Where’s the Belief?

I tried, okay. I have really tried to give these ads a chance.


Dave Thomas always seemed like a pretty good guy. He sponsored and created charities supporting adoption and foster care. His restaurants always promoted local sports programs and activities for kids. Heck, the guy even went and named the whole restaurant chain after his little girl Wendy. Its famous pig tailed logo was based on a real picture of her from when she was young.


Wendy’s ads starring Thomas were always sort of groaners in their own unique style. It was like watching your grandfather pitch stuff on TV. Dave looked slightly uncomfortable being there in the first place but still got our respect for showing up I think most of us gave him credit for the effort. It just seemed normal and somehow right to see him acting (badly) in the ads. Now, to be fair I’ve never really spent all that much money at Wendy’s so there is a strong argument to be made that his calm and somewhat homey ads never did manage to resonate all that well with the populace.


So, when Dave Thomas passed away it was fairly obvious they’d have to come up with a new series of ads. Having Dave continue to host them from the grave would have been mighty creepy and decidedly unappetizing as well. (for proof of this see the weirdly bizarre, and recently deep-sixed, Oroville Redenbacher avatar experiment) I was more than willing to cut Wendy’s a little slack while they attempted to find their way back to the battlefield of the burger wars in our new millennium.


So what’s the deal with the flipping wig?


I get the whole branding thing – Wendy’s iconic red pigtails appear on the melon of whatever thick-headed loser finally figures out they deserve the best burger money can buy. In each ad some sort of light bulb realization is attained by the wacko wig wearer. These ads are just so moronically stupid. Seriously, in one of them everybody is kicking trees. Yes, kicking trees until one guy, also kicking a tree, amazingly realizes that he needs and deserves a better hamburger! Curiously, by assaulting the flora this managed to create an epiphany when it came to all future ingestion of pressed meat sandwiches. Maybe kicking beef steers in their nether regions would have made more sense than putting the boots to an innocent stand of trees.


These ads just bug me so much I can’t even give them an intelligent breakdown. They defy any sane categorization. I simply cannot believe poor old Dave is not spinning madly in his grave over ads that appear to be making sport of his little girl.


Proving just how little I actually know about such things it has been reported that these lame-brained ads are a major hit with the kids in the 16-23 age groups. How scarlet pig tails pinned onto desperate actors are resonating with baggy pant wearing pierced hipsters is a mystery to me. Corporate is actually sending wigs out to all their restaurants just so their store managers can dress up like the goombas in the ads. Kinda makes you want to fill out a job application right away huh?


Their new slogan is “That’s Right.” Nothing else, just “That’s Right.” What’s right? Not the ding dong wig idea that’s for sure.


These guys prance around in their red yarn helmets harping on and on about their burgers being so totally fresh and completely, absolutely and positively never, ever frozen. As a rule I have always tended to believe in, and count on, the idea that the act of freezing burger patties somehow manages to guard more successfully against filthy or slightly diseased fry cooks. To me it seems an altogether safer bet than a kitchen with fresh piles of loose hamburger meat stacked around all the while being squished and squashed by minimum wage slackers more interested in choosing new ring tones for their cell phones than ensuring my fast food dining experience remains free from the stomach-flu.


I wanted to like the ads. I really hoped to see Wendy’s make a positive mark in some way. Remember “Where’s The Beef?” Everybody knows that one. I loved those ads. It was all so clear – everyone else had dinkenheimer mini burgers while Wendy’s were so friggen massive they stuck out the sides of the bun. There are few arguments better than that when it comes to choosing a hamburger.


Now instead of a clear message about “big beef “ I get pasty faced, soggy-looking burger geeks having some sort of Tony Robbins-lite realization about their place in the world who then proceed to announce all manifesto-style that they somehow deserve more. More? Give me a break. It’s a hamburger not a no-fee checking account.


Whether these ads are successful or not I do hope Dave Thomas finds a way to effectively haunt the Wendy’s executives for as long as they keep these silly things on the air. Maybe Clara Peller could even join in and give him a hand.


Now that would be an ad I’d most definitely like to see.

Mac Attack

I am not a monster. I’m not all bad. Maybe 10 percent. I think I’m 90 percent good.”
– John McEnroe, in 1984.


I have always had a soft spot for John McEnroe. This stems from the several things we have in common. I share a birthday with the man, I do own at least one tennis racket and sadly I also have a very short fuse. These may seem tenuous connections at best but they are what they are. Six degrees of separation it is not.


