The Devil Inside?

Do you hear it? Listen close. It’s way down deep. That voice you hear but never want to listen to. It tells you that getting fit is not really that hard. Training for a fight or preparing to climb Mt. Everest. That’s hard. Waiting for a parking spot and making the decision to drive in a circle 38 times to avoid walking forty feet? That simply identifies you as the mayor of lazy town. Behavior like this is obscene when you consider most of us own more personal workout equipment than a small town Bally’s (pre-bankruptcy of course.) How many bought the latest smash hit diet book called “Dr. Phil goes to South Beach and learns Purging for Dummies?” At least I think that’s what it’s called. I’m using a Pizza Hut flyer for a bookmark and keep losing my place.

No, we ignore that voice, and instead convince ourselves its far too much work dropping the weight and way more fun stuffing ourselves with food as fast as we can, pausing only long enough to wash it all down with a “sports drink.”

It’s amazing the journey the “sport drink” has traveled. From an ice chilled liquid dumped over the head’s of winning coaches to school vending machines near you. The number of sport drinks available out there would have you thinking we were all training for marathons or playing professional jai-alai instead of eating nachos and watching re-runs of “Corner Gas.” News flash to the clueless: Most of us are not wearing sweat pants because we are momentarily heading out for a run. It has way more to do with padded string being a heck of a lot more comfortable around ye old handles of love versus the cruelly sadistic pinch delivered by a belt.

Every once in a while the guilt hits, so we grab for a Gatorade instead of a grape Crush, believing that tiny voice inside telling us that by choosing a “sport” drink over a soft drink we are somehow doing something good for our body. While I’m almost certain draining a two litre of Gatorade does very little to help the waistline I can understand the overall theory at work.

Gatorade is in the first stages of what seems to be a new ad campaign playing on such “inner voices.” I’ve seen two ads so far and I’m sure there are more to come.

The first is the Dwyane Wade ad in which Wade is running the basketball floor during a game while two disembodied Dwyane Wade mini-heads float around each of his ears telling him what he should be doing. One, more conservative and cautious, tells him to do a jump shot or kiss it off the glass while the other, more aggressive and attitude filled, is yelling for a dunk in the face of the opposing giant. Wade drives in and slams over a guy leading both heads to begin screaming in excitement over the performance. Gatorade’s tag line of “Is it in you?” cleanly finishes the ad.

The other features baseball’s Derek Jeter on first base. He’s looking to steal when a “voice” in the form of sharp dressed Mr. Harvey Keitel starts tempting him, pushing him to go for it. Keitel is totally playing a bad guy because all he does is lean on Jeter to steal the base, with a major emphasis on “steal.” There is no back and forth ala the Dwyane Wade ad, just Harvey with a soundtrack proving he’s way too bad to be good. And tell me why the only team logo that is returned to over and over again is Jeter’s opponents, “The Angels.” The commercial is tight and cool, and hard to miss. When it starts, you just have to watch it all the way through.  Even still, I am wondering about the whole bad guy routine they’re pushing. When you add in the heavy backbeat to Keitel’s evilly confident sales pitch, and then tie it all up in a bow with a tag line like “Is it in you?” I have to say it’s kind of unsettling. Is what in me? Could it be…..I don’t know….maybe possibly……….Satan!?!  (Note: Please say the previous line in the voice of Dana Carvey’s “The Church Lady” of long lost SNL fame)

Maybe Gatorade will clarify the spot via upcoming versions or other ads but using a sort of “devil on your shoulder” voice in any positive capacity is kind of a weird way to sell fluorescently colorful juice to lazy couch potatoes.

But I will admit that any commercial plausibly able to work in the term “schmendric” is ultimately okay by me.

Somebody’s Watching You

How well does your friendly neighborhood advertiser know you? Rockwell may have been more than a cheesy eighties one-hit-wonder after all. Perhaps he was a true soothsayer instead of just a less-famous, Jackson family in-law.

Think about it. Corporations and their advertisers process millions of pieces of data and sales information every day just to figure out what you buy, when you buy and why you buy. They know how much time you spend in the average store and how much cash goes towards Kraft Singles every week. There is precious little that is not tracked, analyzed and utilized.

Think I’m kidding? Next time you go into a store like Home Depot or Costco look around and take note of the other faces entering the store with you. You’ll be shocked to see the same ones, more or less, leaving at about the same time you are. The stores know exactly how long the average visit lasts. As unique as we like to think we are, in truth most of us are quite boring creatures showcasing our ever more predictable habits.

