Variations on a theme: Ads hit lowest common denominator

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Dear Bob,

We love your column. Some weeks we clip it out and put it in our son's lunch bag. Other times we simply laminate it for display on our mantel. We no longer even read scripture, and we've canceled cable. Basically, Ad Review is everything to us. But we have a request. Every now and then, instead of writing a well-thought-out 700-word essay, could you just give us several barely related short items? If possible, try to make this look like an act of desperation done under deadline conditions. That way we'll know it's for us.

Loyal in Landover, Md.

Dear Loyal,

Happy to oblige. Let's call the connective theme "Various bad commercials with varying degrees and varying varieties of badness."

Shall we begin with Guinness Draught, from Weiss Stagliano Partners, New York? First, let's explain that Guinness stout is a rich, thick, ebony beer with more flavor than a truckful of Budweiser. Tapped slowly, it forms a deep, tan head that is positively silken in quality. Drinking a stout is the beer equivalent of eating an ice cream cone, a creamy, delicious confection.

Which might have been worth mentioning.

In fact, we'd have shown some little Irish kid running with his pals for an ice cream and savoring the treat, then flash forward 15 years to show an updated version in a pub over a stout, with identical expressions of satisfaction.

But, what do we know? To promote draught stout in America, Weiss Stagliano shows a young guy with a creepy grin imagining himself on a subway. To exultant strains from "Carmina Burana," the train breaks out into the bright outdoors.

This is the Guinness experience? No, this is the Glade experience. In a beer ad, it is pointless and stupid. Also, with everybody grinning like idiots, quite annoying. 1 star.

Next, Reliastar Investments, from Clarity Coverdale Fury, Minneapolis.

The idea here is to build brand awareness of Reliastar financial services. The gag, in two commercials, is as follows: Mom has a substantial Reliastar portfolio. Let's kill her.

We swear to God.

In one spot, the middle-aged kids unleash a vicious pit bull in her house. In another, they take her for a ride in a bad neighborhood, trick her into getting out of the car and drive off.

The Menendez brothers these people aren't, and Mom foils their plots, but it's still a sick premise -- to say nothing of communicating not one single positive message about the brand. 0 stars.

This one came in unsolicited from Cramer-Krasselt, Phoenix, for Cliff Castle Casino. A professional athlete stands at a press conference, talking about a contract offer that's completely "unnacceptable. It's just too much money!"

Then a super: "Think that's totally unexpected? More space. Keno. Live entertainment. Restaurants. Bowling alley. Themed bars. Bingo. Childcare. Cliff Castle Casino."

Yes, that is totally unexpected, since a 1998 national 7UP spot used the same premise: an athlete, in front of the media, donating his excessive lucre to charity. "Think that's refreshing? Try the crisp new taste of 7UP."

Busted. 0 stars.

Someday, the letterbox format and the lowercase, sans serif type of the word "more" will instantly announce "American Express Co. ad." The campaign's introduction, however, is a confusing mess. One spot from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is about travel services, a little vignette about father-son reconciliation and a list of services. Wake-up calls? Huh? How? Another, for online membership banking, whatever that is, lists "more food shelter cable, more digital virtual cool," whatever that's supposed to mean. There's just too much stylized stuff here. Hey, folks, less is more.

And "more," so far, is less. 11/2 stars.

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