McEnroe will always be one of the more fascinating sports legends to have played a game. He is arguably one of the true legends of tennis even as his obnoxious behavior and dramatic insults will almost guarantee to overshadow everything he has ever accomplished within the game.

“You cannot be serious!”
– John McEnroe rant, common and continuous

McEnroe won a total of 155 top-level titles. He won seven Grad Slam singles titles and the season-ending Masters championships three times. He won the World Championship Tennis Finals a record five times. His list of accomplishment is undeniable and goes on at great length.

While it was embarrassing to watch a grown man behave the way he did, it still made for riveting television and helped to catapult him and tennis to the top of the public’s consciousness. That his own reputation became cemented as something of a butt-head was totally his own fault.

“Paris would be a nice place if you took all the people out of the city.”
– John McEnroe (1977)

Why American Express would want to hitch its brand to someone known for tantrums, racket-throwing stomp fests, expletive laden vocal fits and attempted tennis ball assaults on umpires and line judges may seem counter-intuitive. It’s not.

“You are the absolute pits of the world!”
– John McEnroe, in his most famous insult, ranting at umpire Edward James during the 1981 Wimbledon Championships.

American Express wants to publicize their all new ad campaign that claims they don’t want to argue with their customers any more. They want warm and fuzzy “dispute resolution.” They want you to know they are willing to listen to your complaint and may even take it seriously no matter how dumb it may actually be.


“I mailed that check two weeks ago. I cannot believe you haven’t received it yet.”

– Jarrod Thalheimer, 2002 through 2007


This new branding plan sets up a great television ad where a shocked McEnroe realizes his own faults while being treated uber-respectfully by his American Express card representative. John sees the light and thinks there may actually have been some points in his tennis career where he might have been a tad intransigent himself.


Cut to McEnroe checking an address as he walks to the front door of a house somewhere in America. A man answers the door as the “Super Brat” states that the man at the door was the chair umpire of the 1985 US Open. The look that hits the guy’s face is – to steal from MasterCard – priceless as he makes like he is not only going to slam the door in Mac’s face but also hopes it might just continue on through the frame and dust McEnroe backwards off the step.


Mac stops him, saying that he, John McEnroe, might have been wrong and that (back then) the ball may have been out. Seeing the light, he then hugs the umpire, proving that arguments are a waste of time and that “dispute resolution” is the way to go. It is such a ridiculous image that you have to love it. This hits two really good notes for American Express. First, that Amex wants to be your friend above all else. They don’t want to fight with you and they use humor (the ad) to prove it. Second, by having Mac say the ball “may have been out” they also manage to inoculate themselves against some bozo claiming the drunken and depraved Vegas weekend he charged on his card wasn’t actually his even though the Elvis wedding chapel photos show his presence, and his companions, quite clearly. They’ll resolve disputes but they aren’t going to let you walk all over them.


The ad tailors American Express’ message perfectly. It also goes a long way to helping McEnroe rehabilitate the more distasteful aspects of his own image as he ages and wonders what sort of legacy he might leave behind.


“I want to be remembered as a great player, but I guess it will be as a player who got angry on a tennis court.”
– The lament of an over-the-hill John McEnroe

If he keeps doing ads like this McEnroe might actually get his wish.

Paging Dr. Freud

What sort of responsibility does any advertisement truly bear? Is it merely to move product or must it aspire to a higher standard of conduct? Is an ad obligated to sell and uplift too? Some may, but that’s not a necessity. It’s simply a happy by-product when it does. An ad is supposed to sell things. That’s it. If it does, then it’s a good one no matter what anyone’s opinion of it may be. (except mine – my opinion matters, really, it does) Well, for some reason a new Heineken ad for its massive 5 litre fridge keg has opened a can of worms all on its own.


No less a source of professional ad critique than the famous Bob Garfield, ad man extraordinaire, writing at Ad Age, has labeled this TV commercial as “…perhaps the most sexist beer ad ever made.” Now that’s saying something when you only have to flip on the tube and watch darn near any beer ad currently running on television challenge that notion. How can one simple ad evoke such venom from a seasoned professional? And especially from one who really should get the whole idea behind any ad’s real job.


Let’s take a look.


In the ad, a futuristic techno beat pounds as a robot-woman wearing a louvered mini-dress struts mechanically in from stage left, Marcel Marceau-ing herself into position and then turning front and center. She is all in tune and all with the beat. Her expression is a sort of bemused-happy that never changes. Once stopped, the louvers on her skirt and up the front of the dress slide away to reveal the chilled Heineken Draught Keg residing inside. A couple more robot arms pop out and she proceeds to tap this mobile beverage marvel from within and serve up a frosty glass of Heineken. She then morphs into two additional and similar beer maids who each continue to move and grind to the beat, ostensibly offering beer to all who desire it.


