Monday, February 8, 2010
One of the great unanswered questions of our time is one that I don’t think anyone really thinks to ask. I’ve found myself asking it a lot lately, though. Why in the world do companies like McDonald’s, Coke, and Budweiser still find it necessary to advertise? Seriously. Why bother? I can get advertising a new product. But I want to know who is not aware of the existence of some of these huge consumer giants. I want to meet the guy who walks in to a convenience store and says, “Coca-Cola? Never heard of it.” I ask because as I write this it’s less than an hour after that orgy of advertising known as the Super Bowl. It’s the last remaining time when people actually watch commercials.* It can still be an effective time to advertise. Hyundai has done an phenomenal job of advertising during the Super Bowl the last two years. Last year marked the introduction of the Genesis, which was Hyundai’s announcement to the world that it had officially arrived. This year it marketed the hell out of the new Sonata.** Considering that Hyundai has clawed its way from a company that makes cars no one respects to one of the best car companies in the world over the last ten years announcing the next generation of products on the world’s biggest advertising platform is a fantastic strategic plan. I can’t say the same for, say, Budweiser. As much as I enjoy the Clydesdales, I can’t really say that they serve a purpose in terms of awareness. We all know Budweiser exists. We don’t need to be reminded. I imagine that if they didn’t advertise in the Super Bowl no one would walk in to their local bar next week and say, “Bud Light? Never heard of it.” In fact, not advertising might well help. Pepsi took that route and all last week the internet was abuzz with the news that Pepsi wasn’t buying ad space. They’d decided instead to use social networking and have the interwebz choose money that Pepsi wasn’t spending at the Super Bowl to engage in philanthropic activities. I thought it was brilliant. It created buzz, positioned Pepsi as a socially responsible company, and actively encouraged their customers to think of them as turning the money spent on that bottle of Diet Pepsi Max in to something to make the world a better place. And they got free advertising about the fact that they weren’t advertising out of the deal. If I were a cynic I’d say Pepsi was playing us like Charlie Daniels’ fiddle. Oh, wait, I am a cynic. Pepsi played us like a fucking fiddle. There were two commercials that really didn’t make a damn bit of sense to me, though. First, for the last couple years Doritos has allowed outside people to compete to write commercials that Doritos then airs during the Super Bowl. This year a church won one of the ad spots. Their goal was to raise awareness for…wait for it…church. No, really. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. A church competed to get ad space in the Super Bowl so that the country would say, “Gee, maybe I should go to this church thing next week and see what it’s all about.” The best thing about it is that if you didn’t know the back story to the commercial itself you would never have known that’s what was going on. It just looked like any other clever commercial. I mean, the thing took place at a fake funeral, so it’s not like it was, “Come to church on Sunday. Jesus would totally hang out and eat Doritos if he was there.” Considering the vast number of commercials that take place in weddings and funerals and the tendency to place weddings and funerals in churches, I don’t see how the spot would actually raise awareness of going to church. Then, of course, there’s the big, controversial ad. Tim Tebow. Anti-abortion advocacy. It had the internet up in arms. Now, I get that the problem wasn’t the position of the ad itself. The problem was that CBS aired that ad but didn’t air an ad for a gay dating website and all the while claimed that it had problems with contentious advocacy ads. It’s a double standard by any stretch of the imagination. Of course the irony is that the ad CBS did air was pretty much one of the most useless commercials I can imagine. The wording was so bland that it couldn’t have been considered advocacy for much of anything beyond motherhood itself. I mean, if you didn’t know the central drive it would have come off as, “If you have a child he could grow up to be Tim Tebow. But make sure to keep an eye on him, because if he gets hit by a car he probably won’t.” I think Donovan McNabb’s mother took a more controversial stance when she tried to tell us that the proper way to raise a son involved Campbell’s Chunky Soup.*** I would hazard a guess that there isn’t a single person on the planet who is old enough to know what abortion is and doesn’t know what the Religious Right’s position on abortion is. And if there is someone out there who doesn’t that person isn’t going to be swayed by an ad in the Super Bowl starring Tim Tebow because that person has been in a hospital in a persistent vegetative state since 1972. Meanwhile, that’s not the most egregious example of pointless awareness raising in my world. I was driving down 635 yesterday when I noticed one of the I Am Second billboards for the first time. It’s this stupid thing that some Christian groups in Dallas are doing where they find famous Metroplex people like Dirk Nowitzki and have them say things like, “I’m the best at what I do, but I’m still not as good as Jesus,” on video. Then they advertise their website on billboards, so you I can go learn about his Jesus fella that all the coll kids apparently give a shit about and I otherwise would never have noticed, since it’s not like Western civilization isn’t built on a book partially based on his life. I read an article on the ad campaign right before I moved. And at about the same time I learned that the upcoming implosion of the old Cowboys’ Stadium is being sponsored by Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Talk about finding new and interesting ways to raze awareness. Oh, that was horrible. I