6 Obnoxious Ads That Don't Even Try to Sell Their Products
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:
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!"
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.
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.
Stupid or Made-Up Suggested Uses For the Product
Most commercials to give you some idea of what you can do with their product. The Sham-Wow can soak up spills! Comcast can get you more channels than DirecTV! DirecTV can get you more channels than Comcast! The Citi Kitty can teach your cat to use a toilet!
Some commercials however, inexplicably suggest things you can't actually do with their product, or wouldn't do, or both. Like this Nissan commercial, where a Nissan pickup drives onto the runway as a disabled jet attempts to land, and takes the place of its front wheel.
They actually put the fake "news report" on YouTube, with fake interviews and everything, and got a ton of comments arguing about whether it was fake or not, despite the "Fictionalization. Do not attempt." warning right in the video.
Another thing the Nissan Frontier can't actually do that they're using as a selling point for what it can do is push a dune buggy up a hill when the dune buggy gets stuck.
"Are you showing me something the car can't actually do? Sold!"
Probably the worst commercials in this category are the State Farm "genie" style commercials, which at least started out making a modicum of sense, where drivers would get their car stolen or damaged and sing the State Farm jingle, thereby summoning a State Farm agent to take care of their car claim. They would then make more wishes for silly things, like replacement bodies for their significant others, which the State Farm agent tries to ignore while continuing to do their job processing the claim.
However, recent commercials have forgotten the whole original point of getting an agent to quickly take care of your auto claim, and just make them general genies. In this commercial two guys in danger summon a State Farm agent to spirit them away to safety, which I'm pretty sure is neither a service State Farm provides, nor something people are even looking for in auto insurance.
I know when I compare insurers, I always check out their teleportation policies.
And for product features that actually have useful applications, advertisers sure have a way of ignoring all those and coming up with some function nobody would ever use it for. Like having a smartphone where you can talk and surf at the same time. There's a ton of ways a regular person might want to put that to use, none of them being calling trivia contests from home and looking up the answers.
What, she never won a home computer?
And sure, maybe if your wife calls you and you realize you've forgotten its your anniversary, you might want to look up something quickly on the sly, like which anniversary it is ("12 years together, isn't it wonderful, darling?"), but I don't see what good it's going to do to google "fine dining" and then immediately have to hit the road in your car. Is he going to actually find the specific restaurant and make the reservation while driving?
I don't know if it's a good idea to have talk-and-surf commercials made by people who have obviously never needed to talk and surf on their phones in their lives.
What IS the Purpose Of This Product?
Just as bad as giving you a fictional use or worthless use for the product is giving you no apparent use at all. Say what you will about eHarmony, at least their commercials are to the point. "Look at this happy couple that is so perfectly matched! We will perfectly match you too!" True or not, at least they know what point they're trying to make, as opposed to, say, Zoosk.
Zoosk ran this bizarre commercial about a woman looking up men on Zoosk, and suggesting she could go for some "serious romance" with one prospect. She then imagines their evening together, which apparently involves them wanting to have sex and being too clumsy to do so. She then decides on "just a movie date."
Unintentional headbutting, a common dating problem I guess.
This raises a number of questions. Why does she assume that getting heavily involved with the guy will lead to clumsy collisions and injuries? How does Zoosk help her avoid those problems? Does it tell you who is clumsy or not? Or let's just assume she wants to avoid serious romance for whatever reason and only go on a casual movie date. Zoosk is the only method that allows you to do this? You can't message people on any other dating service and specify what kind of date you want to go on, it just automatically betrothes you?
In another Zoosk ad, one girl talks about a disastrous experience where her friend set her up with an "athletic type" who turned out to be a delusional dart-thrower.
Wannabe dart champions, a common type in the dating world.
She concludes she should stick with Zoosk instead. Why? Isn't she more likely to run into people with inflated self-descriptions that she can't check on a dating site? At least with a friend setting her up, she could have had the friend's opinion in addition to the guy's description of himself. It's somehow better to just rely on the guy's own description?
In both cases they do a good job of setting up a terrible scenario, but don't do anything to explain what Zoosk would do to help them avoid that scenario. It's like an Apple ad saying, "It sure is terrible, isn't it, when your house burns to the ground? Buy a Mac."
Have No Idea Who the Audience Is
For this category, I'm going to call out the much-reviled Lexus December to Remember commercials, where some rich asshole surprises their rich asshole significant other with a Lexus for Christmas, while most of us are trying to figure out how to keep our houses.
They also live in a world where apparently everyone recognizes the Lexus Christmas jingle.
What's puzzling is that these ads don't apply to anybody. Obviously the 99 percent can't go around buying a car on a whim. But the people that are so rich they can afford to buy a car on a whim? They're not buying Lexuses for their whims. They're buying Ferraris and Rolls Royces and Land Rovers, and if they're trendy, Teslas and whatever the hot new environmental car is.
Leonardo Di Caprio drives the $100,000 Fisker Karma hybrid because he is way above Lexuses.
And it's not just a matter of money. Car buying is an extremely personalized decision, picking colors, seat materials, wheels, options, etc., even if you know exactly what model they want. Surprising someone with a car is like surprising someone with a tattoo. It's not likely to turn out well.
But these commercials aren't for the rich people that can buy a Lexus with whatever is in their wallet on any given day. These commercials are for upper middle class people who can just barely afford a Lexus, but want to believe they are on par with those rich people that can afford to buy cars as Christmas presents. The actual buyers they are targeting will be buying Lexuses for themselves. The whole present-buying story is just a fantasy to show them the kind of high-class company they'll be in if they buy a Lexus.
But catching up to the Joneses, especially imaginary Joneses, is a surefire way to end up in debt of the kind that's screwed up our country, so if anyone's tempted by that Lexus ad, think twice. Use Zoosk instead.
Or wish for a Lexus from your State Farm agent.
Check out more from Christina in The 7 Most Condescending Sports Euphemisms and 6 Things Everyone Wants To Share And Nobody Wants To Read.