Now according to Garfield and Co. this ad “has reduced half the world to a man-servicing beer tap.” He prefaces this alarming conclusion with examples of so-called “crude, perfect woman jokes” offering them as proof positive of the true intentions at the heart of this ad. In my mind he shows more than a little ease at recalling such offensive jokes in the first place. But just like the comic who complains about racist jokes only to tell a few of them as “good, bad examples” he still gets the laugh and sidesteps the guilt in the telling. Anyway, to suggest Mr. Garfield was a tad frothier than the Heineken beer on tap would not be an understatement.


Personally, I thought it was kind of a cool ad. The idea of a mini-keg is a great one. Every guy likes shiny metal things and the ability to have a real, live keg in his own house everyday is almost too good to be true. By sticking said keg in a robot it makes you stop and stare in a “what the hell is that?” kind of way. As far as the final nail in the complainer’s coffin goes – that it’s an attractive woman – well, that cream filling hides inside the DNA of all beer companies. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that “girls” are a staple in most beer ad campaigns by now.


FACT: Guys drink a lot of beer.

FACT: Guys like girls.

IDEA: Put girl in beer ad.

RESULT: Sell beer.


Was it really such a stretch to make the beer robot a pretty woman versus a hairy, sweaty Dutchman in a thong? I think not.


When I hear these ad pros wailing about this commercial “portraying a woman’s uterus as a beer keg” and proving Heineken has found “an unprecedented way to be a gender offender” seems more than a little disingenuous. I mean seriously, this ad – of all beer ads ever made – has somehow managed to cross the line? Please.


I think these ad gurus have spent so much time making, watching and dissecting ads that they have become incapable of taking anything at face value anymore. Would Heineken really risk offending every beer drinking woman in the world by suggesting they are no more than mute beer taps to be made use of?


Heineken wants to sell beer. The ads they run will either do the job or not and they have no obligation beyond that. I don’t think this ad is quite the harbinger of doom some do. You see, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar no matter how much someone is convinced otherwise.

Adjusting the World

When making a list of universal objects of scorn and revulsion there are few so seemingly deserving of inclusion as big insurance companies. Everyone pretty much agrees they are skeevy bottom feeding bastards. Oh, sure, they smile and grin as they pat you on the back, happily helping you plan all the protection you could ever need. Family, home, life, auto, disability, you name it and they’ll offer a coverage for it. In return they ask only a modest premium, indexed and annexed six ways from Sunday. We grumble but they cheerily remind us that it is a mere pittance in exchange for what they are providing: peace of mind.


In full flush of their friendly attendance to our needs it’s easy to overlook the cold, hard calculations being done in the background. You know the ones where they meticulously weigh the odds and probabilities of exactly how many people will die in plane crashes during the month of February or the numerical likelihood of being maimed by a cougar while navigating a flight of stairs. More often than not this is the part of the insurance company most of us come face to face with when the shitzu actually does hit the fan. No more smiles and baked cookies then. Only dissertations on what is not covered mixed with accusations of fraud and a remarkably biblical adherence to contracts signed in happier days when the small print was simply referred to as “standard stuff” as we read none of it and focused instead on the shiny silver pen we got to keep after joining up. (Boo-yah!)


It would be nice to claim the moral high ground but humanity’s collective ability to be astonishingly creative when filing insurance claims limits us dramatically. Yes there really are people that have attempted to claim their pre-house fire bathrooms contained diamond encrusted toothbrushes, dual 52”inch plasma televisions and at least one Monet.


Anyway, with the obvious image issues at play in the insurer-insured relationship how do they make people not actually hate them while still managing to set themselves apart from the competition? Some have chosen humour through their use of slightly eccentric pitch-beings (see cavemen, ducks, geckos, etc) while others go with more authoritative and strong voice-overs who simply hypnotize us into a calm placidity solely through the timber of their dreamy, hyper-masculine voice.


Liberty Mutual in the States did something different however. And in a way, I think their ads could even be plausibly called public service announcements because of it


The one running now is actually the second in a series and is based on a very simple and basic notion. It’s a sort of hybrid version of the “pay it forward” ideal.


