Liquid Assault

Snotty know it alls really get under my skin. I don’t imagine I’m the only one this is true for, but it just bugs the crap out of me when someone acts all superior or judgmental about anything. There are more than enough of them roaming the earth and to think that any company would willingly make one of these yard-arms a pitchman for their product blows my mind.

 

You must remember the classic V8 vegetable juice TV ads. Men, women or even children, all at different times or in different places realizing just a moment too late that they could have had a V8 vegetable juice resort to slapping their foreheads in frustration exclaiming “I coulda had a V8.” Memorable, creative and consistent. They perfectly captured the brand and left a memory (and a mark) most will not soon forget.

 

But like most brands V8 decided they had to punch it up a bit if they wanted to sell more drinks. So they made some new juices, drew some new labels and finally ran some new ads. One of them, to me anyway, seems to defy logic.

 

The commercial shows a group of business types in a restaurant just finishing up their dinners. The busboy asks if he can pick up the plate of one of the older gentlemen and realizes the guy has not even touched his vegetables. He asks if he is still working on them. The guy says no, he’s all done. Frowning with disdain Mr. busboy lifts his hand and smacks the old guy in the head just before turning and walking off in somewhat of a huff, looking quite satisfied and even pleased with himself. What the heck’s the deal with that?

 

It’s one thing to suggest I know what’s best for me but simply keep forgetting it. This was the premise behind “I coulda had a V8.” It’s quite another for some self-righteous dish jockey to walk up and smack me because I didn’t eat my vegetables. Does V8 really want me associating their drink with a smack in the head from the Vegetable Police?  How dare they suggest I shouldn’t be eating burgers and fries. If I want gobs of fat and cholesterol then I will have them and no busboy with an inflated sense of his importance is going to say or do otherwise. Seriously, if some waiter slapped my head I’d bury the little drip up to his neck in a garden and cover his head with aphids.

 

I get V8 wanting me to think it’s my duty to drink their stuff, or believing that my body needs their precious nectar but why go so far as to suggest I’m an idiot deserving of a slap for not eating my vegetables? This may have been a shot at “funny” but it didn’t leave me in the best of humour. Add a second part to the ad where the guy that was slapped grabs a V8 from his pocket and proceeds to clothesline the rude little creep to the floor, sit on his neck and force-feed him an entire case of V8. Now that’s entertainment.

 

I didn’t like fingers wagging at me when I was a kid and I like them even less when it’s coming from a drink that tastes like soup without the good parts in it. Honestly, this ad had a sense of superiority I had not seen since those anti-smoking ads where they go on about the truth. Now those guys I could see slapping someone for not agreeing with them.  Who wrote this campaign? Moe from the 3 Stooges?  Maybe V8 should employ an army of jack-booted thugs who do nothing more than go around slapping anyone not drinking their juice. I’m sure that would boost sales exponentially.

 

Why would a guy order a V8 after getting slapped? I’d yell like a stuck pig or at the very least stiff my server.

 

I understand V8 wants to update and be fresh and all and I’m sure it was a great idea when they discussed it around the boardroom table. “Hey, let’s do the reverse of the head slap thing. It’ll be great!” Maybe they should have tried a new tagline too. Something like “Avoid assault, drink V8” or ‘don’t let me catch you without a V8, or else.” Now that I think about, it maybe totalitarianism has a place in marketing after all.

Personal Space

I like people more or less as much as the next guy. I am not particularly effusive in my affections but I’m not exactly cold either. I consider myself well adjusted, proper without being prudish and basically easy to get along with. On the whole, most people tend to respect those basic kinds of boundaries quite well, seeing as most usually have similar ones in place themselves.

 

Lately though, it does seem more and more that certain boundaries have been expanded. I gotta say in some cases it’s starting to become downright uncomfortable. Folks seem quite easy in asking the most intimate of questions, and acting surprisingly shocked or even offended when you decline to respond. Maybe it’s just me noticing this, but I doubt it.

 

I can remember watching movies with my folks when I was a kid and a curse word or maybe a “naughty scene” would let fly. I could feel the embarrassment rise up inside like a tide. Amazingly, even with increased age that feeling never really went away. I can still sit with my folks watching a movie and feel a surge of discomfort over certain language or situations. I tend to think the reason is that deep in our hearts we generally know what’s over the line, and what’s not. Having mom or dad there just means we can’t lie to ourselves about it.

 

Well, I’ve seen an ad on the tube that makes hearing a few curse words in front of mom seem about as harmless as Jack Nicholson beating a car with a Nerf golf club.

 

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to even describe this commercial without offending anybody. It’s not like AdFool comes with a warning label. As it sits, the commercial hits right out of the blue so I might as well do the same.

