Capital One serves up God-awful campaign befitting the credit crisis.

January 1, 2009

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?


12 Responses to “Capital One serves up God-awful campaign befitting the credit crisis.”

  1. Happy New Year’s Steffan. What’s really bad about Cap One (or Crap One as they are often referred to) is how they run their business. Many hidden fees and astronomical late fees. They definitely take advantage of people who have a hard time paying their bills. As for their advertising, well, it’s always been as subtle as a Roadrunner cartoon.

    As for Mentos, I spoke with one of their marketing people once and they were not purposely bad at first. But once they caught on, they studied them carefully, (which must have taken all of 10 seconds) and created a list of what had to be included in each spot to make it a true Mentos message.

  2. justin said

    Perhaps the saddest part of the Cap One campaign is that they’ve hit on what I believe might be the strongest selling point for any financial institution trying to recruit new disciples – card design – and completely fumbled it. In a big way. Like a monkey trying to screw a football.

    Find me a bank with balls enough to offer an AmEx-style black card that’s only available to 20 and 30-somethings making over $50k per year or more, and I guarantee that bank will have a line of desirable new customers lined up outside the door to sign up for it.


    Because money and spending are emotional and we no longer show status by carting around a big wad of cash. That would be tacky. Unless you’re a drug dealer or rapper.

    But an exclusive card would be chic. Prestigious. Snobby. In other words, all the things that young people want their money to make them. “Here you are pretty waitress. Why yes, that is one of those fancy bank cards you’ve heard about. Would you like my number too?”

    I haven’t lived in Chicago for four years, yet I never transferred my Chase account because I like the Chicago skyline picture that is printed on my bank card. The plain blue ones that you get when you open an account anywhere else aren’t nearly as sexy. My Chicago card makes me feel more worldly and hip. It gives me a chance to tell the pretty barista about “when I lived in the city.” Think about it.

  3. SRP said

    I always had a hunch mentos was an accident in campiness that they later tried to emulate with diminishing results. Thanks for closure.
    As for Crap One, my father can’t even gather the message from these Benny Hill-like skits.
    Onward and upward,

  4. I actually dressed up as the Mentos’ fake waiter guy for Halloween the year those spots came out. I was dressed in black pants, a black shirt and had a white table cloth wrapped around my waist. People would look at me with obvious confusion until I stuck my hand out with a roll of Mentos and gave them that ridiculous overblown smile and thumbs-up gesture. It generaly got laughs.

    I don’t know what this means, but I’d thought I’d share.

  5. Andy Webb said

    Fascinating topic psychologically.

    Jim’s Mentos insider info notwithstanding, I can’t help but believe the Mentos folks had the one objective of sticking their brand name into viewer’s minds with spots that were an interruption from the slick sameness of most national commercials. I’m sure the WTF response the spots generated worked in this regard — viewers had to pay attention whenever a Mentos spot came on to see if somehow they were missing something, or if the spot truly was just bizarre. The name was making impressions all the while.

    So, at the convenience store check out counter, a consumer sees the Mentos name and makes a purchase. He probably doesn’t even realize exactly why.

    Capital One’s spots make more “sense,” but I think the name-recognition intent is in line with Mentos. This time the hope is for purchases via direct mail rather than the store counter.

  6. SRP said

    No question- Spots are like “monkey trying to screw a football.” On your other point, there are many “exclusive” cards out there, from all the banks. So, they have tried that.
    Your costume reminds me of a friend who went around as 7/11 cashier. He had no costume. He just kept asking “hard pack, soft pack?”

  7. VICTOR1793 said

    I have a Capital One Card and I have a Citibank card.
    I don’t see any difference between them. Are there? In the current financial crisis, was Citibank more to blame than Capital One or was it the other way around?
    Is Live Richly some higher form of communications than What’s In Your Wallet?
    Both are incomprehensible as marketing sentiments…the first a patronizing lecturing, the second and who the fuck cares query.

  8. zach said

    The difference is the guy who does this serves Citibank and not Capital One. NOW do you see a difference.

  9. SRP said

    You’re right, Zach.

  10. Tom said

    Want to know the real kicker? The CMO of Capital One actually commissioned a book to be made for them internally about what is comedy and how a comedy commercial should properly work. The number one rule is: Not to be over the top. Having worked on Cap One in the past. He actually believes his Capital One commercials are smart, subtle and witty. No lie.

  11. Brand X said

    I too have worked with the comedy genius CMO. He has somehow convinced the top management a Crap One that these spots are funny and work. He has to be one of the biggest blowhards in the business.

  12. Gary Thorn said

    The Crap One ads seem to appeal to adolescent males – video game characters, giant pushpins falling from the sky, dodge ball games…. Is this the target audience that Crap One is trying to appeal to with some of the stupidest ads ever on tv?

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