In the ad a very resonant song called “The Part Where You Let Go” plays as we see a series of people doing easy, seemingly insignificant things that help out a perfect stranger, each time witnessed by another perfect stranger who then goes on to do his or her own easy, seemingly insignificant thing to help someone else and on and on. This continues until it comes all the way around to the very first person we started from neatly closing the circle. Their tag line at the end of the ad declares “When it’s people doing the right thing they call it being responsible. When it’s an insurance company they call it Liberty Mutual.”


I can be cynical with the best of them but this ad just gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand straight up. The pure notion behind the idea of producing tiny, random acts of kindness and trusting that they will lead to a better world and happier people is transcendent. How can anyone watch this ad and not appreciate the sentiment being reached for here? It is truly an advertisement for a better world. For a better way of living – and it’s not complex. Not even all that hard, just an ability and a will to lend a hand when someone could use one for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.


For an insurance company to tie themselves to such an idea is amazing. It lifts the bar really high for them ideal wise. And what if they actually mean it?  What if they really do want to be held to a higher standard? Because if they do, if their advertising really is to be believed then they truly deserve every extra piece of business that flows their way because of these ads.


If however for some reason they don’t mean it, if it really is just a shill technique designed to bring in the bucks then that’s kind of sad but only really for them. You see as long as they’re running and paying for these ads and average people can get even a stylized chance to see how easy it really is to add some good to the world then maybe it really can become a better place.


And when you think about it we really ought to be able to do that whether we have a good insurance company or not, shouldn’t we? Nice work Liberty Mutual, keep it up.

How Dell Got its Groove Back

You know things must have gotten pretty toxic at Dell Computer Inc. to necessitate dumping their current CEO and coaxing Michael Dell himself back into the executive suite. Considering the guy is worth $15 billion or so I can’t imagine how they pulled that off (“….and if that hasn’t convinced you yet Michael, look at what we have in the office now…..a do-it-yourself espresso machine!”). Apparently, since he left in 2004 life hasn’t been all that good at Casa de Dell so for whatever reason the big guy agreed to come back and once again single-handedly restore their status as the global juggernaut of computer hardware sales.


Of course the specific plan is very detailed and likely uses all sorts of intricate sales targets and price initiatives and plenty of tech heavy language about what application is bundled where and what speed chip is used how and what those that know about such things do or do not want in their computer. That said, if you’re reading this column what you want to know about are the exciting parts, like whether or not they’re adding cup-holders or leather wrist-rests. Well I can tell you here and now that what Mr. Dell wants first and foremost is to trade in his hard won rep of selling “cheap” computers for selling “cool” ones.


It’s always amazing to me how something so simple seems to walk past everyone. Computers, all computers, came in basically the same putty covered boxes for years. With the exception of Sony and their black beatnik look everyone was the same. Everyone! It took the “revolutionaries” at Apple to figure out that adding a little color might be just the thing to add a bit of zig to their zag. It worked, and as everyone stood around mouths wide open wondering how anyone could be so crazy smart as to make their computers come in different colors there were damn few actually quick enough to run out and shamelessly copy them.


So with their famous namesake now back at the helm Dell has embarked on a new “quest for cool” by bringing out the paint swatches and smearing them liberally all over their famous offerings. Add in a few powerful features and new applications and our friends at Dell are fairly confident they’ll have the image of “cheap computers” kicked to the curb just in time for the back to school lollapalooza. To add to the fun they even launched a pretty far out ad campaign to do some of the heavy lifting.


To make that happen they started off by drugging and beating…..I mean convincing Devo to record their first new song in seventeen years called “Watch Us Work It” exclusively for their new TV ads.


Then they filmed them. These ads are wicked. They have a staff of almost robotic, stiletto-heeled models in tight monochrome patterned dresses working hard on a big, burly, shiny and industrial looking truck engine, moving all Robert-Palmer-esque circa “Simply Irresistible” days to the music. Tight close-ups and shiny tools abound in this ad as the chick-bots put the finishing touches on what is made out to be an obvious “killer” engine just before dropping the giant hulk into a massive Dell laptop. And help me Rhonda but I just love it when ads are so obviously tailored to those of us still labouring under the illusion that the eighties were way cooler than they really were. Oh what time and distance does to the memory. Anyway….


With Devo onboard they effectively bought some edge for their ads (though to be fair Devo has shown a propensity for making some cash grabs lately as their song “Whip It” turned up in spots for the “Swiffer.”) The “man” it seems is paying better than those solid citizens ripping singles for free these days so can you really blame them?


