When you watch sports on TV as I most certainly do, you are exposed to advertising. It is a necessary evil; without the ads there would be no sports on TV to watch; if you doubt that, check out your local cable access channels and/or PBS for their sports listings. The fact that the ads are “necessary” does not excuse the sub-set of ads that are either bad or stupid – – or both. I keep a listing of such ads as the year goes along and I compile them late in December as a means to leave them in the past – – knowing full well that next year will bring a new crop of Bad Ads.
Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis accurately described the advertising genre:
“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.”
In a sense, I feel disadvantaged this year because there was not nearly as much sports on TV to watch thanks to the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan whenever. [Aside: If I came into possession of a bat or three and someone asked me to prepare them for dinner, I would have to confess that I have never seen a cookbook devoted to “Bat Cuisine”. I would not have a clue as to where to start to cook the things. Whatever…] When I sat down to compile this year’s list, I was afraid there would not be a critical mass of items to make it worth doing. Not the case… The advertising folks may not have had the quantity of bad ads compared to previous years, but there were plenty of ads worthy of note here.
Remember, 2020 was a Presidential election year; that means the entire year was littered with political ads; that means the TV viewing public was exposed to toxic levels of mendacity from January (during “primary season”) through November. If the bulls[p]it contained in all the political ads were converted to coronavirus, the pandemic would have wiped out everyone on the planet by now. To get an idea what I mean about political ads, politicians and mendacity, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds to follow this link and watch a Johnny Carson sketch from The Tonight Show in 1982. It will bring a smile to your face and it will convince you that politicians and the political ads supporting them are as credible now as “this politician” was in 1982.
Here is what I think about all political advertising:
- All political ads contain lies and intentional distortions of facts. All the people involved in making those ads are nothing better than lying weasels.
- I am The Sports Curmudgeon, and I approved this message…
Added to the quadrennial burden we face with political ads, we also had to tolerate two other classes of ads that happen every year. They are annoying and they are stupid; moreover, they have the survival abilities of a cockroach. I am referring here to:
- The perfume/cologne ads that appear between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know the ones I mean. The one where they guy drives out in a desert and buries a necklace under a rock in the hot sun and that somehow relates to motivating me to buy a certain brand of cologne. Don’t forget the one where a man and woman seek one another and finally meet in an embrace underwater in a pool making me wonder what the Hell that stuff must smell like out in the air.
- The Medicare Advantage Plan ads which serve to convince you that the Congress in setting up Medicare was intentionally penurious with you because for no added cost you can get a half dozen other FREE benefits. And even if I were predisposed to think that I needed to review my health insurance status with someone, would that someone be whatever hominid happens to answer a phone at a number hawked by Joe Namath?
There must be something about the Holiday Season that causes whatever remnants of common sense exist in ad creators to vaporize. This year the folks who create ads for Target announced that Target had sale prices on last minute Christmas gifts and that those prices were good “for this week only”. What’s that you say? That is there to inform the consumer about the limits on the offering? Fine; now consider that ad ran on December 20th. No one would have any need for a special price on a Christmas gift more than a week in the future so the special prices would be irrelevant.
And speaking of annoying ads that materialized out of the world ether at Holiday Season time, is there an ad currently running on TV that is dumber than the chorus of carolers led by The Burger King as they sing Christmas carols to people in their cars at the Drive-thru ordering Burger King Whoppers? If that group of masked Burger King folks approached my car, the last thing I would do is cheer them on; I would be closing the windows, locking the doors and gunning the engine.
Fast food purveyors always get a mention in these annual retrospectives, and this year is no exception. Two ads went beyond the norm:
- Papa John’s: With the societal emphasis on social distancing, just about every purveyor of victuals declared their commitment to contactless delivery of some sort. The dumbest of these assertions was Papa John’s announcement that they take their pizzas out of a 450-degree oven and put it directly in a box, no touching. Really? How is that different from what you did before the shutdown or different from every other pizza maker?
- Pizza Hut: The folks in the test kitchens came up with “plant meat” for their pizzas and the company just had to tell everyone that it was available. Look, pizza is not a health food; it is never going to be a health food; stop trying to pretend it is a health food. Just make good pizza; sell it at a reasonable price; do not allow your “chefs” to add any bodily fluids to the orders; deliver it hot. If you do that, you will be just fine…
There is another food-based ad from this year that is outrageously stupid. The ad is for a company called Freshly and they deliver meals to you that you can take out of the fridge and put in the microwave for about 3 minutes and then eat. It is a full meal. In the ad, the young woman takes a first bite, smiles and announces to her partner that, “We don’t have to cook anymore.” Folks, taking a dinner in a plastic tray out of refrigeration and putting it in a microwave is how they prepare food on an airplane. When was the last time you had a meal on an airplane that made you think that if you could only get that food delivered to your home, you would never have to cook again? If I assume this woman is telling the truth with her declaration, then I must also assume that she has several shots of Novocain in her tongue as she is tasting that wonderful meal.
