The case of Motrin and the angry moms
My kid is 4 months old and I scarcely find time for blogs anymore, but couldn't let pass this Motrin commercial. The spot basically takes a jab at the recent (in the US, anyway) vogue for babywearing and offers up Motrin as the solution for the backaches that result.
I'm not sure which is more hilarious: the fact that people working for Motrin thought this was a good idea or the overwrought backlash by moms pissed off about it. This "answer" video, for instance, denies that babywearing hurts your back or is anything other than a blissful experience... which makes me wonder what its author is smoking. Practically every new mom I know wears her baby but often it's as a last resort — once the little darlings are beyond the newborn stage, carrying them can be onerous and cumbersome. It's no coincidence that perhaps the most popular carrier in Brooklyn these days is the Ergo, a carrier designed specifically to reduce back pain.
Which isn't to say that the commercial is not offensive. It is, I think, but not for the reasons some of my peers suggest. It's offensive not because the claims about babywearing are entirely wrong, but because of the way Motrin pitches itself as your friend: by deriding babywearing as mere fashion in order to offer up Motrin as the solution.
Shortly after Motrin's misdeed made the rounds online, the company behind the brand, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, withdrew the spot and issued an apology. (Hear hear!)
But maybe they'll like my idea for their next campaign: promote Motrin as a headache remedy for parents whose kids scream mercilessly when they put them in the stroller. Hell, they can come to my place to shoot that one....
NYC Illegal Billboards Workshop
Rami Tabello of IllegalSigns.ca and I are organizing a workshop to help New Yorkers fight illegal advertising in New York. Rami is coming down from Toronto just for this workshop, and it's a unique opportunity. I know Stay Free! readers are interested in this kind of thing, hope to see you there.
Activists estimate that half the billboards in New York City are illegal. Between fudged permits, lack of enforcement, and millions in profit, outdoor advertising has become a corporate black market that wont flinch at breaking laws to get your attention. On July 1st, the Anti-Advertising Agency and Rami Tabello of IllegalSigns.ca will give a free workshop teaching you how to identify illegal advertising and get it taken down. You will leave this workshop equipped to have illegal signs removed in your neighborhood.
Canadian activist group IllegalSigns.ca is responsible for the removal over 100 illegal billboards in the City of Toronto and will reveal how the billboard industry gets away with breaking the law and what New Yorkers can do to stop it.
Al'z Well at the Nursing Home
Congratulations to me, as I spotted the worst attempt at branding in the history of locally produced television commercials.
The shot below comes from a TV commercial for Ruby Weston Manor, an assisted-living facility in East New York.
And the photo can't begin to convey the creepily serene voice that invited us to send our loved ones to stay with good ol' Al (once good ol' Al had come to stay).
Advertising's scary new weapon: sonic beams
Just when you thought you've see it all, along comes a terrifying new form of advertising. An A&E billboard on Prince Street (bet. Mulberry and Mott) in Manhattan is using ultrasound waves to beam audio to hyper-targeted areas along the sidewalk below. If you've seen The Men Who Stared at Goats, then you'll recognize this as military technology that uses "your skull as a speaker." In other words, it beams hypersonic sounds to scare victims, make them nauseous, or cause them to faint. Yes, exactly the sort of thing we want on our streets!
Steve Lambert was able to get his hands on this demo video of the A&E ad, so you can see how it works. Hopefully neighborhoods groups (NYC Streets? Municipal Art Society? Project for Public Spaces?) will see this for what it is—a potential public health hazard—and pass ordinances banning this stuff.
Advertising between Ads
According to the LA Times, the writer's strike may really be taking its toll:
Firebrand, a media company based in New York, launched the all-commercials-all-the-time show on the ION network (in L.A. on KPXN-TV Channel 30) late Monday with hopes of getting young people to view advertising: as entertainment, not an annoyance. ... The show, called "Firebrand," airs weeknights at 11. On both the show and its sister website, commercial jockeys called CJs introduce the mostly 30-second spots, which are selected by "commercial curators."
The article didn't put it this way, but using advertisements as entertainment (as opposed to merely making ads entertaining) appears to be something of a trend. Also, me crying at my desk is now something of a trend.
"Real beauty" from the makers of Axe?
It's been a while since we checked in on the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign, but I would feel remiss in not pointing out the new round of criticism its getting.