Anyway, after watching Dell’s new ad I have to admit my immediate thought after viewing it was “Wow, cool.” of which I am certain was the whole point of the exercise in the first place. I really did associate Dell with cheap computers and to see them be re-introduced in a whole new way makes it easy to forget that most of the change is basically cosmetic.


If Michael Dell can pull off this turnaround he might have a shot at entering the pantheon of such fabled turnaround artists as Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs, Michael Eisner, Katie Couric and….ok maybe not that last one but he’d be in pretty good company all the same.


You know, when you think about it, it’s kind of amazing to realize that the difference between cool and dweeb is often as simple as some new duds and a sharp ad campaign. What Grade 12 could have been like with an ad budget and a guest slot on “What Not To Wear.” Sigh……..

Bad Bling Baby

There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when I made fun of people who paid for bottled water. I was way too smart to fall for such ridiculous exhibitions of excess. I knew that folks like Perrier wouldn’t make a nickel off me. “Evian” spelled backwards was “naïve” and I was not afraid to say it. Which, of course I did, over and over and over. Annoying? Yes, I most certainly was.


Anyway, like most universal trends it didn’t take all that long before I too was hauling barrels of bottled water home to drink, justifying my about face with the supposed presence of germs and microbes in “free” tap water. I was positive I could taste the disease. Whatever proof my local water board offered as to the safety and drinkability of the water mattered little as I was certain it was better suited for a Calcutta sewer than my pristine stomach. Truly, I wasn’t just on the bandwagon but sitting right up front and self-righteousness riding beside me. Luckily, my self-respect was packed quietly away inside a small box near the back. Heck, yeah I’ll pay for water, bring it on.


With bottled water my new go-to buddy it was more than easy to make the leap to premium carbonated water. I figured it might class me up a bit and provide some of the burn I was craving due to my moratorium on the ass-expanding realities of soda pop. So, I got to know Mr. Pellegrino. He was bubbly, calorie free and came in such cool green bottles that I was his forever. You could even buy him at Costco. Finally, something I could have at home or order at a bar that didn’t make me feel like a total wad.


So here I am, totally conditioned and completely prepped. Not only will I pay for water but I will pay even more for fuzzy bubbles and pretty green glass. I am as much a sucker as the next guy. But then again, maybe I’m not.


May I present Bling H2O.


Believe it or not Bling H2O is a bottle of water that retails for at least $40 bucks a crack. $40! I’m not kidding. The water does not have healing properties, does not flow from Brad Pitt’s backside and does not even have bubbles. Instead, each bottle comes draped in Swarovski crystals (which I now believe translates as Hungarian for “idiot” but I may be wrong on that one) It defies belief but the on the website promoting the sale of this obscenity they actually admit to trafficking in the celebrity obsession with image. They encourage those that seek to be defined by that which they hold or are seen with. So, if you want to look good, choose Bling H20. They drive this message home by explaining the first samples of this premium water were originally presented to several select actors and athletes, which of course is any thinking person’s ultimate seal of approval.


While I know it is possible that celebrities can be this head in the ground stupid it does make me slightly ill to behold it. This is totally insane. How can anyone ever take anything a celebrity ever says about anything at all seriously if they are seen publicly consuming even a single bottle of this water?


Should I come across a celebrity sporting a bottle of this hokey crap I will instantly consider them a minimum of 85 IQ points stupider than myself, and possibly more. Paying for bottled water may be the thin edge of the wedge but only a Hollywood movie producer (the bottler) could think so little of mankind’s basic intelligence that he could successfully market a product so nakedly concerned with image. He almost admits it’s really just the bottle you’re buying. At least Pellegrino comes from Italy. This spittle is from Tennessee. Tennessee! I like my green bottle but at least I get bubbles in my water for the price.


Anyway, strangely pornographic ads aside, while the introduction of this product marks some sort of net decline in the general intelligence of Western civilization there is a good side.


You see, down in San Francisco word is that some pretty hoi polloi restaurants are now refusing to serve bottled water of any kind. They will only provide, get this, tap water. They explain in great detail that all the work involved in creating, bottling and transporting bottled water is so bad for the environment that those drinking such things are enemies of the earth and scandalizing Saint Al and his mission.


Now if that little nugget doesn’t just set up the age old conundrum of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object then I don’t know my Bartlett’s. How does an image obsessed celebrity drink BlingH20 while driving a standard issue Prius? When the pin is pulled on that hypocrisy grenade it may very well spell the end of all life on earth. Or not, as the famous do seem to live by different rules than you and I.


Perhaps St. Al will sell them some carbon credits to reinvigorate their moral certainty, and assure their superiority over the masses. You know, you and me. We can only hope.