And advertisers would be complete morons not to exploit this.

My favourite example is Toyota. This bunch is moving cars like Timmy’s pours coffee on a Monday morning. Toyota is as close to ruling the automotive world as anyone has ever been and they’ve done it with hard work and good products.

And some pretty cagey advertising.

I’m sure you remember this ad campaign. They still air it every now and again. It has the dad sitting on the front porch of the house with his daughter. He tosses out a line. “So, your mother tells me you think you’re in love.”

The daughter answers yes.

Dad then asks if this is the same as all the others, making clear his automatic, and it would seem, well-founded disdain for all her past choices. As a bonus, he’s also making it quite obvious that he believes this one to be no different.

Suddenly, a sharp little Toyota screeches to a stop in front of the house. Dad takes one look, stands up and says “I like him” offering his instant seal of approval based on nothing more than seeing a sensible and practical auto choice displayed before him.

And here is where it gets mighty interesting.

There are at least three versions of this ad, though I am convinced many more exist. In one version, after daddy’s gone, ditzy daughter opens the car door and gets in to greet her geeky, nerdy-looking new love. Hardly daddy’s favourite, but proving that sensibility of vehicular choice can successfully sucker dear old dad is a winner. But it gets better. Another version of the ad shows her get in the car and kiss a giant, scary looking biker dude. Again, dear old dad played for a fool. In a third one, she gets into the car and smiles at the pretty girl who is driving, just before leaning over and planting a long, deep and wet kiss on her lips. Well hello, it would seem we’ve got some Toyota sponsored lesbian lovin’ in prime time no less. Or do we?

I’m betting you probably didn’t see all those ads. At best, you might have seen only two of them. The girl-girl ad would more than likely have been missed

You see, Toyota is so conscious and aware of your TV habits that they position each of these ads for different show blocks, different times and different channels. The hard edged biker one ran during sporting events or other shows where tough guys (or boys that think they are) sit watching. The nerdy, non-threatening guy ad aired during more family and female-centric shows. The edgy girlfriend ad aired specifically on arts channels and during more urban and shall we say sophisticated shows – okay, it was “Trailer Park Boys” on Showcase – but the point is they weren’t particularly worried about the wrong folks seeing the wrong ad. They had their targets lined up and they shot at each one successfully, without having to build totally different ads to do it. The simplicity is near mesmerizing, even while the sheer deviousness of it remains rather frightening.

Pay attention to your TV routines if you can. Advertisers do. You’d be amazed at how predictable you really are. Just for fun, vary it a bit and see what happens. You might find yourself seeing some ads you never even knew existed. It’s a good way to combat such precision ad attacks.

Alternatively, some find the realization they are being watched so paralyzing that schizophrenic paranoia sets in, causing one to lock all the doors, pull the shades, fashion a helmet out of tin foil and survive the rest of days drinking from the hot water heater and harvesting toenail clippings for protein.

I wonder what kind of ads Toyota has planned for when I reach that stage?

Ap A-Go-Go

What is real?

There is the basic “hit in the head with a brick” real. No arguments there. The reality is the concussion. You can also have the reality of a higher power that while not always easy to define is still realistic to a majority of humans on earth. I mean just look at the number of churches in the world – or even Abbottsford.

Then you have TV real.

TV real is a whole other hybrid that exists on a totally different plane. Remember the bar “Cheers?” I wanted to visit that bar. Everybody did. And not some lame-o facsimile of “Cheers.”  I wanted to see Sam Malone and Cliffy and Norm, or at least their archetypes living and existing and being. The feelings that show created within their audience was as real as anything you could ever want. And a reality like that means the nexus that is our day to day lives and the world of television and movies is getting more and more fuzzily-intertwined everyday.

Want proof? Kenny Kramer, the person that the character of “Kramer” from “Seinfeld” was based on is a real guy living in New York City. This man actually has a business that hosts regular bus tours around New York showing off the spots referenced throughout the Seinfeld TV show. Places like Monk’s Diner, The Soup Nazi’s place, Jerry’s Apartment, etc. He is making money by taking a show that people related to and lived through by successfully making it “even more real” just through visiting the actual filming locations. Similar things were done for “X-Files” in Vancouver,  “A Christmas Story” in Cleveland and many others. Well, now it’s time for cartoons to try reality on for size.

