A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
Truth in advertising is a fictile concept.
Not fictional ... fictile. It can be stretched and molded to suit the circumstances, typically by squishing truth into a more convenient size. Why say "the finest hops like every other brewer's finest hops" when "the finest hops" is so concise?
Or why say "my opponent voted aye for the farm bill that included an amendment repealing an antiquated law prohibiting children from hand-ginning cotton" when you can say "my opponent voted to remove child-labor protections" without straying from the literal facts?
Agency: Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco
Or why quote the movie review that says "a breathtaking failure on every level " when "BREATHTAKING!" looks so breathtaking?
That's why people don't much trust advertising, which is often just truthful enough to keep the lawyers happy and the FTC off your back, while still trading in puffery, half-truths and even big lies. Yet one thing advertising is fantastic at: identifying and dramatizing tiny little human truths.
McDonald's, for instance, has for decades brilliantly captured the interactions between parents and their adorable (Happy Meal ordering-but-not-actually-eating) kids. Bud Light has done much the same, albeit leaning more on caricature and hyperbole, with the battle of the sexes. And the mobile-phone category seems to understand families better than Tolstoy.
Well, add a new advertiser to the fold. Walmart, hitherto often a purveyor of treacle and dubiously Walmart-centric vignettes, has found real life -- in equal measures excruciating and hilarious.
Truly, this spot has it all: A 2010 family at pains to pinch pennies. An utterly devoted father willing to sacrifice his dignity for the sake of his child. A bunch of noisy little kids. A household accident of the sort all breeders can relate to, because those rotten kids never, ever pick up after themselves, leaving a trail of IIDs (improvised impalement devices) strewn everywhere.
The spot, from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco*, begins with Dad at Mom's makeup table finishing up his clown get-up. Blue hair. White skin. Red nose and mouth. Floppy feet. The whole deal. "It's time for Daddy to make some funny," he says. Then he creeps toward the living room, where the guests at his kid's birthday party are opening presents.
Mom, meantime, is on the sofa with other parents. "Yeah! We got all of this at Walmart. The decorations, the tablecloths, all of the food. And [here she sees her hubby approaching the kids, preparing to surprise them with his clowny hilarity] we even saved enough money for the ... for the ... "
She pauses there, because dad has jumped from the foyer to the living room, landing with full force on a toy unicorn, which goes right through his funny clown shoe into his unfunny foot. Dad screams. It sounds something like this: "YAAAAHHHHHHH!"
And this: " ... . AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
And this: " ... . AAAEEEEOOWWWWWWW!"
Whereupon, as the screaming children run terrified from the room, Mom just finishes her thought: " ... for the ... clown outfit."
Here the voice-over chimes in "Unbeatable prices backed by our price-matching guarantee. Save money. Live better. Walmart." OK, got it, but truthfully, they had us at "Yaaaahhhhhhh!"
Every parent knows that part of the deal, alongside kiddie parties and Happy Meal expeditions and ear infections and time outs, is the sudden discovery of a jagged object underfoot. Sometimes a Lego brick, sometimes a Barbie shoe. Sometimes a unicorn horn.
We are endlessly grateful to Walmart for validating our reality -- even if, truth be told, they sold us the damn toy in the first place.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the agency that created the spot as The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. It was Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco. We regret the error.XXX