When I was in college my advertising professor espoused this gem: “Never distort the human face in an ad…it freaks people out and won’t do anything good for your brand.”
I like to believe this was a lesson hard learned from years of agencies using clowns in their ads. Thinking they were employing a light-hearted, fun mascot to sell their products, instead the Admen found they were spooking their would-be clients!
I see the discovery playing out like this:
“Say, Hank, our new ads aren’t working as well as as we predicted. Do you have any thoughts on this?”
There isn’t any use in denying it, clowns freak folks out. But why?
Once again, the crack research team at Aunt Mary Industries was on the case.*
Turns out, our discomfort could be thanks to everyone’s favorite “I’m trying to sound smart” topic of conversation: the uncanny valley. The theory of the uncanny valley is objects that appear to look human, but just miss the mark, create an uneasy feeling in people. It turns out we are really good at sussing out tiny, non-verbal signals and if something we are beholding is not quite right, it results in a eerie, uncomfortable vibe. This is typically noted in human-like robots and early motion capture animation. You know how every Christmas you shrink back from the odd faces of Polar Express? That’s uncanny valley!
While clowns are (supposedly) human, the unchanging, made-up expression is likely what gives us the heebie-jeebies. As humans heavily rely on our vision for information about our environment, we glean a lot of clues from the facial expressions of those we interact with. The baked-in smile of a clown unnerves us as something not quite on the up and up.
Now that we know the why, let’s get some more of the what: (I was going to make a clown car reference here, but I’m trying to be above such things)
Everyone’s favorite clown is a drunk clown! Nobody’s favorite clown is one who just realized he’s out of booze. “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer…and when you’re out of beer, Jingles gets very mean.”
Kool-Aid Man’s usually welcoming and friendly wink takes on a slightly sinister tone in this ad. “Oh NO! This masked and apparently unhinged person didn’t put anything into your beverage. No, I’m not sweating…(wink)”
Hey there, sexy clown man! Was Camel testing the idea that anyone looks cooler when smoking?
This ad alone could create a mandela effect that Ted Bundy went to clown college.
When ICP’s Management team checks in while touring. Nothing like the open road to make you rethink your life’s choices, huh, Frank?
Several folks have asked me to post more retro recipes, especially everyone’s favorite, gelatin molds! Obviously I’m more than happy to oblige! But I find myself wondering, after all these years am I becoming immune to the horrors of the vintage aspic? So, as anytime I have a problem, I look to Project Runway’s Tim Gunn for answers.
Gunn once told a contestant that his design was like living in the monkey house at the zoo. He explained that when you first walk into the monkey house you are overcome with the scent, then after a while in the monkey house, it doesn’t seem so bad. Finally if you were to actually live in the monkey house you wouldn’t think it smells at all.
Sometimes I come across a vintage recipe and think it doesn’t look all that bad…in fact maybe I will try that recipe. Am I living in the monkey house?
In order to test my gelatin mold tolerance, today I bring you an assortment of god’s creatures that swim, fly and amble all encased in a very very shiny gelatin embrace.
Test 1: “Movie Recipe” Chicken and Vegetable Aspic.
Test 2. Jelly Beef Mold
Test 3: Jelly Tongues
Test 4: Mayo and ….Fish…?
The good news is Aunt Mary still maintains some manner of astonishment after the ravages of vintage recipes. The bad news, it seems demonic cults were once a viable target market for at least one condiment company.
In 1912 Clarence Birdseye, taxidermist and naturalist, was working in Labrador, Canada, enjoying the temperate climate of -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Birdseye took to ice fishing and discovered the fish he caught froze almost instantly as it hit the frigid air. What’s more, when thawed, the fish tasted fresh! Clarence learned this flash freezing created small ice crystals which preserved the meat without destroying the cells. This was a far cry better than contemporary freezing methods that were costly and left frozen foods mealy and unappetizing.
Birdseye, back at home in New York City, went to work to recreate this flash freezing process. In 1927 he applied for a patent for a new food freezing machine and soon after got to selling his new and improved frozen foods.
