Daily Archives: July 23, 2011

Commercials: #1

I am not a big fan of advertising and marketing. To the extent they provide information that allows people to reasonable decisions about purchasing useful products, I have no problem. Quite the opposite; of course a company should let you know what it offers. But when they try to force unnecessary products on us, that’s a problem. When they use carefully concealed misdirection–sometimes outright lies–to trick us, that’s a problem.

TV Commercials are among the worst form of advertising. Some of them are fun (at least the first 10,000 times you see them), and some of them are bland but fairly harmless. But some of them ought to make intelligent people’s heads explode.

For example, there was a commercial for Qwest that began with a guy saying to the camera, “It’s a fact: there’s a trillion people on the internet these days!”

No. It’s the exact opposite of a fact; it’s complete bullshit. There aren’t anywhere close to a trillion people on the planet and aren’t likely to be in the foreseeable future.  Some feel population will level out shy of ten-billion (American billion, that is: 10,000,000,000), and that’s two orders of magnitude less than a trillion. Every time that commercial came on, I had to quickly switch channels (or at least mute) to prevent cranial detonation.

Fortunately Qwest “is becoming Century Link” (whatever that means), so perhaps that offense against intelligence has seen its last airing. As an ironic aside, it’s amusing that the Xfinity (what is it with these non-word company names?), which used to be Comcast, has ads suggesting you can’t trust what you’ll get when a company changes hands or names.  Do tell.

And here’s a thing… Number of times my phone service has gone out in my lifetime: zero. Number of times my Qwest internet service has gone out or been a problem: zero. Number of times Comcast service has gone out or just generally completely sucked: constantly. In fact, number of times I’ve been a happy, satisfied Comcast customer in all the years I’ve had cable: once.

But while I’m ranting: Qwest. A non-word my mind refuses to learn and forces me to misspell every time I use it. Possibly one of the dumbest company names in the history of company names. Is it “kwest” or is it “Q-west“? What marketing moron came up with that offense to sense?

In any event, Qwest was once a part of AT&T, the folks who brought you a pretty damn good phone system (and the transistor, among other things). And it’s some recent AT&T commercials that are chapping my ass lately. In the wireless market, AT&T has been an also-ran, and the word has been that their coverage can be a real issue. Verizon has been pounding them in commercials by showing comparative coverage maps that sure make it seem that AT&T’s coverage is pathetic.

AT&T has tried to counter with ads suggesting that coverage maps don’t tell the whole story, and those commercials have seemed pretty weak since they don’t suggest what the whole story actually is.  And let’s face it, coverage is pretty important all other things being relatively equal.

Lately, and these are the ones that irritate me, they’ve been selling on how they are in the process of expanding. (Translation: our coverage still sucks, but we’re working on it.) The one I just saw starts with a bug crawling up a blade of grass. (Note to marketers: bugs and hardware might not be the ideal juxtaposition.) Presumably this is a lightning bug, since the primary subject of the commercial is kids running around a field with jars presumably catching lightning bugs. We have to presume, because we never see them catch one or see a jar containing any. For that matter, I don’t believe we even see one flying around lit up (which in these CGI days seems surprisingly lame).

But here’s the thing. The main kid featured is head down on his AT&T smartphone. The phone is shown displaying… what? Where his friends are? Surely not where the bugs are! But the thing is, kids running in a field chasing lightning bugs with high-tech gear. Can we not enjoy nature without a goddamn smart phone? Does this age-old childhood activity really need smart phones?

AT&T couldn’t come up with anything better than this?  Doesn’t make me want to buy their stuff.

The tag lines for the commercial speak about the possibilities inside the AT&T network. “What’s in here is almost impossible to say.”  Yeah, because there’s really nothing new or different or even interesting about their service. Phone service is phone service; it’s the devices and their apps that are interesting.

The other one that I’m really sick of is that flash mob commercial.  You know the one. The dummy in the train station waiting for 12:00 so he can strip off his jacket and begin his dance bit. Except that the flash mob has been postponed until 12:30.  There’s basically nothing right about this commercial.  It reveals the makers know nothing about flash mobs, because every aspect of that part is wrong.

There’s also the fact that the main character is dumb beyond belief. I realize that’s part of the commercial; he is a dummy for not having the AT&T phone, but he’s so dumb he doesn’t deserve free air.  He makes no eye contact with others who are apparently in the same flash mob. He doesn’t notice that no one is around him is participating once he starts.

And all that aside, the main selling point here seems to be that a text message is delayed so much as to trip this guy up. But the smart ones with the AT&T phones got it in time?  What network delays text messages that much? At its core the commercial proposes a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Bottom line for me: if I ever considered AT&T a player in the wireless market, I sure as hell don’t now.

I’ll return to the subject of commercials repeatedly. They are one of my favorite things to hate. And the hate isn’t virulent. People talking on cell phones while driving; that puts murder and mayhem in my heart. The whole subject of people and their cell phones will no doubt be an article here in the near future. I don’t have anything against the idea of the devices; it’s how people use them that offends me. Deeply. Virulently.

In closing, one more rant and a cute ending: the DirecTV commercials featuring some very unappealing people. There’s one with a boxer, one with a Russian mobster, one with an insider-trading guy,  and another with an apparent Asian drug lord. What is their audience?  Rich assholes and criminals? Seems like a good reason not to buy DirecTV if that’s the typical customer. It’s almost like they don’t want you to subscribe. Or maybe they’re going after a user market so ignorant they don’t know that satellite TV lost the war.  Even cable TV is losing ground to the internet; satellite is a definite has-been.

DirecTV seems to be really floundering. In the baseball game I was watching, they gave us a DirecTV game break… some blurry video of another game.  This is supposed to make me want DirecTV?  It just confirms what I’ve always thought: satellite TV is dead and gone!  (Satellite radio, on the other hand, is pretty cool. I am getting a bit tired of the “NO SIGNAL” drop-outs, though.)

To end this on an upbeat cute note: the commercials for Charmin toilet paper. The ones that feature those pastel-colored bears.  You get the joke right?  Bears selling toilet paper?

Remember the old line about what bears do in the woods?