I keep seeing this bizarre spot from US Cellular about battery swapping. Or at least I think it’s about battery swapping. To be honest, I get wierded out by the commercial so I never really pay attention to its message. Even as I write this I don’t actually know what this commercial is about. Yes, I could have studied the clip (I posted it after all) but I chose not to on purpose. Why? My ignorance is relevant to this discussion. I maintain the spot is so odd (and oddly boring) that I can’t (or won’t) discern what it’s about. I am made bored and uncomfortable by this commercial. An oxymoron I know. But that’s my reaction every time I see it.

A monosyllabic robot is playing jump rope with a strangely unresponsive child. As the robot turns the rope he delivers a message. Somewhere along the way the robot malfunctions…I think. The girl then stares at the robot with a look that can best be described as robotic. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure her catatonic reaction is unintentional. I honestly think the child simply can’t act or hasn’t been directed properly or both. I feel sorry for her. It’s all I remember from the commercial. See for yourself. It’s creepy.

Am I missing something? Is this TVC actually charming? Is the little girl cute? Is the robot cool? US Cellular is running the hell out of the spot so they must like it, right?

I’m not hating on this spot… per se. Hate seems too strong a word for this oddity. I don’t loathe it like I did “Saved by Zero” or, for that matter, the Progressive Insurance lady –both campaigns I punched around recently. Yet, with those campaigns at least I knew exactly what they were selling. Not so here.

What say you, Gentle Reader: Is this spot confusing and weird or am I just missing the point?

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Progressive or just plain annoying?

My friends at Ad Pulp wrote a post the other day on the ubiquitous “Progressive Insurance Lady.” (She’s doing her thing in the above clip.) Adpulp wondered if folks were grooving on the quirky, in your face character or hating on her. In either case, they correctly noted that she has already left a mark on pop culture.

Or is it a stain? While I must concede her notoriety, I don’t like the character. I don’t like her flirty, in your face attitude. Nor do I like her pseudo hip, cleaned up bohemian shtick. (Ooh, maybe she’s got a tattoo under that nurse outfit!) Can you say Janeane Garofalo? I could go on (and I will) but the bottom line is she drives me crazy in a bad way, not unlike the Verizon “Can you hear me now?” guy.

Fittingly, her name is “Flo,” which, as you know, is also the nickname many women attach to their periods. How apropos!

That said, according to a linked article on Adpulp, a growing number of people are enamored of the Progressive Girl; as a matter of fact, she seems to be attracting a cult following. By the way, the actress’s name is Stephanie Courtney and she claims to be “floored” by all the attention she’s getting.

Enjoy it while you can, Steph, it may become your legacy. Like Madge “You’re soaking in it” or the above-mentioned Verizon geek, you are rapidly becoming a human stain on our culture. You are conspicuous and hard to forget. As I implied in the opening, this may or may not be a bad thing for the advertiser. That all depends on what you think advertising is supposed to do. If sales and awareness are up it’s hard to argue with her. We still can, by the way. And sometimes should. If an ad campaign achieves its primary goals that does not absolve it of any wrong doing. Remember the yipping Chihuahua for Taco Bell?

But is Progressive building its client base? Just because a group of viewers developed a stalker-like fetish over this whitewashed hipster doesn’t mean the brand is deriving any benefit. If the Progressive Insurance Chick has a fan club, are any of its members switching to Progressive? I doubt it.

Characters we love to hate fascinate me. Maybe she’s one of those? I don’t know. Right now I just hate her. A lot. In fairness, and in conclusion, I should point out that it could be the scripts I dislike more so than the actor. So far the spots I’ve seen are cloying and pushy. And what’s with all that white space? Kind of reminds me of a 70’s version of heaven…for reasons unknown.

The Adpulp story

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Well, when you put it that way…

I know how it happens. It’s more or less the same with all clients but let’s say the culprit is a fast food chain. The recession is cutting down the amount of money people spend eating out. The client decides to offer a price reduction on certain items from the menu. A buck or two off, that sort of thing. Make this happen across a couple thousand stores it’s a big deal. Let’s call it an event, the client suggests. Let the people know we’re on their side. We feel their pain. Etc, etc, etc…

The agency gets the brief. Another sale, another promotion. These things bloom like algae. Even during a flush economy value meals are par for QSRs. Unglamorous, an assignment like this quickly makes its way down the agency food chain. Give it to a journeyman who seldom complains. That or task a couple newbies with it. Break ‘em in. They need to pay their dues.

