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Date: Tuesday, 03 Mar 2009 00:00

It’s hard to feel sorry for those pre-recession bigwigs, who got used to lavish meals, fancy hotels and private jets before they were brought down by the very financial shenanigans that allowed them to live so high and mighty in the first place.

But it’s easier to make fun of the frugality they are now being forced to embrace, and that’s just what discount airliner JetBlue does well in a new ad campaign.

A simple print ad offers a message to all "Hedge Fund Managers, Big Investment Bankers, Moguls, Tycoons" and others who "might be rethinking that next trip on a private jet … Welcome Aboard."

Image: Jetblue

The airline's Web site helpfully explains the type of amenities the discount carrier has for those who have seen their assets – and power – dwindle considerably.

These include seats that don’t come with a lot of media scrutiny and public outcry, potato chips that "are not a government bailout and there are no strings attached" and a host of live television stations besides the business channels that can be "complete bummers."

"Just think of it as jetpooling, only we find the other people for you," the Web site asserts cheekily.

JetBlue’s campaign stands out because so few companies have done a good job of addressing the difficult economy in a humorous way -- which, to be fair, is probably because it can be pretty hard to find the funny part about people losing their jobs, houses and any hope for retiring.

JetBlue, however, has hit on the fact that we can all find some humor, albeit tinged with a dose of schadenfreude, in the fate of the newly downscaled executive.

That company also deserves credit for tapping into that in a light-hearted, rather than malicious way, since outrage is certainly not something we are lacking these days.

Click here to see the ad, and click here to check out the Web site.


Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 24 Feb 2009 00:00

In a recent ad for Boost Mobile, a man and a woman are heading down a sunny street on a bicycle built for two, her in front and him in back.

The setup is giving her a clear view of the street ahead, and him a face full of her flowing armpit hair.

"You think this is wrong?" she says, lifting her arm to give the viewer a better look at the under-arm mane. "It’s a little gift from Mother Nature. I’ll tell you what’s wrong – it’s cell phone companies charging hidden fees."

Boost Mobile

The image of several feet of armpit hair is clearly going to get people’s attention -- if only to make them point at the screen and say, "Eww!" But after grossing people out, it’s not clear how exactly it’s supposed to start getting people to think about cell phone plans.

For one thing, of course people in commercials don’t talk like people in real life, but still, it’s hard to make the logical leap from defending one’s armpit hair to discussing hidden mobile phone fees.

We might have understood the logic a bit better if the company were selling something vaguely related to personal hygiene, or if the dialogue didn’t offer quite as stark of a non sequitur.

As it stands, the woman comes off sounding less like a pitchwoman and more like a vaguely crazy-looking person who you might run into while walking down the street, and who you would naturally try desperately to avoid making eye contact with.

Click here to watch the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 17 Feb 2009 00:00

Pepsi Max, a diet cola marketed toward men, drew both cheers and jeers for its Super Bowl ad featuring guys getting involved in various violent accidents before proclaiming bravely, "I’m good."

To those in favor, the ad was classic slapstick. To those opposed, it was just stereotypical violence for violence’s sake.

Both those who liked and hated the Super Bowl ad might find more humor in another series of Pepsi Max ads, which feature American actors but are currently only running in Europe.

Image: Pepsi ad
Pepsi (click image to view ad)

In one ad, a guy walks into a job interview, sits down and then, for no apparent reason, starts pretending that his would-be boss is beating him up.

He ends the charade by hurling himself into the waiting room, thus scaring off all the other applicants -- except his buddy, who eventually gets the job.

In another, a guy on a beach is attempting to ask a skeptical girl out when he is interrupted by what looks like a man being attacked by an octopus.

He heroically rescues the victim, gets the date and then limps off into the bushes -- where it’s revealed that his pals set up the fake rescue to impress the girl.

The "I’m good" ads struck us at too obvious and ham-handed to be truly funny. These European ads do a better job of using fake violence as a witty plot point.

Perhaps more importantly, the Pepsi Max drinkers in the European ads come off as smart pranksters plotting gags to help out their buddies. In short, they are the kind of guys many people would wish to be, and they have the kind of friends you’d like to have your back.

In the U.S. ad the guys come off as dolts who are either too dimwitted to avoid being beaned in the head, or are surrounded by friends who can’t seem to avoid maiming their buddies.