 

Scene opens on a couple out to dinner at a nice, intimate restaurant. Both go to place their folded cloth napkins on their laps when the woman realizes that under her napkin there is a small gift box. She looks up at her date who indicates quite clearly that he put it there, urging with his eyes for her to open it. She lifts it up and displays clearly that it is indeed a ring box, “the” ring box. It is telegraphed perfectly that this is the gift we think it is – even though there are more than a few odd, and slightly off-putting, ticks and smirks coming from the gift giver. While the woman seems appropriately excited the guy just has a sort of weird look on his face. And it is not a look of “innocent expectation” but one of something else. Something a little edgy and maybe a little creepy. She opens the box and smiles broadly, saying “yes” as happy and as relieved as can be. Then, she looks cool guy right in the eye and with a decidedly wicked and now very sexy look says again “Yes, I do.” Thus completing what seems a slightly bizarre yet more or less normal restaurant marital engagement.

 

Then we get to see what was actually in the box.

 

It’s a ring all right, but it’s not really for your finger. It is for a digit though, his. And ladies and gentlemen guess what? It vibrates. Well, hello Durex.

 

My mouth hit the floor. Did I really just see an ad for what I think I just saw an ad for? Oh, I did, ‘cause that ad played more than seven times over the span of the next hour. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen it now. It’s on all the time.

 

Have the now seemingly routine ads for condoms, Viagra, Cialis and the whole ED train of pain finally softened (ahem) us up enough for the next wave of mass market sexual innovation? It would seem so.

 

There are some I’m sure that welcome such frank and in your face presentations of sexual lifestyle. We are of course adults, meaning anyone offended is surely repressed, and obviously stuck inside some mid-century view of what happens when the lights go off.

 

Well, I know what happens when the lights go off. I have kids. What I also have is a fairly good sense of boundary, and space. Women don’t wear wedding gowns to other women’s weddings and guys don’t mac on their best friend’s girl. Why? Because some things are just sacred, that’s why. Taking something as traditionally special as the “pop the question” moment to sell a man-brator trivializes it, and kind of suggests most relationships are little more than a series of ins and outs anyway. That’s kind of sad. I can see why Durex wants it though. They got a lot of latex (and apparently accessories) to sell so the more time we all spend between each others legs the better.

 

Maybe it is just a personal boundary issue. I’m probably overreacting to the whole thing, making a tent out of a….well. Thing is, if this is the direction we’re headed in sex-wise I really don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up.

 

As things stand I’ll need a drug to harden it, a jacket to protect it, some lube to move it and a battery to make it sufficiently exciting. Do I even want to know what comes next?

 

If I thought my personal boundaries were being rubbed up against before I better get ready for the next generation of polite dinner conversation. I fear I may never be able to leave the house again…….

U Can Touch This

How does something that was once so over-the-top cool plummet all the way down to punchline status? It always seems the higher you fly the farther you fall. Well, few folks fell further or harder than Canada’s own M.C. Hammer. The poor bugger went from platinum cufflinks and a thirty person strong entourage to begging for money as a reality show contestant. It’s kind of cruel when you think about it. He did nothing more than record a song that everybody, and I mean everybody, decided to like for a while and when we tired of it, we tired of him. He never did anything different. He was cool and then he was not. All of us have something lurking deep in our closet that suffered a similar trajectory of existence. (Can I interest anyone in an acid wash jean jacket?) The funny thing is how sometimes when something is so out of cool that it manages to make its way back in again. In this case we have Hallmark to thank.

 

I know I’ve missed Father’s day by a couple days but sometimes an ad just deserves extra special recognition. I positively loath ads that exploit the whole “dumb dad routine” that seems constantly pushed by the advertisers. Dad is always an idiot, always getting hurt or at a minimum cracked in the crotch repeatedly. I realize dads are pretty much the last group that one can safely make fun of in a PC world, but I don’t have to like it.

 

Enter Hallmark who is pushing its line of annoying musical cards. These cards aren’t new but they have become a little more flash since the days of tinny renditions of “Happy Birthday”. Now they actually offer short clips from hit songs that play on an extended loop when you open the card. And trust me, it is surprisingly embarrassing attempting to pick one out in the store. You pick one up, open it and get a face full of “I’m too sexy for my shirt”. The looks from the other card hunters is usually enough to guarantee you’ll put it down fast and keep moving.

 

Hallmark realized this, and knew they had to act fast to get those cards moving off the shelves. I think they came through like champs. The ad they ran for Father’s day was great. In it, the kids hand dad a card. He calmly opens it only to hear the infamous MC Hammer tune “U Can’t Touch This.” Dad allows the slightest of smiles just as we see him retreat deep inside his head to where he is now imagining himself as MC Hammer – totally and completely. This is where the ad rocks.

