Garfield's Ad Review: CitiBusiness ads gets laughs, but the message is muddied

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Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the

Most beautiful thing in the world

The words of late Objectivist poet George Oppen are open for discussion. Clarity may be not at all the most beautiful thing in the world, competing as it does with childbirth, Pacific sunsets, Faure's "Pavane," simultaneous orgasm, creme caramel and the properly executed hit-and-run play.

But in advertising, clarity is pretty much a central proposition. Or should be.

Entertainment value is not the most important thing in advertising. Nor memorability, nor emotion, nor persuasiveness, nor Gold Lions, nor even the logo shot. Whatever your strategy and whatever your technique, you're wasting your time and ungodly sums of money if the consumer doesn't know what the hell you're talking about.

Needless to say, the onus is not on him or her to be smarter or hipper or more attentive. The onus is on you to be clear-i.e., not confusing, not obscure, not too clever by half. This brings us to a most entertaining and barely decipherable series of spots for the CitiBusiness card, via Fallon, Minneapolis.

The commercials are funny, all right. One is set in a veterinary clinic, one at a nursery, one at a nail salon where the various proprietors are face to face with a customer or vendor (impossible to know which) trying to conduct some business. The joke is, it's all done as if through an automated phone-answering system, with the beep tones and menu options we all loathe. The funniest one is at the vet, where the guy who does the phone shtick is brilliant.

GUY: "You've reached the county clerk. For a business license, please press one now."

VET: "Beep."

GUY: "For a fishing license, press two now."

VET: "Beep."

GUY: "For a fishing license, press two now."

VET: "Beeeeeep"

GUY: "For a fishing license, press..."

VET: "No...booooop."

GUY: "Please hold....[singing, badly] "...ing the queen of hear-artts, knowing that it really smart...."

To which the viewer responds, "Huh? County clerk? Fishing license?" It's clear they're spoofing phone queues somehow, but why are these people having these encounters in the first place? This is where the voice-over weighs in: "Sometimes a small-business owner needs to talk to a real person. The CitiBusiness card with real, live small-business specialists on the phone. That's a card you can really count on."

Yeah, so these are small-business owners having trouble getting information. But then why... what...who...? Oh, never mind.

Perhaps Fallon believed that dramatizing the general problem would do the trick, what with the voice-over copy and all. But we ourselves are left with little reason to understand what exactly a CitiBusiness card is, much less why it will help us with our suppliers.

One thing, though, is crystal clear. Someone out there thinks hilarity, hilarity, surely hilarity is the most beautiful thing in the world.

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