There's just no ducking real bad TV commercials

October 27, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE IS a breaking point in all human beings at which they can no longer stand the sight of the AFLAC duck, or the Sprint guy in the black raincoat, or Brian Henderson of 12 Maple Lane tossing Bud Light bottles into the sea with his precious be-my-pen-pal notes.

There is a point at which the brain begins to recoil at the 200th viewing of Fran Drescher's goofy winks in those Old Navy painters' jeans spots.

There is a point at which one no longer cares to "ask your doctor about Levitra," because seeing that aging jock throw the football through the tire over and over and over again has sapped one's will to live.

I have reached that point.

Never in the history of this great country have there been more annoying commercials on the public airwaves.

And never have so many annoying commercials run so frequently.

As I type this, I am enduring my 400th or so viewing of the Taco Bell zesty chicken bowl spot, in which a chef with an apparent amphetamine problem madly slices and dices a meal in front of his diners, only to wind up getting veggies all over them.

I'm so sick of that commercial I could scream.

Seeing annoying commercials that play over and over always triggers the same reaction in me.

First, I begin to hate the actors in the spots.

Then I begin to hate the product.

Then I begin to hate the company that makes the product, along with all its employees and their families, the company stockholders and their families, the people who deliver the product and their families, etc.

This is why I will never, ever ask my doctor about Levitra.

To be honest, I didn't even know what Levitra was. In all these commercials for medical products, they never tell you what the stuff is for.

When the first Claritin commercials came out asking me to find out if Claritin was right for me, I thought: Well, I'd be happy to.

Only ... what the hell's it for?

Anyway, in the Levitra spot, a handsome, well-preserved guy in his late 40s or early 50s is seized by the urge to pick up a football and try to throw it through a tire. And when he does, the experience apparently causes paroxysms of joy.

So I figured Levitra was something for muscle soreness or joint pain.

In other words, now the guy's pain-free, he can throw a ball around again, his life has meaning once more, blah, blah, blah

Uh, not exactly.

It turns out Levitra is Bayer's answer to Viagra. So I don't know what the whole football-through-the-tire thing means, unless they're trying to evoke ... well, never mind.

Now I hate that commercial so much that even if I did suffer from erectile dysfunction -- and, of course, I don't, I mean, look at me, for God's sake -- Levitra would be the last product I bought.

But maybe that's just me.

Because according to the experts, beating a bad commercial to death is an effective advertising tool, even if it sounds counterintuitive.

"The sheer frequency of running a commercial, no matter how annoying or `bad' it may be, can really help to get a brand name into the consumer's head," says David Blum, executive vice president of Eisner Communications here in Baltimore.

In his book, Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads, veteran ad copywriter Luke Sullivan drives the point home.

In the opening chapter, he talks about the infamous Charmin toilet paper commercials of the 1970s, where dweeby Mr. Whipple ran around supermarkets admonishing middle-aged women: "Please don't squeeze the Charmin."

Sullivan hated the commercials.

Everyone hated the commercials.

But as irritating as they were, they drove sales like crazy for Charmin's parent company, Procter & Gamble.

Mr. Whipple, Sullivan writes, "was selling literally billions of rolls of toilet paper. Billions. In 1975, a survey listed Whipple as the second-most-recognized face in America, right behind Richard Nixon."

So the bottom line is this: Annoying your customers can be great for sales. Just make sure you beat the product name into their pointy little heads, too.

So I guess the AFLAC duck isn't going away anytime soon.

Me, I'd just love to know who came up with that concept. Who's the ad copywriter who pitched that at the big meeting: "Let's see, the leading provider of insurance sold on a voluntary basis at the work site -- hey, we'll let a duck be their spokesman! C'mon, it's a natural!"

I'm sure he's driving around in a Bentley now.

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