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This is about the craft of advertising. This is about audio-visual pollution. This is about taking people for morons. Mainly, though, it is about a conundrum.

And it all starts with what looks like your local mattress discounter, in a typically noisy 30-second spot.

"Hi, I'm Fred the Bed Man," he says, with a stiff smile and cloying drawl, "and I've been building beds for 35 years. And for the first time ever, I'll build ya a top quality bed with maximum comfort and support delivered factory direct to you."

Yep, it's obviously another one of those horrendous, shot-down-at-Channel-52 deals with the dumb stacks of mattresses clumsily chromakeyed into the background. And there's Fred, looking like the Rotarian from hell, mechanically gesturing along with his insipid patter. For instance, he puts an imaginary phone to his ear when he says, "Just dial 1-800-USA-SLEEP.

"Let me say that again," he repeats. "I'll build ya a top quality American-made bed, delivered on approval at our factory price. So pick up the phone and buy your bed from Fred. 1-800-USA-SLEEP. 1-800-USA-SLEEP."

All right, all right, Fred, we got it. 1-800-USA ... hey, wait a second. This isn't a local mattress discounter ad at all. Heaven help us, it's a national mattress discounter ad.

Direct response mattresses? But of course! Just the long-awaited solution for those would-be bedding impulse buyers. Like viewers aren't sick enough of tacky, hard-sell local spots that they need to have tacky, hard-sell national ones. Like the phone lines will be jammed with people calling in to buy $500 mattress-boxspring sets sight unseen. What kind of clod is going to respond to this shameless cheesation of national TV?

What clod besides me, I mean.

Look, it just so happens this in-house campaign broke in 125 markets at a moment precisely corresponding with my personal mattress-boxspring needs. And it just so happens that the helpful bedding consultant at 1-800-USA-SLEEP was able to inquire in depth as to my specific requirements. ("Mr. Garfield, now will you want something that you'll get a good night's sleep?" "No, I'd prefer to do some tossing and turning.") Anyway, after giving serious consideration to the firmness and comfort of the Orthopedic Luxury model, I opted instead for the enhanced firmness and comfort of the top-of-the-line Ultrapremium Jumbo. At $499.95, plus $35 for delivery and setup, satisfaction guaranteed. (Compare at $799!)

This is exactly what Fred "The Bed Man" McArthur envisioned when he and Dial-a-Mattress founder Napoleon Barragan formed an FTD-like Factory Direct Network of bedding manufacturers, who'll fill 800-number orders locally with (unlike Dial-a-Mattress) non-name-brand merchandise. It all just screams "convenience 'n' value" to impressionable chumps like me.

Thus, then, the conundrum: If a commercial is shrill and artless and an assault on our intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities, but it sells $500 bedding sets by phone, is it good advertising?

The answer is "no," because when the airwaves are polluted by Fred and his ilk, the job of penetrating the poisoned consumer psyche becomes tougher for all advertisers all the time.

The answer is also a firm and comfortable "yes." Some ads barely register. So when a TV commercial actually makes a sale, it is an ultrapremium thing of beauty, and a jumbo joy to behold.

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