guy happily bites
off and masticates a big ol' hunk of his freshly-baked little bagel-shaped
wad of crusty Dunkin' dough.
The voiceover at this point informs us that Dunkin' Bagels are "crunchy
on the outside, light and chewy on the inside," which might be a good
description for a lobster claw but is exactly not the right texture of a
good bagel, as anyone who's ever set foot in a New York deli could tell
you in an instant. Bagels dough is neither light nor especially chewy,
Bruegger's and other purveyors of toroid baked goods to the contrary.
My point is that commercials for corporate products are now openly trying
to redefine your reality on the theory that you, Joe and Jane Q. Public,
are assholes who can't tell the difference. They seem convinced that,
with a steady diet of clever images, catchy slogans, and celebrity
sellouts, you can be convinced that "real beer" is the color of bleached
straw, that bagels are dinner rolls with a hole in the middle, that a
quarter-pound is a lot of hamburger, that credit cards are free money,
that black is white, that night is day. Believe none of it. The chief
ingredients of most corporate products are water, baking soda,
non-biodegradable sludge, hype, and unfettered, unrepentant greed.
Besides, think about it: the more a company advertises, the more of your
purchasing dollars are going into the image instead of the substance.
The harder they're trying to convince you it's cool, the less bang you're
getting for your buck. That 99 cent Sprite bottle is 5 cents of soft
drink, 5 cents of bottle and 89 cents of "Obey Your Thirst" spots and
Grant Hill endorsement fees.
One last example. My latest issue of Rolling Stone included an ad for
Twix that actually TALKED. I opened up the magazine to look for the Jewel
article and instead was greeted by a two page insert that announced in a
goofy voice: "Twix! Two for me--none for you."
This is an interesting example of corporate advertising for two reasons.
First, I have no idea what Rolling Stone's circulation is, but I'd venture
a guess that sticking a talking insert into every single copy of RS760
ranks right up there with buying thirty seconds of air during the Super
Bowl. Second, let's take another look at that slogan. Just what is the
Mars Corporation, manufacturers of Twix and other fine promoters of tooth
decay, saying with a line like "Two for me--none for you"? Well, I guess
they're trying to claim that Twix is so good it will transform you into
a greedy little bastard.
Which, given the way the corporate ad game is played these days, is
apparently assumed to be a good thing.
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© 1997 Peter Langston