The Simpson’s television show has been working at making a feature-film version of their long running TV series. As they’re almost ready to unleash big-screen Homer upon us the marketing teams on the job have decided to make our reality a little more “Simpsonesque.” One of the (rumoured) tie-ins they have planned is that The Simpson’s movie will be doing a cross promotion where ten or eleven 7-Eleven stores in the US will be temporarily re-branded as “Kwik-E-Marts,” the famous Simpson’s quick stop shop owned by Apu Nahasapeemaptilon.

They will supposedly change the existing 7-Eleven signage to read “Kwik-E-Mart” and are even temporarily renaming Slurpees as “Squishy’s. They plan to carry “Krusty-O Cereal” and “Buzz Cola,” all famous brands to regular Simpson watchers.  I don’t know if “Duff Beer” will make an appearance but I’m betting not, as such a thing would likely be cited as contributing to the delinquency of minors, no matter how cool it may be. This is quite a promotion if they successfully follow it through.

It’s kind of funny to imagine anyone wishing their local 7-Eleven was anything like Apu’s version. The store is used as a pretty large tool for wicked sarcasm about our fast food lifestyle and our need for instant everything. It’s ironic (and biting) use of stereotypes cannot be ignored either.

Could the joke actually be on me for even wanting to participate in such a promotion? Am I being suckered by one of the most sophisticated marketing machines in existence? Obviously “The Simpsons” are not exactly choosy in what products they license. Even Matt Groening himself said he was amazed to see that they had licensed a “Simpson’s” asthma inhaler. Would it be such a stretch to see a home pregnancy kit with Homer’s face on it called “D’Oh.” Tasteless, of course, but that’s big time licensing.

As these worlds collide I wonder what will eventually happen when our hyper-developed fantasy worlds truly take over our day to day reality. Will we be unable to accept even the most basic reality interfering with our TV perfection? Will we refuse to engage in the less desirable or even mundane activities of living?

This could be a problem because I never notice anyone on TV spending what I would consider necessary amounts of time in a bathroom. And if TV is to eventually be my new reality I may need to borrow the key the Kwik-E-Mart’s washroom before it’s too late.

Boy Toy

Boys never grow up.

Most women agree with this, of course. Most guys do too. It helps in maintaining the “totally selfish existence” illusion. This illusion comes in mighty handy when others casually suggest we act more responsibly or do something we’d rather not. If all we have to endure is a few eye rolls and a sarcastic comment or two from our ladies it’s a pretty cheap price to pay to be able to hit the bar for a hockey game or buy something silly and motorized.

But is it true?

Sadly, I fear more so now than ever before.

I cannot in any way imagine men of past generations ever entering their general store and going monkey-zoo over a new Radio Flyer wagon on the shelf. They would not buy it, they would not take it home and they would not forbid their kids from playing with it out of fear that it might “lose its value.” No, they’d probably buy some snuff and a new tool that would serve to improve the life of their family in some tangible way. They would act more like what we now refer to as “adults.”

Me? I just bought a Hot Wheels car at Toys R Us because it was shiny, green and neat. I am sad, and I am pathetic but I am also surprisingly pleased with myself for buying it. Whatever have we wrought?

Enter Dodge, who appears to know my inherent age, as they made a commercial just for me.

You’ve seen it I’m sure. They run the heck out of it during hockey and every other “guy” event they can.

In it, the infamous Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots (lovingly rendered in realistic CGI style) are fighting it out in a gym, pounding away at each other as we enjoy the delicious clank of metal banging metal. This is an important detail because while our elementary school imaginations certainly heard such titanic body blows, the unfortunate reality of plastic striking plastic is somewhat less impressive. Eventually the blue one dunces the red one and pops the loser’s head up. Our undisputed victor then realizes he needs bigger fish to fry and busts out of the ring, heading for the street. Punching the door open with a square fist, he smashes outside, causing normal folk to run in fear (as yet another one of my secret toy fantasies is fulfilled in Technicolor).

Mr. Rock‘Em Sock‘Em Blue comes up to a bright red Dodge truck and begins hammering away on the grill until, you guessed it, his robot head pops up, signifying the truck as the ultimate winner.

I just love this ad.

I wanted Rock’Em Sock’Em robots so bad as a kid that when I visited a far-off cousin who had them I was so excited I could have cared less about ever seeing him. It was one of the better memories from my lifetime relationship with toys.

