Is there anyone out there who would knock on a stranger's door and, upon being permitted to enter, do something truly revolting? You don't know the family, but you tell them you have something to show them. Out of some weird combination of curiosity, hospitality and indifference, they let you come in-whereupon you proceed with a stunt calculated to shock them, disturb them and maybe even make them physically ill.
Let me plumb the darkest recesses of my imagination. Let's say you produced a kitchen blender, dumped a human brain inside, and turned the thing on. Whirrrrr. Brain puree.
Is there a single person holding this magazine who would do such a thing? Probably not, because that would be a sick thing to do. Strictly speaking, it would merely be disgusting and rude-but it would be a rudeness verging on the criminal, because it's a sort of psychic vandalism, something close to assault. The cops would be called, all right, and you might even be arrested, but they couldn't make the charges stick.
Congratulations. You're not a felon. Just a creep. A perverse little creep.
Could this be any clearer? Doing such a thing wouldn't be black humor. It wouldn't be deliciously subversive. It wouldn't be down-and-dirty communications. It would be an affront, indecent and unforgivable.
Brought to you by Hasbro.
Yes, the nice folks behind G.I. Joe, Mr. Potato Head and the Easy-Bake toy oven have created a commercial about pulverizing a human brain-or, at least, a perfect facsimile-in a blender. The product being advertised is Nemesis Factor, an electronic puzzle targeted at players 10 to adult.
That's 10 years old. That's fourth grade. That's still curling up with a special blankie at night. Here's what Hasbro and Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, New York, have deemed the way to intrigue that child and his elders in the prospect for countless hours of wholesome fun: A blender, center frame, and a voice-over saying "Puzzle number 38. Begin." Then someone dumps the brain inside. Then the blender is switched on. Then the voice-over again: "Nemesis Factor. One hundred puzzles that sense light, motion and weakness."
A second spot, out of an abundance of sensitivity, does not depict a brain being chopped in a blender. It depicts a brain being submerged into a deep fryer.
Obviously, these spots were produced before the World Trade Center catastrophe, for release in October, and under current circumstances should never see the light of day. Just as obviously, they are targeted not at the 10-year-old portion of the prospective marketplace but at the adolescent-to-young-adult-male portion-a demographic notably amused by gross-outs.
But for the seven trillionth time, the target is irrelevant. Advertising is a shotgun, not a rifle. When it fires, anything near the target is caught in the spray.
How complicated is that? If some dim all-in-black is too self-involved to internalize that axiom and exhibit some modicum of human decency, you would think at least the Hasbro client would get it. This is a company that markets both Play-Doh and Dungeons & Dragons. If ever there were a business that should understand that different audiences have different sensibilities, it is this one. They above all should understand, for example, that in the Jeffrey Dahmer-esque scenario I opened with, some 15-year-old boy in the family might think the blender stunt was the single coolest thing he'd ever seen.
Mom, however, will be crying and throwing up, Dad will be calling the police, and little Sis will have night terrors for the rest of her life.
I don't know about light and motion, but I surely sense weakness. The true nemesis factor is the an alarming number of insufferable smart-asses in the industry too arrogant or too stupid to grasp a simple concept: Commercials are not programming. Nobody has chosen to see one. TV spots simply appear, and in exchange for viewer indulgence, advertisers owe a measure of restraint and respect for the sensitivities of everyone in the room. Not just the target. Everyone. That is advertisers' unspoken compact with viewers.
That is the compact. That has always been the compact. And Hasbro has broken it.