If you haven't seen them, the Dove commercials are as genius as they are insidious (see Onslaught and Evolution, for instance). As the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood pointed out last month, Dove is owned by Unilever, which also produces Axe body spray and other personal hygiene products. So while the makers of Dove attack advertising that exploits female bodies, they're producing scores of those ads at the very same time. The Axe campaign, however, is particularly obnoxious. As media literacy consultant Bob McCannon has said:
In all my years of doing school workshops, I have never seen anything like the reaction of middle and high school kids. Almost ALL (no exaggeration) know the words to the Axe song, "Bom Chicka Wah Wah," by heart and sing it immediately and enthusiastically with the video, and most of them have been to the Axe "spanking vixens" site.
Now someone has re-edited Dove's latest commercial—replacing bikini bunnies from generic sources with those from Axe commercials—to call attention to Unilever's hypocrisy. See A Message from Unilever. With luck, word will get around to all of those middle and high school teachers using the Dove spots as media literacy. The real lesson here is not that Dove supports "real beauty" but that corporations will say anything—even ostensibly critical things—to sell their crap.
The Latest from the Anti-Advertising Agency
A few highlights from the Anti-Advertising Agency blog:
Ad Free Blog and Google's AdSense Makes No Sense
A recent Reuters story confirmed a suspicion of mine. Most people don’t make money advertising on their blogs.
Protect Your Right to be Spammed!
The Direct Mail industry fights to protect direct mail through a direct mail campaign. Sleazy.
Boston Boots Musicians for Marketing Messages
Boston's Subway, the T-Line, is bringing in audio "advertainment" into it's subway platforms and trains, and kicking out live musicians. And they want to know what you think about it.
Golden Gate Billboard
Paul S. talks about using advertising dollars to pay for what taxes should -- and how it doesn't work.
Pay Phones Turned Mini-Billboards With the saturation of cell phones, who uses pay phones in New York? Drug dealers and advertisers.
My new favorite thing: this gorilla commercial
As some of you know I'm an ape enthusiast and have been for some time. Seldom does it happen that my love of apes trumps my antipathy toward corporate advertising (or Phil Collins, for that matter). This commercial, however, is one of those times... and the spot is all the more awesome when you realize that it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the sponsor's product. Which is to say that this spot perfectly captures advertising of the YouTube age: the viewer gets a burst of entertainment in exchange for watching a product plug. Unlike advertising of old, that entertainment is provided by the advertisers instead of TV writers or magazine editors. For those who have seen Thank God You're Here, it will be a nice relief to have someone try to entertain you.
Levi's Gay Friendly Jeans - and financial woes
AdFreak pointed out a Levi's ad campaign that uses the same protagonist in two different versions of a commercial: in one, a good tug of his jeans over his hips yanks an exciting new world through the floor of his office, complete with Fantasy Woman conveniently waiting in a phone booth. The second version — prepare to be shocked — is the same commercial shot-for-shot, but this time it is Fantasy Man who just finished his drug deal. (Seriously. Why else would they be using a pay phone?)
The appropriate response to this is to applaud Levi's for marketing to the gay community. It is progress, however small, when corporate America decides that profits are more important than prejudice. So why do I keep obsessing about the wrong things in the ad, like clear evidence of a budget crisis at Levi's?
One, they use the same protagonist in both ads. Perhaps our fictional man is bisexual, but it gives the impression that either they assumed that there would be zero overlap between the audiences for the ads OR that Levi's could only afford three actors. I think they used the same take of the opening sequence for both commercials. I know that CGI and other production costs are expensive, but Levi's can't be in so much trouble that new commercials have to be made with found footage.
Two, what happens when this man tries to consummate his relationship with Fantasy Man or Fantasy Woman? As soon as the modern-day Tantalus drops his pants, the Good World will disappear and he'll be back in the tattered remains of his office, pants around his ankles, sobbing at the destruction he has wrought.
Dog Days for Nike
While we're on the subject of animal abuse, Nike made a big deal of suspending Falcons quarterback Michael Vick after his indictment for an interstate dog fighting operation. It is hard to accept Nike's moral indignation on this point, however, because Nike has previously used dogfighting to give street cred to their brand. You can see Nike's commercial on YouTube here.
Live by the street, die by the street, Nike. It must be tougher in Beaverton than I realized.
On a related note: thanks to the inventor of the Michael Vick chew toy, dogs can now metaphorically avenge their fallen brothers. Even if the charitable intentions of the manufacturers are shady, the fact that the toy has Vick's lawyers in a lather is good enough for me.