Let Me Insult You Before You Buy My Product

May 23, 2012

It’s a good thing I don’t watch a lot of television.

It’s not that I don’t like television.  It’s just a good thing I spend most of my TV time on Netflix streaming.

Because if there’s one thing that infuriates me, makes me want to hurl the remote at the screen, makes me lose faith in humanity, it’s the commercials.

I get it.  We need advertising.  But if I wanted you to give me money, would I do it by mocking, insulting, and threatening you?  No.  But advertisers do it every day.  Apparently, it works.

Here’s my top four ways advertisers insult all of us.  If you immunize yourself against these four, there won’t be too many ads left for you to pay attention to!

Men Are Idiots, and Women Aren’t Much Better

This first one is as much of a no-brainer as men in commercials are portrayed as.  Basically, the modern male archetype is a perpetually adolescent, insanely egotistical but incompetent caveman, with little knowledge of hygiene or manners, whose tastes are limited to loud things, shiny things, and bacon.  The advertising “man” needs a man-cave, man-food, man-beer and man-soap or we won’t know how to use it. (Furthermore, if we don’t use the man-product, it means we aren’t man enough.)

Women, you may think you’re the heroes of the commercials for household products, but they’re insulting you too, maybe even more.  See, the subtle message is that men would be having a hell of a lot more fun if you weren’t around.  Men would be perfectly content living in squalor and filth if you weren’t around to harp on them all day the the help of the useful product being promoted.  Women are basically around to clean up after men, which means they can’t be too smart either.  Is that the dream of feminism or what?  Yay, women!

Sex is All Men Want and Women Are For Decoration

If women aren’t being type-cast as the nagging mother who keeps her stumbling, bumbling idiot of a husband in check, there is only one other female role in a commercial: a talking pair of boobs.  Talking is of course, optional.

Advertisers know that sex sells.  And it insults everyone.

It insults men, because it treats men like rabid dogs who only want one thing, and are easily tricked by women.

It insults women because we buy into the idea that women are only good for decoration.  There’s this not so subtle message that women owe it to men everywhere to be attractive, and unattractive women are useless.  That is really their only selling point.

We’re All a Bunch of Wimps

I think if there’s one product that makes Americans look like the wimpiest, most namby-pamby crybabies on earth have to be “disinfecting” products.  You’ve got these germophobic mothers wiping down every surface of the house, like they’re living in a vomitorium.  (It’s never Dad who’s cleaning up.  He must have died from a massive infection.)  You can even sanitize the air.  It’s not enough to “freshen” the air.  You need to to make sure that no surly germs ever sully your lungs.

I’m sorry, unless you are living in a Russian prison and are trying to control an outbreak of tuberculosis, there is just no need to be sanitizing your air.

Between the ads telling you how dirty things are, and the pharma commercials telling you how sick you are, it might just be a good idea to go ahead and get a lobotomy.  Seriously.  Did you know you have this amazing all natural system for sanitizing your body?  It’s called your immune system.  But an immune system is like a lot of things.  Use it or lose it.  If you live like a total pansy and try to never touch any germs, you’ll be sicker than ever.

Emotions Are Made to Be Manipulated

Next time you see some grainy footage of some sick, beaten animal, just change the channel.  Once the voiceover and violin music comes on, it’s too late.

Humane societies are the worst manipulators.  We had a spate of ads last year, begging people to vote to end “puppy mills” where dogs are farmed, starved, beaten and neglected.  Oh no!  Not that!  Who wants to see puppies mistreated?

Except that “puppy mills” were already against the law.  So the humane society was pushing for a redundant law that would give their own organization more money to “police” the situation.  Nice try, idiots.

Oh, so the law was passed…and the ads are still going.

Next time you feel your heartstrings start to get plucked, ask yourself if you’re just being strung along.

How else are advertisers insulting our intelligence, gender, competence or emotions?

22 responses to Let Me Insult You Before You Buy My Product

  1. dawn ellen miller May 23, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Oh yes, one reason why we use streaming NetFlix as well. OK, sometimes Hulu. They only run about two commercials at a time.

    I watched satellite television for a week while I was out of town. By the end of that week I was fed up with the commercials again. A good commercial can be artistic. Some are very funny. Most are just obnoxious. Speaking of obnoxious, if ads on the internet can be targeted, please stop posting large flashing ads for “Meet Singles”. I’m not looking!