What seems crazy to our modern palate is that, at the time, frozen food was seen as a posh culinary choice. The 1920’s and ‘30’s hostesses proudly announced to her guests she was serving frozen foods at her dinner party. At the time, only those who could afford freezers could store the products which also cost more due to the needed temperature control from production to travel to storage in local shops. Birdseye began leasing grocery stores special freezers to display his products. All this lead to frozen fish and veggies being seen as fine dining.
Birdseye’s companies started advertising “June peas as gloriously green as any you will see next summer” which seems a tad lengthy, though totally delightful.
Post WWII people began buying freezers for their homes, making frozen foods more accessible to the masses. Food companies began offering frozen pizzas and eventually the classic TV dinner.
In the 1950s, Birds Eye, now owned by General Foods, introduced its popular slogan, “Sweet as the moment when the pod went POP”
In 1969, Birds Eye made history as it aired the first color TV commercial to run in the U.K., showcasing those peas in all their technicolor glory.
And, because we all love those vintage food ads, here you go:
I usually live stream my impressions of superbowl ads on the Aunt Mary Facebook Page, but this year I decided to actually join the party I was at and jot down the commercials in my kid’s old English notebook. I enjoyed hearing fellow sportsball fans’ reactions to the different ads and I found the time to reflect on the offerings made the highs and lows between the ads stand out.
Bud Light: I’m probably alone in this, but I’m not a huge fan of the Bud Light Dilly Dilly ads. I respect they are going back to their roots of funny, quotable commercials (Bud-weis-er…Wassup!) But if find these ads to be a bit too contrived, like a former rock star trying to reignite the past…
The first of Bud’s two ads, called “Ye Olde Pep Talk” shows the Dilly Dilly king giving one of the worst inspirational speeches of all time at the beginning of a battle. He finally brings it back around by telling his subjects their opponents have Bud Light.
The 2nd ad features the Bud Light Knight, an affable guy who’s just down for a good time. The BLK was also seen cavorting in the stands with jolly sports fans during the game.
Michelob Ultra – Everyone has followed Chris Pratt’s transformation to an adorable goofball with the rock-hard bod, so who could be a better spokesperson for a brand geared towed the carb conscience set?
In ad 1 Chris trains hard for his part in a Mich Ultra ad, only to find out he has been cast as an extra.
Ad 2 shows hard body-gym rats working out while singing Tom T Hall’s classic “I Like Beer.” After a moment you realize Chris Pratt actually IS an extra in the ads, sort of like a boozy game of Where’s Waldo.
Ram 1500– Actual Vikings headed to super bowl via long ship while towing a Ram behind. They reach Minnesota only to have or turn around as they discover the Vikings aren’t playing. Visually compelling, great music, funny premise. I was both amused by the idea and a little sad at the Viking disappointment. The party I was at loved this commercial. Airing early in the game it set itself up as one to beat.
Tide. Nobody would have blamed Tide Detergent for using the largest TV platform to tell folks to just stop snacking on their pods. They shouldn’t have to make this announcement, but that’s 2018 for you. Instead, they upped their PR game with a series of three fun commercials featuring everyone’s favorite sheriff, David Harbour from Stranger Things.
1st ad – Do you remember that kid in school who would lick things to mark them as theirs? That’s sort of what Tide accomplished in the first of 3 ads to air. Tide declared any part of the Big Game that showed clean clothes was thanks to Tide. Every following commercial, every player, every spectator, every coach. If you saw clean clothes, that was a Tide commercial. This made it really awkward later when Persil’s ad aired. All I could think of was nice…but Tide got there first.
The 2nd ad for Tide – Can’t get enough of Harbour as he horns in on classic ads, this time on the loved “I’m on a horse” commercial from Old Spice. A complete turn from the first ad, fun!