The octopus and job interview ads are set to expand into Asian markets, but Pepsi says it has no current plans to air them in the U.S. Click here and here to watch them.


Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 10 Feb 2009 00:00

A recent commercial for Del Taco shows your typical office drone standing in line staring at the woman behind the counter in a kind of creepy way.

It turns out he’s angry because Del Taco’s prices are so cheap he realizes that everyone else is ripping him off.

Del Taco’s solution? Send another hapless worker over and let the office drone give him a wedgie.

Image: Del Taco ad
Del Taco (click image to view ad)

Believe it or not, there are actually tasteful ways to discuss wedgies in commercials – witness Hanes’ witty campaign for underwear guaranteed not to give you a wedgie.

In Del Taco’s hands, however, a wedgie is played for the kind of comic effect that might humor mean-spirited third graders.

What’s worse, the ad implies, albeit in a humorous way, that it’s perfectly OK to beat up on someone else to deal with frustration and anger -- regardless of whether that person has anything to do with why you’re angry.

In this case it is even more nonsensical because the guy on the receiving end of the wedgie works for the company that’s providing a good deal, not the companies that are at fault.

Fast food workers may not be receiving many literal wedgies these days, but we’re guessing they get their fair share of abuse, verbal and otherwise, as people take out their stress over the recession on the person behind the counter.

For Del Taco to play that up shows a disrespect for the company’s workers, since the humor is at their expense.

We’re guessing that won’t do much for employee morale, and we’re not sure how many tacos it’s going to sell, either.

Click here to view the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Monday, 02 Feb 2009 18:22

With the economy in the doldrums and the nation’s future uncertain, it’s nice to know that some things never change.

Among them: Super Bowl advertisers continue to rely on hot women, violent gags and sophomoric humor to sell their wares.

While this year’s batch of Super Bowl ads offered a lot of the predictable fodder, there were some bright spots. Click here to see Ads of the Weird's take on the best and the worst of this year’s Super Bowl spots.


Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 27 Jan 2009 16:45

We have a lot of sympathy for the cause that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals seeks to promote. We don’t have much sympathy for their increasingly goofy attention-seeking antics.

The latest dustup the animal rights nonprofit has created involves their attempt to get NBC to air a completely inappropriate ad during the Super Bowl, and then to complain when the network rejected the softcore porn.

The ad, featuring women in bras and panties getting extremely busy with some vegetables, was rejected after NBC deemed the content too racy, according to an e-mail from NBC that PETA made available to msnbc.com. A network spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.


(Yes, msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, but that doesn’t influence our editorial decisions, about this ad or any other.)

Let’s face it: It’s extremely unlikely a network would air an ad like this during the Super Bowl, unless they wanted every mom and dad in America to blanket them with angry e-mails. Not only that, but most people who created an ad like this would understand that sex with vegetables, while perhaps acceptable for late night television, is not typical midday fodder, even on Super Bowl Sunday.

A spokesman for PETA, Michael McGraw, said the company was surprised the ad was rejected, and that they didn’t think it was more risqué than other commercials that have aired during the Super Bowl. The company has instead put the ad on its Web site, along with documentation about the rejection.

It’s true that Super Bowl advertisers have regularly tried to push the envelope on what is acceptable on Super Bowl Sunday, but this one strikes us as pushing further than most.

It’s one thing for PETA to shock people with videos of people blatantly mistreating animals, to draw attention to the very real cause of animal abuse. It’s another thing to create an extremely steamy video, and then complain about their supposedly unfair treatment.

Instead of making us think about the plight of animals, it made us think that some people will do anything to get attention.

Go to PETA's Web site to watch the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 27 Jan 2009 00:00

You’d be forgiven for not realizing that a new commercial for the British arm of T-Mobile is indeed meant to sell mobile phone plans, or anything at all for that matter.

The commercial opens with an overview shot of what looks like a normal day at Liverpool Street station in London. Within a few seconds, however, music is blaring and the travelers are breaking into dance. As the ad progresses, more people start dancing, the music changing rapidly, as confused and bemused bystanders look on.

At the finale, 350 professional dancers fill the station, dancing wildly and even drawing some of the bystanders in as the company captures the scene on hidden cameras. The full-length version of the commercial, which has aired in the U.K. and is available on YouTube, makes virtually no connection between the dancers and the cell phone provider, and that’s part of its charm.

