As we wrap up the holiday season (and indulge in bad puns like “wrapping up the holiday season”) I must say that in the last three months advertisers have offered up a banner crop of unusually aggressive and annoying ads.
Remember the “Christmakwanzakah” of years past? That seems so innocent and inclusive compared with the themelet this year involving competitive shopping. Maybe it’s because Black Friday has taken on so much importance for retailers that it has transformed the idea of Christmas shopping into a warrior sport.
For example, there’s Walmart’s reprehensible tag line, “Own the Season,” which I mentioned last week. And the runner-up in this testosterone-fueled category of annoying stuff: an unhinged Mike Dytka yelling "Let’s go give the gift of savings!" for Overstock.com. What does a screaming football coach have to do with online buying? It makes me wince, and pine for that odd, soothing low-talker of a woman wearing all white (with the slightly German accent?) whom Overstock used years ago.
But let’s get down to brass tracks: This year’s lowest of the low. By that I mean “Show Your Joe” a 55-second ad for Kmart, involving a line up of 6 men standing formally in front of a table wearing tuxedo tops, holding hand bells. The table is moved away to reveal that down below, the guys are wearing only boxers.
But the worst is yet to come. The men play a version of “Jingle Bells” by shaking their groin-based instruments. You’ve heard of “Tubular Bells?” This is Testicular Bells.
It’s quite the concert. I don’t even want to think about what’s in their underwear, or how the bells/balls music-making worked, exactly. It grossed me out so much that the spot seems interminable.
I can just imagine how adorable it will not be when two-year-olds across the land start shaking their toddler moneymakers, just as the Joe Boxer commercial taught them, at family gatherings. Every time a little kid makes a penis joke, an advertiser for a family brand gets its wings!
I have pretty much hated the whole Kmart campaign, which started last year when DraftFCB retained the business by coming up with a Hail Mary pass of a tagsline, “Ship My Pants!” It caught on virally, attracting 20 million You Tube views. (I guess it proves that you can never go wrong with double entendres about poop.)
Since then, the agency seems to think that a would-be pop cultural catchphrase that goes viral is the one-size fits all solution to every advertising problem. That didn’t work out so well for a KFC campaign featuring actors screaming “I ate the bones!” The various scenarios were embarrassing, and even considered racist.
But back to Kmart. After “Ship,” the company came up with another three-word phrase, “Big Gas Savings,” which also got thousands of views. Both riff on the ass area, suggesting that all the work was pulled out of there.
Despite the mega-million views, this advertising seems to prove that virality does not necessarily equal sales, or success. How does the “ship” thing improve the brand reputation, other than to link it to a toilet?
In an effort to class up the joint this year, I guess, the agency also put out a literary sequel, “Ship My Trousers.” This time, the spot features characters out of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” standing around an overlit store wearing 19th-century clothing and using the more formal vernacular of the time. The Dickens/poo/shipping combo doesn’t compute (it seems like a bunch of Amish people are in the store) and the production values for the ghosts are not good, as if Ebenezer Scrooge were in charge of the budget.
But let’s move on to the best, which this year also happens to be ball-based. It’s an animated video featuring hip-hop entertainer Jinx rapping about making Oreo cookie balls. (Cookie balls are not an actual Oreo product, but they are delish, made with cream cheese and dark chocolate.) But the brand, via the Martin agency, has had such success with the entire animated Oreo oeuvre over the year (with an earworm of a “Wonder-filled” song) that this little film fits in perfectly.
Jinx has his own pacing and pronunciation ("rein-dur" to rhyme with “remainder”) that livens up the song, along with offering straightforward tips for decorating the “baowls” ("Put a little flipper on it, you made a Pinguin!")
Yes, the lyrics can get suggestive ("Come Christmas mornin', you gon' taste some cookie balls") but the animation is all about moving the letters around and showing the cookie balls, and Jinx’s deadpan rapping makes the use of the word funny.
I’m a huge fan of animation: it’s fluid, and lets everyone in. Adults can love it along with kids. And the music is heavenly.
Before I sign off for the year, I wanted to mention that last week we lost Mike Hughes, 65, the chairman and longtime creative director at the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. A lifelong non-smoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1995, he beat the odds he was given -- five years -- and went on to live with incredible openness, generosity, and grace. A Teddy bear of a guy, he radiated kindness and talent. Here’s to you, Mike Hughes. You made the industry a joy.