Too Trump

What the hell happened to Donald Trump? Seriously, when did this man transform into such a complete baboon? I remember him back in the eighties when he was just a moderately stiff yet slightly colorful real estate guy who would be interviewed every now and again. His first book “Trump: The Art of the Deal” came out and it seemed that anyone with even modest visions of being a business big shot had committed it’s principles to memory.


I could totally understand people emulating him, even wanting to be like him. He told a compelling story, preaching loud the virtues of hard work and fixating on the details. When he eventually become insolvent and had to battle back to regain the fortune he lost Trump managed become even more famous. No longer just a straight-ahead success but a sort of Horatio Alger story told in reverse, minus of course the distinct concern for others.   He was someone who had hit the bottom and managed to claw his way back up again. Cue the inspirational orchestra.


And yet here I am face to face with an ad for Trump Office chairs which are apparently now being sold at your local Staples outlet. I’m sorry Donald but this has just gotten ridiculous.


Trump cologne, Trump ties, Trump hotels, Trump water, Trump apartments, Trump Institute, Trump briefcases, Trump tuxedos(!), Trump University, Trump vodka, Trump magazine, the Trump board game and even Trump steaks. It’s exhausting to read the list let alone ponder owning any of this flotsam. It’s too much. Too much Trump.


I’m sure my revulsion to his latest “huge” deal stems from his weirdly constant presence in the press since the debut of his reality show “The Apprentice.” The show was a good idea but quickly devolved into a sort of office blood sport where Trump now does little more than provoke boardroom-table wannabes to stab each other in the back while they jockey for the best position in which to kiss his ass. Add in the moronically ill-advised feud with Rosie O’Donnell and you see where I’m at. Can anyone explain to me how fighting with a slightly hostile and possibly bipolar lesbian is a good idea? Trump looked like a schmuck.


Somehow his being everywhere has come to bug me. Seeing ads with his name and face front and center have the opposite effect to making me rush out and buy. They make me recoil with a surprising revulsion. Really, he has become so annoying that I will go out of my way not to buy something with his name on it. It is the total reverse of branding. His name, his brand now repels me from an item I might have otherwise purchased before learning he was associated with it.


And I don’t think it’s just because I’m suffering from Trump overload. Contrast Trump’s pervasiveness with the father-son duo battling it out every week on “American Chopper.” The flotilla of OCC product they are constantly wearing or displaying or tossing around on their show should have me just as annoyed at them. They have their names and faces on everything from shirts and hats to underwear and coffee mugs. Even still, watching Paulie strut around in a branded ball hat and hoody, opening his OCC wallet to buy an OCC poster seems less deranged to me than Trump bragging about wearing Trump cologne, drinking from a fridge full of Trump water and vodka while wearing a Trump tie and carrying a Trump briefcase. It just screams “pathetic loser” while strangely the other does not.


Is it a sort of snobbishness related to building motorcycles versus being a business success? You tell me. If you met a guy who worked in a motorcycle shop that lived and breathed Orange County Choppers and then met a businessman, say a guy like Bill Rancic, who wore nothing but whatever Trump branded swag he could get his softly manicured hands on, tell me who comes across as the bigger idiot? Rancic, hands down.


I never used to have a problem with Trump. I didn’t really mind him either way. I read his book and was intrigued by his success. It’s this ever-refreshing train wreck of a tabloid persona he is continuing to foster that has got to go. It might serve to keep his brand front and center but at what price? Is anyone even buying into his routine anymore?


Maybe some still do, but for me, I think I’d rather get fired.

A Pill and a Promise

Do you believe that anyone genuinely cares about you at all? Oh sure, your family basically cares, so does your sweetheart and maybe even a few friends, but on the whole it’s every man or woman for themselves. We know this and more or less we’re okay with it.


This sort of cynical detachment is not an unfounded emotion. We are constantly bombarded by manipulative advertising messages day in and out, telling us over and over how much we are loved and cherished and appreciated but only if we open our wallets wide and pony up for whatever new and improved thingamajig is currently being pushed at us. This kind of conditional love can even start to get to ad junkies like me. It sort of just hurts to feel used.


So it was the strangest thing when a new ad by Tylenol sliced through the disingenuous patter and touched that part of me still slightly gullible enough to believe that somehow a monolithic, faceless and likely heartless company could actually, possibly, care even the tiniest bit about me.


