Back to advertising home page
Raves and rants about TV commercials
“I’ve lived all my life in this weird wonderland;
I keep buying things that I don’t understand,
‘Cause they promise me miracles, magic, and hope,
But, somehow, it always turns out to be soap.”
(“Chim Chim Cheree” by Allan Sherman, a parody of “Chim Chim Cheree” from “Mary Poppins”, the movie.)
March 2013 – Canadian TV commercials
A couple of decades working with ad agencies drives you a little bit crazy. I was a perfectly normal client, until I got into the clutches of various advertising agencies. Long, seemingly endless meetings, trying to come up with concepts, briefs, copy and punch-lines seemed to be my daily punishment for having been so dumb as to get into marketing – and what’s worse, IT marketing! You think trying to sell consumer products is hard? Try selling IT systems and services. At least shoes and shaving cream are tangible. Try selling to government agencies and faceless corporations. At least you know the demographics of the people who buy cars and shoes and take-away food. And then there’s the rules and regulations – the claims you may not make, the direct marketing you cannot do, the people you must or must not show in your ads. I had a love-hate relationship with the agencies on which we spent our hard-earned profit. Most days, more hate than love, at the lack of logic, the bad grammar, the complete misunderstanding of our product, service and industry.
So, I have a leg to stand on when critiquing Canadian TV ads (or commercials, as they call them over here). There are some good ones, but good grief, some are so very, very, very BAD!! Just plain bad. Who makes these things?! Are they executed by semi-literate art school dropouts? I mean, seriously, some of these things just suck so badly. Or are the clients so badly informed about what good advertising is, that they don’t see the problem? Well, agree or disagree with me, this is what I think.
Ads to love
My current fave ad? Oreo cookies – “Wonder filled” – catchy melody, witty lyrics, pretty animation, and it creates a lust for Oreos. Highly sing-along-able song by Owl City. Some say it’s a bit childish, but I like feeling like a kid again. And it’s cookies, not rocket science.
Second most favourite ad? “Dumb ways to die”, a public service announcement campaign by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, to promote rail safety, performed by Tangerine Kitty. Really funny, a bit crazy – and effective because it’s a proper ear worm, lyrics and all.
Both ads have gone viral, and like Psy’s Gangnam Style, have spawned countless knock-offs, alternative versions and parodies. Just shows you, find a good artist, let them do their best work, and half the battle of making a commercial is won.
Here is my selection of the good, the bad and the very odd indeed ads on TV. Want to find out which ones suck and which ones shine? Read on.
A selection of the Good, the Bad and the Very Odd Indeed
Wrigley’s Excel gum “Excellerate your breath”: I know I must be on the side of the gum-chewing guy, but these little bad breath characters are so sweet, every time they get chased away by the gum I feel sorry for them.
The 2013 ad, with the tagline “Eat, drink, chew, Excel” has the most irresistible jingle, and the Bad Breath Critters do this coordinated little dance in the elevator, before they get kicked out. They’re just too cute to hate.
Michelob Ultra beer: “You’re a complicated and diverse creature. A fine mix of debonair and adrenalin. Battle scars, and good jokes.” Who writes this twaddle?! Debonair is an adjective in any case – it should’ve been “debonairness” to be grammatically correct. And who is the featured “creature” who keeps the same inane smile on his unshaven face and just nods, nods, nods? I know debonaire means carefree and genial but still…
Rosetta Stone: “Halloo may naam izz Bread”. Look, if Rosetta Stone wanted to prove you need voice recognition to learn a language, they proved it here. Brad/Brett/Brad has the worst Dutch accent in the world. Potverdorie.
President’s Choice – Local Produce: This one features the Hoffers – and I’m afraid it looks awkward. The rather short Mrs Hoffer mostly stands around grinning, and hardly says a word. Compare this to the Save On Foods “Talk about Local” commercials – artistically shot photos put together very simply. Works much better. Avoids the food growers having to act.
Twizzlers: Creative animation, but what are they made of and what do they taste like? Oh, there you go in the small print: Natural and artificial strawberry flavour. That should be interesting, considering that artificial strawberry flavour tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike strawberries.
The Brick: Why oh why do some agencies let their clients appear in front of the camera? What makes them think that owning the business will make them perform well? Here’s another one where the agency should’ve paid up and hired a good actress. This lady – President of The Brick, no less – is about as appealing as a piece of cardboard. And that outfit, with the blouse collar over the suit jacket. In which part of the eighties did she get stuck?
