But Please Buy Our Stuff Anyway

The droning, pesante piano theme commences, as the face of the sad, sad woman looms imposingly on the screen.  “I don’t like being depressed…”

Nor do I, which is why I quickly mute this ad whenever it intrudes; and, when the dreary faces continue to grimace in mime time, I proceed to explore what is playing on other channels.

I’m not in the target demographic for this ad, but I can’t help wondering how attractive it can be to the people who are.

What depressive person would be fascinated by a commercial featuring somber, depressing music, and tortured, depressing faces?  (Maybe I’m all wet here, and the agencies know what they’re doing.  After all, there are actually people who spend good money for “Forgotten Tomb” and “The Smiths” albums.) But all in all, this approach seems to me to be diametrically counterproductive.

Treblinka image

Luckily for this company, their competitors are equally flummoxed. Has no one told them that the image of a somber wind-up doll shuffling grimly through life is not what one might describe as enticing? And, as horror would have it, that is not the before image they present, but the after image they promise you—the successful result of a course of treatment with their anti-depression drug. Collect a few dozen of these aimless, tottering icons of success in a room, and the resulting video would be indistinguishable from certain group photos in the archives of Dachau or Treblinka.

There’s a popular cautionary bromide that reminds the listener that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom of their class. Of course, the same is true of any professional, including ad executives. That’s why we really shouldn’t be surprised to see the occasional ad campaign that doesn’t merely trigger the viewer’s apathy, but his active antipathy.

One particularly annoying example from a few years back was a commercial for a two-part candy bar, whose tagline was, “Two for me—none for you.” Seriously, does American society need more positive reinforcement for greed? I suppose it’s a short step from denying a cartoon rabbit your breakfast cereal to denying your human friends a piece of your candy bar. I found this particular commercial so morally offensive me that I now make it a point to avoid buying this treat.

My favorite contemporary example of outrageous offensiveness in an American ad is Audi’s infamous “Green Police” from Super Bowl XLIV:

Some folks thought it was “obvious” that Audi was taking a humorous, tongue-in-cheek swipe at the fanaticism of greens for the sake of an entertaining commercial; but how could you square this interpretation with the object of the ad, which was to sell a “superior” green car? A subsequent posting on the Audi website indicated that the company still had no clue as to the source of the fiercely negative public reaction their ad generated:

Audi has created a fictional Green Police unit that are caricatures of today’s “green movement.” The Green Police are a humorous group of individuals that have joined forces in an effort to collectively help guide consumers to make the right decision when it comes to the environment. They’re not here to judge, merely to guide these decisions.

Apparently, the “helpful guidance” of this “humorous groups of individuals” takes the form of slamming people’s faces into checkout counters, storming their houses, chasing them around their own yards, and placing them under arrest.

Perhaps this is a cultural disconnect. Audi is, after all, a German company, and it’s quite possible that violence, arrest, and imprisonment falls squarely into the German tradition of lighthearted, neighborly persuasiveness.

But then, how to explain the British advertisement that goes only a short step further?

Audi’s “Green Police” compares to this little ecofascist wet dream as Sheriff Joe Arpaio compares to Idi Amin. What sort of person glorifies the imposition of absolute ideological conformity upon a society, on pain of instant, atrocious, explosive death? Even our favorite historical villain with the toothbrush mustachio didn’t punish children for not volunteering to join his famous Youth Corps.

The marvel here is that these images were ever consigned to recorded media in the first place. Is it actually possible that absolutely no one in the production chain ever took the opportunity to draw aside the client and tell him, “Look, don’t you think images of children being violently exploded by authority figures affiliated with your group might… offend people? Aren’t you worried that the storyline presented here is a bit, well, Freudian—revealing—and that it may not reflect entirely positively on you? Do you really want to expose this fantasy to the world?”

Of course, this particular client wasn’t deterred from disgusting his audience by any economic necessity of having to persuade them to buy actual merchandise from him. All he needs to sell is an ideology, and if people won’t voluntarily buy it, he can almost certainly persuade England’s authoritarian government to simply impose it. And for those who still believe there is a freedom to think for oneself, a freedom to disagree… see, there will be this big red button…

[Updated 16-12-28 to replace dead link to “Green Police” video to a working one.]

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