Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Ad Watch

February 12, 2005

Awful Human Beings

What's with terrible people as product pitchmen?

Carl Bialik

I've noticed lately that the characters in TV ads, whom we should aspire to be like in their use of the advertised product, are instead terrible people. There are the guys in the soda ad (no product mention in Gelf because the spot has no artistic merit) who let their friend hang from the ceiling because, in his excitement at a big play in the game, he's leapt too high, sorta like Icarus. The dudes in the car ad who won't suck on the neck of their friend whose been stung by a poison dart. (Homophobia never gets old for ad makers. Soon men will be refusing to share a room with each other, even if it'd save a life; and that'll be funny, I guess.) Then there are beer-ad shenanigans, like the Super Bowl spot in which one guy uses camera phoning—product placement in ads? Huzzah!—to show his buddy a slideshow of I'm-stealing-your-girlfriend. And Will Smith and Kevin James remain odious on the 500th viewing of those "Hitch" ads. Trust me—and don't try to replicate this experiment at home.

But ad makers better find a new meme, because its apotheosis has been achieved. An ad for some new fancy-shmancy Citigroup credit card shows a family watching a videotape of a newly dead relative. She tells an unfunny story and then begins to describe how the estate will be divvied up. The guy with the remote hears the first heir's name and it isn't him, so he fast-forwards to the next. Repeat, and repeat again, until a mourner sitting next to him slaps him.

It turns out that this remote-guy has been conditioned to get his rewards quickly, by his new credit card. Don't hate him, want to be him. It's his siblings, poor saps, who sit back and wait for good things to come to them. Remote Man, it can be surmised, may even have wacked his grandmother to get at her estate more quickly. Don't you want to be like him?

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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