Tag Archives: commercials

What a Hoot!

Owls are everywhere these days. I can think of at least four series of commercials that use owls as pitch-birds: ones for travel, eyeglasses, higher education, and decongestant. I almost understand the eyeglasses one, since owls have those big eyes, and I figure the university one is on pretty safe ground, given that owls are associated with wisdom. Geico even had an ad featuring an owl, but given that company’s other commercials, it scarcely fazed me. At least it wasn’t as nerve-shattering as the little piggy one.

But the travel advice bird and the one hawking allergy pills baffle me. Owls are not known for migrating, at least not like swallows and buzzards are. And I’ve never heard an owl sneeze, though I think it would be hilarious, except for the owl snot. As far as noncommercial representatives go, owls are also not well known as team mascots, except for the Temple University Owls. I’m told owls are the 17th most popular team mascot in the U.S., but I didn’t actually do the research. I certainly admire whoever did.

But I digress. At least the sinus relief commercial featuring not an owl but a bee with the voice of Antonio Banderas sort of made sense, since bees are associated with flowers, which can trigger allergies.  Although Banderas may not have been the wisest choice. I associate Spanish accents with deadly killer bees. And while I would never accuse Antonio B. of such a thing, the subtle note of aggression makes me twitchy.

But I digress again. The subject was owls. Owls have lately been making a comeback of sorts since they became the de facto messenger pigeons of the wizarding set. But in real life, owls are hardly the noble birds that CGI Hedwig portrays on film. While most owls are represented as giving a calm but inquisitive “whoo,” there are also screech owls, which didn’t get that name by being melodious singers. Encounter one of those at night on a camping trip and you’re more than likely to drop your s’mores.

And owls’ eating habits are not, shall we say, dainty. Not devotées of the backyard bird feeder, they like their meat and they like it still kicking. They don’t chew their food, either, like their mama owls should have taught them. Watching an owl chow down on a mouse, snake, or even a rabbit, is stomach-turning. For the owl too, apparently. Because they don’t have crops or gizzards like civilized birds such as chickens, owls pay the price for their gluttony by spitting up (to put it politely) the unpalatable bits – bones, fur, feathers, scales, and such – before they can eat again. Scientists find these “owl pellets” interesting, but they’re really just disgusting. And so are the owl pellets. Apparently, you can buy the repellent pellets on the internet for science classes or some other use I don’t care to contemplate.

Hedwig aside, owls tend to the creepy rather than the cuddly. They have that whole Exorcist thing going on where they can turn their heads backward, a consequence of their having more vertebrae than anyone except a giraffe deserves. Ohio humorist and professional curmudgeon James Thurber had it right when he said, “you could send an owl into my room, dressed only in the feathers it was born with, and no monkey business, and I would pull the covers over my head and scream.”

(He was discussing Gertrude Stein and her literarily famous pigeons on the grass. Evidently, owls had a profound effect on Thurber. He had a book titled The Owl in the Attic and also wrote a fable titled “The Owl Who Was God.” The moral was: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time. I recommend it to your attention. But I digress. You could probably tell by the parentheses.)

The only literary owl that I can view with any sort of affection is the one in Winnie-the-Pooh, who spells his own name Wol and can also spell HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY, which (in case you can’t tell) means “A very happy birthday with love from Pooh.”

When it comes to real-life owls, though, I prefer to keep my distance. And when it comes to TV commercials, I haven’t been able to stand talking animals ever since that damned gecko with the ambiguous accent. Even that picture of the owl with this post makes me feel like it knows just a little too much about my past and is particularly judgy about it. 

Good thing I have enough self-confidence to look that bird in the headlamps and say, “Who, me?”

Who’s Stupid Now?

For television commercials to work, someone has to be stupid. (Besides the ad agencies and the viewers, that is.)Sales man

The basic “storyline” of most commercials is this: Someone has a problem. The advertiser solves the problem. And the peasants rejoice.

The person with the problem must be portrayed as a real idiot who can’t solve the problem alone.

But who the idiot is has evolved.

