Funny Commercials 1: Sprint

Let’s be honest here–we don’t like commercials.

If we liked commercials, the world would be a different place.  Commercials would be a time of enjoyment rather than a time to use the bathroom and get more chips and salsa or to get more cheese from the cheese ball.  Commercials are an interruption; our society has a short attention span and doesn’t like to get distracted from the main event. 

Fortunately for advertisers (or unfortunately for our wallets), commercials work, ads work.  Particularly, good ads do wonders.  As a Best Buy employee, I saw firsthand what ads do.  By far, the biggest items this past holiday season were tablets.  Among those, the most popular were split between the iPads–no surprise there–and the Microsoft Surface line of tablets.  Almost every single person inquiring about the Surface was aware of the brilliant ad campaign which pitted the Surface against the iPad, highlighting the things that the Surface does that the iPad does not.  Some brought it up themselves, and other times I brought it up myself in helping to explain it.  Another example of the fact that we pay attention to commercials and ads is Lamar Billboards.  I’m sure you’ve seen a billboard that has been empty with writing that says, “You read this, didn’t you?”  It’s a good point because it’s true.  

Since we see so many ads, I quite enjoy a good one.  Even more, I admire commercial series that riff on a simple idea in a number of ways.  So, as an ode to these wonderful commercial series and their success, I give you Sprint.

As far as commodities go, cell phones and networks are reasonably interesting; as part of the tech industry, it changes fast, without warning, and drastically in a very short period of time.  Already, then, Sprint has a good product to sell.

However, what I love about these commercials is their comedic genius.  I think true comedy has been replaced by shock value and vulgarity nowadays, which is very sad.  Comedy is funniest when it is unexpected, when it is odd, when it is out of place.  The Sprint commercials go to the very core of comedy in a way that makes them also very memorable.

The premise is, of course, that Sprint is honoring the things that happen on its network.  Even if we go no further, this is a good decision by Sprint and its ad agency, because it can be related to and is organic.  There are many human interactions to chose from, but Sprint chooses the most unimportant, inane, irreverent of them to be upheld.  This is the second component of its success.

The third and most important component of these commercials is the juxtaposition of how the information is presented.  The two actors representing these are well-respected, older actors–but legendary ones.  James Earl Jones and his authoritative, booming bass plays well against Malcom McDowell’s precise, dignified English accent.  In a simple blackdrop, dressed in tuxes, and acting dramatically, these men represent Facebook friend requests, two people attempting to find each other at a store, and a couple of girls speaking in the most ridiculous teenage slang that can be spoken aloud. 

All this combines to make a fundamental disconnect between what is being said, why it is being upheld, and how it is being presented.  It is simple, effective, and memorable.  It illustrates that juxtaposition is one of the most powerful tools that can be used.  Are this commercials great?

Totes McGotes.

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Context

Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.  Well, not really, unless you count planet Earth as happening in a vacuum (space), in which case you’re missing the point because everything obviously happens in a vacuum if you zoom out far enough.

No event can be taken as a single entity unchanged by other events.  Anybody who professes to do so is either unaware of this fact or a liar.  Context is extremely important in evaluating anything, be it music, culture, advertisements, sports, media of any kind, and on and on.  Context is, in reality, so very important that historical events and their perceived effect can be changed massively by a small paradigm shift in context. 

Here’s an illustration.  On Saturday, January 4, 2014, the Kansas City Chiefs traveled to Indianapolis to take on the Colts to open the NFL playoffs.  The Colts won, 45-44.  That is the event and, by itself, is very innocuous.  However, what context the game is taken in shifts how the game is perceived, especially as from a Chiefs perspective:

  • From a micro standpoint, the game was a giant disappointment for the Chiefs.  Up 38-10 shortly after halftime, the Chiefs underwent a comprehensive collapse, being outscored 6-35 in the final 27 minutes of the game.  Their offense couldn’t make headway, and their defense did their best impression of Swiss cheese.  A brutal, unforgivable loss that ends their title hopes.
  • Pulling back a little, one realizes what a superior season the Chiefs had.  In 2012, KC went 2-14 and were the worst team in the NFL.  In 2013, the Chiefs improved to 11-5, winning a playoff spot and, almost, a playoff game.  A quick, extreme turnaround that has very few precedents in NFL history.  At this perspective, the 2013 Chiefs were obviously a success.
  • Pulling back furthermore switches the contextual view of this game from positive to almost unbearably depressing.  This is the Chiefs’ 8th straight playoff loss, an NFL record (4 of those 8 losses to the Colts).  Furthermore, the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game was 1993.  An entire generation of Chiefs fans have grown up and never seen them win a playoff game in their lifetime.  The Chiefs blew it, and the streak continues to at least January 2015. 

The amazing thing about events is that time is an ongoing activity, and events that are happening now will have unforeseen contextual consequences in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.  For instance, this Chiefs loss will be felt for years, or at least until the Chiefs finally win a playoff game in 2034. 

Context is very important, but it is also relatively simple and easy to analyze.  It is a way to help us understand events as they happen, both at home, in relationships, and in the workplace.  If we pause to examine what in which context we are viewing an event, it never hurts and, usually, helps.  It’s so easy not to do, instead losing ourselves in the daily grind or in the midst of emotion.  Also, sometimes viewing things in a smaller context is better, while sometimes viewing things in a larger context is better, which can sometimes be confusing.  Regardless, an awareness of context helps in understanding of advertisements, news, and events, and can also help us in our own lives.

Unless you’re a Chiefs fan.  Context won’t insulate you from failure, after all.

A New Year

Today is December 31, 2013.  Among other things, today will be remembered as the last day of the year, the cusp of a brand new one, and the last day for months on which we will write the year correctly on any given document.

New Year’s Eve is a symbolic day.  It is celebrated in multiple cultures as an opportunity to ‘turn over a new leaf,’ get ‘out with the old and in with the new,’ and ‘wipe the slate clean.’ Which slate we are wiping clean or why we are flipping over a fallen piece of greenery is a secondary question; the main question is, of course, ‘how can I better myself?’

At least, I think that this is the main question, but it’s hard to see when squinting through all the booze and ridiculousness that is associated with New Year’s Eve parties.  It seems to me that New Year’s is quintessential procrastinators’ logic: yes, I will do all the things–tomorrow.  You’re the party pooper if you bring up bettering yourself by not actually eating that piece of cake that you don’t need on the Eve of the year while, surprisingly, that same person is a vanguard of all that is good and right in the world on the 1st. 

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a unit is a fascinating contradiction.  It has all of the buffoonery of a wild frat party, the sincerity of a child wanting to get better at something or please his parents, and the wild grasping of someone who is desperate for redemption.  New Year’s resolutions are one of the hallmarks of this holiday, and yet they fail so often.

When you take a step back and look at it, the whole event is absurd, really.  One day is the physical rotation of a body of rock (and grass, and concrete, etc) upon its axis.  There are 365 of those rotations in one year, which is the physical orbit of our rock around a giant nuclear reactor at the center of our happily little sector of space.  That is literally it.  There is nothing special at all about January 1, other than we have arbitrarily decided on the fact that the day has meaning.  In fact, every single second marks a one year anniversary from that second one year ago.  MIND BLOWN!

However, some would argue that, yes, it has meaning because we treat it as such.  As an experiment, I have treated my cat like Nicholas Cage for the past three weeks and she has exhibited no signs of bad hair or a lack of acting ability, so that’s not entirely true.  In fact, I think this is the key part about New Year’s that is so often overlooked: bettering yourself is hard, and there is nothing inherently better around the turn of a digit (or four, if you’re 1999-2000!).

The moral of the story?  By all means, make a resolution.  Try to keep it.  But please be aware that, in fact, you can make the same decision on March 15, July 28, or November 10 (or on all three if you wish), and you might actually be more successful because there is no social pressure to make a halfhearted attempt at a resolution. 

Regardless–have a good 2014, readers.  May you be successful in all of your endeavors.  Except the stupid ones.