Commentary

The Joy Of Stupid

For reasons of epistemology and snow-shoveling fatigue, I caught the second half of the AFC championship game Sunday afternoon. You know, just to catch my breath and to see if there is a God. Apparently there is. The Patriots lost. Belichick must be suicidal, but I’m sure he’ll cheat death.

Shortly after I tuned in, up pops a commercial. Now, as you probably know, I’ve been out of the ad-criticism racket for some time now, on the grounds of “who cares?” But sometimes I’m like the old, retired firehouse Dalmatian. The bell sounds and off I limp! Which is how I saw the iconoclast spot.

You know the trope. Some people aren’t like other people. They are creative and independent. They follow an unseen muse, march to a different drummer, refuse to follow the herd and sometimes dance inappropriately. Such free spirits and/or rugged individualists have been invoked for many decades in support of liquor, beer, cigarettes, blue jeans, aftershave, computers, phones, rental cars and you name it -- usually by also-ran brands who can’t say “100 million Americans can’t be wrong.”

This commercial was for cars. A young man and a young woman, renegades both, were the heroes. Never mind the action, which centered on their charming idiosyncracies. For instance, she wears a necklace from which dangles a thunderbolt, as your archetypal manic pixie dream girl is wont to do

“Why fit in,” the voiceover inquires, “when you were born to stand out?”

Yeah, that’s usually the question. Just know that the advertiser was a car. And which car sets you apart from the crowd? The Cadillac ELR? The Infiniti Q60? The Fiat 500L? Scion IQ? Dodge Viper SRT?

No, the Nissan Altima.

Hahahahahahahahaha! Hahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Yeah, an Altima. How dangerously subversive. The Official Car of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Now, I mention that not because it was the dumbest thing I saw in my hour of viewing. It was the second dumbest -- by quite a margin. The first, a mini-campaign that broke in the fall but apparently is being ramped up for the Super Bowl, was the relaunch of Pepsi’s “The Joy of Cola.”  

Oh, that’ll go well. The whole world is targeting soft drinks for their lopsided contribution to the obesity epidemic, so it all makes so much sense. 1) Talk about how soda pop offers exultation verging on rapture 2) which is a preposterous lie 3) that didn’t work the first time they trotted it out 16 years ago. 

The slogan, of course, dates to 1999 and yielded some cheerful ads -- remember Halle Eisenberg and Vincent (Big Pussy) Pastore in the malt shop? -- and a catchy jingle, but no ground in the cola wars. It lingered for a few years, with PepsiCo spending good money after bad on Britney Spears and Aretha before finally surrendering. Even then, forces were taking hold -- some competitive, some societal -- that militated against overstatement.

Not that Big Soda noticed. In 2009, Coca-Cola trotted out Open Happiness, another idiotic lie, and has stuck with it through thick and thin. Or, anyway, thin. Despite the happy talk, despite the lip service to “healthy lifestyles,” despite the stubborn corporate denial, the cola business worldwide is in the shitter. With no relief in sight, certainly not as long as the sugar peddlers continue to base their strategy on higher per capita consumption.  

It isn’t illegal to pretend that a soft drink confers happiness or joy; puffery is deemed fair game by regulators. But at this time in public-health history, it is plainly idiotic. Especially when the truth would work better. 

The truth. Remember that? It used to be a thing.

The reason Big Soda isn’t regulated is that what it sells is a confection which, when reasonably consumed, is tasty, refreshing and often positively delightful. It is, as someone once said, the pause that refreshes. Why in God’s name (and since New England lost I do not fear invoking it) don't these alleged marketing geniuses just say so???

When you say “Open Happiness,” the world is thinking “Open Diabetes.” When you say “The Joy of Pepsi,” the world is thinking “The Junk of Pepsi.” Unless you’re biding your time waiting for new markets -- Neonatal Intensive Care units, North Korea, Mars -- you’re going to have to remind people why you aren’t Satan. Not lying through your teeth would be a really solid place to start.

Excuse me…what is the matter with “Delightful?” What is the matter with “Open Nice?”

11 comments about "The Joy Of Stupid".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 25, 2016 at 10:15 a.m.