Image: T-Mobile dance commercial

Yes, there are a few people milling around using phones to call, text or take pictures, but that’s pretty much to be expected anywhere you go these days. The only clue that this is a T-Mobile commercial comes when the company’s logo appears at the end, and even the best commercial can’t expect to keep everyone’s attention for more than two minutes.

But despite, or perhaps because, of the indirect approach, the ad goes a long way in engendering goodwill toward the audience. At a time when we seem weighed down by so much bad news, it’s nice to see a simple concept that’s surprising and fun to watch.

The British arm of the company said in a press release that it plans to release shorter versions of the commercial later on, including ads that promote the company’s plan and pricing information. That seems like a smart strategy for actually garnering sales, but we like that this version has been made available on the Web.

(However, don’t expect to see any of those commercials on U.S. television screens any time soon -- as of now, a spokesman said there are no plans to air them here.)

The commercial is similar to the stunts that other people, such as the group Improv Everywhere, have been pulling for a few years now, with the intent of surprising and amusing the surrounding audience. While some might quibble with T-Mobile taking that intent and commercializing it, we thought it was a tasteful, light-hearted takeoff of those efforts.

Click here to watch the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 00:00

In these hard times for job seekers, when unemployment is at its highest level in 16 years and the economy is mired in recession, many of us feel lucky just to have a job.

The online job search site Monster is arguing that there still might be room for improvement.

A new series of light-hearted Monster ads show people who are extremely ill-suited to their line of work, and might benefit from finding a career change -- one that Monster can help with.

Image: EMT ad

In one ad, a paramedic passes out upon arriving at the scene of an accident. In another, a construction worker clings to a metal beam, as if fearing for his life -- although he is just a few feet from the ground. In a third, a group of musicians gathering to record the score for an epic battle scene are interrupted when one of the musicians decides to do a little solo, in a completely different genre.

The ads are witty, if somewhat predictable. Still, they’d be easier to laugh at in the type of economy where people actually felt like they had the luxury to take a risk on a new career they might enjoy more.

Instead, watching these ads against the backdrop of this very serious recession and mounting jobless woes, one can’t help but think that you could do a lot worse than having a job you don’t particularly like. At least these workers are drawing a paycheck (although perhaps not for long if they keep up that sort of behavior).

The ad showing someone working construction, a field that is bleeding jobs at the moment, seems particularly off target.

It would have been riskier, but perhaps more rewarding, to speak frankly to those millions of people who are reeling from having actually lost their job, and frightened about what the future might hold.

Click here, here and here to watch the ads.

Update: Some readers noticed that earlier versions of the ads we posted were no longer available. The links have been updated now.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 13 Jan 2009 00:00

We’ve found plenty not to like about fast food commercials lately, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a new ad for McDonald’s that actually didn’t leave us feeling kind of queasy.

The commercial for Chicken McNuggets looks at first like a standard-issue video for your typical R&B song -- until you start listening closely to the lyrics.

Yes, the singer has that overly emotive, heartbroken look on his face, and yes, he’s making those goofy hand gestures as he sings about desperate, unrequited love. But is he craving a lover … or a piece of breaded, fried chicken?


The latter, it turns out.

The 60-second version of the commercial begins with a man awakening in the middle of the night to find that his significant other has snuck out of their majestic home on a rainy night to indulge in a mysterious mission.

What’s worse, when she finally returns, toting a McDonald’s bag, she’s not willing to share.

"Oh girl I know your secret," the singer croons. "You got that McNuggets loving/loving/It just ain’t fair/why can’t you share your love with me?"

(According to McDonald’s, the singer is played by Don Lee, but the song is sung by Lavish Mikell.)

The tongue-in-cheek tune ends with the earnest singer belting out "Girl you got a 10-piece/please don’t be stingy" while his female companion shoots him down.

Of course, some people might love (or hate) McDonald’s enough to take the song and its sentiment seriously. To us, however, it was a witty parody of more typical R&B fare, which manages to be entertaining even if you don’t like the style of music, or McDonald’s for that matter.

Click here to watch the long version, and click here to watch a shorter version of the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 06 Jan 2009 00:00

As business journalists, we’ve spent what feels like a lifetime listening to mind-numbingly boring executive speeches. And we’re reminded of those every time Dan Hesse appears on our television screen.