3rd, reminded me of the old school Energizer Bunny ads where the bunny would drum his way through spoof commercials, but somehow Tide improved on the theme! Already made aware by the previous Old Spice spoof, this time Harbour nodded and winked at Clydesdale horses (who did not make a Budweiser ad appearance) and then LOOK, there they are again in a faux Mr. Clean spot.
E-Trade: I’ll admit to not being a fan of E-trades current campaign that hits a little too close to pre-Great Recession commercials. The entire campaign has a “get yours/easy money” vibe to it.
Even so, I really enjoyed their spot titled “This is Getting Old.” The ad shows a montage of should-be pensioners working a variety of jobs, including Life Guard, Window Washer, Tech Support and Club DJ to the tune of the Banana Boat Song, with the lyrics changed to “I’m 85 and I want to go home.” While the song and visuals are amusing, Etrade finally hard cuts to a card saying “Over 1/3 of Americans have no retirement savings. This is getting old.” Oh shit.
Verizon salutes first responders – I’m no fan of glurge, but I have to admit Verizon’s “Answering the Call” ad was incredibly moving. Showing images of natural disasters and emergency rescues, the voice over of the ad was of real people thanking the first responders who saved them. In the last seconds of this full minute spot we are shown the Verizon logo, and their tag of “America’s most reliable network.” Small, but hard-hitting hint that you need confidence in your network when stuff goes down.
Pringles – Bill Hader (Stefon from SNL) says “Wow”… a lot. He says it in multiple accents as he marvels at a guy making different flavor profiles by stacking Pringles. This commercial is fine…it’s fine! It shows folks a new way to use their product (we’re like those jelly beans!) which is solid marketing. The one thing that moves this past the forgettable is Bill screaming “Nobody asked you, Kevin!” at a stunt double dangling from the ceiling who also pipes in his appreciation of Pringles. It’s weird, but oddly funny. I can totally see people repeating this catch phrase for some time.
Fabreze – Bleep Don’t Stink. Pretty straightforward idea from air freshener Fabreze: Here is this one guy whose crap don’t stink, but you have a bunch of folks over eating garbage food and you will wish you had something to make your bathroom smell better. This ad ran on, but yeah, it sure made it’s point.
Sprint – A scientist is thoroughly mocked by his robot creations for still using Verizon. It’s a striking commercial and the robots are interesting, but what pushed this onto the list for me is the final robot. Unlike the others who are laughing at the scientist’s illogical use of an inferior product, Final robot, who has evidently reached singularity, rocks up to tell the scientist he has a stupid face in a bit that seemed straight out of South Park.
Diet Coke “Because I Can” – Maybe I’m just not cool enough for this ad, but the commercial of actress Hayley Magnus narrating her awkward dancing after drinking a Mango Diet Coke left we with my head tilted and my brow furrowed in question. What the hell was that? Evidently it is supposed to be a highly shareable clip, but I can’t see where it will compel anyone to buy a Coke.
Ram Truck – Who could have known that using an iconic speech from one of America’s heroes to sell cars could cause people to be upset? (Everyone. Everyone knew that.) Using a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a commercial for cars is crass, no matter how you hype it. Yes, I understand that Dr. King’s estate had some hand in developing this commercial, but it still fell flat and left a sour taste in the mouth.
WeatherTech – Twenty of the 30 seconds allotted to this commercial are focused on building a wall. We come to find out it’s the wall to their new building. Setting aside the potentially devise theme, this commercial is boring. I’m sure you are excited about your new building, but nobody else gives a hoot. While I truly appreciate their devotion to making their product in the US, I felt like they went to a place they didn’t need to be. They make car floormats, not exactly an ensign of national pride, though WeatherTech Head Cheese swears no political message was intended.
Amazon – “Alexa Loses Her Voice.” Amazon may be one of the last groups that needs to advertise, they just reported their best ever quarter profits. Still, I appreciate they decided to make a great ad, seemingly just for the fun of it.
In the spot, Alexa, the voice of the Amazon Echo’s digital assistant, loses her voice, compelling celebrities to fill in. I’m not ashamed to say I actually laughed out loud as Cardi B mocked a student for asking about Mars and Rebel Wilson made dinner party guests very uncomfortable.
