Stay Tuned/28 September 1997

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

28 September 1997
(Sunday Papers)

I have to mention my favorite TV ad of the week, one that has actually entered our conversational phrasebook around here. It's a Lysol ad, and it has these little animated bacteria, swarming around on your screen. Then the voiceover says:

"If you use lemon-scented Pine-Sol on your germs, you know what you get?
Lemon-scented germs!"

And the background behind the bacteria turns yellow, and they start to conga. (da-da da-da DA da ....)

I'm Findin' Fault With Your
Detective Work, Norm

Once in a while I see some ads which aren't excessive, or disgusting, or even annoying - but that contain little problems which, for me, cause the copy to magically self-destruct in my brain, the way that some people can't finish watching a movie because there's some obvious technical or plot error that ruins it for them.

At times like this (also when I find glaring typographical errors in ads), I wonder if the art of copy-editing is dead, or if they merely didn't budget for it. I may ramble, and my turns of phrase could often be better-chosen, but darn it, I root out any spelling, grammar, and fact-checking errors wherever possible. People who claim this is no longer important have probably been spending so much time on the web that they've become complacent. They are also unaware that they're contributing to the decline of civilization.

And yet, even I - born crank that I am - sometimes worry about picking nits, figuring that no one but me cares anymore. Such is the pervasive influence of national apathy.

For example. I have here an ad for a really hideous pair of Christmas candlesticks shaped like striped lighthouses. You put the votive candle in the top, where the lamp would be; get it? Ugh. But we're not condemning them for being tasteless.

One is red-and-white striped and has Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the reindeer living in it. The other is black-and-white striped and has penguins and polar bears cavorting around the base. The latter is described as:

... where the North Pole animals gather to celebrate the holiday season. See the procession of penguins bringing a golden star for the Christmas tree, while curious polar bears watch nearby.

We hate to ruin the spirit of Christmas for everyone, but there are no penguins at the North Pole. They are limited to the southern hemisphere. And, though we're not certain of this, we don't think there's anywhere on earth that has both penguins and polar bears. Except a zoo.

Of course, most kids today grow up thinking those animals only exist in zoos anyway, so we shouldn't quibble. Why, a little more work on that hole in the ozone and we might even be able to arrange for the statement to become true. (Froth fume rant rave.)

The Critic Dresses a Set

A friend of mine describes something called "critic's disease," whereby, if you immerse yourself in a particular subject or medium, you start to note small distinctions between items which the average viewer wouldn't notice. In other words, your familiarity with the field leads you to become unreasonably picky.

I'm starting to have this problem with advertisements. (Can you tell?) In addition to the kind of quibbling above, I'm noticing small details of the photography or design in some ads which the average newspaper coupon-clipper might not even pick up on, much less care about.

Here's a blatant example. The obvious complaint about this ad is that the facial expressions are so wrong. I mean, I expect the models to show some enthusiasm for the product - grumpy people don't usually sell well unless done very cleverly - but these faces are way over the top. Has anyone ever gotten this excited over garbage bags in real life?


But, as I look at it further, I realize that the kitchen in the larger picture (not the clearer "before" frame, which you can barely see in my scan) has been filmed in a soft-focus effect which, I suppose, is meant to give it that fairyland quality, but, again, the fact that this is an ad for garbage bags just doesn't play nicely with the effect. Ditto the fancy edge treatment on the picture (which you also might not be able to make out - don't worry about it).

Now, here's one where someone obviously gave the ambience a lot more thought, but it still doesn't work for me. A valiant try, but no go.


The model's wearing fake Hallowe'en fingertips with exaggerated nails, oversized gypsy-like jewelry and (you can't see this) there's glitter on the back of her hand. Obviously (it's a young hand) this is a kid in costume at a Hallowe'en party. This works. There's creepy green lighting, screened to make its source cryptic. The slab of "obsidian" the product is resting on is very nicely done - I had to look closely to realize it was Styrofoam. A nice setup.

Too bad the product is so wrong.

If you know of anyone who has actually made these for any reason other than humor value (i.e. bringing them to your frat party so you can get drunk and laugh at them, or saving a step and using the mold to make JELL-O shots, doesn't count), do let me know. Especially if it involves kids. Kids have a built-in detector for this. If someone tried to serve these to kids, I wouldn't want to bet on what sort of chaos would ensue, but I suspect that at the very least the hostess's child wouldn't speak to his/her parents for days afterward.

It's Disgusting Food Time Again

The cuisine of the ready-made sometimes produces some really vile results. I'm not sure whose doorstep to lay the blame at. The purchasers are at least as guilty as the advertisers.

For example, the nadir of packaged food has to be bottled (or canned) gravy. Folks, even an inadequate cook such as myself can make gravy. If you're roasting or pan-frying meat, the gravy practically makes itself. What is the deal here? Why would you buy this gray gluey stuff which looks like one part library paste, one part water, and one part liquid smoke?

Then, of course, there's the inevitable "Fat Free!" bottled gravy. That means they left out the library paste.

A frequent offender in matters of packaged-food cuisine is Cool Whip, the amazing extruded non-foodstuff. Now (ahem), I'll make a confession. I like Cool Whip. I like the way it tastes. But it isn't whipped cream. It isn't even canned aerosol whipped cream. And it doesn't taste like whipped cream. It's sugar, chemicals, and air. And, when you eat more than a couple of spoons of it, you realize that it basically tastes like ... sugar and air. Which is OK for keeping the sugar jones down, but doth not a great dessert make.

An actual Cool Whip recipe from an actual ad:

Cookies 'n Creme
1/2 cup Cool Whip whipped topping, thawed
1/3 cup coarsely chopped chocolate sandwich cookies (about 3 cookies)

Mix whipped topping and cookies in dessert dish. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. Makes 1 serving.

This frightens me. Even the laziest homemaker in the world (i.e. me) would do better to go out and buy some fresh fruit or something, and spoon Cool Whip over that. A couple of crushed Oreos is not an adequate disguise for the bare consumption of half a cup of Cool Whip.

I was going to write about "Quicklet," which is apparently a drug maker's new coinage for a chewable tablet, but on reflection, this sentence is all I have to say about it. So never mind.

Hindsight: 2 March 1998

One of my few correspondents with real live children reports that the kids are actually kinda partial to things like the JELL-O objects. And she has the correct test audience, so I stand corrected. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that I would have rejected them, when I was small ... which proves nothing, since I was a bizarre kid anyway.

The heading "I'm findin' fault ..." is a line from the movie Fargo. Possibly misquoted.

and now back to our program

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