 

It is a shot for shot, full on copy of the MC Hammer video except with bald-guy dad in the yellow hammer suit with the hammer pants doing the hammer dance. Hammertime or bust! He is so serious and so very intense that as he navigates the world of his very own MC Hammer fantasy video you cannot turn away. Finally, the kids voices pull him back to reality just long enough to remind us all that it is indeed a dream. And then he smiles, heading back inside the card for the perfect world of being Mr. MC Hammer, but when he was cool, of course.

 

This ad does have dad acting somewhat silly, but by putting it in his own mind it just somehow works. He’s not being made fun of, even though we are laughing at him. He doesn’t know it. He’s just being Hammer and that made me smile.

 

Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire”, The Romantics performing “What I Like About You.” They got the Stones doing “Time is on My Side” and even more traditional hits like “Hail to the Chief” or “He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”  They’ve got more than enough selection to successfully answer nearly any weird fetish or sense memory that some life stuck drone, or myself, may possess. Pick one up today and experience the ride backwards to the days when you were cool, or at least thought you were.

Hairy Pizza Leaves Me Cold

It’s pretty hard to resist commenting on advertising that apparently has the ability to induce epileptic seizures. Obviously, London’s 2010 Olympic logo was in my sights this week. I had a whole slew of things to rant about regarding the train wreck the whole thing has become. Even still, this stupendous example of focus group psychosis was somehow trumped by my sheer disbelief at the current ad campaign offered by Boston Pizza.

Boston Pizza is not known for great ads. They used to have those ones starring Howie Mandel. Now, I didn’t blame him. He was who he was, but still, they were pretty embarrassing to watch. I remember hoping he was cashing some pretty substantial cheques to justify mugging and mocking his way through such lame spots. Happily, Howie survived and moved onto hosting that game show for idiots, “Deal or no Deal” where contestants are required to do nothing more than pick numbers over and over again. Mandel does this strikingly well, and truthfully I am not entirely sure that is a compliment.

Now, the Boston Pizza-Howie Mandel ads were bad, but they were positively inspired compared to the chain’s latest brainstorm.

I have made no secret of my love for Bigfoot. In this very space I have gone on at length about his seemingly endless abilities as a pitchman. I believed he had no limits. I was so very, very wrong.

“Louie” is a sasquatch that has apparently agreed to work for Boston Pizza and learn the operation from the ground up. His bumbling, confused and somewhat mythical nature is supposed to charm and endear him to viewers while subtly showcasing Boston Pizza’s oh-so tantalizing menu items.

I hate these ads with a passion. I hate the TV commercials. I hate the radio commercials. I just hate them all so much I cannot believe it. How is it beneficial for me to see Boston Pizza hire a stumbling and droolingly incompetent Chewbacca wannabe to work in their restaurants? Is it really a good idea for your pitchman to be a moron?

I can hear the case for the defense now. “You don’t understand, he’s a sasquatch, he is learning, let’s learn along with him.” Oh come on. All I can see is that Boston Pizza hopes bad service being showcased in their restaurants is funny. I’m certain there were even ad ideas tossed around about having ridiculously long hairs show up in the food Louie serves. This would generate even more “hilarity” I’m sure. Seriously, if this is the best they got then please pay Howie whatever he wants and beg him to come back. Heck, I’d even suffer though Gilbert Gottfried over this abominable abomination.

It just makes no sense to me. How is it funny when Louie doesn’t know what’s going on? Every commercial has Louie being “educated” by the staff at the restaurant and in each one they seem to come off as larger idiots than he is. At least he is a large ape. What’s their excuse? To seem so sincere in their attempts to teach a creature so completely wrong for the service industry simply causes me to wonder how spectacularly stupid the management of Boston Pizza must be. They are playing him as unsophisticated and feral, meaning he is more or less a danger to the entire restaurant. Play him like he’s Donald Trump (with better hair) or play him like he’s super cool, but not like he is a moron beast. I have no sympathy for him, for the schmucks teaching him, or even for the overall idea in general.

Boston Pizza set up a website for the sasquatch (of course) where “Louie” blogs ever so humorously just like he talks. “Me hungry, me not like all this attention, me no blah, blah, blah, me blah, blah, blah.” So, now he’s blogging yet still remains too dumb and unsophisticated to grasp bussing a table? Was this promotion designed for 4 year olds? Seriously, I do not get what they are shooting for here. The stupid blog even reads like they made some poor ad intern write it. There is nothing plausible about this campaign and it just infuriates me. It is not even ludicrous enough to be camp. It’s just bad and that ticks me off.

Therefore, I pledge I will eat pizza only at Pizza Hut until Boston Pizza drops this annoying forest monkey from their ads. I will only go to Boston Pizza if forced by my spouse and children or if I am the recipient of a free gift card, but I promise not to enjoy it. If that’s not enough to help Boston Pizza see the light then I’m all out of ideas.

Maybe Cliff Claven could talk some sense into them.