For Dodge to resurrect this emotion just to draw me to their truck is evil genius. To see long gone objects of my youthful desire (other than Cindy Crawford of course) walking and talking and looking better than ever gets me so jazzed that it glues my eyes to the screen. Those robots are the bomb, and Dodge wants my “love” transferred to their truck.

Pretty smart move. I wish they would take it even further and give out key chains or small metal versions of the robots. Maybe posters. Hell, even mugs would be pretty sweet.

These companies are so good at using my own heart against me when it comes to selling stuff. They seem to crawl right inside my head, grabbing around for anything they might exploit successfully to part me from my savings. God help me if they ever find out just what the “Dukes of Hazzard” really means to me down deep. I may have to cancel my credit cards just in case.

We are People

The political ad generally comes in two forms. There’s the “smiling leader” ones where the candidate is happily slapping backs, hugging kids and relating to us “reg’lur folk” while the other is a basic “raw meat attack” ad. These attack ads almost always feature a photo of the target in question with mussed hair, an open mouth twisted at odd angles and packaged in an overall facial expression that alternates between slightly crazed or densely dull, depending on the ad’s particular accusation du jour.

Anyone claiming never to have been affected by this type of advertising is dreaming. Negative ads play expertly to our fears, and why wouldn’t they? Fear is a heck of a motivator. Remember the “evil Stephen Harper” ads?  As presented they made it crystal clear that by electing a Harper government the voter would be putting army tanks on the streets, guns in children’s hands and women in shackles. As it turned out the only ones horrified by Harper these days are the actual conservatives that voted for him. They could have sworn he was one of them………

Which brings us to our friends down South. We are seeing remarkable things happen before our eyes. You see, these days their presidential elections seem to start the day after the previous one ends. Honestly, do you remember a time when Hilary wasn’t running? And now that John Kerry has been dissuaded from embarrassing himself yet again we’ve seen the emergence of one Barack Obama. He has been termed, if you can believe it, “the magic negro” by the LA Times due to his seeming ability to transcend race and bring all people (read voters) together with his good looks and rousing words. Democrats, and many others, are hot for this guy.

Now, whether or not this is all true remains to be seen but my interest comes due to an ad running on the internet that is shear brilliance. Do you remember the old Apple Computer “1984” ad? It was a Ridley Scott directed ad depicting faceless drones, marching in lockstep all the while being lectured by a massive “big brother” type figure on a huge TV screen. In this world of grey madness a lone runner enters and swings a hammer, tossing it through the screen, instantly opening minds and freeing the masses from the tyranny of, in this case, the PC. This was how the world was introduced to Apple Computer and it remains a top commercial to this day.

Well just recently an “anonymous person” re-jigged this commercial and replaced the droning big brother head with Hillary Clinton delivering a surprisingly lively yet weirdly disembodied speech that plays like a zombified self-help tape.  It manages to demonize every word out of her mouth without saying anything at all about her actual words or positions. When the hammer thrower shows up and smashes the screen we are then treated to a brand new logo – the Apple icon made to look like an O, with text helpfully directing us to the Barack Obama website.  Wow! I couldn’t believe it. Talk about a shot in the mouth. And so early too. Millions of people saw this ad, and many more will too. The Obama camp immediately denied any knowledge of it, taking the opportunity to remind everyone they didn’t play the politics of personal destruction and would rather discuss their candidate’s ideas. The disingenuousness of this was revealed only days later when the “anonymous person” was identified as someone working for the marketing firm employed by Obama and Co, meaning Mr. Clean’s hands may have been a little dirtier than he was letting on. As usually happens the offending individual has either quit or been fired, depending on who you talk to.

That being said, no matter what you may think of either candidate the race is on in a whole new way. When average folks have the ability to play Michael Moore with anything they want the boundaries are limitless. The internet has become a game changer for politics. People can be slanderous, or not. People can be truthful, or not. They have the power to be heard like never before. And in embracing anonymity they are not even obligated to hold to any standard other than to win. How are we ever going to find our way through this new arena of comment which seems designed only to advance personal views irrespective of truth or reality? I’d say it’s a whole new world out there when advertising that was once aimed and shot at the masses starts being picked up, repackaged and handed around by the very masses it once intended to reach.

Don’t these people realize we need professionals to do this sort of thing?

Not any more.

Everybody Wins a Trophy Day

Saturn has always been an odd duck of a company.

