There are a lot of annoying ad campaigns out there we all like to complain about. Some people go into a Hulk-like rage whenever they hear the Five Dollar Footlong song, or want to apply a chair directly to the forehead of whoever came up with the Head On commercials.
But at least it's clear what they're trying to do -- get the slogan in your head so next time you are really hungry for a sandwich and only have five dollars, perhaps you will think of them. A lot of other advertisers don't even seem to have that level of sense when they make their ads, leaving us scratching our heads wondering how their commercials were even supposed to work.
Here's a few common types of bewildering commercials:
#6. Gross-Out Food Commercials
Everybody knows that one way to make your product look great is to make your competitor's product look shitty, like when Verizon put out those ads showing their fat, healthy coverage map compared to AT&T's sad little lonely dots.
That sort of thing makes sense for most products, so Subway reasoned it would work when it came to food. They put out an ad starring a fictional fast food joint called "Burger Town," showing gratuitous close-ups of its nasty greasy kitchen and the grease being pumped into a truck out back.
Then they have the smarmy manager really rub it in that some poor schlub (it could be you!) is putting all this into his mouth.
Only then -- after the average viewer has been put into a general mood of disgust and loss of appetite -- only then do they bring up their own product, saying thank God that Subway sandwiches are free of all that grease! You should eat them! Yeah, a little late.
You see, food doesn't work like any other product. Appetite is a primal response, not a logical one. Actual hormones and chemicals and shit start flowing when your appetite is stimulated, or in this case, strongly turned off. The gross-out grease imagery goes past your brain and starts putting your stomach in a "I'm not hungry" mood. And that's when they show you their product.
This recent Wendy's ad isn't so appetite-inducing either:
And while they're not advertising food, Febreze commercials run into the same problem trying to sell something that supposedly appeals to your senses (smell, specifically) while visually only showing you appetite-quashing filth.
TV commercials (in the present, anyway) are only an audio and visual medium, so you can't smell the sweet Febreze they're trying to sell you, only see the awful kitchen and cringe at the girl almost touching the rotting meat with her nose. Sure, there's the logical message they're trying to get across: "If Febreze can cover up a smell this bad, it must be quite powerful!" But for a lot of viewers, that message is going to be overpowered by "SHE'S STICKING HER FACE INTO THAT! OH GOD! GET AWAY!"
#5. Creepy Commercials That Lost Track of the Point
Along similar, but slightly different lines, are the creepy high-concept commercials. For a recent Toyota Prius commercial, the advertising agency came up with a concept that "this one person is made up of all these people. When you see the Priuses available, that metaphor starts to unravel -- from one person to many, from one Prius to many."
Wow, that sounds pretty deep. I wonder how it comes out visually. How will they symbolize the ...
Sorry about that, I think my soul escaped temporarily. Anyway, I wonder how they made that. Some kind of CG, I'm sure, they didn't make actual people get together into those awkward pos-
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH WHERE IS THE HEAD OF THE GUY ON TOP?
All right, anyway, you get the point. I don't know why this would sell Priuses. Maybe when you want to get across a complex statement like, "From one person to many, from one Prius to many," you should just have someone say it, because I'm not sure nine out of 10 viewers would be able to gather that from a creepy alchemical amalgamation of souls getting up in the morning, getting ready for work and then suddenly breaking up into its individual components and getting into Priuses.
If you enjoy horror, you might also enjoy this commercial for a King Kong ride, where a child begins screaming at a King Kong ride and continues to scream as he ages into an old man through the power of CG. I don't even think you need pictures to see why that would be creepy, but here anyway:
The slogan is "The intensity lasts a lifetime," which sounds good as a phrase, but when put into pictures, becomes a disturbing reminder of our mortality. I'm sure they're trying to evoke the excitement and wonder of the ride lasting the kid through all the years of his long and fulfilling life, but the vibe that's actually coming across is that the kid drank from the wrong Grail. I mean, he ages into a wrinkled, frail old man, and then the screen goes to black. What kind of association do you expect people to make there? Maybe we should just be glad they didn't show him crumbling into dust.
And of course, one of the classic ads that was trying to get some attention and challenge people's sensibilities or whatever, but only ended up giving them nightmares or making them scratch their heads, was Sony's creepy baby doll commercial.
Its face spazzes out and then it levitates a PlayStation 3. This led to the PS3's long-standing reputation for being more easily possessed by ghosts than other consoles, which crippled its sales for many years.
#4. The Audience Representative Is the Stupidest Person Alive
Many commercials try to include a character that represents you, the viewer. They usually try to make this person somewhat intelligent and likable, because it's you, the person they're trying to talk into buying their stuff. This character usually ends up using their product and enjoying it, and if they did a good job painting that character as someone you could be, you will go, "That's me! I can see myself using that product and enjoying it!"
So I'm not sure what these McDonald's commercials are trying to do. They're pointing out how smart you, the customer, will be for saving money on the dollar menu, yet they're comparing this level of intelligence to spending 10 seconds of awkward silence figuring out a pet name for your girlfriend and finally coming up with "sweet-tea" and then "sweetie".
Man, only Einstein could come up with something like "honey" or "baby" quicker than that.
Or holding up this moron as a smart dollar menu shopper, when he spends the better part of 20 seconds trying to figure out the right answer to "My sister's new boyfriend told her Sundays are just for watching football. Believe that?" Whenever someone says, "Believe that?" and looks angry, obviously the answer is no. Is he really spending 20 seconds considering whether "I also believe Sundays are only for watching football" would be an acceptable answer?
Sure, maybe someone would take that long to debate whether to be honest or whether to lie, but this isn't painted as a moral decision. The commercial lays it on pretty thick that coming up with the right answer is about showing how smart he is. Like he basically doesn't even know what the right thing to say is up until the end, and that he is proud for solving this complex puzzle.
Why would you show the audience this nincompoop and imply that they can be just as smart as him if they shop the dollar menu?
Or take the 5 Hour Energy commercials. They're basically telling you that you need their product because you are too stupid and/or lazy to make coffee, or buy coffee, or put sugar in it, or carry it.
I'm not making a joke, the ad actually talks about carrying coffee as a hassle you can't be expected to handle.
If these commercials work, it's in spite of their concept. "That guy sure is an idiot," you might think. "But wait, the ad said something about tiny burritos and sweet teas for a dollar. That's not bad." But I'd venture to say they would work better if the guy wasn't an idiot, and if that wasn't the first thing your potential customer took away from that ad.