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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Column: Love/hate commercials

By the time we die, we will have spent an estimated one-and-a-half years just watching TV commercials.

Ah, shit. Another thoroughly unwelcomed and perspective-inducing statistic. But according to Max Sutherland and Alice K. Sylvester, authors of Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer, it’s true. Having said that, it’s also true that roughly one-seventh of our entire lives will be spent on a Monday.

Okay, hard truths, I’m sorry. However, although I can’t cure the anxiety you might have just developed at realizing the never-ending circuit your life is mapped around, maybe my wordplay can give you a little peace of mind when it comes to the 18 months you’ll have spent watching commercials once the lights finally go out.

TV commercials are part of our daily entertainment and will be for quite some time. There’s no way around it. A 70-billion-dollar industry isn’t just going to collapse overnight. So I think there’s value in exploring what works and what doesn’t with respect to these ads. If they’re going to take up a significant chunk of our time, we’d better start voicing our opinions on which ones we love and which ones we hate. I’ll start.

Love it: Dos Equis, “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Honestly, I don’t like Dos Equis. I think it’s boring and has no taste. The commercials would have me think otherwise, though. Crafting an effective ad campaign requires reaching out to viewers and altering their lives somehow. These guys nailed it by showcasing a suave, bearded man with an accent who teaches people to “stay thirsty.” Not only that, but the writing depicting his alleged adventures is amazing. My personal favorite line is the fact that he can “speak French … in Russian.”

Hate it: Quiznos’ disgusting singing rats/gerbils/hairy fetuses. Remember these weird bastards? One had a top hat and the other had a pirate hat and guitar. Both had terrifying bug eyes and primate mouths and sang about who knows what, just-get these-freaks-out-of-my-face. Come on, Quiznos. You’re better than that.

Love it: Snickers, “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry.” Although I’m not one to fill my appetite with a candy bar, I have to give praise where it’s due. Snickers took different groups of guys just hanging out or working together and inserted a famous actor or actress (Betty White and Richard Louis, for example) in place of one of them to highlight his whiny and/or unpleasant behavior. When a friend offered him a Snickers and he took one bite, he’d become himself again. Simple, funny and effective.

Hate it: SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Sarah Mclachlan “Angel” ad. “Hey! Let’s compile two straight minutes of footage featuring the saddest, most battered cats and dogs ever encountered, and get Sarah Mclachlan to be the spokesperson for our cause! Then we can play “Angel” in the background, a.k.a. the most depressing song known to man! People will love it and definitely not change the channel less than five seconds in!” — SPCA’s advertising team.

Love it: Basically every Apple commercial. Whether it’s the classic dancing silhouettes or crisp close-ups of the newest gadget, Apple has consistently marketed its products in a way that makes them cool, sexy and unique. The recent “if you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone” ads spiked my fear of missing out (FOMO) to the highest levels they’ve been since waiting to get picked for teams in middle school P.E.

Hate it: Metro PCS “Tech and Talk with Ranjit and Chad.” Racist, Metro PCS. You’re just being racist. You can find better humor than in Indian American stereotypes. Show a little effort.

When it comes to what works and what doesn’t in TV advertising, the answer really depends on the viewer. Some commercials will be effective on a certain demographic while a downright flop with others. What “works” for you in an ad likely speaks directly to at least one aspect of your personality — be it humor, sex drive or a strange fondness for top-hat-wearing rodents. If the latter represents you though, please don’t be loud about it. I really don’t want those creatures to make a comeback.

Contact VICTOR BEIGELMAN at vbeigelman@ucdavis.edu to discuss which commercials you love and hate or to tell him you think he’s having too much fun with these columns.

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