Shell Game

Nobody likes oil companies. The price of gas seems to move around at random. It’s not hard to assume we’re being screwed no matter which way we turn. At fairly regular intervals we do retaliate by haranguing our local politicians into conducting the now familiar inquisitions into price fixing. These almost always come back negative and through it all, the earth continues to turn.

Still, for some the hatred of oil companies runs a lot deeper. You and I pay lip service to our annoyance at them yet continue to buy their sandwiches, slushes and lottery tickets. Others hold the oil companies in contempt on a whole other level. They see them as heartless, power hungry, manipulative and money-grubbing bastards that seek mainly to impoverish the areas they drill in. They claim they support brutal regimes and allow them to flourish, making gobs of money through their selfish and evil form of environmental rape. If they had Snidely Whiplash mustaches they would undoubtedly twirl them as well. The main offender, by most accounts, is almost always identified as Royal Dutch Petroleum, or good old Shell Oil.

Now, I’m not going to get into defending or attacking at this point. The truth in most situations tend to rest somewhere in the middle, so I think we can leave any specific decisions as to the veracity of either sides’ claims to folks more equipped and certainly more intelligent than I. What I do wish to address is just how Shell has decided to strike back against such charges. Of course, this column being what it is I am sure you have already guessed it is through advertising.

Make no mistake – when you have a public image that is one or two notches below Hannibal Lecter you’ve got a fair amount of heavy lifting to do. How can any company effectively counter the somewhat indelible image that has been stamped onto them by impassioned and cleverly jingoistic attackers? Faceless, global amalgams don’t usually fare too well in these kinds of showdowns.

Shell’s most recent offensive in the battle was fired in the latest issue of Wired Magazine (and I suspect others as well). They included a DVD of their self-produced nine minute movie titled “Eureka.” The movie is remarkable only in what it is attempting to do, which is use creative license to humanize the inhuman, or un-human if you will. They lay claim to a fictionalization of a real person within Shell Oil that has apparently done some pretty amazing things.

Our mini-film begins and we meet our lead actor, Jaap, who is so non-oil company looking in his appearance that he would be better suited rushing back and forth in the halls of the old “West Wing.” Tall and shaggy with very “liberal-longish” hair and a slightly “left-wing looking” few days growth of beard. He is a multi-lingual, obviously culturally appreciative intellectual who would certainly sneer at any loud and oily Texas wildcat were he ever to meet one. Earnestly, our hero plies his trade, (as an engineer of some kind) around the world. He even allows a reporter to tag along. (We have nothing to hide!) He also suffers from a teenage son who is rebelling, albeit softly, while dad is away trying to make the world better through successful oil production. When father and son get together son even plays devil’s advocate and tries to chide his father as being a world wrecker through his firm’s supposed indiscriminate drilling.

Dad won’t let that pass and addresses him with a talking point so quick and neat that it can be repeated by anyone ever caring to do so. Our film climaxes over a bonding milkshake and fries in which Engineer Dad has his eureka moment by figuring out how to create a drill that moves and bends like a twisty straw to better reach all the oil lying at the bottom of existing drill holes.

It is made clear that this breakthrough will better serve the environment, ensure less waste of valuable resources and once again prove the good, hard work being done by Shell Oil, of course.

This is a brilliant piece of propaganda. And I am not using the word derogatorily. This is material being disseminated from a source attempting to state their way of thinking and acting. Is it true? How the hell do I know? The amazing thing is the excellent use of a fictional tool – the short film – to try and wrestle the discussion back to a footing on which Shell might actually have a chance of tying, if not winning, the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers.

The movie does a great job of attaching a human and decidedly real face to an organization that is so very easy to hate. It’s a lot harder to criticize the individuals involved so I’d say Shell is using its smarts by attempting to change the conversation.

Go to www.shell.com/realenergy and check it out. It’s good to watch and see how expertly any message can be manipulated or directed to serve certain interests. Both sides do this, so it’s your job as a consumer to cut through the noise and grab hold of as much truth as you can find.

What will you discover once you flip the shell over? That depends on how much effort you put into being informed. Shell has offered some self-serving help. Interestingly, it’s up to you what comes next.

Dead & Not Loving It

You would think that death wouldn’t play the largest of roles in general commercial advertisements, except maybe those “Shady Pines” type of funeral home commercials where the silky smooth voice over mentions the term “loved ones” at least six times before coming in to land on lots of flowers, mountains and the odd spiritual verse or two. Death is such a downer. Why bring it into an advertisement unless you really had to?

