Me so sorry… Now give me what I want!

April 30, 2008

Okay, so I’m watching SpongeBob Squarepants with my girls this morning: the one where SpongeBob plays dumb to impress Patrick’s parents. Hilarious.

Anyway, on the front page of my morning newspaper Barack Obama is apologizing about Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s fiery comments. Below that story is another headline: “Miley Cyrus deeply sorry for having taken revealing Vanity Fair photos!”

What’s going on here? Why are these two celebrities prostrating themselves upon the court of public opinion? They’ve done nothing wrong. I’ll tell you why. They’re doing it because each wants your patronage. Mea culpa means money for Miley and votes for Obama.

As likable as they are, these two are about as sincere in their roles as SpongeBob is in his. I’m not sure which is worse: pretending to apologize or apologizing at all. Those photos of Miley are tame. Hardly salacious, they’re quirky at best. Even boring. And Reverend Wright’s oratory isn’t germane to any discussion about Barack Obama. And even if it was, whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

So I got to thinking. What if agencies and advertisers had to apologize for doing obnoxious or embarrassing advertising?  Can you imagine? Agency X is really sorry about that last batch of Capital One ads. “It’s a paycheck,” shrugged the contrite copywriter. “I mean…what’s in your wallet?” Or how about if that older black couple in the Cialis commercial suddenly had to apologize for making an awkward film in a bathtub, on a park hill of all places? Talk about ruining the moment. And what about the breathless hottie in that Cadillac commercial? “I’m sorry for finding a way to be as irritating as I am beautiful.” Then there’s the creepy-by-design Burger King. Is he a homicidal maniac or just a repressed homosexual? Either way, can’t I gorge myself on Whoppers without being hit on (or just plain hit) by some bigheaded freak in a robe?

Advertising seldom if ever apologizes. Sometimes things are altered in a spot or it’s taken off the air. There might be a contrite blurb in the press. Yet most agencies and clients defend their work until the bitter end. If pushed they blame each other. I’ve never seen a creative director (myself included) or a brand manager say “well, that was a stupid campaign we did…no wonder sales are in the toilet.” We’re just not wired that way. Besides, the public expects us to spin yarns. Make mistakes. Our embarrassments and foul balls are part of the commercialization of everything. Dumbass commercials -and the right to gong them- are an ingrained part of our zeitgeist. And if these campaigns are as successful as stupefying doesn’t that make them beyond reproach?

I wonder why we demand so much more from politicians and pop singers? Haven’t they been lying and seducing us a hell of lot longer than advertising?



One Response to “Me so sorry… Now give me what I want!”

  1. Apologizing for a faux controversy can sure be effective in generating ink and attracting attention. Maybe ad agencies should apologize for campaigns beforehand with little teaser apologies. I’d guess that was the inspiration for what’s her name, but obviously not for Obama. The relevance of the Wright story exists because Obama as a politician is basically door number three in many people’s minds.

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