I am the consummate industry outsider. I know nobody, get invited nowhere and harbor no illusions about my place in the pecking order. Which is appropriate, given that my only qualification for this gig is an uncanny ability to watch things without falling down. Indeed, my next moment of lucidity will be my first.
But this week, friends, I have as much insight as the ocean has waves, water and squid combined. That’s because the subject of today’s little exercise, a series of videos designed to serve as a brand pick-me-up for Listerine Total Care, was filmed at my sister’s house.
Seriously, it was. Would I make that up? In terms of potential social currency, such a boast packs less of a wallop than a selfie with a former eighth-place finisher on American Idol. Nonetheless, I want everybody to know that I have spent no small amount of time inside the house where they filmed these three videos; on that very couch I have eaten cheese and perused news magazines. I will be accepting Facebook friend requests between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. ET on Monday June 15, and then not again until my next brush with quasi-pseudo-semi-celebrity.
So what do you want first, the review or the dirt? Okay, dumb question. According to one on-set source who used to live in the bedroom next to mine and got really (and justifiably) pissed when I wouldn’t share my old biology papers, the cast and crew members were gracious guests, save for the fact that “they were supposed to use only two of our four toilets but clearly used them all.” The source also asked that, should any of the visitors somehow happen upon this column, they get in touch with her regarding a few of the “memories” they left behind: “Two sweaters, a phone charger, wilted lettuce in the fridge, a Jeter pin (?) for [name redacted] for his birthday and a thank-you note for [name redacted].”
Holy OMG dish-age! Another source, with whom this very neatly tabbed Internet chart says I share 25% of my genetic material, says the shoot was “kind of annoying because everyone smelled and took up most of the house so it was hard to get some things, but everyone was nice… If I was doing my homework I would randomly hear some noises or like a scream from where they were shooting, and they decorated my whole room to be Goth.”
Showbiz folk: they’re just like us. While several of my follow-up questions were left unanswered (“what do you now know about the production of brand video that you didn’t know previously, assuming you knew something previously, which you probably didn’t?,” “do you think they need someone to punch up the scripts, because I could totally pull that off?,” “did they raid the wine fridge à la mom and dad?”), I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that the three-day shoot will not have an extended afterlife in the form of legal proceedings.
The Listerine series itself? I like it. (Note to the conflict-of-interest police: I’d be saying the same thing even if it had been filmed at the residence of people of whom I am not inordinately fond, or inside the locker room of a sports-playing team for which I do not root, root, root.) It works because it barely references the darn product.
That goes against everything I’ve written in this space - I am more likely to buy your car/shirt/talisman if I see it used in a manner consistent with its fundamental purpose, etc. - so let me explain. I can’t recall a single piece of marketing, for Listerine or any other mouthwash (or really, for any hygiene product that requires mouthward insertion), that isn’t grody. What we usually get is animation of ornately hued fluid cascading over begunked teeth and tongues, sweeping away all the undesirable bits on the way out. Yummy!
The people behind the Listerine Total Care videos seem to get this. So in the three clips, it presents a situation in which the target audience for the product - families, but particularly the moms charged with keeping them in line - does family-type stuff, like rid the house of clutter and pack for vacations. Presumably these families are doing these things with gleaming cavity-free teeth, but that’s irrelevant to the larger point.
The series’ biggest asset, not surprisingly, is former Saturday Night Live cast member Ana Gasteyer, who plays up the mom’s loopiness without rendering her a caricature. Her interactions with the Goth-lite teenage daughter, especially the one in which they discuss lipstick hues like “waking nightmare black,” are as wittily and concisely sketched as most sitcom parent/kid relationships, which are generally given 720 times the amount of time to unfold. Given the precision with which the four family characters are defined, the introduction of a crazypants organizational guru in the third clip doesn’t feel too over the top. There’s plenty of room for everyone to breathe here.
Sure, the content world doesn’t need another boob of a dad; at this point, a personality-free father would be more appealing than another inept/“funny” one. Also, I can’t say I agree with the creative decision to replace the awesomely retro shag rug in my sister’s family room with a flat, purple one that offers fewer concussion-suppressing properties for impromptu WrestleMania reenactments with my nephew.
Nonetheless, the Total Care clips get the family-follies thing right. The approach might not make sense for every product or category, but it works just fine for Listerine.