In the ad there was a stark white background on which a series of smiling faces sporting happy voices popped in and out, each declaring with confidence how seriously they took their jobs at Tylenol. And these were not Hollywood faces but real people faces. They said each of their names and made it clear they really did work for Tylenol and hammered away as a group at the idea that “they” were Tylenol and that “they” did indeed care. They said they cared about their work, they said they cared about their jobs, and yes, they said they cared about me. And the crazy thing is I believed them! It could have come across as sort of BS-y but it didn’t. It just seemed somehow sincere.


Now, I recognize Tylenol does have a real advantage over say, an outfit like Home Depot. When Home Depot says they care I could truck on down to their store and come face to face with one of their orange apron adorned staff who not only doesn’t care, but could also be so dirt stupid dense as to lose a battle of wits with one of the hammers in aisle four. Having thousands of front line employees means the advertising claim that Home Deport cares is constantly at risk of being disproved or, even worse, ridiculed. It’s one thing to say you care, but when after saying so you act like you don’t its even worse than never having brought it up in the first place. Tylenol only has to make sure they manage to put the right pills in the right bottles. Beyond that, they have me right where they want me.


I was so into, and sold on, the idea that Tylenol cares about me that an interesting thing happened. I began to focus so much on Tylenol in my head that I remembered that whole tainted Tylenol scandal back in the eighties. Remember the one that led to our new world of tamper-proof packaging? And when Tylenol reeled me by going on about promises and trust and how seriously they took their jobs, this dark day in their history rushed to the front of my mind. I’m certain Tylenol did not want me to remember that, but maybe they did. After all, they did manage to come through it more or less intact.


And the crazy thing is that even remembering the scandal didn’t bother me because I responded so strongly to the promises being made by the people in the ads. Their realistic goodwill won me over because they really seemed like they meant what they said.


Now, I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years and I really did try to do my best most of the time. That’s not to say I didn’t screw up a reservation here or there or drop something in the fry vats that shouldn’t have been there, but on the whole I did want and try to do a good job.


After seeing this ad I believe that Tylenol people really are trying extra hard to do things right. They must be trying to do better work, if for no other reason than my certainty at the presence of posters and memos displayed all over their offices pumping this particularly advertised notion of responsibility. It has to have some effect on folks.


Now if only we could just get those generic drug bastards to take their jobs as hardcore-serious we might finally be able to medicate ourselves with confidence, and at a reasonable price to boot.

Trunk Monkey

Some of the budgets for TV commercials are full-on obscene. They blow millions trying to make their products look brighter or tastier or just simply better than anything else you have ever seen. They hire famous directors and give them carte blanche to cajole their favourite actors and actresses to burn money in service of making their brand “the” brand. It’s not hard to see just how darn hard it is for smaller businesses to even compete in the advertising department. How do mom and pop outfits even have a chance of getting noticed?


Well, in a sea of cheap, and often painfully lame, local-joe ads begging to get noticed amongst the superstar handsome Madison Avenue creations one ad stands tall. Truly, this is one of the coolest low-budget or even possibly no-budget small business ad campaigns I’ve ever seen. Please, let me be one of the first to introduce you to the Trunk Monkey.


What is a Trunk Monkey? It is only the latest and greatest imaginary invention for car owners ever dreamed up, compliments of the folks at Suburban Auto Group, a business made up of two car dealerships in lovely Sandy, Oregon. They’re not big, not national and not likely all that well-known, but they are just brilliant when it comes to getting attention for their dealership.


In their series of ads we see various individuals engaged in multiple situations inside their automobiles. In one, a very nervous man is holed up inside his car while a huge crazy dude is screaming at him from outside his window, threatening and cursing him out for cutting him off or something, and promising a painful beating as soon as he gets out of the car.


Our panicked driver looks left and then right trying desperately to decide how he can possibly get out of this horrible situation. Finally, he looks up and sees a button just above his sun visor marked “Trunk Monkey.”


Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the General Motors OnStar safety system but in a nutshell, it’s a button located in pretty much the same place in most new GM cars that you can push and become instantly connected to a GM operator who can help with most problems you may have. They can call for help, unlock your car, start your engine, find a gas station or even just provide all around advice. It’s a pretty cool idea, sort of a virtual satellite concierge.


In my humble opinion Trunk Monkey leaves OnStar choking in the dust.


Our frightened driver finally pushes the “Trunk Monkey” button. We see the trunk of his car open and a monkey gets out, holding a tire iron and looking like he knows how to use it. Quietly, he comes up behind the bad dude and just drifts him across the back of the head with the crowbar, dropping him like a bad habit. I was particularly impressed by the double smack the thug receives, first from the crowbar and then when he falls forward and smacks his head against the car window just before sliding to the ground.