Doc Marten’s of all people decided to run a magazine campaign where they picture separately four infamous ”rockers” as white-robed citizens of “heaven,” hanging on the clouds and wearing their Doc Marten’s. The ads feature Joe Strummer, Sid Vicious, Joey Ramone and Kurt Cobain. Leaving aside the basic taste issue can anyone explain to me what Doc Marten’s was thinking by giving the thumbs up to this one? You could not pick a more clearly anti-establishment, anti-capitalist group of individuals than this bunch. The Sex Pistols? The Clash? Nirvana? A lot of people believe one of the main reasons Cobain shot himself was his depression at the over-commercialization of his work. That, or possibly his ravenous and unhinged drug use. It really hasn’t been fully settled at this point.

Happily, that well known guardian of all that is decent and moral, Courtney Love has stepped in and pulled the plug, threatening Doc Marten’s for using Kurt’s image in a “tasteless way.” Apparently, in the United Kingdom companies are free to use the images of dead celebrities to sell stuff, whether approval is given or not (Though I highly doubt Princess Di will be seen selling anything soon). Such things are guarded much tighter in the United States. Anyway, Doc Marten’s backed down, fired their ad agency for printing ads they had already approved and professed their deepest and most sincere regrets at annoying Kurt’s fan base, which as a group haven’t been even semi-lucid since 1994 anyway.

It’s totally weird to see the dead rise again and with the capabilities of filmmakers and digital toolkits improving at a pace that seems almost daily we might as well get ready for more of it.

Remember the Gap’s Audrey Hepburn ad? They used her footage from “Funny Face,” tweaked it and then melded it into a Gap ad to re-introduce black skinny pants. There was the Steve McQueen ad a few ears back where the icon from “Bullitt” drove the newly redesigned Mustang. Good old Steve, dead as a doornail but still cool as ever and pushing the pedal to the medal in service of Ford’s auto dealers everywhere.

Fred Astair danced for Dirt Devil while Lucy and Desi shilled for the lottery. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Einstein posed for Apple computers and John Wayne drank for Coors. Cagney and Bogart sipped Diet Coke and even poor Chris Farley has reappeared as “the bad example” on billboards warning of the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction.

Every one of these ads is similar only in the fact that the star of them was long dead before the idea was even created. Too bad Christ died on the cross, now Hollywood just pixelates everything and voila, eternal life for anyone that retains a positive “Q” rating.

I am of mixed emotions about this. Advertising at the best of times is unreal. So, no one can really expect that just because a celebrity is appearing in an ad that he or she is doing anything more than working for pay. They have bills just like the rest of us. Well, okay I don’t have a full-time suit de-linter, or an account with Dr. Feelgood or a hand-carved Pellegrino waterfall filling my marble swimming pool but you get the idea. These people owe money. I am sure more than a few stars have cashed in solely to provide for the family and friends when they needed to. So, in that vein what does it really matter if the descendants now sell an image for an ad or two to make their lives a little easer. Kurt may have been personally ticked at pumping for Doc Marten’s but I’d bet he’d have swallowed his discomfort if it meant his daughter would get something she really needed, like a positive role model or something similar. So, in that vein I kind of have to be cool with it. Would I really care if they found footage of Genghis Khan and then made him sell disaster insurance on late night TV? No, not really. Maybe it’s because he’s so old that it doesn’t matter. Maybe we’re only nervous because the deaths in question are still relatively fresh. Perhaps we just need to get over it and roll with the requirements of capitalist commerce.

But I have to say, staring at the photo-shopped image of Cobain on a cloud, sadly posing against his will, leaves a strange emotion. Right there in front of me an actual, real person has become a total mannequin, a completely impersonal display of shoes onto which a company is attempting to graft whatever his musical soul might have meant at one time in the past.. And you know, that just ain’t right. Kurt is dead. Maybe it’s good the Doc Marten ad is too.

Life With Beer

Remember those certain, special nights at the bar? You know the ones where everything just seemed to click with a smoothness that bordered on perfection? Dinner was great, the conversation was easy and the laughter just spilled from all of you. Everything was funny and the pain in your stomach was from laughing too hard. All you could think about was doing it again. Problem was that try as you might, there was no way to recreate the certain something that had existed in the air that night. You’d try your best, assembling the same group, gamely hitting the same restaurant, ordering the same drinks at the same bar but realizing far too soon that it was just not to be. By the end of the night the only pain in your stomach was from the fish chowder and tequila shots you’d hoped might salvage the evening. This was the case on most outings to the bar, weekends at the beach, or even the infamous road trips of memory. The ones that reached the heights made all the others pale by comparison.

Many of us eventually gave up looking for such sporadic moments of perfection and got married, counting on a sort of “seat of your pants” kind of fun generated by the rearing of children. Unfortunately, for me anyway, one of the surprisingly common side effects of this seems to involve my falling and hurting myself or getting nailed in the testicles repeatedly by errant hands or feet. “Seat of the pants” fun is far more consistent, but often more painful as well.

