Bad Adverts: Dumb Advertising From The Mid-2000s

The following advertisements did not encourage me to buy their crap. “They” being the companies that paid for the adverts.

There are so many GOOD advertisements out there (Volkwagen made up somewhat for Nazi collaboration when it hired Peter Stomare as Vee Dub, for instance) that bad ones are all the more glaringly Not Right in comparison. Get off the television. I only watch every once in a while, and it’s Bro-gramming like Fear Factor and Irksome Commercials that remind me that the Idiot Box is the Great White Not Twice the Same Color Satan.

Do you remember these adverts?

1. The woman carrying around a huge sheet cake for no apparent reason. Watch as she plucks her eyebrows, brushes her teeth, and (best of all!) carries the uncovered cake with her into a stall where, one assumes, she uses the toilet. Why is she carrying this cake around? Is it secretly frosting-covered gold bricks? Is it frosting-covered cocaine or heroin? Why can she not just put the damn thing down? Why isn’t it in a cake box or covered with plastic wrap (surely smearing the icing is less heinous than getting e.Coli germs all over it)? And what is she selling? After thinking for a loooong time, I finally recall that they are trying to sell an extra-wide refrigerator. Sorry, you lost me when the woman took the cake into the bathroom stall with her. I couldn’t get past the nausea and horror.

2. The guy who lives on top of a cliff out in a desert somewhere who jumps off said cliff with a parachute in order to drive off in some huge and boring gas guzzler of a vehicle. My thoughts always include something like “yeah, his job is so awful that he’d rather risk death every day jumping off a damn cliff on the off chance that his parachute won’t open and he’ll be spared work today”. Other thoughts: how does he get back up the cliff every night? Do his wife and possible children also have to parachute off the cliff to go to work or school? I pity his poor mailman.

3. The woman with the showercap on her head that screams at me to eat Honey Bunches Of Oats ’cause they’re a “mouthful of joy”. Shut up. I end up worrying that she’s mentally deficient, deafened by decades of factory work, or heavily medicated. Sorry. No one gets that excited about working for minimum wage…or about a stupid bowl of cereal. And Billy Mays, that guy who screamed at us about cleaning products? What was all the screeching about?! Was my life not worth living before you suggested all these dubiously useful OxyClean / Kaboom! / TarnOff / it’safloorwax…noit’sadesserttopping products to me? (RIP, BILLY MAYS!!)

4. The animated bears who can’t decide if they are human or animal. They wear hats and bows, but not pants. They use toilet paper, but still poop next to trees. Where does the toilet paper go after they wipe their “bear bottoms”? If you poop next to a tree, there’s no way you can flush the wad of soiled tissue away. How environmentally sound is that? And, yeah, I get that “bear bottoms” is a pun, but I see so much ignorance about spelling online every damn day that I don’t like to encourage bad spelling, ever. Lead by example. Spell “bare” correctly. Give your anthropomorphic bears some toilet stalls and clothing.

5. Yet another irksome cereal commercial. The homely girl with the sugarbowl handle ears is in a spelling bee. She starts to spell “aardvark” incorrectly. In real life, game over, she’s eliminated. Having a mental fugue and imagining you’re conversing with a piece of shredded wheat with eyes and a mouth doesn’t phase this kid overly much, however, and the cereal (incorrectly) tells her that “aardvark” is the “first word in the dictionary”. Not even. And would it kill them to cast an attractive child excelling at something that involves nerdish smarts? Anyway, she corrects herself after her false start and hallucination and the Bee MC somehow ignores all standard spelling bee rules and lets her stay in the competition.

6. Picture this. You’re buying tampons or some such in the grocery store and some woman marches up to you with a microphone and starts asking you deeply personal questions about odor and wetness and then (!) she rubs a wet Kotex-type pad all over your silk jacket and you not only take this in stride, you answer the highly personal questions and miraculously refrain from punching this creepy, intrusive bitch in the face. This scenario could only happen in the alternate universe known as Commercial Land. The same place where mothers and daughters have frank and clinical discussions about all things menstrual. The same place where women feel free to carry on public discussions about irregularity and constipation and birth control.

