Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away PART III

“Dumb and/or insufferable man versus smart and/or above-it-all-yet-tolerant woman”

© Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

At the risk of offending, it would be more than refreshing to see a stupid woman with a smart man in a commercial for a change. That doesn’t happen though, does it? Whenever there needs to be diametrically opposed views in an advertisement where one view (the wrong one) needs to represent either the competitor’s product or service or general buyer apathy and the other view to represent the product or service being advertised, more often than not, the female role is the righteous one who’s already opted in/on board and the male role is that of the village idiot who’s still using the competitor’s product or service. For every male who is comfortable with his gender (which by the way, far outnumber the males who make apologies for their sex), these types of commercials make us spend our money elsewhere. It has nothing to do with male security or insecurity; it is just that these commercials insult the intelligence of men and women alike.

It’s always the same scenario; the goofy man who just can’t figure out what was completely natural for his female-better-half to embrace. She’ll just look up in the air with her eyes rolling, flashing a whimsical & dismissive “what-a-goof-ball-but-I-love-him-anyway” look then emasculate him in front of his children as they enjoy the benefits of product A, which she selected, while he struggles with product B in the background. This often involves him getting severely injured in the process as well. As an example, his wife and children are enjoying a perfectly delicious meal of easy-to-prepare pizza roles, while he’s in the back yard, trying to grill a pizza while his pants are on fire with the dog eating his cooked leg, in spite of the fact that there is a busted water main gushing 10 feet away from him that was also apparently his doing. Oh what a goof. How funny. How played out and how boring.

Thanks for your interest!

Check back for part IV soon and make sure to read parts I & II as well!

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away PART II “Stealing Food”

“Stealing Food” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

How many times have we seen this one? Personally, my earliest recollections of this theme were McDonald’s “Hamburger”, “Leggo my Eggo”, The Frito Bandito & fresh brats forcibly taking bowls of cereal away from both Trix the Rabbit & the Lucky Charms leprechaun respectively. In the Eggo ads, the message conveyed in the commercials was that there had better not be anyone except for you within a block of your toaster when you are making Eggo waffles, or else you won’t be the one enjoying them. In fact your own mother will turn into a hardened criminal by snatching your freshly toasted Eggo away from you before you have a chance to take it out of the toaster yourself. Apparently there was nothing the protagonist could do once their rival laid their hands on the waffle either. They always let the mooch have it even though they themselves had prepared it (cooties, perhaps?). In the real world, if person B were to grab a hold of an Eggo that person A had toiled over a toaster to prepare, person B wouldn’t get the waffle. Instead, they’d end up at the business end of a knuckle sandwich also prepared by person A. At least that’s how it would have worked in my world; rue the day you covet my Eggo for I will lay you out and stand triumphantly on your neck. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been a successful ad campaign though.

Then there was the “Frito Bandito”. That didn’t play on demeaning stereotypes of the day, did it? Oh no, not at all. Here was an overtly Mexican character with a long handle bar mustache, wearing a poncho and a sombrero who not only stole your Fritos and everything else he could get his hands on, he sang a south-of-the-border-sounding song all about it; “Aye yae yae yae, I am the Frito Bandito” (please forgive my phonetics). The message here was that you were about to enjoy a Mexican-derived snack food that if not eaten right away, would be stolen back by a Mexican who was not too keen having Gringos eating his national treasure—unless of course you beat him over the head with his guitar. I don’t even know where to begin analyzing that one. I’ll let the reader come to their own conclusion.

A lot of us remember, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids”. Did those commercials stress you out or make you sad for the rabbit? They did for me. I loved Trix as a kid (note: when they were 100% artificially flavored and colored—they tasted better then; and you know they did. It’s okay to agree with me; I won’t tell anyone). I had silently vowed that if that rabbit ever came over to my house, I would happily share my Trix with him; unlike the evil kids that sequestered his wholesome puffed cereal every Saturday morning on TV. He tried so hard just to have a taste of the cereal that was after all, named after him, didn’t he? He’d hide away with a bowl and before eating any of it, always felt compelled to slowly describe the colors and corresponding flavors to his viewing audience, whose desperate screams of “They’re coming! THEY’RE COMING!!!” would land on deaf, albeit generously sized ears, before he would indulge himself. In that precious window of time, he could have at least enjoyed a few spoonfuls of lemony yellow goodness, but alas, the bandit of snot nosed punks always arrived at the penultimate moment. Indeed, he was never allowed to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  Note: I didn’t insert the word “…well…” before my pun and Madison Avenue, let alone the rest of the advertising world, didn’t implode (see part one).

Then there was the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Not only did he not get to eat his cereal, he was the one who actually made the cereal with his magical powers and then still had to endure the humiliation of not being able to eat it due to his less-than-human-status. Little did I know it then, we were being given a crash course in Marxism by General Mills: By each leprechaun’s ability to make Lucky Charms, to each child’s ability to eat it. In retrospect, those cereals were so delicious that any commercial would have worked so long as it showed the serving suggestions of those magically frosted and spinning marshmallows in Lucky Charms and the wonderful and colorful spheres of delicious chemistry that was Trix. The story line of the ads was always secondary.

One of the more wretched characters in advertising was McDonald’s “Hamburgler”. If you’re old enough to remember him, you probably still need therapy. This menacing character would always be lurking in the shadows of those bizarre talking trees, scheming to ruin whatever activities Ronald and friends had planned for the day, by stealing all the hamburgers they brought for sustenance. Note: those trees should have freaked out Ronald, Grimace, Mayor McCheese and friends, but they didn’t. Which added to the bad-trip-vibe of these spots. Either way, “Hamburgler”. usually didn’t succeed in his dastardly plans to liberate the hamburgers, but nonetheless, his criminal behavior was celebrated.

