Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ads that Amuse, Abuse and Confuse

Every year, I feel the need, given the large investment of my time used in watching TV, to provide an annual critique of the various ads that I’ve seen. I’ve broken them down in three major categories so that this analysis can be complete. Let’s start with the bad and work our way down to the good.

Ads that Abuse

Axe- These guys are repeat offenders and they make my list every year. That’s one thing that I can say for them, is that they definitely have consistency. They are consistently, insistently, bad. Their ads mostly revolve around this idea that if men use their products, they will all of a sudden be surrounded by gorgeous women and that their clothes will magically pop off and all of them will start sending them porn star eyes or fondling them passionately. In this case, I won’t single out any particular ad; the entire campaign over the years is deeply flawed in its perception of women, its inability to be funny or clever and the general undesirable image associated with their so-called product.

BioBest Yogourt- The one ad in particular that I’m thinking about is the one with all of the office workers who work in a glass tower and whistle on their way in to work every day. No matter how magical or healthy your yogourt is, there is no way that any office workforce looks that happy going to work! I don’t know if this is the day that everyone’s bonuses slipped under the door or if they put Bailey’s in the yogourt or both, but there is no reasonable explanation for that much yogourt-inspired joy unless there’s something that the dairy farmers of Canada are not telling us.

Home Hardware- I actually don’t have problems with the ads per se, and I totally support the fact that they support special athletes and promote future hockey stars, but maybe it’s just my TV set which is dysfunctional, because these ads are LOUD. I don’t mind being told about great home products, but I always get the feeling that they’re yelling at me and I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve that kind of treatment from a local store. I also find this particularly bewildering on days when I’m watching hockey games, which is when these ads regularly roll around. The volume will be strategically set high so that I can hear the play by play, which sounds sometimes like whispers, and then all of a sudden, the commercial break will come on and Home Hardware will come blaring out at me and scare the living daylights out of me. And home products really shouldn’t be scary like that.

Tim Horton’s- As much as I support the Timbits and various charity campaigns put on through Tim Horton’s and the fact that it’s a Canadian institution which promotes a lot of our core values such as hockey, coffee and instant prize contests, I have to say that these ads both abuse and confuse. What I object to the most is the way that it represents Canadians as a bunch of harmless, goofy idiots. Maybe the use of the term idiots is a strong word, and nice-minded polite compatriots will surely object to this, but I get the distinct feeling that this goes above and beyond polite fun-poking at ourselves. What worries me is that this might be the way that people actually think we are: soft, easy-going, dopey, backwoods people who don’t know that putting hot chocolate and coffee together makes a mocha and who freak out when we find out that English muffins have made an appearance on the breakfast sandwich roster. The ads also make us look neurotic, lecturing people about the proper way to dip donuts and getting flustered about it. It also makes us look like bad comedians, doing our finest impressions of English people while talking about French onion soup, and I’m not sure how pretending to be English makes you appreciate French soup.

The second biggest offender has got to be their latest Roll up the Rim to Win ads with all the Canadian stereotypes being played out by two guys on their way to Tim’s who only get excited when one of them says eh, which is easily the least offensive Canadian stereotype shown in that ad. That confuses me completely. Does it mean that saying eh is the lamest stereotype? How can it be more lame than thinking that we all live in a cabin in the woods and toboggan to Tim’s? Maybe this joke is too sophisticated for me, eh?

The biggest offender of these various stupid ads has got to be one that they had over the Christmas period where an absent-minded worker brings his colleagues two distinct presents in the same bags and gets them confused, giving coffee to the crazy cat lady in the office and a pink cat t-shirt to the normal guy who is probably his actual friend. This ad annoyed me so much that it made me want to ban Secret Santa office parties altogether; thankfully for those who like Secret Santa, I don’t have that kind of authority.

Ads that Confuse

Dove for Men- This is the long ad that a lot of people saw over Superbowl weekend which basically fast tracks its way through a montage of an entire man’s life right up until he’s comfortable with himself, which is probably around 35-40 from the look of it. He does all the things in life that he’s supposed to do, goes to school, meets the girl, gets married, has kids and then feels good about himself. While it’s slightly offensive that this generally socially accepted pattern of life is celebrated in this fashion, it’s also really confusing. First of all, why target this particular demographic of men? My knowledge of men in this age group is that they’re generally those kinds of hard working men who don’t think much about their appearance anymore because they’re too busy chasing after children and opening pickle jars to stop and look in the mirror and think to themselves “geeze, I need to do something about my skin.”