Doritos Blaze vs. Mountin Dew Ice
What more can I say but Peter Dinklage is in a rap battle with Morgan Freeman.
Thanks for joining me in looking into the Superbowl of advertising!
Today at the Storytime we are going to have a special talk for the Admen! Squeeze in tight so everybody can fit, there’s room for everyone at Aunt Mary’s!
Guys, I understand you are under a lot of pressure. Your creations have the ability to last forever now thanks to the internet and I’m betting your clients are asking the impossible from you. I’m sure they want an iconic campaign that reaches every target market and spans different media all while sticking to a tight budget. I’m guessing you got to hear all about your client’s neighbor’s nephew who is just a wiz with that social media stuff.
I really feel for you. It’s hard. But I wanted to give one small, gentle piece of advice from someone who loves advertising:
STOP FEATURING JACKASSES IN YOUR ADS!
Yes, I get it, assholes are really in vogue right now. We might even we living in the golden age of the Jerk-Almighty. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to buy stuff from a jackass.
Currently the biggest knuckleheads in my book are the folks in the campaign for Milky Way candy bars. These commercials feature workers accomplishing terrible results at their jobs (misspelled tattoos, poorly painted street markings, hair burnt off client’s head) and when called on their poor work retort with an eye roll and snotty “Sorry… I was eating a Milky Way” not unlike a spoiled valley girl who was caught in her parents liquor cabinet.
My best guess is they were trying to edge in on Snickers brilliant “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign, but just not hitting the mark. The characters are rude and dismissive and truthfully not anyone I would want associated with my brand. I suppose a case could be made that the candy bars are so on point your forget about everything else…but I’m not buying it.
What’s more, none of these incidents are particularly creative. Misspelled tattoos happen and the “No Regerts” tattoo was featured in the movie “We’re the Millers.” Especially eyebrow raising is the cruise ship scenario which hits a little too close to the 2012 crash of the Costa Concordia in Italy which resulted in the death of 32 people. Not exactly a gold mine of hilarious content.
We’ve talked about the choice of weird spokespeople before in the Liberty Mutual ads, making me wonder if the anti-hero is a trend with some legs.
But, Aunt Mary must give credit when due, I have to admit I find the print ads for this campaign creative and attractive, even though the sentiment is the same. Perhaps the stylized cartoon imagery makes it a little less dismissive? hmm…
Last year I lamented the punch bowl missing from holiday festivities, and I thought I would expand on that theme by exploring what’s up with Eggnog. Love or hate it, eggnog’s a staple of the holidays and likely one of the earliest social lubricants – evidently it’s been an American winter drink dating from the pilgrim days.
It seems boozy eggnog advertising was dominated by two brands, Four Roses and Bacardi. Each took their own path to lure their customers to holiday cheer.
Four Roses stuck to the same visual, barely updated for the changing times. I’m serious. All the ads were the same:
These ads were from 1944, 1956 and 1937. Three decades of the same imagery! Still, I enjoy that they call their recipe “Merry Christmas!” It sure takes some jingle bells to try and brand such a common phrase.
Bacardi went with the whimsical route, featuring Elf on the Shelf’s other little known cousins – The Booze Brothers.
Are they elves, or gnomes or the 7 dwarfs on their day off? I don’t know…I just.don’t. know…
Please note the “Man’s Recipe” for the eggnog. Men can’t be seen sipping some sissy nog, now can they?! “Sally, get away from that bowl! You know ladies can’t handle such a macho mix of eggs, cream and spices!”
Other notable eggnog ads include this Glenmore spot with more tiny bartenders, this time looking like a cross between Albert Einstein and the Monopoly guy.
This very pretty ad showing Four Roses could do other things besides headless beings pawing at punch bowls,
And though not eggnog related, I thought this was a fantastic ad! Get ‘er done, Santa!
Whatever’s in your cup, be sure to raise a glass for peace, love and good advertising!