For those of you who haven’t turned on a television in recent months, Hesse is chief executive of wireless phone provider Sprint. Perhaps that job leaves him with a bit of spare time, or maybe as chief executive he wanted to save the company a few bucks, so he’s also apparently decided to make himself the company’s pitchman.

There are several Hesse commercials, but they all follow the same formula: energetic classical music, moody black-and-white background and then Hesse himself, "casually" walking through the streets or sitting at a diner.

Image: Dan Hesse

Usually, he’s saying something that is either dull, obvious, or both, such as "Our network is engineered for today, and for tomorrow" or "This could be the only phone you’ll ever need."

Sometimes he’ll also delve into the scintillating details of the cell phone plan, as if assuming that we’re all sitting on our couches with calculators and pencils at the ready, taking notes and comparing prices.

We expect this kind of talk at analysts’ conferences and technology symposiums, when you have an audience of people who are actually looking forward to parsing earnings statements and examining software code. But it’s definitely not the type of stuff that’s likely to keep our attention when we’re relaxing after a long day of work or taking care of kids.

The fact that Sprint would continue to blanket the airwaves with these annoyingly boring ads is especially surprising given the stark contrast with its competition, which has hit on the more entertaining formula of using humor to sell families on their services.

AT&T continues to amuse us with its witty rollover minute series, and we can’t help but chuckle every time we see this commercial about a missed call that wreaks havoc with a child’s birthday party. T-Mobile USA also deserves kudos for this parody of the lengths moms will go to get a good babysitter.

Click here, here and here to watch the Sprint ads.


Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008 00:00
We uncharacteristically dropped our head and strode past the bell ringer in front of the supermarket the other day. Too busy. Too beaten down by this unforgiving, apprehensive year. Too eager that, if by rushing through it, we could make time hurry too and just be done with it. And, we have to admit, a little too tired of giving. 

Season of giving? This was the year of giving. Although, unlike the giving the patient bell ringer who dealt with the slow but constant snowfall was seeking, it was less the charitable sort than the bailout sort. Banks (ridiculous). Investment banks (worse). Automakers (yet to be seen how bad a move). Airlines (lining up in the wings we hear). Contractors eager for a chunk of the billions Obama wants to (wisely) spend on infrastructure – and maybe can convince the government that retrofitting is so tired and public schools need the McMansion treatment that has served the real estate market so … never mind. And of course homeowners (oops, our mistake, that’d be socialism after all).

You’d think that in this supposedly resolute and independent country, there’d be a business not seeking a handout, and customers eager to subsidize that virtue. Well, one bank in rural Oregon makes that case.

Evergreen Bank

We’ve spent our time in rural Oregon. We won’t be back. Love the scenery, though. To be kind, the people observe a sort of steadfast conviction that just because it has been done that way for 50-or-more years, it must be right (while most of our graduating college classmates wasted hours on the Internet post-matriculation, we were greeted with blank stares in our new Klamath County digs when broaching the subject to our new neighbors).

Evergreen Bank appears to be one of those businesses. In two newspaper (not online, we’d make the joke here but we think we already did) advertisements, the regional financial institution makes the case that it is not seeking, and will not seek any federal bailout money, and, potentially, “raise your taxes.” (As if recent history hasn’t proven that Republican executive conventional wisdom and Congressional Democratic conventional wisdom joined hands to open the barn door to let that horse quickly skedaddle.)

While we can certainly appreciate Evergreen’s for its virtue and making that virtue central to its sales pitch, we’re not sure it’ll work. For one thing if being independent and regional was a virtue to most consumers, Washington Mutual wouldn’t have had roughly a bazillion branches in Western Oregon to Evergreen’s seven. And we all know how WaMu worked out.

After all, if Americans really cared about supporting regional, ethical businesses, Evergreen – and businesses like it – would have locked up their customer base leaving the big banks out in the cold. And if our fellow citizens really cared about community-based sustainable businesses that weren’t being constantly dragged into court to prove they forced their employees to work off the clock, maybe Wal-Mart wouldn’t be a) the biggest retailer in the country and b) having a good year despite how the rest of the country’s year has been.

We wish Evergreen, and every local business that is seemingly too small and smart to fail, well. They deserve our money. That said, we worry that if all they can offer is slow, sustainable growth and pragmatic management, they’ll lose out to the no-money-down, zero-interest-balance-transfer, double airline miles and option-payment-arm strategies of their larger competitors – regardless of how that ends up being paid for through a bailout.