Either way, it’s a dog assignment but it needs to get done.

Promotion or sales briefs rarely vary. They are timeless, lost in time. Always the same (give or take the sandwich or dollar amount) so one tends to rely on a finite amount of themes to drive the creative. What’s new here –I shudder calling it an insight- is the current economic environment. That is unusual. So that is what the creatives glom onto. And while we’re glomming why not raid popular culture for some fodder to inspire the concept?

I know! The Economic Stimulus Package! Why don’t we create one of our own, on behalf of our client?

And so we have the anatomy of ad lands most recent and vexing cliché: a price reduction posing as an economic stimulus package. It’s a loathsome bit of hooey, yet seemingly inevitable. Advertisers love a hook, but it must be all encompassing and utterly familiar. Everyone receiving the message must process it the same way: two cheeseburgers for the price of one. An economic stimulus package. Get it? Of course you do.

The brief is as ubiquitous as the creative. Car prices slashed. Zero percent financing. They’ll even make your payments! Carpeting installed, no money down! Two cheeseburgers for the price of one. It’s the same old same old except now they’re called economic stimulation packages. Saved by Zero anyone?

Mentos -So bad it’s good?

First –please don’t be upset with me for not coming up with a themed post about last year or the new one. Fun as those are, we seem inundated with such writings. I’m just going to dive into 2009, in spite of the cold water!

Back when Altoids was having its big run in the 90s, a surprising competitor emerged from nowhere via a bunch of whacked out TV commercials. The brand was Mentos (famous again for blowing up in Diet Coke) and the spots were like nothing else on television. They were so damn bad you couldn’t take your eyes off them. Hopelessly contrived scenarios where terrible, fake-American actors solve ludicrous problems using Mentos, “the fresh maker!”

Read that last sentence again. I’ll highlight it for you. Hopelessly contrived scenarios where terrible, fake-American actors solve ludicrous problems using Mentos, “the fresh maker!” Where to begin? That screwy tagline? These commercials were so perilously bad, for so many reasons, you just couldn’t cipher them.

Were they purposefully awful? At first I didn’t think so. The bad casting seemed sincere. It appeared the filmmakers were trying. Yet, each commercial was as flawed as the next. Even after all the criticism, and there was plenty, Mentos kept serving up these surreal messes. The Internet was not as dominant a force as it is now but the speculation was rampant. Were these commercials for real or just plain bad? I still don’t have a definitive answer. If any readers have some info on the “fresh maker” please let me know!

I bring all this up because Capital One’s “What’s in your wallet?” campaign is coming dangerously close to this so-bad-it’s-good territory. Unfortunately, for them and us, these insipid spots are neither legitimately funny nor unintentionally camp. They just blow. In particular the last two commercials. In their holiday offering, Santa endeavors to customize his credit card using elfin technology. It’s a loud and garish affair. See for yourself.

Capital One -So bad it’s bad.

The very latest commercial is by far the worst. It features a group of shipwrecked buffoons “lost” on the proverbial deserted island. The brainy professor has configured a computer from God knows what but instead of trying to call for help he’s configuring a credit card. It too, is loud, busy and gaudy. The filmmakers have crammed so many people and crap into the film that the contents threaten to spew out of our TVs. With all the chaos onscreen, it plays like an episode of Gilligan’s Island dubbed in Spanish. Except that would be funny and this isn’t.

The other thing I don’t get is why customizing a credit card on line is worth all this fanfare. The credit industry is a shambles right now and highly culpable. You’d think such superficial ranting and raving about minor perks would be toned down or eliminated altogether. Capital One comes across as out of touch, even irresponsible.

Yet, something about this campaign must be working. They keep making commercials, not to mention flooding our mailboxes with DM. Am I missing something? Does everybody but me have a Capital One card in his or her wallet? If so, why?


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