From the beginning they branded themselves as being a “different kind of car company.” Saturn had the ads showing their salespeople not applying pressure in their showrooms but instead giving out donuts and back rubs. They boasted of their “no-haggle-actual-real-price” formula to ensure buyers never again felt screwed. No more would we hear “the other guy got floor mats and I didn’t.” Things were different now. Commercial after commercial showed Saturn dealers from some bum-crack burg or other driving hundreds of miles to return a stuffed animal or fix a flat. These people were crazy, but they were crazy for you.

And as cheesy as the whole thing was, I liked them. I liked them a lot. How could you not respond to them? Most of their claims were even true. You had to be impressed. Their cars still looked gorky as hell but I really liked the company behind them.

And for GM of all companies to be able to convince me that one of their brands was somehow better built and better managed than anything else running was no small feat. Consider the legendary crankiness of the average autoworker on the line or the recently revealed proof that baboons run the boardroom and you’ve got a heck of an image problem to overcome.

But Saturn did it. Bravo.

Time passed and their ads shifted somewhat. While the notion remained that Saturn was a sensible place to buy a car their whole “good guy” routine sort of floated out of consciousness. They made some new cars here and there but on the whole I think most of us kind of forgot about them.

Then I saw their new ad. It showed that Saturn won the “North American Car of the Year” award for their new Aura sedan. Nothing new here. Car companies are always winning some award or other and posing it on their cars at auto shows or arranging magazine photo shoots with them. Not Saturn. They decided to share their award with the people that had bought the car in the first place. In their TV ad they show the award being shipped all over the country with average Janes and Joes getting it in the mail, putting it on their mantle, taking a snap or two and then sending it on to the next appreciative Saturn owner.

I was captivated. No way did these guys actually do this. Would they really risk their fancy award’s well-being by shipping it around the country from slack-jawed yokel in Wyoming to prissy, uptight urbanite in New York City and back again?

Apparently so.

The company had 5 replica trophies made by Tiffany’s and after sending an email to 5000 or so Aura owners Saturn has actually delivered the award to about 350 people so far. They pay the FedEx bill of $30 each way, asking only that the recipient keep the trophy for a few days before sending it back to Saturn so they can mail it out again. What a phenomenal idea. Talk about a “car of the people.”

Considering most trophies end up in glass cases at corporate headquarters or in the CEO’s den propping up copies of “In Pursuit of Excellence” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” Saturn deserves some credit for remembering what winning is all about.

The story goes that Saturn’s regular ad agency suggested some ideas that seemed pretty run of the mill. Unconvinced, Saturn asked another agency to brainstorm for them. It was from this that the “share the trophy” idea emerged making Saturn so happy they dumped their old agency and moved their annual $200 million spend to the new firm. How’d you like to be the doof that blew that one? As far as corporate cock-ups go that’s way worse than getting drunk at the office Christmas party. Heck, that’s even worse than sleeping with the boss’ wife, at the office Christmas party.

It was a great idea. I love the whole “share the trophy” notion. Why can’t we the masses share in the success of that which we support? For example, I really liked “The Departed.” Maybe Scorsese could send me his Oscar for a few days so I could show my friends or pose for a Polaroid or two. Maybe take it golfing or to a movie or something. I mean if he really cared about me it’s the least he could do, right?

Or maybe Saturn really is a different kind of car company.

Scared Straight: a PSA

I think it’s safe to say that drinking and driving has acquired a larger social stigma than it ever had before. Historically, it was not a biggie when tallying one’s significant lapses in judgment, (armed robbery, kidnapping, not recycling) but nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would even hint that hopping into their car after a night out at the bar was a good idea. Without a doubt the many people and organizations out there dedicated to making drinking and driving an unacceptable choice have done a good job.

I still think the best anti-drinking and driving ad I’ve ever seen was that old one showing a POV through a car windshield of someone driving through the city while beer glasses are placed one after another directly in front of the field of view, progressively blurring the viewer’s vision.  First glass, not perfect but I can still see. Second glass, getting hazy. Add a third glass and it’s starting to look like trouble. By the fourth glass you’re ready for a crash and then bang! It’s perfect because it picked up on the most basic thing at issue. When drunk, most people are certain they can drive because anything has to be easier than walking. So they figure going real slowwww will make everything okay. Well, the visual of that ad lays it out clearly. Whether you think you can drive or not, things get a little fuzzier with each drink until eventually you’re driving with the equivalent of a fogged up windshield. And when that happens, you’re going to hit something. Great ad.

