With the advent of DVR, TiVo and a pile of other electrical boxes that allow people to control time through their televisions, advertisers have lost their grip on the attention span of American culture. Network TV alone lost over 2.5 million viewers since last year, and while audiences have proven that they're willing to watch shows on their own schedules, they are completely unwilling to watch the filler in between. Commercials aren't just shouting into empty living rooms anymore, they're shouting into nothingness. And that's sad.
"Driver on a closed course, do not attempt."
Like a fragile grandparent from a generation of rabbit ears and tube televisions, the ad spot is dying. And just like that grandparent, it's going insane first. It's hard to tell which national commercial campaigns today are blind stabs for relevance and which are just white flags of surrender, but they all sound and look a lot like desperation. The following six in particular are so convoluted and removed from the product they're pitching that it's hard to believe any company thought it would be a good idea to release them. Then again, when you consider that advertisers are more or less playing to an empty house, it makes sense that they're willing to dick around a little.
Esurance -- Erin the Insurance Agent
Since around 2007, Esurance has produced over 30 commercials about a sexy, pink-haired animated secret agent named Erin who talks about automotive coverage plans while playing sports and fucking up robots. Seriously. It's like their entire campaign is based on stolen pages of loose leaf from the back of a 13-year-old boy's Trapper Keeper, except the female character has clothes.
The premise is so unapologetically divorced from car insurance that if you don't make an active effort to hear what Erin is saying, the ad could just as well be for hockey equipment, or robots, or a lady that's for sale.
Additionally, for a commercial campaign that abandons the product in favor of fast-paced athletic sequences, the creators demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of popular sports. What's worse, they are dangerously cavalier about safety precautions in each sport, which seems counter-intuitive for an insurance company. In the hockey ad, Erin is playing goalie against an entire team of deadly machines, and at 0:13, she takes her helmet off in the middle of the game. Any goalie -- even those who've never faced robot opponents --, will tell you that's just reckless.
Metro PCS -- Tech & Talk
Since commercials have been losing their audience so rapidly, some advertisers are taking the opportunity to experiment within the medium by producing ads that are deliberately disjointed, exploratory and absurd for the sake of absurdity. Without the promise of profit anymore, this surrealist renaissance is the closest commercials have ever come to a true art form. Or, it would be if companies like Metro PCS didn't misunderstand the whole movement and insist on pumping out garbage because it seemed like that's what everyone else was doing. The Tech & Talk campaign is the most patronizing and out-of-touch approach to hawking merchandise since the infomercial. Because it would take forever to explain exactly what's wrong with each one of these ads, I'll only dissect one, beat by excruciating beat.
I'm willing to overlook the fact that the campaign revolves around two Indian caricatures because I'm not entirely sure that whoever created these commercials knows the difference between being Indian and just being foreign. I suspect that "funny accents" was the only governing principle in the creation process.
"Ha. Yes. Let's name one of them Chad."
The truly offensive part of this commercial is that someone actually thought that accents, silly costumes and a fake mustache counted as a solid premise. As far as I understand it, the flimsy plot of this commercial is that the stereotype on the left sends the stereotype on the right to test out his phone all over the U.S. and then slowly realizes through the presentation that he sincerely hates slide shows.
"But Soren," you may say, because you've already got the world figured out and because you think I'm interested in your asinine opinions, "he's mad because the stereotype on the right only went to awesome cities and states known for their party scenes, plus he wasted company money on frivolous trips and costumes." To which I say: Philadelphia. What about Philadelphia? Who's going to Philadelphia for fun? That city doesn't appear until stereotype on the left starts getting mad so it should logically be just a little more infuriating than the slide before it, which is Florida ... where he's holding a goddamn alligator. Trust me, he hates slide shows. It's either that or this commercial makes absolutely no sense at all.
Subway -- Child Labor
I almost feel sorry for Subway. They relied on Jared to pitch their sandwiches for so long that without him, they are a ship adrift -- like someone coming out of a long-term relationship and struggling to learn how to interact with humanity again. Subway's current campaign is as embarrassing to watch as a newly-single friend who is trying and failing to flirt with strangers the only way he/she remembers how: with baby talk.
The premise of the campaign is simple: One man in an office has a Subway sandwich and his coworkers want it, but the twist is that they all have the voices of elementary school students.
The coworkers try to coax the man with the sandwich out of his office by threatening to withhold staplers, calculators and other objects that became obsolete in office jobs over a decade ago, and surprise, he refuses. Aside from the child voices, the idea behind the campaign is inherently flawed: These are functioning adults, with jobs, completely capable of getting their own sandwiches. With children, I can sympathize with their envy because they don't have the means of getting to a Subway or paying for a sandwich, but these people can drive cars. They can go to a Subway in another state if they want to.
In order for this campaign to work, the adults would have to be similarly powerless, which is why I'd like to suggest to Subway for their next commercial in the series to make all the characters homeless, or in prison, or bed ridden in hospitals. Then I could probably commiserate with their jealousy over a five-dollar sandwich.