The beer companies have always been pretty accomplished masters at recreating that sense of “perfect fun” and excitement we all remember inside each of their thirty second TV tributes to life with beer. Not all of them hit the target but when you’re trying to catch a genie in a bottle you have to appreciate the number of times the beer co.’s have gone and hit home runs. They’re smacking dingers way beyond all-star caliber, to say the least.

Accordingly, there is a new series of ads from Bud Light that just seem to fire on all cylinders. They capture that sense of fun from the “perfect evening” or weekend just right. They’re brilliant in that they feature a pair of guys that while you may not know them by name, you will certainly know them in your heart. These dudes are the same funny guys that were always in your group. They always knew the right words to say and when. They could be witty or stupid or both, but whenever they opened their mouths you were guaranteed at least one personal spit take. In my case it usually ended up shooting out my nose, but you get the picture.

The ad campaign can be seen at www.havesomefunwithit.com and the ads are great in their simplicity. In the one called “Mount Rushmore” our buddies, Stan and Phil, are visiting the great South Dakota landmark. In a rough, handicam-seeming fashion, they film Mount Rushmore and supply the voices (and supposed beers being consumed) for the various presidents clustered in the rock high above the park. For example, they have Washington holding a Bud Light and saying “Coulda used one of these crossing the Delaware” or “I cannot tell a lie, this is delicious.” It’s all book-ended by a seemingly genuine laughter as they work to entertain each other. They also voice Lincoln, adding the quip “I would like to emancipate that beverage please” and so on. The technique they use to insert the Bud Light bottle is near flawless in that any mouth breather with a video camera is capable of pulling it off. In their method, that I would suggest owes a nod to Canada’s own Kids in the Hall “I squish your head” skit, they use POV and distance to make it appear the ex-presidents are drinking and chatting with each other over a Bud Light. While I doubt public drinking is even allowed near the monument, the commercial still works for me.

Another of the ads is called “Beauty and the Beach” and it features our two buddies now at the beach and ogling a pretty girl in a swimsuit through a beach telescope. When her boyfriend gets up and heads away, the dudes insert their Bud Light bottle into frame next to the pretty girl and proceed to create their own imaginary dialogue with the sunning beauty. The bit is hilarious and has left me laughing every single time I’ve seen it. One guy plays the handsome Bud Light bottle while the other guy does the girl’s voice to great effect. These commercials are simple, plausible and very funny.

And they do make you want to go out and have one of those “perfect weekends” all over again. But because you’ve got the kids in soccer, piano lessons, pottery and birch-bark canoe construction along with your job that still annoyingly requires your presence and a spouse with their own demands of time and attention you resort to the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, buying a few bottles of Bud Light can set you up for at least one good nose explosion over the coming weekend.

And it can, but the trigger will more than likely involve something solid moving swiftly and decisively in the general direction of your crotch area. A laugh is a laugh is a laugh, I guess. 

What Do Real Women Want?

Sometimes I really wish I was fourteen again.

It’s not that I am particularly nostalgic for feelings of social inadequacy, daily embarrassment or even the general frustrations that come with not being cool enough. As it is, I continue to enjoy most of those emotions anyway. No, I yearn for a time where that most mysterious of relationships, man and woman, was solved with one simple and achievable solution.

Don’t stink.

It made perfect sense. Girls always seemed to smell nice, and they liked boys that did too. The brave few among us that had managed to spend alone time with an actual girl passed on this news with a breathless excitement usually reserved for revealing a forbidden secret. It was like solving Rubik’s Cube, only better.

As advice went it had more of a basis in common sense than the suggestions provided by our high school seniors. Their words of wisdom always seemed to involve wearing underwear that resembled a hammock, stuffing a sock inside to “fill it out” and carrying a condom in your wallet “just in case.” It may have been me but the smell thing just seemed more plausible.

In the case of teenage boys it was doubtful most of us would bathe at all without a really good reason (as I am sure our mother’s would attest) so the introduction of cologne was the best thing that ever could have happened. In my time the scents du jour were Drakkar Noir and Polo. I’m one hundred percent certain more than a few of the girls developed lifelong allergies to one or both of them due to prolonged and excessive exposure to such large concentrations of aroma.

It would take several years before the philosophy “less is more” really took hold for most of us. Sadly, for some that day never came. It was these special folk that went on to invent the body spray.

Realizing there was a perfect market begging to be served, the makers of Axe/Tag turned their attention to the needs of the teen-aged male. Before I go any further please know that I am fully aware Axe and Tag are different products from different companies. The thing is, can anyone truly tell the difference? They more or less smell the same, the commercials are near identical and they even make their cans look basically the same too

It’s almost like a fight between Rocky and Rambo. They’re both different and all but when you get right down to it they’re still basically the same person.