It’s the holidays, after all. We Americans love our shiny toys above everything else – especially at no interest for the first-year.

BTW, we did circle back on the way out and drop a dollar with the ringer. A feeling of responsibility, after all, moves money. Just not very often.

Evergreen's site is here. You can view its two ads as a .pdf file here (you will have to scroll to the bottom of the page).
Author: "Rob Neill"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Dec 2008 00:00

When Burger King decided to run a campaign called "Whopper Virgins," with the premise of doing a Whopper versus Big Mac taste test in rural international outposts, you can imagine what they were thinking: Controversy!

People will love it! People will hate it! People will debate it incessantly! It’ll be great!

Perhaps they should have found a way to make a little more interesting.

Burger King (click image for ad)

The ads feature people who live in such rural areas of the world that they have ostensibly never tried, or perhaps even heard of, a burger. After apparently being told to dress in their fanciest traditional outfits, they are trooped into a bland room and handed two burgers.

The results are exceeding awkward.

Footage on the company’s Web site shows the testers unsure how to eat the burger and yet keen not to be impolite. In the television ads, the subjects are seen taking huge bites of the sandwiches, but their responses appear muted: They point at the one they like and briefly confirm their choice.

If they had anything compelling to say about the experience of eating their first burger, you don’t see it in the spots. There’s certainly no evidence that they were converted to a life of fast food and are seeking franchise opportunities.

The online movie offers a little more insight, including one man admitting he prefers seal meat and a few people choosing the Big Mac, saying they have no preference or refusing to try a burger at all. But if there was an "a-ha" moment among the testers, we don’t see it.

Mostly, the ads and the online video come off as a Herculean effort to make something dramatic out of encounters that appear, at best, stilted. When the video reaches the point that they are discussing propane outlets extensively, you really get the sense that they are stretching for drama.

Also, while the company’s self-congratulatory press materials paint the experiment as an example of honesty and transparency, they don’t reveal the most basic piece of information: definitive results of their taste tests, such as how many people tried the burgers and the number of people who preferred each one.

The lack of concrete data raises the question of whether, overall, the Whopper was the favorite, or whether they just choose to feature the anecdotal stories of those that preferred the Whopper.

A few more facts – now that might have been interesting.

Click here to see the ad, or click here to watch the online video.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 16 Dec 2008 00:00

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Sex does not sell everything. And one thing it really doesn’t sell very well is fast food.

The latest entrant in the surprisingly crowded "fast food as erotica" genre comes from Arby’s.

The chains’ recent ad for the chicken cordon bleu sandwich begins with a pudgy guy wearing sweats and white socks sitting on a bed, surrounded by pillows and candles.

Arby's (Click image for ad.)

"You know I’m only doing this for your birthday!" a woman calls out, before entering the room wearing an Arby’s uniform and carrying a tray of food.

"Wow," the man exclaims, "Me likey." And then, as if we didn’t already get the not-so-subtle hints, a cartoon version of the chain’s logo -- a long cowboy hat -- pops up above the guy’s head, accompanied by a little "boing" sound.

Suffice to say we’ll never look at the Arby’s logo the same way again, and we don’t mean that in a good way.

Instead of making us laugh -- or better yet -- crave an Arby’s sandwich, the ad left us feeling a little queasy. We’re guessing that’s not the response a company that sells food is going for.

Also, every time we saw the ad, we wanted to yell at the TV screen, "Hey, sandwich guy! Your wife/girlfriend went to all this trouble for your birthday and, what, you can’t even bother to lose the sweats and white socks ensemble for the occasion? Come on!"

We had a similar reaction to last year’s Dairy Queen commercial, which attempted to make food sexy by implying that its Blizzard dessert was created after a soft serve ice cream and a waffle cone had an amorous encounter.

Click here to view the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 09 Dec 2008 01:00

Wal-Mart commercials have definitely improved since the days of the tacky flying smiley face and uniformed employees, but let’s face it: The retailer’s ads are not usually the stuff of creative wonderment.

That’s one reason we were pleasantly surprised by a new holiday commercial from Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

The ad, currently playing in movie theaters and online, features a young, geeky guy wandering through his own holiday party with a reusable Wal-Mart tote bag, handing out bottles of Coke while singing a little ditty about his guests.