This still happens a lot in commercials. The protagonist is eating something and the antagonist steals their food. The antagonist claims to want only wants a bite or a little piece but ends up taking the whole darn casserole when the protagonist isn’t looking. Stop the presses; that wasn’t funny, whimsical or cute in the ’60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s or now for that matter. A dozen of years into our new millennium, it’s an egregious advertising gaff. Indeed, what is the message here? If you purchase product A, it is so good that it will bring out the thief in your friends, family and perfect strangers. You will be eating your food and someone will steal it from you. As the viewer I’m thinking to myself, “Mmm mmm good. I really enjoyed staying hungry and seeing the dark side of human nature. I think I want a second helping of that. Honey, where is the A-1 Steak Sauce? The kids have shattered my illusions by playing nicely with one other. I’d like to see some petty theft being perpetrated at our dinning room table instead.” And we wonder why there are crystal meth labs everywhere. All I’m saying is that no one better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!

 Check back soon for part III

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away Part I

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away

© Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

I’d like to preface the following diatribe with a quote from Channing Pollack, “A critic is a legless man who teaches running.” I’m not a professional critic and I attempt to distance myself from that stripe of ne’er-do-well although I’m about to join their ranks in this blog. The reason I work in the promotions, marketing and advertising industry is because I’m passionate about it. My whole life, I’ve taken notice of the industry and its trends. I’ve internalized ad campaigns, tag lines, slogans and jingles from the last 40 years and over those years I’ve dissected them and try to figure out why sometimes they work wonderfully and why sometimes they don’t. The next few blogs are chock-a-bang-full of my personal opinions and should not be considered scientific in any way. Give it as much or little credence as you wish, just as you would with any other critic’s opinions.
What follows are some threadbare advertising tactics that really should not be used anymore. I maintain that most should never have been implemented in the first place. In these next few blogs, the reader may notice that I have fire in my belly, as this is indeed a passion of mine. When I see examples of this bottom-of-the-barrel-advertising, I get upset by the wasted opportunity to win a customer and the waste of marketing resources. Whenever a company spends money to annoy potential customers instead of winning them over (intentionally or not), it rubs me the wrong way because everyone looses. I’m certain that this doesn’t happen by design, but the in the legal world there are two words to describe this phenomena; “criminal negligence”. As we all know, ignorance of the law is not carte blanche to break it. If the good folks at advertising agencies didn’t know that they were offending or annoying consumers before, hopefully they do now (should I be so bold to assume that they may be reading these blogs). In no particular order, here now are my marketing/advertising pet peeves:

“…Well…”

Prefacing statements with the word “well” followed by an annoying pause and then finally either stating the obvious, a pun or a play on words. We’ve all seen & heard commercials with this kind of copy. They go something like this:
“If you buy the bargain brand of widget, you may get less than you—well—bargained for!”
It’s as if we, the listeners, are to believe that the voice over talent was reading the copy and right before they got to the tagline, they were perplexed that the copy writer didn’t realize that there was a pun there, or a play on words, or some sort of irony, etc. Now the voice over talent is fumbling for another way to say what needs to be said, but gives up and reads the copy as it’s written. By the talent’s expedient of saying “well,” we the listeners are now to believe that the voiceover talent is right there with us—suffering through the copy. It would be one thing if the talent acted well enough for us to buy that notion, but more often than not, the word “well” is simply read as just another part of the copy. I maintain that the suspension of disbelief in advertising is as important, if not more so than in other forms of entertainment, like movies or television shows. Why are we subjected to this in advertising? Wouldn’t it flow better by just saying:
 “If you buy the bargain brand of widget, you may get less than you bargained for.”
Or better still (and to make the message stronger):
“If you buy the bargain brand of widget instead of ours, you will get less than you bargained for. We guarantee it.”
Indeed, when did stating the obvious, plays on words or puns and their cousins become things we had to apologize for? Moreover, why must there be a preemptive apology in the form the word “well” awkwardly inserted into the copy? Why the disclaimer for a pun that wasn’t even really a pun so much as a pedestrian flourish in homonyms? This is an annoying ploy from the ‘90s that should’ve been put out to pasture back in the—well—‘90s. I hope that annoyed the reader as much as it annoyed me to write it. Why is it that in some circles, there is a knee-jerk reaction to puns in the form of moans and belly aching? Talk about a conditioned response. I’m not certain if it stems from social or intellectual retardation. Pressed to decide, I would lean toward the former, since a lot of highly educated people would like to have us think that they’re too cultured and sophisticated to be amused by such things. We want everyone’s business of course, including those who think that this “well” phenomenon is a clever and/or sardonic way of dealing with what some may consider awkward copy, but let me make a bold assertion here; their numbers are one in ten to those of us who aren’t so insecure as to laugh at a pun, or are more than okay with the occasional play on words. It is our job as advertisers, marketers and promoters to break molds and precedent. Let’s put an end to this by abolishing the practice of emasculating the pun. If a copy writer is tempted to insert the word “well” into his or her copy and the ad isn’t about drinking water, they should take pause and be honest by asking themselves:
“Am I thinking creatively, or did I hear or read that irksome ploy somewhere else, think it was clever or cool, and couldn’t wait to write my own version of it?”
I can give you the answer for the former: no. If this copywriter answered “yes” to the latter, he or she needs to get a job as a spell checker at an M&M’s factory and leave the creative business of writing copy to fearless, trail-blazing, creative people. Let me add; people with a sense of humor; like the people reading this blog!

Check back next time when we cover antagonists stealing food from protagonists in television advertisements.

Thank you for your time!