6 (b) Remember all those annoying Yaz commercials? Apparently they made your uterus fall out or something, because they arenow off the air. I have to say I’d be miffed if someone named a personal hygeine product or medication after me, but was “Yaz” the best they could do when pressed to rename it? Or are they calling it “Yaz” on stations geared towards a younger audience in a vain attempt to appear “with-it” and cool? Either way, I could live without seeing adverts for personal products on television. If I’m not currently experiencing the problem in question, I have no desire to see other people who are. And if I am having an issue, I’m probably curled up in a corner whimpering, or seeing my doctor, or out buying the most cost-efficient problem-solving product in the store.

7. Commercials that use cute spokes-critter depictions of the product to entice me to buy and consume that product. I don’t want to eat cereal if the pieces of cereal might have an opinion about being eaten. At least kill the cereal-things before you ship them out in the cereal boxes. The animated M&Ms? Creepy. Cannibalistic, too. Mr Kool-Aid? Not only does he wantonly destroy pretty much any wall he comes near (or he used to), no one is disturbed by a giant talking glass pitcher that encourages you to consume his contents. Instead, all the kids suddenly cheer and get overly excited. Yay, we’e going to drink his brains! Braaaaains! Besides, destructive juice, naked OR wearing tights, is just Not On. It ain’t RIGHT. And my parents would never buy it if I tried to blame a hole in the wall on Mr Kool-Aid!

Me: And then he said “OH YEAH!!!”
Parent: Oh, RIGHT.
Me: But he DID!
Parent: You know we don’t allow Kool-Aid in this house. It’s bad for you. It rots your teeth. It stains the carpet.
Me: *wailing* Tell HIM that! And…and…he wasn’t wearing any pants!!!

I don’t want to eat the Chunky Chips-Ahoy cookies, they’re too happy. Or, worse, commercials that use one food source to sell out another food source. Chik-Fil-A cows, I’m looking at you. It’s rather grotesque. Oh, please spare us, we’re not as tasty as these other animals. How about the Milky Way bar that suggests you stuff down your sexual frustrations and loneliness by eating a candy bar that looks like a Latina woman? “Why so blue, panda bear?” “Whatev.” “I have a secret! You are a buffet of manliness!” And then, I suppose, the guy is so cheered up by his encouraging, validating, ego-stroking candy bar that the only proper response is to bite the little Latina’s head off. La Leche Via, we hardly knew ye. (Forgive my super-crappy Spanglish. My brain hurts.)

8. Then there’s the Yoplait commercial. This is illogical on a number of levels. First of all, the woman is seen wandering around with a giant inflatable raft covering her body. She hasn’t heard about towels, sarongs, tee-shirts, sundresses, whatever. And it looks like she finds the smallest and most cramped places to promenade through with her honkin’ big raft. Does she pick up any of the crap she breaks or knocks over or say sorry? Not that we see. And so it goes, until Ms. Raft managed to pop the stupid thing, revealing that she has a tiny little bikini-suitable figure after all. And then she eats a carton of yoghurt. At the beach. A carton of hot, watery, bacteria-teeming Yoghurt. With a metal spoon that she presumably will carry around with her all day, along with the yoghurt cup. Which will be something lovely to smell when the spoiled dairy product makes her violently ill and she drags her beach tote into the public restrooms to puke her guts out. I won’t even get into the question that plagues me when I hear the “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” song. Suffice it to say that they are insufficiently clear as to whether or not it’s a suit that is yellow with polka dots of an unspecified hue, or whether the bikini itself has yellow-colored polka dots. In this case, they went with the yellow bikini with dots choice. Whichever way they chose, I’d be aggravated by the lack of clarity in the lyrics.

9. Dear Herbal Essences: Your shampoos are terrible. I’ve conducted an informal poll. They are no substitute for actual sex (or foreplay). You don’t fool us.

10. Uh. There’s a guy with a big plastic mask on staring in my bedroom window. He’s wearing a crown and grinning at me. And yet, I feel strangely compelled to accept his offering of breakfast food. Because I always welcome gifts from creepy people sneaking into my yard–or my BED!–who offer me food from an unknown source. Mmmmm, RoofieBurgers!

