Advertising Reveals Our Culture

I've been watching a lot of basketball lately, and between the channel-flipping and occasional single-game windows, it has not been possible to use the DVR to avoid seeing commercials. Which means I've seen a lot of the current paradigm of advertising in America, which seems to consist of two main modes:

  • Smug and "dickish": The main exemplar of this is the Fidelity commercial in which a smug Fidelity customer at a cafe sneers at another customer for not knowing the wonders of his commercial invetment advice provider, but really, just about any investment commercial would do. Sam Waterston for TD Ameritrade is smug personified, although, to be fair, that's pretty much his character on "Law & Order," too. The quotes on "dickish" are to indicate that it's a behavior category not restricted to those with external genitalia, as the horrible women bartenders in the Miller Lite campaign demonstrate.
  • Horrifying: The singing NAPA commercials just creep me out, and they're everywhere. Lots of CGI-heavy ads fall in here, as do those Subway spots with adults dubbed in little-kid voices.

There's some overlap between these categories-- the "talking baby" spots for ETrade being a prime example-- but that covers 90% of the national advertising I've been seeing. The remaining 10% are boring and forgettable, with the possible exception of the Old Spice guy spots, which make no sense, but are at least amusing.

Really, if you want to know what's wrong with us as a society, that tells you everything you really need to know: the best way to appeal to modern American consumers is to be either smugly dickish, or horrifying. Or both.

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Let's remember that there is a targeted demographic watching these games. Most of the ads are aimed at middle-aged men with money to invest and buy trucks. I'm guessing there were focus groups that revealed a certain smugness in that demographic.
I'm not sure how I would respond to a woman tending bar in a bikini telling me my pants are too tight, though. Possibly a swift pirouette, a deep bow and the sound of denim ripping.
I've always been kind of theatrical.

We don't actually know that's the best way to appeal to American consumers. It's just what the ad wizards think is the best way.

I'm sure they've run focus groups, etc, but there could be more effective commercial concepts that no one has thought of yet.

(Also, commercials don't look like that in Canada.)

I, OTOH, am of the opinion that our society will not have reached its philosophical ideal until every commercial on television features that teensy giraffe from the DirecTV ads. So great!