And Heaven help me but I do enjoy their ads. Almost without exception the ads feature a semi-clueless, but basically attractive guy who wanders the world and at some point spritzes Axe/Tag on himself only to find that women immediately come running. This has played out in elevators, small European towns, beaches, basements, poker games, offices and many other locales. The television reality showing hundreds of beautiful women held captive by their unbridled lust for the oh-so-sweet-smell of an Axe/Tag man is hard to ignore. I’m not greedy, so I don’t need a thousand women but two or three might be nice.

So, the poor dudes start buying and work their skinny butts off perfecting the optimum mix of Axe/Tag to wow the gals with.  Four or five bucks for a can that can guarantee self-confidence is a very small price to pay..

Axe/Tag had young men’s backs and things were good. Good until RGX body spray arrived that is. They started running ads that in one way could be called public service announcements even as they were further dooming more guys to the pains of confused shame. They use new “It-Actress” Rachel Specter, who dons a gas mask and makes it clear that she is turned off by guys that spray too much. Good point, I say. It might make some gentlemen ease up on the plunger a bit. She goes on to suggest that the Axe/Tag nexus is for little boys while RGX is a sign of the maturity super hot girls (such as her, natch) go for exclusively.

Imagine for a moment you’re a hormone challenged fourteen year old guy. You thought you finally had it figured out when it came to the smell game and now you’ve got some smokin’ hot babe telling you to use RGX and to be subtle about it too. I’m sure RGX knows just how hard it is for young guys to tone it down with anything so I figure they just turned down the formula a bit to allow for the same half can to be used as before.

You can never really go wrong playing to peoples’ fears and sense of insecurity, though that is a market that resembles sheep in many more ways than one. While they may seem as passive and docile as customers they will also leave for the next, newest and better shiny thing that happens to come bumping along the road.

So, while I appreciate and enjoy the suggestion of the Axe/Tag and even RGX lifestyle I am afraid my own studies have revealed just what seems to turn the ladies on:

Do the dishes, eat what you’re given and keep your toenails clipped. Pull off that triumvirate on a regular basis and you’ll have to beat ‘em off with a stick, whether you’re wearing Axe/Tag RGX or not.

Gellin’ Fido Out the Door

Some ads really get to me. I don’t mean they’re badly made, there’s just something about them that rubs the wrong way. And for me, seeing them somehow creates an explosion of bright red hostility that I can’t explain. It’s a form of road rage, or ad rage I guess. I wish I could claim there was some deeper meaning or big idea I was objecting to. There isn’t. It’s really just a dumb sort of anger. Like hearing a voice at a party and instantly hating that person for no reason whatsoever. Somehow their presence just becomes a rock in your shoe you can’t stand them for even a moment. They must go away.

Two ads running right now fit this description for me. One has bugged the crap out of me ever since I first saw it. We’ll leave that for later. The other has built enmity inside me over many months. You see, I hated this second ad when I first saw it, yet found new reasons to loath it ever since. Obviously, I can only be referring to the commercials featuring Dr. Scholl’s gel insoles.

That anyone working in Dr Scholl’s head office could actually think that “Are you gellin’?” was going to become a national catchphrase and subsequently create an army of nimrods peer pressuring each other into making sure each of their friends were also “gellin’” is so irretrievably stupid that I get physically ill contemplating it.

Look at these ads. “Are you gellin’?  I’m so gellin’, Gellin like Magellin?  Gellin’ like a felon” Oh come on. There is nothing humorous or even slightly cool about these grinning losers. Nobody normal is ever going to use this line. Was “wassup” stupid? Absolutely, but I can see guys doing that one. The only dorks trying out “Are you gellin’?” tuck golf shirts into too-short pants, hang cell phones from their belts and wet themselves when dogs bark.

If you are remotely serious about ever kissing a girl again you will exorcise “Are you gellin’?” from your vocabulary. No exceptions. I am begging you.

For me, it is a point of delicious irony that the Transportation Security Agency in the US has banned the wearing of gel inserts on all flights, meaning there is no “gellin” on any airplane flying around the United States.  I owe Homeland Security a big wet kiss for that one.

Now as bad as that ad is the one that instantly burrowed itself through my last nerve is that stupid Fido cell phone ad. In your face music pounds while animals and their owners flash by slot machine style before finally stopping and fixating on one man and one dog. The man then morphs to his apartment with his loyal dog close by. Then, in hyper speed, we see his life change, as pictures on the wall disappear and are replaced with new ones even as his loyal “Fido” remains. We see new furniture appear and disappear, a new blond girlfriend appear and disappear, then another brunette, who he marries, has a baby with and then disappears just before a boyfriend appears who he snuggles softly with and then… What? What the hell was that?

