Whisk away America's most hated commercials

September 15, 1996|By Dave Barry

SO I TURNED ON MY car radio, and the first thing I heard was the Shouting Car-Dealership Jerk. You know the one I mean. He sounds like this:

"BELOW DEALER COST!! MAX SNOTWICK FORD DODGE ISUZU CHEVROLET NISSAN STUDEBAKER TOYOTA IS SELLING CARS AT BELOW DEALER COST!! WE'RE LOSING MONEY ON THESE CARS!! WE HAVE TO MAKE ROOM FOR MORE CARS!! SO WE CAN LOSE MORE MONEY!! WE HAVE PROCESSED CHEESE FOR BRAINS!! THAT'S WHY WE'RE SELLING CARS FOR BELOW DEALER "

I immediately did what I always do when the Shouting Car-Dealership Jerk comes on: I changed the station. I will listen to anything -- including Morse code, static and the song "A Horse With No Name" -- before I will listen to those commercials, and I think most people feel the same way. So the question is: Why are they on the air? Why are car dealerships paying good money for commercials that people hate?

My theory is that these commercials are not paid for by car dealerships; they're paid for by competing radio stations, who hope you'll switch to them. I developed a similar theory years ago to explain the infamous "ring around the collar" TV commercials for Wisk. Remember those? They always featured a Concerned Housewife who tried and tried to get her husband's collars clean; but when her husband, who apparently did not wash his neck, would put on a shirt, people would point out that his collar was dirty. You'd think he'd have punched them in the mouth, but instead he just looked chagrined, and these extremely irritating voices -- voices that would kill a laboratory rat in seconds -- would shriek: "RING AROUND THE COLLAR! RING AROUND THE COLLAR!" And the Concerned Housewife would be so embarrassed that the only thing preventing her from lying down right on her kitchen floor and slashing her wrists was the fear that the paramedics might notice that she had waxy yellow buildup.

There was a time when the "ring around the collar" campaign was possibly the single most detested aspect of American culture. Many people swore that, because of those commercials, they would not purchase Wisk if it were the last detergent on Earth. Yet the commercials stayed on the air for years. Why? Because somebody was buying Wisk. The question is: Who?

My theory is that it was the Soviet Union. These ads ran during the height of the Cold War, when the Soviets would stop at nothing to destroy America. I believe they sent agents over here with the mission of purchasing huge quantities of Wisk; this convinced the Wisk manufacturers that the "ring around the collar" campaign was working, so they kept it on the air, thereby causing millions of Americans to conclude that they lived in a nation of complete idiots, and thus to become depressed and alienated. I believe that virtually all the negative developments of the '60s and '70s -- riots, protests, crime, drug use, "The Gong Show" -- were related, directly or indirectly, to Wisk commercials. I also believe that to this day, somewhere in the former Soviet Union, there are giant hidden underground caverns containing millions of bottles of Wisk.

I'll tell you another kind of ad I hate: the ones where they give you information that could never be of any conceivable use to you. For example, there was a series of ads for some giant chemical company, I forget which one, where they'd show you, say, a family watching television, and the announcer would say something like: "We don't make televisions. And we don't make the little plastic things that hold the wires inside the televisions. We make the machines that stamp the numbers on the little plastic things that hold the wires inside the televisions." When I saw those ads, I wanted to scream: Why are you paying millions of dollars to tell me this? What do you want me to do?

I also do not care for:

Any ad featuring a demonstration of a product absorbing an intimate body fluid.

Any ad where a singer sings with deep emotion about something nobody could possibly feel deeply emotional about, such as cotton, Hoover vacuum cleaners and Jiffy Lube. A local FTC building-supply store has a commercial wherein the singer bleats this hyper-patriotic song that makes it sound as though the people shopping there are actually building America, whereas in fact they are looking for replacement toilet parts.

Any of the endless series of ads by long-distance companies accusing other long-distance companies of lying. LISTEN, LONG-DISTANCE COMPANIES: WE DON'T BELIEVE ANY OF YOU ANY MORE. WE'RE THINKING OF GOING BACK TO SMOKE SIGNALS.

Excuse me for shouting like the Car Dealership Jerk; I get emotional about this. I'm sure you do, too, which is why I'm inviting you to write to me at One Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132, and tell me -- briefly -- what advertisements, past or present, you really hate, and why. I'll write a column about this, which will benefit humanity in general by enabling me to write yet another column without doing any research. Don't thank me: I do it all for you. At way below dealer cost.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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