In the 50s and 60s, women were stupid. The poor little housewife was unable to conquer soap scum, ring-around-the-collar, or (my favorite) “house-itosis.” In steps Mr. Clean or that little guy in a boat (never mind the unconscious symbolism of that) floating in the toilet or a giant lumberjack to pat her on the head and say, “There, there, little lady. I can show you how to perform simple household tasks.”

Even if there was no male special effect to provide enlightenment, there was always a male voice-over announcer to dispense wisdom and cleaning products.

That was the paradigm: Men saving women from old or newly invented problems, mostly cleaning-related.

Then came the 70s and 80s, with the liberation of women, who were now allowed to smoke pretty flower-decorated cigarettes and wear slacks while they cleaned.

Men were the stupid ones, who needed to be saved by a female (or female announcer) because they were too clueless and incompetent to wipe up a spill, treat their own diarrhea, or wash a glass without leaving the social horror of spots and streaks. Women to the rescue! All those lessons they learned from men in the 50s and 60s were now boomeranging on the men who, suddenly faced with the reality of household chores that they were learning to “help with” needed the tender guidance of a woman, the house and family expert. She would shake her head in pity at the helpless male and swoop in to demonstrate the mysteries of scouring powder, which is, after all, fairly easy to operate.

Child care in particular left men befuddled, holding a baby at arm’s length and wailing louder than the infant, “What do I do?” A woman shakes her head and informs him. “You wipe the mud off his hands, you lovable dope. And while you’re at it, stuff some green or brown mush in his face so he can spit it on the walls that you have no idea how to clean either.”

My husband despised those years and those commercials. “Why do they always make the men look like boobs?” he would cry. (Women were having their own problems with ads and boobs, but never mind that for now.) He had a point, of course, but I couldn’t muster much sympathy. There were still giant lumberjacks showing up in my kitchen from time to time. Those guys were worse than roaches, which needed a friendly male exterminator to do the lethal deed.

Then came the 80s and 90s. Who got to be stupid then? Both men and women. Who got to save the day? Their children, of course!

Particularly when technology was involved, but also in cases of breakfast cereal crisis, tots and tykes were taking over and bailing out their floundering parents. The kids knew everything and the parents knew nothing. And while there was a grain of truth in the idea that tweens and teens were generally more tech-savvy than your average parent, grown-ups did after all increasingly use technology at work outside the home and were required to know how to plug it in by themselves. But, hey, role reversal was amusing, and the sight of kids shaking their heads at clueless parents would surely motivate people of all ages to buy, buy, buy. (The ad people had by this time discovered that children were a consumer force in their own right and spent their money on more than just bubble gum.)

So, where are we now? We’ve run through stupid women, stupid men, and stupid adults. What could possibly be left?

That’s right. Stupid humans. Apparently all homo sapiens are now so dim that we have to have origami rabbits to teach us how to save money and bears to teach us to wipe our own asses.

Next it’ll be aliens teaching us how to not destroy our own planet.

Wait. We really need that.

Memories for Sale

What cretin thought “Try a Little Tenderness” would be a good theme song for toilet paper?

What ad agency madman imagined that “Human” – a song about infidelity and confession and forgiveness – would be just peachy for an insurance company commercial featuring an air conditioner dropped on a car?

There are too many examples to list here: Quaker Oats “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”; Fiber One “Total Eclipse of the Heart”; Yoplait “All Day and All of the Night.”

I’ll tell you who thinks these up. Young people.

They count on their targeted demographic being too young to remember the songs as a part of their life, one that brings backs memories and feelings and events. High school. First love. First sex. Who cares if the lyrics don’t match the product? If a single word from the title remotely relates to the product, or the melody is pretty or energizing or attention-grabbing, that’s fine.

It was bad enough when all you had to fear was hearing The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” strangled with strings while you were riding an elevator or shopping for groceries. (Yes, that was me gagging in the elevator.) But now even the songs of the 80s are “oldies” and considered fair game. The pitches invade every home that has a TV or computer. Which means pretty much everyone except the Amish.

I know that past a certain date the songs are public domain and the writers/singers get no royalties. I know that even if the company does have to pay royalties, they are but the tiniest drop in the bucket labeled “marketing expenses.” I know that sex – the underlying content of most popular songs – sells.