11. You just know that Johnson would have gotten fired by now. All he does is eat cereal all damn day. He clearly has no idea of what is going on around him. He also doesn’t have the basic manners to stop eating when his bosses are addressing him. I’m with Smith on this one. Maybe because he vaguely reminds me of Kevin Spacey.

12. Diapers for bedwetting kids old enough to go on sleepovers–so much is wrong with this. I realize that it is probably an issue for a lot of children. But claiming the diapers look like real underwear (they don’t) is cruel. The kids starring in these commercials must get all kinds of tormenting from their peers in real life, too. Lastly, bedwetting is occasionally a sign of a more serious problem, perhaps even sexual abuse or trauma. If you consider that, offering these kids some humiliating diapers instead of working on figuring out what the problem is (is it medical? is it emotional? what?) is like slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping head wound. It may stop the blood from getting all over the place, but some medical attention would be nice, too.

13. “It’s the network.” Because what really sells me on a phone service is the chance to be followed around wherever I go by thousands of people, including people in helicopters and large trucks. Do they follow you home, and, if so, how much does it cost to feed everybody? Do they follow you into the restroom? I’m pretty sure they don’t follow me down into the dark and scary lower levels of underground parking decks I used to have to park in when I lived in Atlanta, and those would be good places to have reliable phone service. I mean, I don’t hang out by the docks all that often. Not even to meet vaguely Irish gangsters wearing eyeliner.

14. It’s apparently good parenting to allow your kid to be an utter bratbeast and turn up her nose at every food in the supermarket in a whingey little voice. The tone is all “I’m gonna wish you into the cornfield if you buy that, because I DON’T LIKE IT!”…and what kid hates chicken and waffles? Oh, she’s not even SURE she doesn’t like waffles. She doesn’t THINK she likes them. By all means, reward your demonspawn’s pickiness by feeding them Pediasure, which is probably 90% corn syrup. Good call. Far better than taking the child aside and calmly but firmly fulfilling your parental obligations by telling her that she’s going to eat a balanced diet or nothing at all. Letting a three-year-old dictate what you buy for them to consume is a bad precedent.

I’m also utterly tired of Commercial Land adopting TV Land’s already insufferable cliche of the wise, all-knowing children being more clever and sympathetic than their long-suffering parents. There’s the mom in the Smart Start commercial who tells her daughter that she’s eating the cereal to stay healthy because she wants to “live forever”. The daughter reacts as if this is the worst thing in the world, and acts like she’s been plotting to murder mom in her sleep for years now.

There’s the kids in the theme park commercial who complain and bitch and whinge about how they absolutely won’t tolerate the family going anywhere but the vacation they want (but aren’t paying for). Because the world revolves around your kids’ whims, and it’s implied that it’s okay for the little darlings to rule the roost and make leisure-time and fiscal decisions for the family.

There’s the dad who kindly takes his brat daughter to Jiffy Lube since she refuses to pay attention to him when he attempts to instruct her about car maintenance. First of all, hello, your parents BOUGHT YOU A CAR. You can’t muster up the minimum amount of gratitude to let your dad tell you how to keep it running? Failing that, at least have the courtesy not to roll your eyes when he escorts you to Jiffy Lube and pays them to do your preventive maintenance FOR YOU.

How about the dad who slaves away, giving up several weekends, and builds his kids a tree house. He tracks them down in his SUV and they completely blow off his work on their behalf, and run his battery down playing DVDs and music and so forth IN HIS CAR and then shoo him away disrespectfully.

Or how about the dad who hides Easter eggs all over the house for his kids and finds that they don’t give a crap, the Hallmark singing rabbit is more interesting by FAR. Mom and dad are apparently supposed to cater, endlessly, to the whims of their offspring and let them do pretty much what they like, and allow them to be spoilt and rude and ungrateful and bratty. After all, we don’t have enough socially maladjusted selfish people, narcissists and sociopaths in the world. Clearly there’s been a shortage of them…. MUST. MAKE. MORE.

What do these kids turn into?