I’m sorry, but if Dove wanted to target the right group of men, they should have gone for the 18-35 category of men who (a) care a great deal about how they look because they’re still single and want to attract a woman and (b) have more time to think about themselves and their personal hygiene because they are single and have no children to look after and (c) have more disposable income to spend on personal care products because, again, they have no children to take care of. I guess Dove thought that they should target a new niche market of men because it’s generally assumed that the image-conscious group of single good looking men are already being targeted by Axe, Gillette, Garnier and Nivea. Best of luck to them if that’s the case. I’m sure that their great marketing plans will come to fruition as their target demographic walks down the aisle at the grocery store with their 3 year old hanging off their back, a grocery list the length of their arm written by their wives in one hand, and their older child tossing chocolates into the grocery cart while they’re not looking and that this man will see the product sitting on the shelf and think “oh yeah. That’s the thing for me.” Good luck.

Dove for Women- These ads are not as bad as the ones for Men, and they’re pretty typical ads. Lots of women talk about how great the product makes them feel and how much they love it and can’t live without it. The reason why Dove makes the list twice is because of how over the top ridiculous their ads are. I’ve never seen women sing about body wash. And I can’t say that I like it.

Sentimental ads for the Stanley Cup Finals put on by the NHL- I don’t understand how a sport which is known for being aggressive and gritty is constantly represented in these sentimental ads for the Stanley Cup Finals as being some sort of poetic experience. Last year’s Is this the year? campaign featured photos of players, popping out of them to express themselves in a quiet, eloquent manner that would never make the SportsCentre reel. This year’s History Will be Made campaign is equally smarmy, with old footage of classic hockey moments being shown and rewound and asking such deep questions like what if?

Come on, people. Keep the spirit of the NHL the way that it should be kept: aggressive, tough, macho. There are some things in life that you don’t like macho and some things in life that you don’t like poetic. Beer and sports are macho. Opera and fashion are poetic. Keep them distinct and separate. Yes, hockey has its moments of euphoria, poetry, beauty, sorrow. But the spirit of the Stanley Cup is one of intense competition, pride, team spirit, identity, perseverance and fight. Keep the ads that way too.

Ads that Amuse

Keystone Light- This is completely immature, but this ad is just laugh-out loud funny. I love the fact that the old man in the walker calls his grandson Nancy and goads him along when asking for a beer from the cooler. And I love that it conks him right dead centre in the head and he screams. It kind of looks like some awful thing that you would see in America’s Funniest Home Videos, you know, like man getting hit in groin by football, but this makes me laugh every time that I see it. And we can all use a good laugh here and there.

Roger’s Hi-Def- I love the fact that the man in this commercial is not the woman’s husband, that he’s just a couch surfer who hangs out in his friend’s basement watching their TV. It kind of shows how powerful our TV addiction can be and how great it can be at the same time. It’s not the most clever ad I’ve seen, but it’s one of the better ones that Roger’s has put on.

Molson Canadian- What Tim Horton’s can’t do, this company gets right. Their beer is actually pretty poor in taste, but their ads are spot on. The long version of their Big Backyard ad is very well done because it manages to instil a fierce sense of pride that doesn’t come at the expense of some other nation. It’s also great because it’s about us and not what people seem to think of us. Sure, not all of us live somewhere we can play pond hockey or wander the mountains or jump off docks into lakes. But it embodies some of the best things about Canada and a lot of it has to do with nature, both the nature that surrounds us, and the nature within us that makes us happy to be a part of it. As Canadians, we’re not all outdoor types, but the outdoors has a big impact on our day-to-day lives and can’t be ignored as a part of what shapes us.

Purina Cat Chow- The Get More Cat Love ads make me laugh because a lot of pet owners really do love their pets that much. And that cat is just gorgeous. I’m not a fan of cats myself, but that is one gorgeous feline in those ads and who can resist that deep purring and those tender nose kisses? It’s easy to sucker people into ads with adorable animals, but this one is funny because it’s so over the top and the looks on the faces of the worried friends is equally amusing.

MasterCard Pay Pass- I have to say that the MasterCard people have some great advertisers because their initial “Some things in life are free, for everything else, there’s MasterCard” campaign was just brilliant. Their latest Pay Pass ads emphasize that notion with the fact that it’s a serious time-saver to use the Pay Pass. Who doesn’t want time on their side? And who doesn’t want to buy things faster? And who doesn’t want to buy more things in general? Maybe it feeds into our super fast-paced lifestyle and our growing dependence on credit, but it just looks so damn convenient. And how happy does that guy going on the home date look? Picking up the toothbrush, the dinner, the wine…by the end of the commercial, you want to BE that guy because he looks so damn happy. I just wonder why he put his laundry on the kitchen table and then straight into the dishwasher? Oh well. He’s smart enough to use PayPass, that’s all that matters, eh?

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