As the years passed the old ads gave way to new ones. Audience attention spans continually demand new product and the charity machines that raise the money need new ways to spend it, or they risk watching it dry up altogether. Good news and charity appeals seldom work for long, so it had to get worse, much, much worse.

Looking at some of the current ads and you’d almost believe every third car on the road has a drunken moron behind the wheel with death in his eye. These ads are more in your face and graphic all the time. Harsh and realistic car accidents, blood splatter and bodies lying around, real police footage, you name it. The plan was to shock, and while it has been done quite well, I fear we are quickly reaching the point of no return.

You must have seen that ad where we see a guy sitting on a park bench identified as “your best friend.” Then, the camera swings to show a pretty girl walk up and be identified as “your girlfriend.” The two embrace, then kiss and finally walk away, obviously in love. As the camera finishes its pull back it reveals “you,” bitter and sad, trapped in a hospital room and confined to a wheelchair. Honestly, this made me think more about suicide than drunk driving. What kind of jerk must this guy’s buddy be? Did his girl ever really love him? How does the fun house of horrors this ad creates even have room for drunk driving? It’s way over the top.

Believe it or not, the next one takes things even further. The pictures show happy shots, all family and friends, the “good life.” Until we realize that the “good life” was the past and that now, in the present, “we” are in jail. And just to ensure “we” know it’s not Club Fed time but real “bad” prison time being served, two scary dudes from the cell block give us the “freaky eye” while flipping their tongues and licking their lips at us.

Are you kidding me? It’s one thing to tell not to drink and drive but now I have to be threatened with overt suggestions of forced sodomy? I mean come on. I’m watching this ad with my children in the room. Like I need to explain this one.

“Daddy, why is the man licking his lips at the other man?”

“Well, uh, he wants to share some ice cream with him.”

“What kind of ice cream?”

“Honey! I think it’s time the kids went to bed.”

Has it really come down to this? Will scary images of prison rape “scare me straight?”

If this is the path we’re on then get ready to see the next generation of drunk driving public service announcements brought to you from the creative souls behind the “Saw” or “Hostel” franchises. Can promises of creatively vindictive disembowelment or coupons offering castration with rusty tools to all drunken offenders really be that far behind?

Hold my keys because I think I need a drink.

Spam, the Bad Kind

Hormel’s ingenious creation, pictured tantalizing to the side of this column, will always have a spot in my pantry, and my heart. Often labeled cruelly as Something Posing AMeat one must admit that if salty pork of dubious origin is your thing, then SPAM is for you. It is in my fondness for this tin-packaged treat that my pain becomes evident. You see, when people refer to the junk that plugs our email in-boxes as “spam” I feel they are doing a disservice to our salty friend.

And while I would love to give you a six or seven hundred word love letter to the glory that is SPAM I’d rather dedicate my efforts to shaming the cursed pretender to the SPAM moniker.

Spam-vertising is the moral equivalent to the guys you see roaming the Las Vegas strip stuffing flyers into hands, needing only a motor reflex-response in place of actual eye contact. There is no simpler approach to advertising then this. Write it up, print a million copies and force it in front of as many eyes as possible. It may be crass, and it may be offensive, but it’s cheap and it works.

And admittedly I have no basic quibble with general spam. As long as it costs me nothing more than the time it takes to delete it I can live with it. Emails selling swamp land in Florida can be ignored, erased and forgotten in milliseconds. Here it is, take it or leave it. I got one the other day from a guy selling Tie Tucs. What is a Tie Tuc you ask? Well, it can only be described as a branded piece of sticky tape one affixes to the back of one’s neck-tie to hold the tie’s “tail” in place. Easily one of the dumbest products I’ve ever seen, but more than fair game for buddy to try to get me to buy it.

No, my vein-splitting issue with spam comes from email that pretends to be something it is not. A name that seems familiar announces in the subject line “great to see you” so I open it, hoping for a pleasant note from a friend only to be offered a rock-hard….well y’know. Or another one announcing interesting news items from the world of entertainment only to actually deliver an offer for affordable Russian mail-order brides.

How can this even work? Imagine a business that puts up a sign on their store announcing “patio furniture” knowing full well they only have shoes to sell. How long do you think it would take before the “switcheroo” was discovered?

“Do you have the Ricardo Montalban Signature Series wing-chair?”

“Surprise! We sell shoes!”