  • The manipulative guy who has six birthdays a week to get his friends to buy his lunch.
  • The guy in the Amp Mobile advert who discovers he has power over the other hapless subway riders and makes them fight, pole-dance and otherwise humiliate or potentially injure themselves.
  • Most of the people in the Radio Shack “Buy Me Stuff” adverts that came out during the holidays…the most egregious one being the African-American princess who demands that her dad buy her an expensive phone (you know the parents are footing the bill for her mobile phone airtime, too) and threatens to pit dad against mom–they are clearly divorced–and make him cough up a convertible instead if he doesn’t obey.
  • The girl who thinks nothing of going to an aquarium and eating a big FISH SANDWICH in front of the little fish in the tank. Okay, so real fish wouldn’t have the intelligence to grasp what was going on, but it’s just insensitive that she’s apparently SMUG about it. Remind me to go out to the country and eat a few hamburgers in front of the cows.
  • The fat guy lazing about with his buddies in the backyard who tells his wife, who has clearly been out doing errands and shopping for groceries, to make him a DiGiorno pizza…and hurry it up, chop-chop!
  • Or they grow up to be Smitty’s roommates. Who’s Smitty, you ask? It’s the hard-working redheaded kid who has managed to get himself a job. Meanwhile his roommates are sending him mocking images and video lampooning him, they’re phoning up and announcing that Smitty’s boss is a … (Smitty slams phone shut before he’s fired on the spot), that they’ve set the house on fire…and they are all clearly unemployed losers loafing about at home (emphasis on loser, not unemployed, because one of these traits is ALWAYS a choice), eating junk food and laughing their butts off each time they harass the poor guy at his workplace. I wonder who is paying the rent and utilities for the house they are setting on fire and hanging out in all day? Probably poor, spineless Smitty, who is clearly regretting letting his so-called pals be in his network.
  • Or the woman who has twins in a stroller who responds to a passerby’s comment that “They’re so cute” by making it all about herself and her ugly purple stiletto shoes. “I know! I have another pair in lime green!” You have lime green babies? Oh, shoes. I guess the babies are accessories you don’t obsess about as much.
  • Or the husbands and wives who practically knock each other down to either drive the family car or use the super-expensive shower system: by hook or by crook, I’m going to be selfish and do my best to hose my spouse out of something we both want.
  • Or the Pizza Hut ad guys who place so much importance on a goddamned pizza that they burn their anniversary dinner on purpose, make their employees work late, or only think to return things they have borrowed from their neighbors when they can steal a slice of pizza from them.

On the off chance that someone isn’t a selfish arsehole in a commercial, they are Too Much Information People who insist on talking to you about their baldness, flatulence, periods, power scooters, acne, their male catheters, their cold sores, their constipation, et cetera….like we give a crap…or they are droids who are programmed to derive all emotional satisfaction form consumerism. Case in point: the latest Hummer commercials. In one, a bitchy mom pushes aside another mom on the playground to let her kid cut in line, and protagonist mom says and does nothing whatsoever, and then goes out and buys a $57k gashog of a car. In another, a guy buying healthy vegetarian food in a grocery store feels emasculated by the large meat-product content of a total stranger’s grocery cart and to restore his manhood, decides that only getting $57k in debt will ease the pain. I hate these people. Who wants to live in a world where people like this are used to shill products? We’re supposed to identify with their crap-ness. Well, I don’t.

15. First of all, Dr Phil, trying to sell me on a dating service? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of arrogant conservative (especially conservative Texan) males trying to control my every move. The “Mind. (OBEY!) Find. (STALK!) Bind. (TIE UP IN YOUR BASEMENT!)” tagline is also not giving me warm fuzzy feelings for Match.com. Maybe the same guy wrote this advertising campaign who wrote the Starburst adverts where the guy with the candy hears a voice in his head telling him to do creepy things to his friends so he doesn’t have to share his candy. Someone else bitched about this elsewhere, and I can’t top their reaction: “I worry about the day the voice in his head tells him to burn down churches, carve up hookers, kill his parents and blame his dog Sam”. Yep. Me, too. And then he’ll probably blame it on Twinkies or Ritalin or backwards masking…you know, subliminal messages FROM TEH DEVILLLL!!!eleventy-ones11!! recorded onto his Green Day CD.

