While watching Hulu one day, I came across something curious: an ad. And no, it wasn’t because it’s bullshit that Hulu’s paid service still has ad breaks, when for the same price I can shuffle through 8 seasons of Always Sunny on Netflix without having anything shoved in my face (other than Coors Light product placement, but we’ll get to that). The ad was curious because the content was something I hadn’t really seen before: honesty, with ever the slightest hint of condescension. And by hint I mean Oh God so much.
The ad was for Comcast. It was an extension of it’s “Welcome Back” campaign from a couple years ago. Though I couldn’t find the exact one, this one that ran on TV will have to do, since it’s remarkably similar:
If for some reason you didn’t have 30 seconds to spare, the ad features a woman crying to her Comcast fix-it guy, and apparently it’s not because he showed up 18 hours after she called him. She’s upset because she feels guilty that they switched to Fios, but now they are back with Comcast so everything is right with the world.
The spot is a prime example of what I like to call “ad-silly.” I have no idea if there is already a term for this somewhere on TVTropes, but that’s what I’m calling it. It’s when the entire ad is centered around a premise that could never happen in real life, filled with one-liner awkwardness that you see in movies sometimes. Meanwhile, they say almost nothing about the product itself. A lot of the time these ads will have kids in it, or dumb parents, or funny animals, or all three. The key is that it has to present a realistic situation that also could never happen. These types of ads have become more and more popular since the early 2000’s, since humor is the best way to target the youth, but using Michael Cera “movie awkwardness” is an easy way to do it without offending anyone. Put it this way: if you are under 30 and have ever laughed at an ad, that commercial was “ad-silly.”
Contrast this to something like Geico, who’s recent ads just make you scratch your head. They don’t have anything to say except “Maybe we’ll be able to give you a better car insurance price. Who knows? You could try calling!” and they have to fill 30 seconds. So the rest of the time is literally crazy. Most of them aren’t even funny, but that’s not the point.
So “ad-silly” commercials at least have a modicum of reality that gets exaggerated to the point where you have no choice but to chuckle at the effort. The kicker with these types of ads is that oftentimes the joke is obscuring some fact about the product that they want you to ignore. And in Comcast’s case, they want you to ignore a lot of shit.
I was certainly struck by how honest the ad was. After all, Comcast is admitting that a ton of people left them for the competitor, and assuring them that it’s OK to switch back, they won’t hurt you. But wait…
Notice the ad doesn’t say why the customers left in the first place. Not that it would. But they are certainly trying to make you not even ask the question.
They took a huge risk with the premise of this ad campaign, because they are admitting something about their product was faulty enough to cause people to defect to their competitor, but they are not even saying that they changed anything about the product that would warrant these same customers to switch back over, except for the name (Comcast is now, confusingly, Xfinity). At least with Domino’s, the CEO comes on the screen and says point blank, “Yes, our pizza used to be cardboard, but we’re using actual food now.” This Comcast ad is literally pointing out the oligarchy hiding behind the Internet infrastructure, and they were banking on you not even noticing.
Where I live I have one choice for a service provider: Comcast. The place I’m trying to move to has one: Verizon. I don’t use a landline or cable, but it’s pretty impossible to do anything without the Internet. I have no choice but to take whatever they give me, for whatever price. And it’s not even like I live in the freakin’ boonies: both of the places I’m talking about are major suburbs of a major city. That’s a goddamn monopoly. Even those that do get a choice rarely have more than two options.
So while Google has recently become the subject of investigation due to it’s monopolistic take on the search engine, Verizon and Comcast have been consolidating even more power in the form of nixed net neutrality laws. The endgame of this legislation is to get you to pay more money for your favorite websites, sortof how you do with cable channels. The difference between the two is that I can choose not to use Google, if I suddenly decide to start hating myself.
This problem is so bad that Shephard Smith rambled about how much of a monopoly Time Warner has in New York City. Shephard Smith. If you’re a successful American business and a Fox News talking head complains about you, you either just tweeted a picture of a rainbow Oreo or royally fucked up. Of course, the third explanation is that Shep only starts caring about an issue when it affects him personally, but that would be reprehensibly hypocritical.
The only Comcast ad I could find that came close to what Domino’s did was this one with comedian Jim Gaffigan. Notice that everything they say they fixed has to do with the service guys. It’s a focus on the personnel and not the structure of the system. Domino’s didn’t tell me they fired all their chefs, they said they remade the pizza from the ground up. In my experience, Comcast’s customer service hasn’t even been that bad. The real problem is that I pay $30 more per month than my neighbor who receives the exact same service. Or that it literally costs me more money to not have cable. Or that I have to pay rent to have a fucking cable box.
Now the original ad seems a little more sinister, doesn’t it? “Listen folks: you barely have a choice, so you might as well stick with the one who doesn’t screw you the hardest. That’s The Future of Awesome.”
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I like beer. But every time i drink it, I feel…I don’t know, like it needs some more science. It’s not enough for the design of the can and bottle to be near perfect. I need more utility. I need…
For some reason, the dirt-cheap domestic beer marketing teams have substituted the humor (WHASUUUUUUP!) for pure utility in the form of re-closable aluminum cans that tell you when they are cold, like some kindof futuristic robot. They’ve taken Comcast’s marketing idea (pretending to improve the product) to the opposite extreme (improving it way too much). First of all, I can’t figure out who these are for. Bars would never give out re-closable beer, and not a single person I’ve ever met has finished half a beer and attempted to close it back up so they could put it in the fridge and save 46 cents, only to be enraged by their futile attempt at doing so. And I went to a state college.
The cold-activated cans are even more puzzling. Again, who in the hell is this for? Someone who can’t feel? Someone who doesn’t know how fridges work? What’s the hidden meaning here?
If these technologies were so game-changing, why hasn’t a single other beer company copied them? Probably because they don’t need to distract people from their shitty-ass taste. You don’t see DogfishHead putting portable breathalyzers on their bottles, or Sam Adams 6-packs that come with an audiobook about the wonders of hops built into it.
And I get it, sometimes you just want to drink shitty beer. Not everyone can afford the luxury of getting faced off of single barrel craft. There’s always going to be a market for “the cheap one.” But these bottle technologies are a disguise to make you feel better about speeding 50 cents a can. Why kid yourself?
For a stark contrast, look at this ad for Natural Light:
Not only do they refer to their own product by the derogatory slang term “Natty,” but they are totally owning the fact that people just buy cases and cases of Natural Light for frat parties because it’s literally the cheapest. You gotta have some respect for that marketing team. Their slogan might as well be “Natty Light. For when you just don’t give a shit.”
You’re not “Platinum” or “Fortune” or “Select.” You’re crap and cheap. But that’s OK. Just own it.
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Many college media classes direct a lot of their criticism of modern advertising at the fact that ads often present an aspiration as their product. Wear Axe Body Spray, you will get laid. And while the message that they wear on their sleeve is important, just as critical is the message they are trying to obscure. Whenever you see a commercial that uses comedy, or one that just makes no sense, ask yourself this: “What are they not telling me about their product?” Oftentimes, it will be the very thing they don’t want you to know.
Also, I forgot to do a post last month. So um…April Fools. Oh and if you’d like to do something about the Comcast thing, consider contacting the FCC here.