ARE WE ALL BREAKING THE FIRST RULE OF ADVERTISING?
As I sat drinking chamomile tea on the highest peak of Mount Kanchenjunga, with only a few goats and some hardened dung for company, I got to thinking.
Man, I am really…fucking…bored.
So I am back from my crusty hiatus, which was designed to calm me the fuck down. And I have to say, I still have a lot of problems with the current state of advertising. Too many, in fact, to list in this one post; so consider this the return, for now, of your unfriendly neighborhood adman.
(Oh, and if that was an incorrect use of the semi-colon, try and remember that I really don’t give a shit. Jesus, chamomile tea isn’t all it’s cracked up to be).
Anyway, here’s what I’m starting to see, and it’s spreading like an STD in a Bangkok whorehouse. We’re treating our audience(s) like complete morons.
One of the biggest rules of advertising, some say the first rule, is that you should never underestimate the customer. Don’t speak down to them. Don’t think they won’t get it. Don’t assume that you’re smart and they’re dumb (even though, sometimes, it’s true).
And yet, like a strange echo of Mike Judge’s seminal movie, “Idiocracy,” we’re creating (and re-creating) the advertising equivalent of “Ow, My Balls.”
Take a look at some of the ads that have graced our airwaves, billboards and magazines recently. It’s moving beyond the territory of bizarre, challenging and surreal, and it’s now just fucking inane. I know Dave Trott has said that it’s more important to be 'noticed and irrelevant' than 'relevant and unnoticed,' but holy fuck this is going too far.
Let’s start with JC Penney. The basic message behind this one is “hey old guys, you hate ads, but take a look at these crappy clothes and you can see some tits and ass at the same time! Boner time, it’s Phoebe Cates from the 1980s! Takes you back, right?!”
It’s not only insulting to the intelligence of the most sexually-repressed, alcohol-drenched, brain-dead jock, it’s also confusing as fuck. Take one semi-naked chick from an 80s movie (Phoebe Cates is almost 50 for Christ’s sake), mix it with some bland clothes that even Ned Flanders would think twice about, and then target men who shop at JC Penney.
They may as well have come out and said “Hey old fella, like naked chicks? Buy these clothes!”
JC stands for Jesus Christ by the way. As in “Jesus Christ, how’d you manage to piss off women and men at the same time and not sell any more product?”
What’s worse is the script. It starts out with the mother of all straw man arguments:
“JC Penney understands that you don’t like advertising for clothes. Who does?”
Really? I’d say ads for clothes are usually more entertaining than ads for most other products or services. Levis, Victoria’s Secret, Nike, they usually grab your attention in a way that’s not a teeth-itching Progressive Insurance commercial. Are people really complaining about this? Well, let’s assume they are. The pointless frontman continues:
“Tell you what, though. If you look at these smart fashion choices from Van Heusen, we’re gonna show you this…”
Cut to the infamous Phoebe Cates pool shot.
“…that way, everyone wins.”
Oh how wrong you are. By the way, “smart fashion choices” sounds about as hip and cool as, well, JC Penney. And we close with “JC Penney, it is seriously hot in here.”
The stench from that line would gag a maggot.
Want another example?
How about this one for Old Spice?
Let me wait a second while I let the murmurs and grumblings die down. “Did he just say Old Spice?” I did indeed. Because as much as I enjoyed, and loved, the initial spots and the bizarreness of the Terry Crews follow-ups, they at least had a thread that tied them to the product. The man your man could smell like? Yes. Odor-blocking as powerful as me? Yes. But Ray Lewis saying he needs Old Spice Swagger to be an athlete, and it’s “like a fantasy but real,” well, now the creatives are just taking the piss.
Here’s another campaign that bugs the living shit out of me. Diesel has always been known for some pretty obscure ad campaigns. It’s more permissible with fashion as you’re trying to build a brand that people want to wear, and be associated with, so there’s a lot of wiggle room here. But the “Be Stupid” campaign?
We are now celebrating low IQs? “Hey fucktard, show your tits to a security camera, and do it in a pair of $200 jeans made by starving kids earning 18 cents a day.”
Maybe that’s what they mean. "Oy, dipshit. Yeah, you! Be stupid, spend all of your cash on our jeans. Awesome bro! Or dudette!"
Other ads show a “cool dude” with his head stuck in a mailbox, or some vapid tart in a bikini snapping a photo of her snatch while a lion gets ready to make a meal of another clueless fashion model. It looks like being cool means you’re a fucking idiot. Oh a risk taker, sure. But a moronic one.
I could go on, but why give further attention to any more of this horseshit? We’re all consumers as well as advertisers. Is this how we view ourselves? Are we avid viewers of The Jersey Fucking Shore? Would we buy a pair of Diesel jeans because it’s cool to have the common sense of a house plant? Would we buy Old Spice because “umm, de funny ad wiv de big man on de big bird made me laugh in my belly momma,” or are we just a little smarter than that?
If this is the level we’re playing down to, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. We wonder why people don’t read copy any more, or want to know more about the product, and then we proudly throw this vomit out there. Sometimes, it wins awards. Wrangler jeans for We Are Animals. Need I say more?
Let’s all raise the IQ of our advertising. We don’t have to use 14-syllable words, but we also don’t need to aim everything at the lowest common denominator. Let's steer this ship in the right direction.
OK, it’s time for my shot of Thorazine. But I’ll be back when it wears off.
Felix Unger is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He has been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.