really don’t feel good about the fact that I made that pun. Anyway, in the article on the ever so pointless awareness raising campaign I actually read the words, “We want to make sure that Jesus is as famous in Dallas as Tony Romo.” That’s like saying I want to make sure my laptop is at least as good as a Tandy 1000. I want to make sure my Chevy Cavalier is as good as walking. I want to make sure my Friday night entertainment is at least as much fun as a swift kick in the nuts. Who doesn’t know who Jesus is? Is there any human being who is driving around Dallas seeing the churches every twenty feet and thinking, “Geez. I wonder what those things are?” I’ve made up my mind about Coke, McDonald’s, and Bud Light. I’ve sure as hell made up my mind about Jesus and it’s not because I’ve never heard of the guy. I don’t understand why people are wasting their time and money to make me aware of these things. Actually, I do get it about the whole Jesus thing. If you have a mentality that if people really knew about Jesus then they’d naturally accept Jesus as the end-all-be-all and that would be that then the very existence of people who disagree makes the world a strange and frightening place. So since I exist that means that I’ve either never heard of this Jesus guy or I’m in active rebellion against him. And it’s much easier to pretend that I’m just misinformed than to have to understand how to engage my disbelief. My disbelief is scary. It also requires more effort. I mean, if I’ve never been to McDonald’s you can tell me it’s the best ever. If I tell you that I hate everything on the McDonald’s menu and I’d rather go to Burger King you’ve got to sell me on McDonald’s. If I don’t know what beer is I might not know that Bud Light tastes like watered-down piss. So we have to ask the question: what’s really the purpose of the ads that seem to be a giant waste of time and money? Do they seek converts to their product, or do they just seek to reinforce the brand message for their current customers? By plastering Tim Tebow on the Super Bowl is Focus on the Family trying to turn me pro-life or are they trying to prove to the Religious Right that they’re really doing something to win the fight? And, on a deeper level, do those questions even matter? We live in a world where sound bytes rule and people pick and choose the data that reinforces their notions of truth and value regardless of its completeness or proximity to reality. Our news often drops to a “he said, she said” format that tries to make sure both sides are heard even if one side is every human being saying, “The sky is blue,” while the other side is a guy who’s never been outside of a windowless room screaming that the sky is beige with pink racing stripes. During the Super Bowl my awareness of Doritos, Coke, Bud Light, GoDaddy, and Tim Tebow**** was raised. My opinion of Doritos, Coke, Bud Light, and Tim Tebow did not change, although I now hate GoDaddy slightly more than I did before (their entire business plan is based on large-scale cock-teasing and sensationalism. And I totally don’t get the Danica Patrick appeal, so, yeah, basically, being reminded of GoDaddy only serves to remind me that GoDaddy sucks). It all seems like a pointless exercise to me. I hope I’m not alone in this. ------------------------------ *True story. I was clearing some stuff off my DVR before the game came on. I switched to live TV and when the first commercial came on I hit the skip button. When the TV didn’t skip forward I got mad until I thought, “Oh, wait, it’s the Super Bowl. The commercials are usually worth watching.” Also, I was watching the Super Bowl alone in my apartment because I’m a loser. **As someone who is seriously considering purchasing a new Sonata in the next month and a half I’m deeply ambivalent about this. The new Sonata is better than the old in all ways technological. It’s also significantly uglier in my book. I get that the old Sonata is a bit pedestrian in appearance, but I’m not a fan of the current trend in cars to put a giant, chrome grille on the front of the car and call it a good design choice. Also, the tendency to sweep upward from the grille to the back of the trunk is a terrible idea. That screams, “Low visibility and giant blind spots!” to me. As far as I’m concerned the best feature of my 2004 Cavalier is the fact that I have fantastic 360 degree visibility. The bottom of the rear window is roughly at the same level as the bottom of the windshield which means that I can look back and actually see what’s in my blind spot. The old Sonatas are from the same era of design and conform to roughly the same standards. And, really, if we’re talking strictly in terms of ability to see what’s coming the best sedans of all times were the first generation Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable. They had windows where most cars have the rear pillars. That’s brilliant design in my view. Long story short: I’ll buy a 2010 Sonata long before I buy a 2011 Sonata. And the $2500 “we’re trying to get these things off our lots” rebate only sweetens the deal. ***Yes. I remembered that. That’s some effective advertising. Unless it turns out that I was supposed to buy Progresso or Hungry Man frozen dinners or something. ****The product in the case of the Tim Tebow Focus on the Family commercial was, in fact, Tim Tebow. They were essentially selling him as the product you get if you purchase not getting an abortion. Because every child that’s aborted could have gone on to be a star quarterback. You’ll never see a Focus on the Family commercial where they bring out a would-be father whose wife died bringing a child with severe complications to term. You’ll never see a commercial with a hardened criminal who was left to fend for himself by a poor mother who couldn’t afford to raise him. They want you to see the Tim Tebows so that you’ll think that all potential abortions who were instead brought in to this world will end up successful. Ergo, we were sold Tim Tebow, not a political or religious stance.