Wal-Mart (click image to play ad)

There’s a nice zeitgeist element to the ad, with its references to modern families ("my surprising cool stepmother/ and the two kids that she had/ before she even met my dad"), modern dating ("my best friend and his online date") and modern communication ("my MySpace friends/and Twitter list").

There’s also an element of completely G-rated romantic intrigue to add to the mix, when our hero wanders by: "the first girl that I ever kissed/you’re beautiful/I love you."

It’s a simple, feel-good ad that offers a bit of distraction from the much more worrisome realities many of us are facing these days. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, and no, it’s not at all realistic -- what twentysomething has such a huge house, for starters? -- but it’s still catchy in a cute, wholesome way.

We also appreciated that the companies resisted the temptation to do more than show the brands they are seeking to promote. After all, with the barrage of advertising we usually get from these two companies, we really don’t need one more reminder that Coke is a soda and Wal-Mart is a discounter.

Click here to view the ad. The mini-musical feel also reminded us of a similar, but much racier, ad for AMP Energy drinks that aired last spring.

Update: My colleague Gael Fashingbauer Cooper over at Test Pattern is lamenting that there aren't more good holiday commercials these days. Click here to see the post.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Dec 2008 00:00

Here’s a recipe for an annoying commercial: take all unpleasant stereotypes known to man (and woman) and mix in a predictable plot.

For extra credit, make the commercial really, really, really long.

That just about sums up the strategy that is apparently at work in JCPenney’s new holiday campaign, "Beware of the Doghouse."

The name of the Web-based campaign pretty much says it all. The video starts with a man giving a woman a vacuum cleaner for an anniversary gift, after which he is marched unceremoniously to a doghouse/dungeon.

There, he joins other men who have made the kind of stereotypical "bad husband" mistakes you mostly see on really cheesy 10-year-old sitcoms, such as giving one’s wife exercise equipment and hinting that she could lose a few pounds.

As punishment for their misdeeds, the men have all been consigned to the dungeon, where they must do things like fold laundry and eat quiche out of dog bowls. Keeping with the torture theme, a tape playing in an endless loop also encourages them to "speak less, listen better," "offer to change diapers" and "stop checking out other women in restaurants."

The only way to get out? Buy your wife jewelry, of course.

Adding an element of real-life public humiliation to the mix, JCPenney is even offering real women the option of putting their significant others in the doghouse, via a Web site that will send your partner an e-mail -- and then post his name and, if you choose, picture, on the company’s public Web site.

We’re not sure who should be more offended by this campaign: Men, who are painted as sexist, clueless dolts, or women, who are shown as mean-spirited and materialistic, willing to mete out menial punishment but swayed by glittery things.

We’re not saying men and women don’t have their share of differences, particularly when it comes to their idea of the perfect holiday gift. There are, however, funnier, more subtle and more modern ways of playing those differences for a laugh, and a potential sale.

Particularly in these tough economic times, we wonder how well a throwback to the "diamonds are a girl’s best friend" way of thinking will play.

Click here to watch video and see the Web campaign.

Update: My colleague Gael Fashingbauer Cooper over at Test Pattern is lamenting that there aren't more good holiday commercials these days. Click here  to see the post.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 25 Nov 2008 00:00

The economy is in the doldrums, and that means it’s even more important that parents, grandparents and other out-of-touch grown-ups don’t waste their hard-earned money on holiday gifts a teenager will never use.

But in trying to suss out that perfect gift, it’s best to avoid the porn said teenager has hidden under the bed.

A new commercial for the videogame retailer GameStop shows the unfortunate unintended consequences that could occur if a parent goes rooting around a teen’s room looking for hints of what he or she might want for the holidays.

GameStop (Click image to view ad.)

The point of the ad is to promote GameStop’s "hint or else" Web site, which gives people a forum for sending an e-mail hint of what they might like for the holidays.

The ad resists the urge to overplay the message, instead relying on the image of shocked and slightly sickened Mom, distraught Dad and a pile of blurred magazines to get the point across. It’s a clever concept that also addresses a real problem -- finding just the right gifts for finicky teenagers.

Of course, some people will be offended by the fact that a teenager has naughty magazines to begin with. Conversely, some will be offended that the parents would invade the teen’s privacy.

