Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Ad Watch

February 8, 2005

Teddy Bears' Aphrodisiac Powers

Do losers watch ESPN? The messed-up nature of Valentine's ads.

Carl Bialik

I watch a lot of ESPN, but I worry about the type of guys watching with me. According to a commercial I've seen a few times recently, fellow viewers will use adorable teddy bears to get sexual favors from women. Or at least there are enough cads among the audience to justify running the ad.

The spot is for vermontteddybear.com. It shows attractive women in the workplace, cooing over teddy bears they received for Valentine's Day, as anxious male co-workers look on. One says coyly, "I can't wait to give him my surprise." A voiceover assures viewers, "Guys, a Vermont teddy bear is a sure thing for Valentine's day." These quotes don't do the ad justice; its visual style is porn-like.

The company practices targeted marketing. It had a more-wholesome image in a post-9/11 fundraising effort, described on this message board. And it has a joint-marketing agreement with Southern Vermont College that helps the school build revenue for scholarships.

At first, this post was going to express my disgust at the ad. But in the hours since, a few other Valentine's ads have changed my mind. The most subtle gently remind men to buy gifts for their girlfriends or wives, but don't spell out the consequences if they don't. In the middle are spots like the one for Kay Jewelers, showing a man getting a kiss from his significant other after he gives her a $99 Kay pendant. (I think I also glimpsed some teddy bears in the background; maybe they come with the gift.) Sharing the least-subtle edge with Vermont Teddy Bear is Russell Stover Chocolates, in which one man worries that if he doesn't give his wife a box of the treats, "Daddy sleeps on the bench."

Whatever the supposed reward men will receive, all the ads manipulate men's insecurity about their relationships to open their wallets. Though hardly a shocker, that's much worse than the crass honesty of the teddy-bear spot, which doesn't pretend to be about love.

Oh, and all of the ads I've seen are strictly heterosexual. There's an untapped marketing opportunity here. Everyone, of every gender and sexual persuasion, should get equally wrung out by a made-up, commercial holiday; our founders would have nothing less.

P.S. It'd be funny if Google ran ads next to this post for Russell Stover and teddy bears.

Carl Bialik

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







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- Ad Watch
- posted on Feb 13, 07
david

Yep - the four Google ads showing right now include THREE for Vermont teddy bears, and one for flowers.


Article by Carl Bialik

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

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