16. Kelly Ripa is far too excited about her Tide Out Out Damned Spot Pen Thing. The wide, staring eyes, the inappropriate lack of volume control in public places and overall manic Stepford-esque devotion to a stain-fighting tool make me tremble in fear. Also: I just don’t get all that many spots on my clothes. If I do manage to miss my mouth and get food on myself, either hand-washing or a spin in a normal washing machine will get the stain out. It’s like the stain pen has lobotomized her. Now, I don’t know anything about Ms. Ripa. She may be like that All. The. Time. If so, what does she DO to earn a living? Is she a circus clown or something? Because they are quite scary, too. Does she have Machine-gun Jubblies? Don’t TOUCH me, woman! Your mental cooties might jump off you and burrow into my brain like earwigs.

17. Some snarky kid who says “Dude!” and suggests ways to manipulate your parents into buying you a computer does not inspire me with enough Consumer Confidence to plunk down a few hundred or thousand dollars to buy a Dell.

18. There’s so much wrong with the cheap wine commercials (“Island Fruits Pinot Grigio, YUMMMM!”) that I don’t know where to begin. It clearly takes place in Commercial Land. A guy tries to propose to his girlfriend and this Island Fruits crap is the best wine he can think of? Meanwhile, she’s just about to accept his proposal (a life-altering major decision, one hopes) but is instead easily distracted by the Boone’s Farm screwtop plonk of the New Millennium. Hold that thought, honey, I have to have an orgasm over this crappy fruity wine-crap. Does the bigger size come in a BOX? Oh, yay!! Run, proposing guy! Run!!

19. Another Commercial Land cliche is animated stuffed animals. The pinnacle of creepiness is probably the Snuggle Bear, as he talks and watches this woman swimming in a pool with a strange leer. But the Febreeze commercial with the stuffed animals being put away in a toy box and then somehow reappearing all over the rug seconds later? That’s not cute. That’s like an outtake from Poltergeist. Only in Commercial Land would the woman just stand there calmly surveying the room and immediately understanding that the stuffed animals are all appreciating the lovely chemical pong of Febreeze spritzed atop her carpet. Normal people would drop the Febreeze bottle, say very bad words loudly, and run like Hell.

20. Commercials that have angels in them tend to grate my cheddar, too. The Downy commercial with the cute little black child in her white dress and lavender sash…all of a sudden she’s got wings! Is she dead? Even the new commercials have the “angel” theme, with the cute little white child making “bedspread angels” atop the freshly softened sheets. The Angel Soft angels make “wee-wee / oui, oui” and “you don’t know squat (about female potty habits)” jokes, which is just juvenile. The Philly cream cheese angels are obsessed with shopping, “wing tucks”, and dumb, superficial crap in general. The Guardian Angel adverts where the guardian angels basically slack off unless their charges are about to use the wrong credit card. Because that’s worse than getting mowed down by a garbage truck or attacked by giant jellyfish. Does that sound like Heaven? Dead children, smarmy guys who make stupid potty humor jokes, and cream cheese spread lovin’ angels obsessed with their physical appearance and possible aging? Gah. It’s bad enough getting inundated by the values of the Religious Right without adding dysfunctional angel imagery to commercials.

21. Dishonorable Mention:

The Skittles commercial with the creepy bearded guy, wherein his freakishly animated chin hair feeds candy to his interviewer and then strokes her cheek. *skeeved out* In fact, whoever is handling Skittles / Starburst adverts right now should die, because when they aren’t promoting sociopathic behavior (“If you don’t have any friends, you won’t have to share your candy! Now…the girl!!”), they are just creepy. Remember the one that inflicted Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” on us and had the Starburst sculpture that the lovelorn teenage boy takes a huge bite out of in front of his appalled crush?

TOOOOOO many more to start ranting again. Really. Share some of your least favourite with me; chances are that I hate them just as much as you do.

There ARE some great (the Staples CopyCat), funny (“are you agitatin’ my dots?”), memorable (spokesgeezer Fabio crooning grrrrowwwwwrrr in an insurance commercial, “weeeee waaaaant a celllll phoooone…I want to hear the voices, Daddy!”) and just plain weird (“Vegetable med-laaaayyyy!”) commercials out there. But that’s a post for another day.

Also, feel free to rant about any more recent advertising abominations. Horror is timeless.

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