Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

The limits of confusion as an advertising tool

Being an active radio listener and being someone with critic training, I pay attention to radio commercials...and turn off the radio for certain commercials, like Fox's "Tame Television" spots, because they annoy me. (Come to think of it, the only things I really watch on Fox are the NFL and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, neither of which are in season. I do watch Family Guy, but mainly in reruns.) I reserve the right to appreciate a good commercial -- I can recite Burgerville's "The Man Who Thought He Knew Everything!" ad from a few years ago -- and I reserve the right to say what commercials don't work.

I could go into a long rant here about almost every car commercial, but I won't.

Two other recent ads used intentional confusion as a tool. Last month 7-Eleven pushed a special, apparently especially caffeinated Slurpee called the Amped. It was part of the ad push for Iron Man (and was a sponsor of Cort & Fatboy; sorry, men, that I didn't support you that way! Should I make it up by buying an A&W bottled float?). That commercial opened with one of those Billy Big Voice guys, people who are hired to sound great when announcing stuff, saying "Brilliant billionaire Tony Stark had a choice..." That became my signal to turn off the radio, because the rest of the commercial had problems: it was a little vignette about a couple of those captors, badly acted by the voice guys they got for it, arguing over who'd get the Amped Slurpee that Stark had made for them. (Which makes me go "How?" Wrong question for me to ask, so it's a distrsction.) Cue big rumbling sound, and they react to Stark launching in his Iron Man uniform. It's radio, so they have to describe said uniform (or the Iron Man tie-in wouldn't be obvious enough). The description was badly written, and badly spoken. I quote from p. 182 of the hardcover of Stephen King's On Writing: "When dialogue is right, we know. When it's wrong we also know -- it jags on the ear like a badly tuned musical instrument." That's what their dialogue does. The result: I don't want to buy a Slurpee...and I like Slurpees.

The other ad that makes me think "maybe confusion ain't the best way to advertise something" is for another drink: Sierra Mist's Undercover Orange, also a movie tie-in, this time for the feature film of Get Smart ("Rated PG-13 for Anne Hathaway!"*). Don LaFontaine, the premier "In a world..." voice guy, does it, and does it as well as he can, but he has to feign confusion about this drink. It's a clear orange-flavored soft drink, and it dawns on LaFontaine "Ahhh, got it, it's undercover, like Maxwell Smart." He's a better performer than the dudes from the 7-Eleven Amped commercial, and the music sells it a little better (I've had a soft spot for that running-down music gag since at least Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but the commercial has to explain too much for the joke to really be funny (and if you have to say something's undercover, it isn't; that's like saying you're a ninja). It also gives me the unfortunate association of that clear cola that Pepsi tried selling 'round 1992, which went THUD in the marketplace. I don't associate Sierra Mist with orange flavor, so to me it feels like a reach, like if McDonald's started selling an energy drink. The product doesn't fit the brand. And if I'm spending this much time critiquing an ad and not actually enjoying it, I'm becoming less likely to buy the actual product.

I'm like that. I think that's clear.

Glad he doesn't work in advertising, it's

* Kidding aside, A) Anne Hathaway is hot and B) I'm dubious about Get Smart getting a PG-13 rating. PG-13 almost seems like a default rating now for blockbuster or wannabe-blockbuster releases; plus, nothing inherent in the source material for Get Smart makes me think "That film should be PG-13." Obviously I've not seen the film yet, so it might not be a fair impression, but it is my initial impression. I do kind of wish PG hadn't evolved into the "really mainly just for kids, just not as much for kids as G-rated films" rating, which to me feels limiting. Back in the Eighties when I entertained thoughts of making films, I'd imagine the HBO rating thing in front of my film announcing "The following movie has been rated PG." And I remember that nice era when you might possibly have gotten a bit of nudity in a PG-rated film...
Tags: language, radio

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