    The Mayo Clinic advises that drinking coffee is NOT a health risk, with some benefits, but then includes this disclaimer: "... studies found that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific — and fairly common — genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body"  Bottled water, anyone?

  2. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, January 25, 2016 at 1:44 p.m.

    I guess you missed last nights spots for Diet Dr. Pepper, "The Sweet One", starring a little guy who pops out of washing machines and other unexpected places. I found that the character is played by someone named Justin Guarini, who was a contestant on American Idol sometime ago. Really lame, unless you were in the target audience who researchers found were lamenting that diet sodas just don't taste sweet enough anymore.

  3. Rob Donner from AudienceXpress, January 25, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.

    Yes!  That Pepsi commercial is one of the worst ever.  Lame song, and to have the voiceover tell you "If this doesn't get your toes tapping, check your pulse"?  Whoever put this together and approved it is clearly in a world of their own.  Probably driving a Nissan Altima, and thinking they're a badass.

  4. Mark Burk from BRANDnv, January 25, 2016 at 2:12 p.m.

    And Coke brings you Taste the Stupid.
    Bob, I had the same reaction to Coke's brand new 'Taste the Feeling' campaign. (Taste the wha??! That's like 'Smell the thinking'.)
    The company's explanation behind the line and new direction is that they want to get back to the simple pleasure of the product as opposed to making it something beyond what it is (like Opening Happiness). 
    However, what they created was a sugary sweet back-to-the-70's campaign that makes the soda the hero centerpiece of each story -- the thing that brings people together, or the big reward after a tough day, or a 'Hey cheer-up! Here's a Coke'. Exactly the opposite of their stated intention.
    An authentic campaign would make Coke an incidental, but enjoyable part of peoples' lives. You want a reward or a centerpiece or a cheer-up? Give someone a bike or an iphone or a great bourbon or a trip to Maui.


  5. Mark Scott from Sage Projections, January 25, 2016 at 2:19 p.m.

    The Nissan is no longer  the officlal car of the SLA is it  the car using the dancing hamsters. :)

    Good column

  6. Michael Blumfield from Michael Blumfield Business Communications, January 25, 2016 at 2:21 p.m.

    Just did a little checking: In 2015, 26% of Altima sales were to rental fleets. So, Altima driver, you're bound to stand out, as is that guy who was sitting behind you in seat 14D on your flight to Houston.

  7. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, January 25, 2016 at 2:56 p.m.

    I agree with Dean Fox on the relative atrociousness of the Diet Dr. Pepper spots.

    Isn't Toyota also using the B52s' Roam in a spot for the RAV 4? They conveniently left out the lyrics, "without wings, without wheels."



  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 25, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    Sugars be damned. That stuff that soda dreams are made of eats out your guts and the aspertine in the delicious Diet Coke, etc. passed the FDC lock out by the hair of the polititcal profiteering dog (MediaPost article). Altima who ?

  9. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost replied, January 25, 2016 at 9:46 p.m.

    Life without coffee is no life at all - Joseph Conrad. Or maybe it was iggy pop, but whatever

  10. Bryon Sheffield from BPS, January 27, 2016 at 7:57 a.m.

    My kingdom for Dudley Moore and some mental institution patients.

  11. Ken Kurtz from creative license, February 9, 2016 at 3:19 p.m.

    You seem to be speaking out of both sides of your mouth, Bob. Which, unfortunately (or fortunately), will make it difficult to concurrently quaff down your favorite soda unless you go with a thin straw right down the middle.

    You write "The reason Big Soda isn’t regulated is that what it sells is a confection which, when reasonably consumed, is tasty, refreshing and often positively delightful."

    You then go on to lambaste Pepsi and Coke for associating what you yourself describe as

    "tasty, refreshing and positively delightful" with "joy" and "happiness."

    In what parallel universe are things that are tasty, refreshing, and positively delightful incapable of bringing some measure of joy, or happiness?

    Considering that in this very difficult, and very dangerous world that we live in, the quest for a little joy and happiness is relentless (probabaly moreso than Lexus's ongoing pursuit for perfection)... the idea that it is a lie to present a product that is unequivocally tasty, refreshing, and positively delightful (that provides a bit of a "speed" buzz too for a sense of "well-being") as capable of providing a bit of joy, or happiness is silly.

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