Oh I get it, you had 15 seconds to run an ad and you needed a massive hook at the end to make people pay attention and go “Hey, did I really see that?” Good work guys, yes I did see it. I’m betting a lot of others did too.  Now what? Well, I could start wondering what happened to his kid, I guess. Maybe his new lifestyle has no room for a child now. What about his wife? He has the same freakin’ couch but he’s got a boyfriend now?  Why not show him in prison, or robbing a bank, or in a wheelchair, or crying or joining the army? No way. They wanted a little controversy, and maybe hoped to score a few free ad runs in return for their “edginess.” It is such an obvious attempt to do a crazy twist for no other reason than to shock that it bugs the heck out of me. I don’t know why it ticks me off so bad but when someone attempts to manipulate so nakedly I just lose it and this ad fits that bill near perfect.

So where does my rant leave me? I’ve vented my spleen, laid my anger bare and what have I got? Do I feel better? A little. I don’t expect much to come out of my complaints. I guess I could just chill and let it go. All ads run their course, and this too shall pass. Perhaps I should simply move on with my life and walk away.

Naaah, can’t do it. I want total bankruptcy for both of them. Until Dr. Scholl is pushing a shopping buggy with Fido leashed to the side I will not be satisfied. 1..2..3..4… Gellin’ Fido are no more….all together now….1..2..3..4…Gellin’ Fido out the store…….1..2..3..4……

Absolut Advertising

And when the year 2007 came they ran out of ideas.

Well, maybe not ran out, but Vin & Sprit AB, Sweden’s state run distillery did decide to shelve the advertising campaign that their most famous brand of vodka had become synonymous with over the last 25 years. Absolute Vodka is officially dropping its global “bottle” ad campaign. You know this ad campaign by heart. Magazines, billboards, carrier pigeons, whatever, all plastered with some version of the ever-changing, punny-type take on the Absolut brand name.

Gems like “Absolut 19th” (Absolute bottle in the shape of a golf green) or Absolut Jet Lag (bottle turned upside down) and Absolut Web (Spiderweb shaped like bottle). How about Absolut Optimist/Pessimist (bottle that is either half-empty or half-full) or Absolut Subliminal (no bottle, just a glass of Vodka – my personal favourite) and Absolut Clarity (bottle with a magnifying glass in front of it) right down to Absolut Perfection (bottle with a halo), Absolut Bolshoi (ballet slipper ribbons that form bottle shape) and on and on and on. Some 1500 of these ads were created and run worldwide over the last 25 years.

And while an obligation to appreciate the effort that went into creating each of these ads is understood I still cannot help but think the ad firm working this account really hasn’t had to stretch that much over the last while. I mean really, these ads have got to a point where they almost write themselves. I’m thinking there must have been some pretty ridiculous discussions in the ad room near the end of their two decade plus run.

“Okay, the floor is open for suggestions”

“Absolut Monkeys.”

“Why monkeys?”

“I like monkeys.”

“Next.”

“Absolut Baboons.”

“Johnson, enough with the monkeys.”

“Absolut Orangutans”

“Johnson! For the last time…”

“Every Which Way But Absolut?”

“JOHNSON!”

You just know the ad guys are pretty stoked about getting to dream up some new ideas. Word on the street is that the big new promos will illustrate life in an “Absolut World.” This is to supposedly include a world in which, and I quote, “…men could have babies, the moon is a disco ball and there is no more global warming, while Times Square is an art museum instead of advertising central.”

Okay, then. While my first inclination is to assume they passed out Uhu glue sticks at their first post-bottle campaign brainstorm session and suggested everyone breath deeply, I will respectfully hold my tongue and wait to see what they come up with. Maybe they’re just a little out of practice, this being only the second ad campaign since the inception of the entire Absolut brand.

Apparently the decision to abandon the bottle campaign followed some in-depth research conducted in eight different countries, including our very own True North strong and free. They say that while consumers admired the bottle campaign they felt it “no longer provided them with enough opportunities to interact and get involved with the brand.”

How one would like to get involved with Absolut Vodka beyond popping the top and downing a shot is kind of hard to imagine, but marketing folk can be a breed unto themselves.

No matter though, I do hope they publish a book showing all 1500 of their ads. It might be fun to look at. There is already one book on Amazon but it only covers the first 15 years or so. I’d hate to miss out on all the good stuff published since 1985. Absolut Flux Capacitor anyone? Also, maybe they could use the occasion to explain some of the tricky ones. Honestly, I’ve found more than a few Absolut ads nearly as dense and confusing as Stephan Dion’s unique approach to Liberal politics.

Even still, Absolut deserves praise for taking such a risk. Any brand that decides to try something new after so very long is betting a lot on some obviously untested ideas. I’m sure more than a few shallow breaths were expelled around the board room table when the decision was ultimately made. Here in Canada we should get to see the new ads come the fall. And if they’re a hit you’ll hear no more about the old ones ever again. Should they tank, however, you might just see the once proud Absolut ads of old reappear in a magazine near you, ‘cause everyone knows that when it comes to marketing, nothing is Absolut.