"Subliminal Entertainment"

Can we talk about advertising for just a little while? I know, I'm supposed to hate ads; it's just corporate America trying to shove their products down my throat and make me smile and love it, right? But while I get just as annoyed by bad ads as everybody else, I love the good ones. There are 30-second ads that have made me laugh louder than a half-hour sitcom, and don't even get me started on movie trailers that are better than the actual movies.

My new brother-in-law works in advertising, and while he was here in Austin for the wedding, he turned me on to a site called Ad Critic (www.adcritic.com, if you're curious) that has quicktime movies of a lot of television ads and movie trailers, and includes a Top 10 rating system. Now, it's not a perfect site… there's no indication whose Top 10 it is, and it's not updated often enough for my taste, which means that a lot of the really cool, new commercials aren't making it up there… but it's pretty cool. Since I don't watch much in the way of sports, I'm not sure I would have ever seen the Bud "Wasabi" spot or the hilarious "I'm a Canadian" bit from Molson.

What's really sad about this is that I'll spend a good ten or fifteen minutes on the site, looking at different ads. It was while I was watching the Gap ads that I realized what I was doing. And I flashed back onto Demolition Man, the movie featuring a parody future where all restaurants were Taco Bell and popular radio stations played commercial jingles. And maybe that's not as parody as I would have liked, because I can see a station like that existing… in fact, I think I'd listen to it.

But the fact that I enjoy some ads does not excuse some of the awful garbage that fills my television during station breaks. I'm beginning to think that for the most part, local car dealers should be banned from the airwaves. They've got all the style and subtlety of those monster truck ads (Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!) and I can't believe it makes a difference. Isn't buying a car one of those planned purchases? Do people really see an ad that talks about no money down, cash back financing and think "you know, the car's working fine, but I think I'll go buy me one of those instead?"

And even assuming that someone is planning on buying a car and these ads might spur them to choose one dealer over the other… why the shots of cars just driving? We see that everyday, and unless it's something so impressive (like those BMW convertible roadsters) it doesn't make us pull into the dealership and buy one.

They're not the worst, though. No, the worst are the "public service" ads that are so preachy they make Billy Graham look like Billy Idol. You know, those "The Truth.com" ads make me want to take up smoking just to piss the sanctimonious fuckers off. I'm no big fan of smoking. I don't enjoy it and don't much see the point and you won't see me arguing that the tobacco industry is made up of angels and saints, but the furor with which people have gone after them lately, you'd think it was Hitler and Genghis Khan at the head of Phillip Morris, taking orders from Satan. The ad that has a bunch of twenty-somethings riding around a van in the middle of the night broadcasting loud messages like "I am a good person. I will quit my job" serves only as a reminder that people so fanatical about a cause tend to be so annoying that I'll argue with them even if I agree with them.

I'm sorry, I just happen to believe that nobody deserves that kind of harassment… not even OJ. Say whatever you want, talk about how many people cigarettes kill or whatever else, but that's crossing the line. It's the difference between me trash-talking every issue of Howard Mackie's Spider-Man and me going to his house to berate him about ruining Spidey. The former is free expression; the latter is harassment and borderline assault.

So anyway… I gotta go. I don't know why, but writing this column has given me a craving for a Bud, a Molson, Gap jeans, a BMW monster truck, a cigarette and, oddly enough, some orange juice. See you next month.

Randy W. Lander

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