JOHN OSTRANDER: Scattershot – TV Spots
When I and Mary, my sweetie, sit around doing the couch potato thing, it’s always best to head for the commercial free stuff because it’s guaranteed that a high percentage of the commercials are going to offend her to the point of a rant. Not that the rants aren’t entertaining but I have to keep reminding her, “It isn’t supposed to make sense; it’s trying to sell something.” Or “It doesn’t work for you because you’re not the target audience.”
Generally, I try to let the commercials just wash over me without really registering them but every so often some do. On rare occasion, such as with the Mac/PC commercials, it’s because I genuinely enjoy them. More often, something sticks like tar in my mind because either a) it is incomparably stupid and/or b) my brain, warped by years of pop culture, does something with it the makers of the commercial never intended. Such as our first scattershot target.
LUNESTRA. It’s a prescription sleep aid and, in the commercial, restless people in their beds at night are visited by a luminescent green luna moths after which they close their eyes. The ad-makers, of course, want us to interpret this as Lunestra bringing gentle, natural sleep. Given the moths’ glowing green nature, however, I’ve become convinced it’s stealing their souls and that the people shown are dying. To Mary’s vast amusement (and my own) I’ve taken to screaming at the TV when these commercials come on as if it were a horror film. “LOOK OUT! IT’S STEALING YOUR SOUUUUUULLLL! FOR GOD’S SAKE – WAKE UP! OH NO! IT GOT THAT WOMAN, TOO! CAN NOTHING STOP IT?!?” Try it the next time you see the commercial; great fun.
THE CLONE OF ORVILLE REDENBACHER. When Orville Redenbacher first brought out his own line of popcorn decades ago, he also made himself the company spokesman, always telling us his popcorn was better than these others yadda yadda yadda “. . . or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.” Well, Orville was no spring chicken when this all started and eventually died. Recently, they brought back some of the old commercials and that was all right. Kind of a nice retro feel; I thought they worked nicely. That evolved, however, so that they got somebody made up to look like him with a make-up job that makes him look more like a Disney animatronic. And they use the same tag – “. . . or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.” It isn’t. We know it isn’t. This Orville has an embalmed look that makes him really creepy.
THE BURGER KING. The only creepier company spokesman on TV right now is the Burger King. You’ve seen him. Human body and an oversized plastic head that seems modeled after a young Henry VIII. The effect is like one of these licensed characters you see walking in a parade or in a theme park. Then they put him into situations that frankly make my flesh crawl. One of the commercials for BK’s breakfast line-up had a guy waking up in the morning and the Burger King was there in bed with him. The tag was “Have breakfast with the King.” The only thing I could think of was, “Dude, I don’t care how much you drank last night or how late their late night window is open, this is just wrong.” Not because the BK might be gay; it’s because he’s not human. Note to commercial makers: I don’t buy products where the commercials creep me out.
WE GOT NOTHIN’. Any time somebody tries to sell me on the ambience or the feel of something, I know they got nothin’. I expect that with fragrance ads, whether they’re for women or for men. They’re trying to sell you a feeling in the case of women; with young guys they’re selling the idea that you just dose yourself with their gook and the girls will be all over you and it doesn’t matter what you look like. Wasn’t true back when I was dating, guys, and it ain’t true now.
One commercial, for Axe body spray, was actually kind of scary. There’s a guy on a beach spraying two cans all around him and all these bikinied women come from everywhere charging for him. Happy stupid dope that he is, hejust keeps spraying and laughing. The commercial cuts away just before the women converge on him. I’ve read Euripides play, The Bacchae, about a cult of women (the Maenads) that worshipped Dionysius, the god of wine and love (enough wine and you may get some sex so it does connect). If memory serves, they kill the guy among them at the climax of the play – which is also the climax of their ritual) and tear him into bits. Including his naughty bits.
I’m convinced that’s why they’ve cut away in the commercial – the next shot would be the females, driven to orgiastic madness by the scent of Axe – are tearing Joe Schmoe apart. Probably not the image the advertisers are going for but that’s how my mind works.
The fragrance folk have to sell you with the idea of the fragrance rather than the fragrance itself because, let’s face it, there’s no qualitative difference – just personal preference. What’s disturbing is to see that now applied to cars as well. With cars I expect a little something more substantial. “Buy our car because a) it’s better built; b) gives you better mileage; c) better handling; d) safer to drive . . .” and so on. When they sell me a car based on how it good it will make me feel, what I’m hearing is, “We got nothing.”
THE GEICO GEKKO. Actually, this commercial was pretty straight forward at the beginning. They played on the similarity of the words Geiko and gekko and the critter was voiced by Kelsey Grammer. Now the critter’s got a personality transplant and his voice is British working class. The original gekko would get a little strung out by things; this one is smooth talking lounge lizard. I’m not certain why they made the change or why they think I would want to buy insurance from this smooth talking Alfie type lizard.
Absent any explanation as for the change I have, of course, invented my own. The first gekko was murdered by the second one for the residuals – that fee an actor receives every time a national ad with them prominently in it gets run. I don’t think I’m wrong about this; take a good look at him next time you see him. It’s the only logical explanation.
In a side note, as reported here at ComicMix another Geico commercial featuring modern day Neanderthals who feel they’re getting slandered by the company has been opted for a TV series. I wonder if they’ll accept State Farm commercials when/if it runs.
This, of course, is only a partial list and will soon be eclipsed as the presidential election really gets into gear. Oh, there will be plenty of commercials on then to offend you every which way no matter who you are.
I can hardly wait.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at https://web.archive.org/web/20160318163624/http://www.comicscommunity.com:80/boards/ostrander/