“But I want a wicker chair.”

“Not here, we sell shoes.”

“Why do you have a sign that says patio furniture?”

“To get you to come inside the store.”

“But I wanted a wicker chair.”

“Well, we only have shoes.”

“I’m going to go now and I don’t want you to follow me, okay?”

Does anyone think this is a good idea? Idiot! I wanted patio furniture, not friggen shoes. How is lying to me helping your case in any way?

Everyday I get thirty-eight email ads for low priced mortgages, or handbags, or stock tips or nude pics of Salma Hayek, or whatever, that turn out to be ads for half-priced Cialis. And even though by opening the Salma Hayek one I’ve lost any “moral authority” I may have had when it came to complaining about a bait and switch I still feel pretty darn cheesed off.

I mean really. “Gosh, send me ten cases of primo pills Mr. Trustworthy Internet Pharmacy.” If I really wanted Cialis why in a million years would I trust these schmucks to send my anything other than a hand-labeled (and likely misspelled) bottle of strawberry Pez?

I have read about, and agree fully, that there is one specific group responsible for this. They know who they are. Some of them may even be reading this very column. They are as guilty as guilty can be when it comes to propagating this moronic scourge on humanity.

Think about it. Why would these companies keep doing this unless SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE was giving in and buying from these pathetic pitches? Admit it. You’re doing it, and you can’t help yourself. I am annoyed, but not unsympathetic.

So, in the interests of human kindness, should you be one of those individuals devoid of a capacity for common sense or suffering large quantities of excess naiveté please email me your high-limit credit card numbers and all detailed personal information that you have available. Right now, for a limited time, I was able to secure a stupendous deal on a medication that will cure you of this sickness once and for all. And as luck would have it the meds taste exactly like orange Tic Tacs. Act now!

Some People Are Morons for sure.

Jack Be Nimble

I can’t claim to know everything about corporate mascots but I do have some intimate knowledge of at least one of the most famous among them. You see, for five hours one day I was Grimace. He was a strange creature, and of indeterminate species to be sure, yet he was lovable and happy all the same. The time I spent sweating inside soaked my $45 Glass Tiger concert T-shirt so badly the colours ran beyond all recognition, but I persevered, knowing that I stood for something bigger than myself. Something important. Something that would get $40 bucks added to my paycheque at the time.

While I can’t explain exactly what a mascot brings to a firm in a specific sense I do know their presence is generally used in providing a “living” example of the beliefs the company holds true. From this, the opportunity to trigger fond memories or simply give the kids something to amuse themselves with is gravy. I say this knowing that some of the newer mascots cruising around these days could just as easily have been recruited from the smoke pit of a twelve step program as created by professional marketers. And I would also have to say that the current Burger King mascot jumps to mind immediately as an example of this. If this psycho was skulking around a schoolyard I would be more than obligated to call the police.

Burger King used to have a more McDonald’s-like cast of characters that lived in their own land and ran around playing games and eating BK food. That disappeared over the years as they went all urban hip and cool, until one day the “King” retuned – only this time as a shiny, glassy-eyed plastic freak head that makes you question his sanity. The thousand mile stare is just plain bizarre but I’d be lying if I said his ads didn’t intrigue me in the strangest of ways. They’re like a car accident, I just can’t look away.

The big ones, like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald have almost transcended mere hucksterism. Sure they worked the crowds selling product back in the day but now they concentrate on fitness, or charity or other “feel-good” initiatives of their respective companies. I know in Ronald’s case I’ll get some argument from the “McDonald’s is evil incarnate” crowd but in truth I’ve felt more threatened having to give out my phone number to buy batteries at Radio Shack than by anything McDonald’s has ever done to me.

Of the current crop of working mascots my personal favourite is Jack from Jack in the Box. He’s brilliant. I never once expected to see Ronald McDonald making fries or working in the office at corporate but I swear some part of me half believes a giant headed Jack is holding boardroom meetings in San Diego and playing golf with suppliers on the weekends. The ads have built him up perfectly. He runs the company, is dedicated to selling me delicious food, and will never make any apologies for doing so. He’s as plausible a corporate leader as the late Orville Redenbacher was (and after seeing the new CGI/human amalgam of the poor man running in their new TV ads I’d say Jack has taken the lead.)

