I've put off venting long enough, but there's a celebrity TV ad that I find just utterly numbing, to the point that I just can't watch them anymore, and quickly turn the channel. And no, it's not Matthew McConaughey pitching Lincoln. I understand the annoyance of those, but I don't find them bad, just odd and a bit forced. I almost admire that they're trying to be a bit artsy (or at least ethereal) in some way, even if the idea doesn't really work.
No, I'm talking about the series of head-banging ads for Direct TV with Rob Lowe.
To be clear, I don't think they're awful because "it's Rob Lowe", as a friend said to me when I mentioned my dislike of them. I have no problem with Rob Lowe. I even find that he has a sort of enjoyable self-effacing way about him at times in the projects he chooses. Indeed, even these ads are somewhat self-effacing, so I'm okay with that.
The problem I have with the ads is that I find them deeply ill-conceived. The intent is to sell Direct TV to people who don't have Direct TV. Except the way they do this is by going out of their way way to egregiously insult those very people they want to buy their product, and do so in the most overbearing way.
So, you don't have Direct TV? Well, then you are nothing but a hairy, stupid, creepy, annoying, scary, gross social misfit. Please give us money and buy our product!
I understand that the marketing team thought that this was just the greatest concept -- hey, let's show how great people are who have Direct TV. And that, in theory, is fine. But they didn't think through the whole process and forget the other half of the equation. The whole "insult our hoped-for customers" part.
Sometimes, by the way, the first part of that equation works fine. Some products aren't trying necessarily to attract new customers, but are rather trying to reinforce to people who've already made the purchase that it was a Great Idea. But this is almost always for very high-end products. Like cars. (Hence, Cadillac ads with an Oscar-winning actor.) They're made to make you feel really good about yourself for spending all that huge amount of money, and keep you loyal to the brand for next time.
That's not Direct TV. This is a basic consumer product that's trying to attract business and new customers. And they're doing it by telling you that if you don't have Direct TV already, you are hairy, stupid, creepy, annoying, gross and a social misfit.
How warm and endearing.
Back in 1977, Schlitz Beer released a series of what are considered perhaps the worst TV ads in history. They had an off-screen announcer asking people if they'd give up their Schlitz, and the people basically threatening to tear the announcer limb-for-limb in as gruesome a way as possible. One I recall was with a mountain man and his angry, snarling cougar who...well, you can just imagine. These ads were so monumentally hated by the public that they became known, literally, as the "Drink Schlitz, or I'll Kill You Ads." (I'm not kidding -- that's the phrase I searched for and came up with half a dozen articles, included this one here in the Chicago Tribune.) You may want to consider a moment that Schlitz Beer went out of business years ago. And no, I'm not suggesting cause-and-effect just because of the TV ad - but they didn't help. Consider this sentence from the Tribune article, which notes that Schlitz had been the #2-selling beer the year before the ads ran. -- "But in charting how Schlitz went flat, don't underestimate the contribution of the TV commercials it ran in the late 1970s in a desperate bid to hold on to market share but which had entirely the opposite effect."
I'm not suggesting that Direct TV's new ad campaign will have the same impact. All I'm saying is that until now, I didn't think I'd come across TV ads that even came close to those from Schlitz.
If it does hurt sales, well, that's just an added bonus...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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