5 Completely Unhinged Local Commercials
When a big, overpaid ad agency has to come up with an advertising campaign that will lodge itself in the brain of consumers like a tamping iron in Phineas Gage’s frontal lobe, they have tools they turn to — giant production budgets, A-list celebrities, shameless emotional manipulation. When you’re a small local business, however, you might not have the liquid funds for the first two, or the professionally rewarded psychopathic tendencies for the third.
But what you can do with a remarkably low budget is be memorable. The same way a violent fistfight at a Taco Bell is unlikely to leave any witnesses’ memory, if you can send a potential customer’s brain into panic mode, you can sear your phone number in there forever. Some people like to make fun of crazy local business commercials, but I deeply respect them. Do you know the marketing budget that would usually be burned to have people in coastal cities talking about discount furniture from Missoula? Some Super Bowl commercials can’t even pull off national awareness, and these salt-of-the-earth heroes achieved it just by being deeply weird.
Here are five incredible, unhinged local commercials.
The Texas Hammer
Local lawyers are leaders in the world of wild commercials, and it makes sense why. If you’re looking to make your money off of slip-and-falls and the like, it’s a business of opportunity. Your name being the first to pop into the mind of someone who just got clipped by a city bus or popped a hip on public library steps is your bread and butter.
To plant a flag in people’s mental space, plenty of lawyers end up on local TV with an identity more suited to an unwell vigilante than a member of the bar association. Texas attorney Jim Adler not only understood the assignment, but passed the final exam with flying colors. A man calling himself the “Texas Hammer” would be memorable enough, but adding a PERSONALIZED, ENGRAVED sledgehammer into the equation? It would take cranial surgery to remove that.
Another stalwart in the world of weird local media is the “crazy” business proprietor. Luckily for us, the mental illness in these situations is almost always related to their pricing, and not things like chopping up drifters. “THE BAD NEWS: I’ve got voices in my head! THE GOOD NEWS: They’re telling me to slash prices!”
A/V equipment slinger Crazy Gideon executes the formula to a T. Extra impressive, given that the eponymous Crazy Gideon’s is located in Los Angeles, a town that loves slick production values. Through wanton destruction of inventory and disjointed, alarmingly brief screams, he urges us to visit posthaste and reap the rewards of his sales-friendly brain chemistry. To be fair, a microwave for $49 is, indeed, crazy, though some of that might be due to inflation.
Sexual undertones in advertising are unavoidable. In most cases, however, they’re intended. A strange advertisement for Rug-It Riders, which already sounds like a condom brand you’d buy out of a wall-mounted dispenser, is suffused with sexual tension that I can’t imagine they were looking to send out.
Especially for a business in Florida during the closed-minded 1990s when the culture was positively dripping with gay panic, it’s surprising no one refused to do this ad. “Two shirtless cowboys in leather vests, pawing at each other in the lake” is the sort of idea that would get you shoved in a locker with unsavory language to match. But either out of bravery, a modern mindset or pure myopia, we were blessed with these two cowfellas selling rugs in a scene that seems plucked from the dreams of a closeted Republican congressman.
Ask for the Wolfman
Being worthy enough to be bestowed a nickname immediately makes you a more memorable person. Whether you like the nickname or not is entirely irrelevant. Trying to get rid of a nickname is like trying to pluck a tick off your scalp with your bare hands: any attempt to remove it just forces it to burrow deeper. The only real option you have is to lean into it and hope you’re able to calm the wild stallion that is your new nom de plume.
Case in point: People start calling you the Wolfman. Could you hurry home and shave yourself slick from tip to tail in an attempt to shrug the mantle? Sure you could. But you can also look in the mirror and acknowledge that, goddamn you do look like the Wolfman, and use that to sell furniture. I don’t need any furniture, since I live in a studio apartment that doesn’t push two dozen feet in any direction, but I’ll buy a new nightstand just for the opportunity to walk into a store and “ask for the Wolfman.” When else is looking at coffee tables going to feel like you’re about to meet with Papa Midnite?
Paisano’s Tiny Ryan Kerrigan
Time to take this article home, and I mean that literally. I simply can’t pass up this opportunity to infect the brains of every reader here with the thought tadpole that’s been nestling in my gray matter ever since I was exposed to it as a child in Washington, D.C.: the tiny Ryan Kerrigan Paisano’s commercial. The iconic Eastern Motors jingles might be more well-known, but they pale in pure “what’s happening here” energy.
The basics seem like an instant win: a local DMV pizza chain acquiring the talents of Ryan Kerrigan, Washington You-Know-Whats defensive end and fan-favorite bright spot of a deeply horrible football team. How this got to “what if he was really small, like as big as a mouse, and he was living on the dining room table of a random family” is something I would love an oral history of. I need the Watergate guys tracking down witness testimony on this strange little clip, stat.
Of course, a short commercial doesn’t have the airtime to pack in extended lore, but still, there is just so much unexplained here. Why is Ryan Kerrigan so small? Completely unexplained. In this world, Ryan Kerrigan apparently still is one of the NFL’s top defensive ends, but is also six inches tall. No one thinks this is weird, as the young son immediately confirms his mother’s query, of “Hey, is that Ryan Kerrigan?” with a casual and immediate “Yeah. What’s up?”
It also suggests that Ryan Kerrigan has never been in this house before, at any size. He asks for a slice of pizza which, at that size, would either kill him or feed him for a year. The father slowly slides him a plate as the son demands something in return — like a bored, powerful god, he demands Tiny Ryan Kerrigan do his “tackle celebration” for him. They cheer as he does his signature Heartbreak Kid lunge, screaming “PAISANO’S” to the heavens in a way that suggests they are the ones who imprisoned him.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.