And on a broader level, it’s naturally a bit selfish to request holiday gifts unprompted, and perhaps GameStop will get some chiding for promoting that kind of thing. But as anyone who’s every stood helplessly at the mall on Dec. 24 knows, sometimes a little unsolicited help is better than a disastrous and costly impulse buy.

As a (rare) bonus, the "hint or else" Web site is actually pretty well done, mostly because it largely resists the urge to be snarky or obnoxious. A neat little "hint generator" offers users the option of picking a greeting (i.e. "best mom who ever lived" or "best-looking girlfriend ever"). Users then move along to the set up (options include "I just heard December is this crazy, worldwide gift-giving month") before selecting the games or other items they want to put on their wish list. The system will e-mail the request for you, in a bid to get the sale.

Of course, between a weak economy and a highly competitive marketplace, there’s no guaranteeing GameStop will get the business even if the gift giver gets the hint.

Another downside: When we tried to send ourselves a hint, the image-laden e-mail from "postmaster@smacktalkmail.com" looked so much like spam we almost deleted it.

Click here to watch the ad, and click here to see the Web site.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 18 Nov 2008 00:00

A new commercial for the migraine medicine Treximet starts out in relatively humdrum fashion, with a close-up shot of a woman’s face as she discusses the gripping pain of a headache.

Then the ad cuts away to its surreal horror movie moment – the woman in question is actually literally holding her head in her hand, and her body is decapitated.

Or, at least it would seem at face value to be a horror movie moment. But instead, the commercial treats this development as if it is nothing special. Creepiest of all, the woman in question is standing in front of a school bus, one arm cradling her head and another arm draped over the shoulders of her young son.

Image: Screen grab from Treximent commercial

The boy, meanwhile, doesn’t look at all perturbed that his mother is beheaded – instead, he seems kind of annoyed that he has to stand there with her.

The commercial goes on to show two other people who are holding their heads in their hands while everyday life swirls around them. We’re thankful that we didn’t have to see any special effects blood spewing from these beheaded women’s necks, but we were still disturbed by the image of a decapitated head chatting away in the produce aisle while everyone around her appears to ignore the aberration.

We’re guessing the nonchalance with which the ad presents these headless bodies and talking craniums is meant to be a reference to how people with migraines must feel, quietly suffering in such agony that they would like to take their own head off, while everyone else continues with their regular lives, oblivious to the pain.

It’s actually a powerful idea that could have made for a dramatic commercial. But instead of coming off as subtle and sympathetic, this ad risks feeling ham-handed and corny.

Click here to watch the Treximet ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Tuesday, 11 Nov 2008 00:00

It’s rare that you can praise an ad and also say that it is hard to watch, but that’s perhaps the only way to accurately describe a recent commercial for the financial institution HSBC.

The ad, featuring haunting music by harpist and vocalist Joanna Newsom, recounts a vicious confrontation between police and anti-logging protesters. As the police drag the protesters away, a group of loggers walk by, saws in hand.

The twist -- and symbolic message of the commercial -- is that one of the loggers is in a relationship with one of the protesters, which you don’t realize until he bails her out of jail and they ride off together on a motorcycle.

HSBC (Click image to play ad.)

It’s difficult to watch the snarling police dogs, violent face-offs and apprehensive young people shown in a longer version of the ad available on the Web, no matter what side of the debate you are on. A 30-second version being shown on television is also violent and startling, if not nearly as graphic.

That’s not to say the commercial is bad. There are plenty of movies, plays and even television shows that are hard to sit through and yet ultimately rewarding, and this commercial is not unlike one of those.

The difference is, this is a commercial. While it’s laudable to create an advertisement that gets you thinking, there’s also no escaping that the ultimate goal of a commercial is to sell things, and it’s not clear that this does the job.

Depending on your perspective, it is either heartening or maddening to see the logger and the protester drive off into the sunset, and it is definitely likely to leave television watchers thinking, talking or even arguing. Faced with such highly charged emotions, it may be difficult to make the leap to -- or even notice -- the ad’s intended message, which is that HSBC values its customers’ differences.

We appreciate the artistry of the ad, as well as the message of accepting each other’s differences, and we like that the company is taking a risk. Still, we’re not sure it left us feeling the urge to open a bank account.

Thanks to John Swansburg at Slate  for alerting us to the commercial.

Click here to watch the shorter version of the commercial, or click here to watch the longer version.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Sunday, 02 Nov 2008 22:00

We here at Ads of the Weird have generally tried to stay away from political ads during this seemingly endless election cycle, preferring instead to leave the good, the bad and the ugly to our friends in the Politics section.