Our hero, now safe and satisfied, high fives his trunk monkey and then orders him to get back inside the trunk, ready for the next emergency. Classic.


They have at least six of these ads and maybe more. Trunk Monkey delivers a baby, foils a car theft, defeats aliens, bribes a cop, rounds up juvenile delinquents, chaperones a young couple on a date. He can do anything!


To have ads play as pro as these ones do and to come from such a humble place, meaning a couple of Oregon car dealerships, shows that talent is way more important than big budgets. Suburban Auto Group has used the ludicrous idea of a “Trunk Monkey” to brand their dealerships and set them far apart from the crowd. They sell hats and t-shirts and even stuffed animals. And now they have a commercial that plays around the world thanks to the internet. You have got to check out their ads at www.trunkmonkeyad.com.


Trunk Monkey may be the silliest, craziest, most ridiculous idea to come out of somebody’s head in a while but I’m willing to bet if OnStar had something as cool as this GM would be selling a whole lot more cars than they actually do.


Forefront of Power

Technology has a way of making me feel dumb. I appreciate cell phones and computers and televisions and even toasters but I don’t have a clue as to how they work. I know I could sit down and attempt to educate myself on the hows and whys, but to tell you the honest truth I am just not interested enough to do so. Add to that my inherent laziness and there you go. In truth, even if I could potentially grasp what was going on inside a computer’s brain I’d much rather keep the space inside my head free for more important things, like the lyrics to “WKRP in Cincinnati”. You know, stuff that matters.


Even still, every once in a while I like to take a kick at the can and try to help out those that actually know and understand what they are doing when it comes to technology. Take my brother. He knows all about that sort of stuff – firewalls, sequel servers, spyware, whoozits and whatzits – so every now and again I try to offer a nugget or two that makes it look like I care about what’s going on and that I’m not a complete idiot.


“Hey dude, maybe the computer network needs a better level of protection, you know something like Microsoft’s new Forefront set up to protect the business from those ever-changing threats. (I took this from their literature – I have no idea what it means)


Now, if brother dearest asks me any questions I immediately hedge my answers and direct him to the Microsoft website www.easyeasier.comsaying “I don’t know but that’s a good point. They got all the details there.” He’s none the wiser and I appear to have contributed to the successful operation of the office. Hoo-rah.


The coolest part of all of this is how I came to even notice Microsoft’s Forefront in the first place. You guessed it. They had a really neat ad. The first one I saw was in a magazine with a two page splash ad in bright orange showing how to foil an alien invasion. Seriously, an alien invasion! They had diagrams and how-tos showing how to beat the aliens and send them packing. Things like sneezing on them in hopes of exploiting possible weaknesses in their bizarro immune systems or pretending that squirrels are our masters and then running and hiding while the aliens attempt to negotiate surrender from the nut gatherers. Microsoft’s tag line is that “stopping an alien invasion is easy, but protecting your systems against hackers is even easier”, if you use Microsoft Forefront, of course.


Is it? I have no idea, but I loved the ads. When was the last time Microsoft had anything even close to resembling a memorable ad campaign? It’s been a while.


If you go to their website it gets even better. On it you have a choice to do battle with a secret agent, a zombie, a ninja and our now familiar alien. They have groovy music playing while a crisp shirted technician confidently dispatches the enemy of your choice. While I’m certain real, live tech guys would be far too busy working to burn precious minutes with such trivial time wasters I am living proof that easily distracted monotones like me love nothing more than to wile away the hours playing stupid consumer website games. Seriously, the hero uses a banjo to beat the Secret Agent. Awesome.


Will future versions of Microsoft Forefront try to cut into the market shares held by the likes of Norton AntiVirus or perhaps even McAfee? (Yes, I looked them up.) I have no idea. But I know getting a unique ad campaign that suggests it’s easier stopping viruses and hackers than doing the smack-down with zombies is brilliant. ‘Cause when an ad campaign is interesting enough to get you talking even the folks that know nothing about computers will start to bug those that do. “Hey Travis, stop eating rice crackers for a second and tell me what’s the deal with Forefront? Is it any good or what?”


And really, that is all the Dark Overlord known as William Henry Gates the third needs to effectively penetrate the pedestrian defenses we pathetic earth-bound organisms offer as he ascends yet another level towards his ultimate and obviously pre-destined position as Emperor of the entire solar system. At least, that’s what my brother would say.