One of my pet issues for a long time has been talentless advertising and journalism. Marketing or reporting FAILs will be a consistent visitor to this page. The ad that’s hit a few of the channels I watch just within the last few days — making me question my choices in television, incidentally — blows away some of the other bad commercials that I’d love to divert to complain about.
Sometimes when you watch ads, you know that they’re relying on their celebrity spokesperson to sell a useless product, or that they’re disclaiming their results (“This is the one woman who lost weight on the Taco Bell drive-thru menu …”) as atypical, or that they’re simply full of shit. Usually they at least bother to dress it up; they leave it to you to figure out that you want the product, but it’s going to be bad for you. You see Dunkin’ Donuts advertised. They advertise their coffee so you can pretend you’re going in for that, but you’re walking out with three bearclaws and two Boston cremes. McDonald’s advertises carrot sticks and good times, and you walk out with a large fries and a double lard burger. That’s not you? Good for you, keep telling yourself that.
And then, occasionally, an advertisement warns you not that the product is bad for you, but is BAD for you. The Surgeon General insists on warnings on the side of packs of cigarettes that they will deform your baby, and in Canada and Europe, they actually say that smokes will kill you and show pictures of tar-laden lung tissue. The FDA is fun for effective warnings in general — who can forget thet Olestra TV commercial that warns of “anal leakage”? Do you need fake butter so much that you oblige yourself to pick up Depends at the grocery?
Saturday Night Live proposed the epitome of product warnings (well, it’s up there to rival real life, with anal leakage) with the Super Happy Fun Ball, in the “Bag o’ Glass” vein. Unfortunately, NBC Universal is stingy with their skits and enthusiastic with their trademark infringement actions, and I can’t find a link to an actual copy of the video here, but the image here is a taste. “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball. Do not expose Happy Fun Ball to sunlight. Do not touch or play with Happy Fun Ball.” I’m really sorry if you’ve never seen it because it’s one of their top all-time skits on the program.
So, the new commercial that takes its place among the pantheon of Products You Do Not Want is a money lender called Western Sky. The commercial is a suave Graham Greene-type, long-haired Indian giving this earnest look into the camera. And this verbatim quote from the ad — hell, it’s their lead off, I think:
If you need $2500 in your checking account by tomorrow, then Western Sky has cash to lend you. Yes, the money is expensive, but there’s no collateral required and you can keep the cost down by paying it back as fast as you can.
Excuse me? What if you don’t pay it back “as fast as you can”? The first time I heard a sales pitch like that, it was in The Godfather. No, wait, I think it was Goodfellas. Right before Christian Slater’s character’s dad got blown away with a shotgun. Western Sky explains that they’re a Native American-owned company … but seriously, I don’t care if you’re noble savages and branching out from the casino business. Bravo. What, you don’t break knees, you scalp people that can’t pay the weekly juice? I’ve heard ridiculous jingles and endured stupid commercials for The General, Cashpoint and Eastern Automotive. All of those take advantage of the poor, the stupid or the desperate. This was the first time I watched someone tell me that I was coming to them on the day of their daughter’s wedding, asking for a favor, and that one day they may call on me to repay. I can get behind the idea of an offer that I shouldn’t miss, but I’d rather not be presented with one that I can’t refuse.