But this being Ads of the Weird, Election edition, we’re making an exception. No, we don’t plan to jump into the minefield of speculating as to whose ad is more effective/negative/misleading. Instead, we’re going to focus on the one thing we hope everyone can agree on: The right to vote.

This year, as in years past, there are a plethora of public service announcements aimed at getting people to the voting booth. And this year, as in years past, they run the gamut from pretty good to pretty embarrassing.

Image: Declare Yourself commercial

The freakiest "get out the vote" ad award goes to this spot  from Mobilize the Vote 2008, which seems to posit that if young people don’t vote they will end their days dressed like 19th-century peasants and living in some sort of abandoned warehouse. We do think voting is extremely important, but the cause and effect here strikes us as a tad overdramatic.

On the other hand, this "Rock the Vote" commercial, which plays out like a mini-police drama starring Adrian Grenier, keeps our attention and gets the point across: Voting is a personal responsibility, and it does make a difference.

It’s almost impossible these days to find a voting PSA that doesn’t rely on at least one high-profile celebrity urging Americans to vote, but famous faces don’t necessarily equal good commercials.

Declare Yourself’s "don’t vote by which we mean do vote" ad gets the award for the best misuse of a star-studded cast. A huge number of talented celebrities, ranging from Halle Berry to Dustin Hoffman, are packed into the five minute video, but the lame attempt to use reverse psychology ends up feeling forced, repetitive and a bit condescending. Even Sarah Silverman’s potty humor can’t save it. (Warning: This video contains some adult language.)

This more self-deprecating follow-up, featuring Steven Spielberg trying unsuccessfully to get celebrities to say "don’t vote," works much better.

Sometimes simple is best, though. While many people have accused us of being cynical, we were actually kind of touched by this Rock the Vote commercial featuring Christina Aguilera singing "America the Beautiful" to her infant. It’s effective and to the point.

It’s a measure of our times that Aguilera is using her vocal talents and her mommyhood to get out the vote. It seems like it was such as simpler, more innocent time when another pop icon, Madonna, was using a red bikini, and not much else in the talent department, to do the same.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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Date: Monday, 27 Oct 2008 23:00

With the presidential election just one week away, nothing seems to be getting Americans’ hearts racing like a new opinion poll. Perhaps wanting to get in on the action, Dunkin’ Donuts decided to commission a poll about its own high-stakes race: Dunkin’ Donuts coffee versus Starbucks coffee.

According to a commercial the donut chain made to go with its poll, the results show that: "In a national taste test, more hard-working Americans preferred the taste of Dunkin' Donuts over Starbucks."

The first question that springs to mind, of course, is: what criteria did they use, exactly, to find out whether these people were "hard-working"? And why do they have to be "hard-working" in order to judge coffee?

Dunkin' Donuts (Click image to watch ad)

We have to wonder if the reference is a jab at those non-hard-working, Chardonnay-sipping, brie-eating elites who would, naturally, prefer Starbucks' hoity-toity drinks over the basic, quality cup of Joe you can get at Dunkin' Donuts. That may be a good tactic for appealing to the base, but is it really going to get the undecideds?

The commercial follows a fictional white-coated researcher as she visits one fictional hard-working American after another, interrupting their job so they can try some coffee. (Sadly, no plumber is shown drinking the Joe.) All of these faux workers like Dunkin’s coffee better, of course.

We’ve been highly amused by the increasingly competitive coffee wars, which has everyone from McDonald’s to Krispy Kreme vying to give you the best caffeine buzz. We’ve also been fans of some of Dunkin’s other attempts to take on Starbucks by making fun of its drink names and highfalutin image.

But this ad falls short of the mark.

For one thing, polls commissioned by a company itself are bound to draw a little skepticism, even when, as here, the poll is conducted by independent researchers. It doesn’t help that the ad features fake researchers and taste testers, and yet doesn’t take the tack far enough with something truly offbeat or funny. We might have been more convinced by footage of real people trying the coffee.

For another, this is a story that we’ve heard before, when Consumer Reports found that tasters preferred McDonald’s coffee to Starbucks. As the political pundits would say, maybe Dunkin’ needs to find its own narrative.

Click here to watch the ad.

Author: "Allison Linn"
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