I pay attention to the ads on TV. Not because I’m doing research about the products, either. Matter of fact, I’ve crossed some products off my possible purchase lists because the ads are dumb. If my doctor ever prescribes a medication that has an ad that warns: “Don’t use this if you’re allergic to it,” I’ll demand a different pill. Ever wonder why that’s included in ads? Got to be a liability issue.
But the reason I like to watch ads is that I’m looking for the little nuggets, the catchy phrases designed to catch our ears, the trademark elements designed to be eye-catching, the theme music designed to generate nostalgia…. Ad agencies are always coming up with new ideas to get our attention. How they do it fascinates me.
Some of the ads I like best are for products I don’t use. The Budweiser ads that debut at the Super Bowl are wonderful. The Clydesdales are majestic and classy. See how their characteristics suggest that the beer has similar qualities?
There was a McDonald’s ad where a guy shared a McNugget with his dog. The dog just sat there with the McNugget sticking out of his mouth. He held it ’til the guy reached out with a cup of dipping sauce. The dog dipped the McNugget then ate it. I think they were telling me that the product isn’t just a piece of chicken, it’s a tasty experience worth waiting for.
There’s an ad, I can’t remember what for, where a woman is interviewing for a job. Most of her education and success has come from the school of hard knocks, hard work, and resourcefulness. The boss says something like: “You’re not the typical candidate, but you’re exactly what I’m looking for.” He reaches out to shake her hand and she disappears. The expression on his face is heartbreaking. The suggestion is that there are great employees under the radar. I guess the ad is for a service that can help you find them.
One really strange ad promotes Georgia as a tourist destination. There’s a picture of peach and three or four notes of music. That’s it. Just a couple seconds of exposure. Seems flimsy, doesn’t it? But I remember it, don’t I?
But in addition to these memorable ads that I like, there are some that drive me crazy. The one that inspired this column shows a couple of women chatting and one says that her little brother is getting a hand-me-down family car as a “right of passage.” Mom, Dad, and a sixteen-year-old are in the driveway and one of the parents is covering the kid’s eyes. “SURPRISE!” they yell, and they show him the car. And get this, the ungrateful little twerp says: “NO!” then mumbles a bunch of unintelligible negative remarks. (I think they picked the most mush-mouth kid they could find so we’d listen again and again to try to figure out what he’s saying. That’s precisely the kind of thing that interests me, gimmicks like that.) But the reason I hate the ad is that this bozo is bad-mouthing my dream car!
The car in the ad has been disguised a little but it sure looks like a Buick Roadmaster, 1992 or so vintage. A big, beautiful, station wagon, fake wood trim and all! What boyhood memories and desires that beauty conjures up. You see, when I grew up, my pal was a couple of years younger than I. His Dad always had a huge station wagon, usually a Chrysler. I think when he traded cars before he left the dealer’s lot, he’d fold down the back seat and transfer his fishing gear from the old wagon to the new one. I envision the dealer opening the seat on the old vehicle and finding it to be pristine, literally unused. When I was old enough to drive, my pal’s Mom trusted me to drive her son around and his Dad trusted me with his wagon and gear. A couple of years later, when my pal could drive too, we took the majestic wagon all the way to Michigan for the fall salmon run.
To think the kid in the ad would turn up his nose at the spectacular vehicle fries my shorts. He even says something about not being able to get a date with that car. So what? Forget about a date. Get a fishing buddy, for cripes’ sake! Fold down the rear seat, load it with gear! Have an adventure! I really hate that ad. But I remembered it, didn’t I? Note, though that I don’t remember what they’re selling. Nice try, Madison Avenue.
Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.