  2. On top of all that we are now entering the political commercial season where we are educated about the dark, dangerous and evil people running for office. W/O those super pacs how would we even know the truth?

    I hate all commercials with Alec Baldwin and if I have to see Betty Whites wrinkled up mug again I am going to BARF!! “Get the disinfectant honey…and look sexy while you clean it up!”

  3. Oh, man, this is something I could go on all day about.

    Let’s see–there’s already the usual offenders that drive me nuts (pharmaceuticals and malpractice lawyers), but everything aimed at kids seems to be specially designed to make my eyes bleed. If I ever meet the guy that did that shoe commercial that convinced my then 4-year-old that there was a pair of sneakers that could transform children into flying robots, I would most likely punch him in the head.

    Other wonderful things commercials have told me–

    1) Women are obsessed with yogurt. Good yogurt makes us nearly orgasmic and we sit around all day with our girlfriends and discuss the finer points of yogurt. Also, we are incapable of having a bowel movement without it.

    2) Happy Meals are actually good for you because they come with a tiny bag of apple slices.

    3) According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, if your doctor tells you that your cancer is incurable, he/she is either a cruel bastard that wants to rob you of all hope or a moron who doesn’t know about the secret “alternative” therapies that fix everything. Because no one is supposed to die of anything EVER.

  4. Remember the superbowl ads? There was so much outrage over GoDaddy and racism, but no one seemed to notice the “Mr. Sandman/Motley Crue” car commercial. Hey, men! Your wife is an object to be won back from Fabio or whoever, and the only way to do that is with an expensive car. Because nothing you already have will work, apparently. They might as well have called it The Compensator.

  5. This is why Eugene Polley, the inventor of the remote was such a genius. He died this week.

    I dislike most adds. Some are a lot of fun, and whether we like them or not, most do the job of increasing sales.

    Think about them like SPAM emails. The reason why people get a lot of SPAM is because there is a segment that actually opens them to see if they can look younger, increase their size, and work from home for a $1000 a day. If no one responded, they would stop doing it.

    Advertisers use stereotypes because they are often based on enough truth that people understand the “positioning.” I don’t know, maybe a woman that doesn’t clean the house is still going to buy products for her husband.

    I am not so sure that a girly man line of skin products is going to sell. Even footwear for mud runs and warrior dashes still has mens and womans models. Some of the undergarment companies used plus size and average build models in their commercials. They failed to sell underwear. Apparently plus size woman still want to feel like an anorexic Brazilian.

    I DVR a lot of important stuff and FF through the commercials. I have given up on TV news because I am tired of the political ads. At the very least I mute them. Thanks again Eugene Polley, may you RIP.

  6. I think that the state of commercials says more about us as a people than it does about advertisers. Marketers aren’t dumb, at least in the aggregate. (There’s been plenty of individual dumb marketing strategies that have genuinely backfired.) If something’s a clear long-lasting trend in advertising, there’s probably a reason for it – that it works. A marketer could try to take the high road – avoiding appeals to lust, to fear, to emotion, to pride – but they’d be fighting human nature. If that worked, chances are they’d already be doing that. Advertising almost -can’t- be manupulative on some level; it’s entire purpose is to make demand for a product higher than it would otherwise be, and when your competitors are hard at work prodding at the more vulnerable bits of the human brain to get people to buy their version, limiting yourself to simply raising awareness of the existance of your product is kind of weak tea.

    To be fair, there are some products that are so intrinsically unsexy and where it’s so hard for the average consumer to distinguish between different brands that many of the commercials really are about just driving the name of your brand into the consumer’s head. Auto insurance is a good example. Even that’s totally easy to read as insulting though – “Do you think that I’m so dumb that I’m going to buy your product because a talking lizard said its name seven times in fifteen seconds?” – but I clearly -am- more likely to buy it as a result, or they’d stop doing commercials that way.

  7. Yet one more reason I choose not to watch much TV. (“Not much” as in, “one or two programs a year.”}

    My husband pre-records the one show he watches, then skips past the ads when he finally sits down to watch it.

    When our kids were little, we used to watch with them, then ask them, “Ok, what are they really trying to sell in this ad?” and discuss exactly what you’ve written about here. Great post, Matt.

    • That’s a great approach. I’ve never heard if parents teaching their kids to discern tv ads. A much needed and neglected skill.

