Save the Mules

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Boring TV commercials loaded down with too much detail remind me of that poor donkey you always see in old Westerns. You know the one - the sad beast way at the back of the wagon train. With 200 pounds on its back: gold ore, sleeping bags, guns, clanking pans and bottles of liquor, pick axes, spare boots and everything else the cowboys could throw on. Once fully loaded, the skinny thing was slapped on its behind and forced to carry up a cliff what was basically the complete inventory of a Home Depot.

When I see a commercial being mistreated this way, I just look the other way. It's too hard to look at. And don't we all do this? We pay no attention to these burdened and broken little things, because they bore us. These arthritic critters that hobble onto our TV screens, their knees wobbling under the weight of the entire product lineup, shots of the storefront, the showroom and the top five items on sale - they're boring. We look away with ennui.

But how do these crimes, these abominations that happen right on prime-time television, go unnoticed? Especially when you consider how noisy they are. The cruel Voiceover Man starts barking orders the instant the :30 clanks onto the screen. "Do this. Mention that."

Loaded high and wide with a noisy pile of product features and co-op logos, these insensate beasts lurch drunkenly onto our TV screens and are then flogged in public for a full 30 seconds. Lash after lash, they suffer the entirety of their short half-minute of life, bearing the full inventory of every showroom . . . and oh, how they suffer. Watching this, we suffer too. And as we suffer, we become bored and fall asleep.

Perhaps to shield us from this spine-snapping load of detail and dreck, the Sweet Chariot of Morpheus swings low and sweeps us away. Narcotized by the drone of the Constantly-Talking-Man, we ride off on gossamer wings to a sleepy, happy place where things are interesting and men do not read us brochures.

Yet, while we slumber, the poor beast lurches on. Sometimes it even walks up to the glass of the TV screen itself, its sad donkey eyes peering out into our warm and interesting living rooms. Twenty-eight long seconds pass. The wretched little commercial has wobbled its iron load almost to the end, when the cowardly off-screen Voiceover Man does his most wicked work. Onto the beast's concave licorice stick of a back he heaps additional weight: a localized price, two addresses and a phone number.

Can we end the inhumanity? Yes. We must insist on cruelty-free commercials, and we must agree not to let our good clients besmirch their own names by torturing any more :30s.

Remember, a :30 is capable of carrying a branding message and a retail message. But use restraint. Let your :30 carry only what you need to get a client's point across.

A final word: If you see an abused commercial, by all means put it out of its misery with a quick mute button between the eyes.

Luke Sullivan is chief creative officer at West Wayne, Atlanta.

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