Getting a mascot seems easy enough. Draw a picture and then scissor out a foam suit. It’s the personality that’s tough. Look at Taco Time and their lame talking cactus or Little Caesar’s uh, little Caesar. It always kind of bothered me that he never said anything other than “Pizza Pizza.” It was like the company saw some crazy guy running up and down the sidewalk one day, grabbed him, strapped on a sandwich board and released him only after ensuring he could repeat “pizza, pizza” over and over. Whether or not he might get hit by a car was a risk they were wiling to take.

Colonel Sanders sort of became a mascot even though he was a real person at one time. They had Randy Quaid voice a cartoon version of him that was supposed to be “more street and edgy” than the original man. I’ve read that the real Colonel Sanders hired his mistress to keep house for him and his wife. You don’t get more street or edgy than that.

The Listerine Man is painted as a full-on lunatic suffering delusions of being an actual superhero and trying to take on a slacker toothbrush as a sidekick.  Ethanol’s Corn Cob Bob became a flashpoint of controversy and was actually banned from a parade due to his politics. The Fruit of the Loom guys seem to live inside men’s underwear, which these days would seem to give them a political bent all their own.

Actually, the working mascots out there seem to represent a pretty clear cross-section of society through their various looks and personalities. It’s as if these companies held up a very large mirror to all of us, reflecting back a wonderful picture of our inherent diversity and contrast.

And I don’t know if this should make us proud or very, very afraid.

Zoological Cannibalism

The fable. That time-honored method of telling stories using animals or similar to assist in making the inherent moral lessons go down easier. A good one successfully removes the viewer just far enough from the story to appreciate and ingest the message without threatening deeply held beliefs or prejudices too personally.

On that note, perhaps someone could explain just what Dairy Queen is thinking by creating a shrimp-centric cautionary fable regarding their ever so delicious annual popcorn shrimp offerings?

This is not a new ad. It seems to run every year or so about this time for a few months while DQ does their shrimp basket promos. I think the ad started running back in 2005 but it may have been earlier.

In the ad, we meet CG cartoon versions of two shrimp, a husband and wife. As the man eats away on the delicious DQ grub he tells his wife that she must try the oh-so-tasty DQ popcorn. She tries it, and agrees that it’s great but then suggests it seems familiar. When she realizes that the main ingredient is actually shrimp, and announces such, the new information still does not faze the other shrimp who continues chowing down. It’s only when she freaks out and says “Where are the children?” that dumb-guy shrimp husband finally stops eating. We get the “humourous” payoff as we realize that DQ popcorn shrimp are so good even shrimp eat them, though they will still panic should the shrimp consumed be a direct relation. Yummy, yum, yum!

Yes, I get that it’s a joke. I also get that we are dealing with cartoon characters here, yet I am I still totally down on this ad. It just plays gross to me.

Why use the cartoon process to humanize a couple of shrimp, making them chatty and even parents, only to suggest they enjoy eating other members of their species? It defies logic. This is the kind of ad a sort of vegan underground railroad might use in the deprogramming of emancipated meat-eaters.

I tried to find a way to explain the ad., thinking maybe DQ knew something I didn’t. Well, indeed they do. It seems that many crustaceans, including shrimp, are known to lunch on their own species and even their young, in some cases.

So, in fairness to DQ, they are more or less factually right regarding what their shrimp are doing in the ad. However, when you consider that “zoological cannibalism” and “Dairy Queen” now exist in the same paragraph I think this may be something a savvy marketing department would prefer to nip in the bud.

The M&M guys have always run close to the line but they never eat other M&M’s so the whole species eating itself routine doesn’t really apply. Also, they are annoying enough in general that I have no significant problem snacking on them. McDonald’s used to have Mayor McCheese but I never saw him eating baby cheeseburgers. This of course omits the fact that he was a walking, talking cheeseburger who could never have been the mayor of anything anyway. Shrimp are real, whether you fake them as cartoons or not.

I know I am being kind of picky. It’s supposed to be all in fun. Ha Ha Ha, the silly TV shrimp ate the kid shrimp, Ha Ha, pass the special dipping sauce. Crunchy popcorn shrimp are pretty damn good you know.

I would offer only that it might be a plan for any future DQ fables to use sharks or even pelicans instead. They will lose the whole “where are the children?” punch line but should keep me interested long enough to consider buying a whole mess of popcorn shrimp. Anything would have to be better than inciting research into culinary habits best left to journalists trying to emulate the late William Seabrook and his icky expose on the taste of human flesh. Eewww! Something different is right.