      • When I was in grade school, my classroom had a bunch of issues of a magazine–I can’t remember the name but it was basically a kids’ version of Consumer Reports. I remember reading an article in there about all the techniques that ad people use to get kids to want to buy stuff–I was a very outraged 10-year-old after reading it (although I think my “outrage switch” was pretty well-developed even back then :)

        I wonder if such a thing even exists anymore? Seems like it should be something kids should read.

  8. This is bound to be a can of worms today. :)

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been sitting on the couch watching TV together and I’ll have to cover my kids eyes while my wife covers mine.

  9. Well, you see Matt, I have to disagree with one of your basic assumptions. You’re assuming that the purpose of commercials is to get us to buy things. Its real purpose is propaganda.

    We’re sending all of these commercials, not just to each other, but out in to space. The super secret guys in black helicopters figured this out a long time ago. They figured that if there really was alien life out there, then its in our best interests for them to think we’re as dumb as possible, so that they underestimate us when they come to invade.

    What we really should be doing is wearing tinfoil hats (so we don’t start believing our own propaganda, with its “subliminal” messages)and we should be preparing for the alien apocalypse, because the end of the world is coming, and its only about 7 months away.

  10. I was in the Middle East for 18 months. The TV station I watched primarily was out of Saudi Arabia. When I came back to the US, one of the most surprising things to me was how much skin there was on TV. And it wasn’t even necessarily beer commercials aimed at men, it was bra and underwear commercials aimed at women. I was so embarrassed for so long….then, sadly, I got used to it again. One of my favorite commercials on Saudi TV was this one where a 20-ish guy was running through the city, clearly anxious and upset, running into things and people…until finally he heard the Call to Prayer…then he was at peace and the world was right again.

    We avoid it with our kids with PBSKids, DVDs (we FF through the “commercials” at the beginning of the DVDs when we can), OnDemand, and Netflix.

  11. Amen!

    The sad thing, though, is that it must work. Somehow, they must sell more products because of their ads – advertising is, after all, a multi-million (billion)? dollar industry, and people go to college to get degrees to come up with those thirty second slots. Someone, somewhere, must buy their spiel, because otherwise they’d change their approach. And that thought depresses me.

  12. We have two network TV shows that we watch, but we record them so that we can fast forward through the commercials and because we really don’t have the time to watch them “live.” I also thank God for Eugene Polly for inventing remote controls.

    By the way, do you notice that the women used to sell cleaning products are WAY different than the women used to sell “man” products?” This is another peeve of mine–women have to look like a prostitute to get men to even notice you, but then, once you are married, your husband expects you to dress like Donna Reed. Husbands also are show as being tubby while single men are slim and strong.

    A commercial that caused me to forever ban Tide products had a husband trying to keep his teenage daughter from wearing a short skirt on date by getting it all dirty with grease. The “knowing mom” however, washes it with Tide in time for her daughter’s date and smiles as her daughter walks out the door, satisfied that she has successfully undermined her husband’s wishes AND helped her daughter look like a skank. GRRRRRR.

    I agree with Abby that kids’ commercials are also incredibly annoying. We do not do Saturday morning kids programming, Nickelodeon, or Disney except on vacations where we are staying in hotels and part of the reason is that I don’t like the kid commercials.

    “67 channels and nothing on….”

    • That ad always bugged me, too, because of how passive-aggressive the dad is. “I’m going to destroy my daughter’s personal property so I don’t have to sit her down and tell her why she shouldn’t be dressing like a skank.”

      But then, if people in commercials acted like normal folks with half a brain nobody would pay attention :)

  13. I agree, I AGREE! The only thing you missed writing about was how kids are the only smart ones in the family according to advertisers. Are they nice about it? No. They are smart alecks. It’s “The Simpsons” style of advertising.
    We don’t have Netflix in Oz but I record everything I want to watch and then skip the ads. Another major reason I do that is I can’t stand listening to poor grammar on the ads. These ad writers have little knowledge of collective nouns and plurals. The subject and the verb does not agree.
    Thank you Matt for this. Well done!

  14. When I read this post.. I think about that commercial for the male enhancement drug… I can’t think of the name of it. It’s got the guy who’s smiling way too much…

    Is it Enzyte? Maybe…

    You won’t be smiling in real-life with all those side effects.

  15. Haha!! Matt! I bet you felt a lot better after writing this. Ads make me crazy too, especially on tv. We use netflix and I’m more intolerant of ads than ever. I also listen to a lot of radio, the worst ads being the local car sellers. They YELL AT ME.

  16. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that too few people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this during my hunt for something relating to this.|