No!No! Hair Removal: It goes on and on and on, and at the end of it, you still don’t know how the heck the hair gets removed. It’s not waxing! It’s not a laser! It’s not a shaver! They announce. So what is it? They don’t actually explain it, but it uses electrical current to burn the hair off. Reviewers say you smell burning hair, and it’s painful. Maybe the name is actually perfectly appropriate: “No! Aaaaargggh! No!”
IAMS dog food “Keep love strong””: This campaign, developed by the high-end agency Saatchi & Saatchi New York, must really hit the spot with pet owners. Scout and his owner Jackie are just so adorable together. It looks authentic, tells a touching little story, is nicely filmed (all those people walking past Scout, filmed from a dog’s eye view), and just presses all the right emotional buttons without being cloying. Nevermind the ongoing battle between dog food brands about what’s actually in their food.
Swiffer Duster Extender: OK, that commercial with the song “Who’s That Lady” (by the Isley Brothers, 1973) was cute when it first aired, but now it drives me crazy. But the dust bunnies in this one are very well animated. Now will someone please tell me what keeps the dust stuck to the fibres of the Swiffer?
Metamucil MultiHealth Fiber “Multitasking”: I like the script that goes: “Many people think fiber can do one thing and one thing only. And those are the people are what I like to call ‘wrong’.” Not misinformed, or indecisive. Wrong. Full stop. Shows a stubborn kind of attitude but it gets the point across. The girl looks plain, the product is plain, but both can multi-task. Actually, the actress, Suzi Barrett, is not plain at all. She just gets to look that way in the ad.
Kimberly-Clark Depends ad with Cheryl Burke: Even using a professional from Dancing with the Stars does not make this product more appealing. Fact is, it you need this kind of thing, you’re waaaay beyond being influenced by adverts. It’s a need-to-buy, not a want-to-buy. Just ditch the attempt at glamorising and focus on the features and benefits, like the smooth fit. (And is someone really going to ask for a free sample on Facebook?! Oh, come on.)
Bayer-Canesten – “I can with Canesten”: This one is wrong on so many levels. The voice-over goes: “I use Canesten Comfort Tab for my yeast infection so when my daughter wants to play I can.” 1) Why “my” yeast infection? Are you proud of it? Do you love it as much as your other infections? 2) Play? With you? Yuk. Listen, ad people, thrush is NASTY, you don’t want to own it. You don’t want to play while you’re using those tabs. You don’t want anyone to see that big pink box with its long plastic applicator for you-know-what lying in your bathroom. Take a reality pill already.
Prius Family: “A Prius for everyone” – must’ve cost an arm and a leg to create this ad, which looks like something from an early Disney movie. But what on earth is that jingle? Can’t understand a word the singer says. It’s all breathy mumbling and not a consonant to be had for love or money. Sounds like a teenager with braces and might well have been. Considering the massive Saatchi & Saatchi team involved in the production, someone should’ve stepped in and corrected the singer’s enunciation. Take the gum out kiddo, stop grinning, speak properly.
Dempster’s Garden Vegetable Bread: – Read the small print: every two (two, not one) slices contain half a cup of vegetables. Just how little is that? The label on it says those vegetables are only carrots and pumpkin. An average metric cup of solids is 135 g. So each slice only contains about 34 g of pumpkins and carrot. Trying to create the impression that eating this will make up for not eating regular vegetables is not quite honest. This is a typical example of using misdirection to make the viewer focus on something other than the core of the product. A similar tactic was adopted by Coca Cola for their Glaceau Vitamin Water, drawing attention to the so-called health benefits, and failing to point out the 8 teaspoons of sugar (per 20-ounce serving) the drinks contained.
French’s Yellow Mustard: Yellow mustard. Yellow. Isn’t yellow American mustard is the most commonly used mustard in the United States and Canada? Coloured by turmeric? Why state the obvious? Makes me think it’s all yellow plastic with zero nutrition value. Oh, sorry, I see it has zero calories and zero nutritional values in one serving, but a lot of salt. Actually, it looks from the label like it has mostly salt. Maybe they should call it French’s Salty Yellow Mustard. Again, it’s Read The Label time. Just because it says zero calories does not mean it’s good for your diet.