But what they’re selling are my memories and yours. Try to pick your favorite from the days when you related strongly to a song. Then imagine that singer going door to door peddling something. Gordon Lightfoot selling encyclopedias. Janet Jackson selling make-up. Hootie and the Blowfish selling patio awnings. Pink selling food storage devices.

You can’t. For one thing, no one sells door-to-door anymore except those guys that sell questionable steaks. Many people order everything from underwear to financial advice over the Internet. But you get the idea.

Of course the youngsters’ uppance will come. Years from now they will hear Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj or Fall Out Boy being used to hawk hoverboards or maple bacon vodka or tampons. And they will cringe. Deservedly. And the ghosts of their elders will rub their wizened hands and cackle with glee.

Until that time, however, when faced with The Who’s “Who Are You?,” the only answer is, apparently, “I’m a shoe.”

 

C’mon. Share the outrage. What slices of your life have been trivialized by advertising? What memories have been reduced to background noise or crass commercialism? What songs would you like to take back from the hucksters and reclaim as the soundtrack to your life?

Butt Check

Ah! Remember the good old days when you were just potty-trained and as you marched out of the bathroom, having proudly done your duty, your mother was waiting to tell you to pull down your pants and prepare for butt inspection?

Me neither.

But apparently that’s the way it is with bears. God forbid that a young bear-child should have shreds of toilet paper clinging to its ass.(1)

At first the commercials were cute – using the old rhetorical question about bears and their excretory functions.(2) Ha ha. Very amusing.

But now they’ve gone too far. The you-don’t-have-to-use-a-lot-of-paper commercial was OK. Instructive in its way, and a lesson every young bear needs to learn. But enough is enough. We don’t need to know about bear butt checks.(3)

And we especially don’t need to know about bears and SKID MARKS. That’s right, the next commercial in the series was about how this miracle toilet tissue could prevent skid marks in one’s underwear.(4)

Never mind that bears do not generally wear pants and have never been depicted in the commercials wearing pants. Without pants, how can they have underpants? And without underpants, how can they have skid marks?

Now we’re in the realm of not just butt checks, but underwear inspection. I mean, ick. Think about it, bear skid marks would be HUGE.(5)

Of course that’s not the only disturbing commercial out there. My husband hates the ones in which sentient cereal squares eat other sentient cereal squares. Maybe that’s just him. We both hate the one where the guy has been in an auto accident and his mother appears, waiting on the phone with the insurance company. He says, “You’re not helping.” Hey, dipwad, at least she’s trying, instead of standing there making up dopey magic jingles. And she’s your mother – show some respect!

At this point I could go into a rant about how advertising agencies are incapable of making commercials without making someone look idiotic and helpless. It used to be women who were stupid and needed to be rescued by the über-masculine Mr. Clean. Then men got to be incompetent, with women bailing them out from assorted domestic dilemmas. Now the trend is for all adults to be complete imbeciles with children who must save them from technological and other disasters.(6) Even talking babies with investment advice. As if someone who hasn’t even graduated to skid-mark-able underpants should be trusted with our financial future!

But you can certainly fill in the blanks with your own least favorite commercials.

Just don’t get me started on how commercials try to deceive us, and often succeed.(7) We’ll be here all night, instead of drifting off to sleep with visions of bear asses, uh, dancing in our heads.(8)

(1) Obviously, bears don’t have to pull down their pants. That would be ridiculous.

(2) Oh, come on. You know the one I mean.

(3) You have no idea how hard it’s been writing this without dipping into the possibilities of puns involving bear/bare and but/butt. And duty/doody, for that matter. Now that I think about it, I could have probably worked “cheeky” in there somewhere.

(4) We all know what we’re talking about, right? We don’t? How shall I put this delicately? Streaks made by a substance of a certain dark color.

(5) Or don’t think about it. You’ll be happier. Except now that I’ve mentioned it, you’re thinking about it RIGHT NOW, aren’t you? See how I did that? Ah, the power of authorship. Tee-hee.

(6) Though not skid marks. Yet.

(7) You know what “virtually painless” means? NOT PAINLESS!

(8) You’re welcome.