While on the subject of ads for companies that deliver food to your house, there is one for Uber Eats that goes beyond creepy. I am referring to the ones involving Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles and an overly effeminate bearded man who do tumbling routines on a gym mat while wearing the same outfit. In one, Ms. Biles asks if he is wearing her leotard and he says, “Yes”. I said above that Joe Namath would not entice me to call some stranger to review my health insurance coverage; well, Joe Namath is a pillar of expertise on that subject when compared to the credibility of the effeminate, cross-dressing dude in this ad…
Old Navy did not disappoint in 2020. As soon as Black Friday happened, Old Navy was on the air with flashing colors and gyrating people wearing some of the ugliest and low-class clothing imaginable. When I eventually stop doing these retrospectives, I need to remember to give Old Navy a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In the world of insurance advertising:
- Liberty Mutual has yet to move on from Limu Emu – – and Doug. Given Doug’s encounters with other members of humanity, I wonder which of the two recurring characters featured in the ad is the more intelligent one.
- Progressive has been annoying us with Flo and her “colleagues” for years. Now they have introduced us to Mark and Marcus a pair of blithering idiots who apparently are football sideline officials who man the first down chains. Surely you have seen the variants on how the chain interferes with their lives because they will not let go of the first down sticks. And on what planet is that supposed to entice me to consider Progressive as my insurance company?
- The Nick Saban ad for AFLAC makes me feel sorry for Nick. He needs the money awfully badly to allow himself to look as stupid as he does in that ad with the duck…
The three major wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – are wearing everyone out with their 5G ads. This one is the fastest; that one has the broadest coverage; one of them was “built right”. What is missing is any sort of convincing evidence from the carriers that I need 5G service at all – – let alone from the one that is sponsoring the ad in question. One ad said that with 5 G you could download an entire movie in less than a minute.
- Question: Why would I want to watch a movie – – made for the big screen at a movie theater – – on my phone which has a screen only slightly more than half the area of a square of toilet paper? Oh, and do not get me started on the difference in audio quality between my phone and movie theater acoustics…
Cricket is not one of the major wireless carriers, but it ran a dumb set of ads of its own for several months this year. There are “monsters” in the Cricket ads that make annoying squeaky noises for no discernable reason. Then there is also the ad featuring one of the monsters who says he cannot join some sort of social event because it’s “too far to go”. Turns out it is on the couch 10 feet away and still would prefer to chat on the phone instead of joining its “friends”. Somehow, someone thought that vignette would make me want to join in that happy social circle using Cricket.
In case you did not know, Senekot is a laxative. Evidently, it now comes in a chewy/gummy form. A current ad shows one of the animated “gummies” telling you to chew one or two at bedtime – – “and then in the morning , it’s show time!” If you go to Thesaurus.com, you will find 48 suggested synonyms for “disgusting” ranging from “abominable” to “yucky”. Let me suggest that all of them apply to this advertisement.
Speaking about ads for things you take to provide a cure or a therapy for a malady, there is a generic comment that must be made here. Every drug ad tells you not to take the medicine if you are allergic to it or to its components. Think for a moment about the intellectual prowess of someone who needs to be reminded not to take something intentionally that he/she is allergic to. Ponder that for just a moment. Here is an analogous circumstance:
- In the Boy Scout manual under the heading of wilderness survival, the author(s) would feel a need to tell the young scout – – if you are lost in the woods and have to take a dump, do not wipe your butt with poison ivy leaves if you know you are allergic to poison ivy.
As the audience, you need to consider how stupid the ad folks think you are. Every time I hear an ad with that admonition, I think to myself that they are treating me as if I am not nearly as smart as bait.
The Toyota Venza has an ad where it is raining heavily, and a distraught couple is out searching for their lost dog by driving along highways. Eventually they find the dog – such a feelgood moment – and they dry him off and put him in the car and presumably head on home.
- Question: What is the message here? When you lose your dog and it is raining, Toyota Venza is the best vehicle to use to go and find your dog?
- Question: If you lost a child and it is raining, would the Toyota Venza be the car to use in that circumstance too?
There is a new service that is making its debut entry on Bad Ads; it only goes to prove that as new services become worthy of advertising, some creative genius somewhere will find a way to make an annoying or stupid ad. The new service area is computer cloud services.
I need to apologize for the first entry on the list; I saw it and made a note of the context of the ad but did not note who the advertiser was. And if I ever saw it a second time, I did not amend my first time note. So, this ad is from a Mystery Advertiser who is in the business of cloud computing. The ad goes like this:
- You see scenes of people in laboratories and at computer terminals and in business meetings and on job sites and all of them are amazing all their colleagues with whatever they have been working on – – of course using the Mystery Advertiser’s cloud computing services.
- The voice-over is sonorous as it tells you that the Mystery Advertiser’s services allow your company and your people “to come up with new innovations” for problems they face.
- Question: When was the last time you or anyone else came up with an old innovation?
The second Bad Ad from the world of IT comes from Amazon and its IT arm. The ad features a woman who asserts that she became a teacher to change the way education is delivered to students. She says that she is an impatient person and that Amazon allows her to change the world at the pace she wants.
- Memo to Teacher Lady: Get over yourself. Looking at the status of public education these days, your pace for change is a lot slower than it needs to be. There are people out there who must be reminded not to take drugs they are allergic to. Pick up the pace, please…
Let me close this review of 2020’s advertising blunders with two observations about advertising that supplement the comment from Sinclair Lewis cited above:
“Advertising is legalized lying.” H.G. Wells
“Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.” George Santayana
[Aside: Please apply Santayana’s observation here with every political ad you heard or saw this year or any other year. I think he was spot-on there…]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………