Monday, September 29, 2008

"Hi, I’d like to start–"

New York Press has its annual best of Manhattan issue this week. Always a good read. Which reminded me of my all-time favorite "best of" recipient. Nothing against the Times, just this particular ad campaign. This best of is from Sept. 26, 2000. I'm not sure what to excerpt. So here's the whole damn thing. (The individual recipients do not have bylines, so I can't give props to the writer...)

Best Aggravating Media Ad Campaign
The New York Times

If you watched five minutes of tv in the New York metropolitan area over the past year, you saw this commercial twice. The New York Times must have spent the annual budgets of several Third World nations on this media buy. There has to be a term ad agencies use for a campaign like this that achieves such market oversaturation that it begins to have the opposite of the intended effect and only makes people hate the product. Relentless, remorseless, ubiquitous, inescapable–you couldn’t channel-surf fast enough to get away from it; often it is running on multiple channels at once. "Hi, I’d like to start–" Click. "–ting home delivery of–" Click. "–our financial sec–" Aaaiiieee!

Not only ubiquitous, it’s repulsive. The characters, whom we correctly identified some weeks ago a "rainbow coalition of hideous yuppies," are so carefully chosen for a p.c. spread–young, old, Asian, WASP, brown, male, female–and yet all cut an unmistakable figure of complacent upper-middle-class suburban domesticity. Notice they all seem to have big houses and sun-filled rooms, not a dim little Upper West Side rent-stabilized apartment-dweller in the lot. Clearly this is an ad pitched at the suburban LI-NJ-CT-Westchester-Rockland market. So why must the rest of us suffer through it? Don’t they have a way to narrowcast it only to those markets and leave the rest of us alone?

But back to that rainbow coalition. We got to know these people this year as intimately as our most hated neighbors. The Filipino-looking pederast who simpers, "First thing? I think about my family here–and in my homeland." Nice kneejerk liberal save-the-world touch, the way he overarticulates that word home-land, like he’s auditioning for a community theater production of The King and I. ("King is king of all people–here and in my home-land! Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.") The gender-stereotyping throughout the ad is also remarkably blatant: Man Breadwinner, interested in the business section; Woman Breeder, loves the crossword puzzle. Thus the presumably gay actor playing the empty suit droning about "our financial security" while his brainless Stepford wife literally leans on his elbow and gazes insipidly into middle distance, dreaming of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and making babies. There’s the old WASP lady who cherishes "another day to learn something new..." ("...that I’ll forget in five minutes because I have Alzheimer’s. The paperboy has actually been delivering the same issue of the paper every day since 1996 and I haven’t noticed!") The positively scary woman with OCD who must finish the crossword puzzle. And the mocha hottie who just loves the arts and "nothing satisfies my passion like The New York Times." Nice subliminal messaging there. Very subtle.

Two or three times during the ad, one of these noids will look directly at you through the lens and repeat in their best, slow, hypnotist’s repeat-after-me voice, "I’d start getting...home delivery...of...The...New York Times..." The ad ran so often, in so many places, that the message became Pavlovian through sheer, heartless repetition. Pretty soon you were shambling the streets of the city like a George Romero zombie, hollow-eyed, unkempt, muttering, "must...order...home delivery...of...The...New York Times...must...order..."

Condescending and yet browbeating, like the Times itself, this commercial was like an unwelcomed guest on our tv screen who just wouldn’t go away. People complained about the Taco Bell dog and the sock puppet (the latter our favorite tv figure of the year, and when does he get to host his own talk show?), but both those campaigns combined didn’t add up to the sheer volume or aggravation of this single Times commercial.

I could not find the commercial on YouTube. But here's a parody of it...

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