Highway ad assumes lead foot, empty head

By Published on .

Advertiser: Federal Highway Administration
Agency: S&C Advertising, San Antonio
Ad Review rating: One star

Did you happen to notice how hot it's been outside? Turns out, it's summer.

This explains why the kids have been loitering around the house, and why nobody seems to be requesting our personal cocktail specialty, the hot Ovaltine gimlet.

And, oh, probably that's why there's so much road construction. The hell with Microsoft; the Ad Review staff has invested our entire pension plan in orange barrel futures, because we know our government will be unstinting in maintaining our precious unnatural resources. Infrastructurewise, we have great faith in the Federal Highway Administration.

Screen 1 from the spot

Screen 2 from the spot

Screen 3 from the spot

Screen 4 from the spot

Far greater faith in it than it has in us.

Yes, under the category of "Your tax dollars at work," the feds are on the air with a public service campaign on the subject of road construction--a spot that presumes on the part of the motoring public the IQ approximately of lint.

Produced by S&C Advertising, it opens with a shot of the orange warning sign for "Flagman ahead."

"This sign," says the voice-over, "is just a picture that means a flagger is ahead."

Then, before your eyes, the black silhouette mutates into a computer-animated robotic flagman, a "Terminator 2" effect looking like a poured-mercury Howie Long in a hardhat.

"Some people don't get the picture!" the robot says.

What he means, astonishingly enough, is that some people are so clueless, they don't understand that the "Flagman ahead" sign warns of a flagman ahead. Perhaps these people think that there are only harmless silhouettes of flagmen ahead, but evidently the morons aren't slowing down, forcing the feds into corrective action.

"Orange and black signs mean "work zone," the voice-over says, whereupon an animated car veers off the road right at the orange and black sign, because apparently the driver misinterpreted the flagman symbol to mean "Aim here."

It could be a graphic-design problem. The figure could be a matador, or a husband taking out a stinky bag of garbage. But in context--such signage generally shows up on highways in construction zones, as opposed to bull rings--you'd think the meaning would be unambiguous.

Anyway, next another car ignores a robo-flagman holding a stop sign and broadsides a cement mixer that has decided to cross the highway when the only vehicle in miles is in plain view.

In other words, this part of the spot is entirely accurate. Not only that, but the voice-over guy is really getting into it. Having heard the panic in the robot's voice a moment earlier, he shouts his reminder of what the orange and black signs mean. "They mean `Be alert!' " he yelps. " `Slow down!' "

Then it's the robot again, displaying the two most common construction warnings: "Don't risk your life because you didn't get the picture. This means `Caution. Flagger ahead.' This means `Lane ends. Merge with care.' And they all mean `Pay attention. Slow down.' It's time for drivers to get the picture. Listen to the signs."

Does he really mean "listen"?

We fear this will only compound the confusion. Blessed with the intellect of abalone, people who need instructional aids on the "Flagman ahead" concept may now be expecting the signs actually to be animated, to come to life and be heroic.

Which, of course, is a ridiculous expectation from the federal government.

Why would we seek from the highway bureaucracy what we don't even get from Al Gore?

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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