by TJ Fink
As anyone who has ever gone to a book reading can tell you, individual humans have the capacity for logical, critical thought. As anyone who has ever gone to a summer music festival can tell you, however, a lot of this logic gets tossed out the window when said individuals find themselves in large crowds.
This becomes a delicate balance for our nation’s advertising industry. Yes, they’re shilling products whose monetary success relies on mass consumption, but winning ads must also cater to the sensibilities of consumers on an individual level.
That said, I find myself getting unreasonably annoyed at certain commercials for technological products. There’s nothing particularly unique about these ad spots, I guess; they’re employing most of the same marketing strategies that have been around for decades.
“…and this is where all the boobs will go.”
So why my sudden ire? It took me a while to figure it out, but maybe it’s that lack of change in the technology sector of advertising that gets under my skin. I mean, we don’t live in the ’80s anymore, when PCs were a brand-new commodity and our idea of the not-so-distant future involved flying DeLoreans and rocket-powered hoverboards. Laptops and smartphones have since become all but ubiquitous in America, and I’m certain that marketing execs are aware of this fact. But sometimes their ads reflect aspects of our society that are relics of technological ignorance. For instance, I personally know how to “root” my Android phone, troubleshoot basic issues with my sister’s HP Pavilion dv6, and mess with the metadata in my pictures folder—this used to be the stuff of “nerds.” But that term has been stripped of the negative connotations we’d associate with nerdery just 25 years ago. Being technologically savvy is mainstream, and cool as hell.
And that’s why some of these commercials bug me: they often cater to imaginary demographics that no longer exist (if they did in the first place). This is what I’m talking about.
Microsoft – “Homework 2.0”
The Message: With our youngest generation growing up in this highly technological world, now even Michael Bay, Jr. can contribute to Dad’s complicated business strategies. Look at the little guy go!
The Idiocy: Oof, where to start? If you pause at 0:03, you can see the math problem this kid is having trouble with: finding the square root of 196. OK, seems fair—I wasn’t awesome at square roots when I was 12 either. Sensing his son’s mounting frustration, Dad switches seats to assess the conundrum. Next, he adopts a face best described as “a constipated Mickey Rourke attempting to use Turbo Tax for the very first time.”
“What the devil—is this in original Latin??”
Meanwhile, Junior tinkers away with what is clearly an important PowerPoint presentation. Heck, it says “sales forecast” right on the screen, and there’s even a chart that illustrates something about quarterly earnings! Within literally a matter of seconds, this boy genius adds a bunch of flair that inexplicably translates to “record sales.” After showing this prodigious masterpiece to his oblivious father, the kid takes his homework elsewhere. Cue the opening riffs from “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” so you just know this presentation hit a 12 on the Richter Scale of Ass-Kicking PowerPoints. Don’t forget to flash a shit-eating smirk to Pop!
“I’ll take it from here, Dad. You can use all the time I just saved you to go f*** yourself.”
So apparently this kid is smart enough to manipulate graphs and embed animations into PowerPoint. We get it: this youngster grew up in a different era. He might have trouble with square-rooting, but he’s tech-savvy enough to get the big picture (which presumably has something to do with extraneous explosions and…outer space?). And that’s all fine, I guess.
But what really irritates me is Dad, who has been struggling with simple math this entire time. If you’re a successful American businessman in your mid-40s, which he clearly is, how can you not figure out what the square root of 196 is in less than 30 seconds? Doesn’t Windows 7 have a built-in calculator somewhere? And how can you not notice that your son might be f***ing up weeks—nay, months—of your company’s financial strategies just because he’s been corrupted by PG-13 action movies? OK, maybe we can assume Dad backs up his work religiously, but—well no, we can’t really assume that.
This entire situation makes no sense to me, and here’s why. Yes, younger generations will always have the technological edge as ad-hoc early adopters, but scenarios like these are dumb-founding hyperbolic. Computer + Computer-Literate Kids = Profit. When the commercial ends, literally nothing productive has been accomplished. That math problem is still unsolved (neither of these simpletons know how to use a calculator?), and if anything, Dad is left with more work than before.
Microsoft should have changed their slogan from “It’s a great time to be a family” to “It’s a great time to teach your kid how to respect other people’s shit.”
Bonus offender! “Their Wedding”
In this TV spot, a couple announces their engagement and is immediately (read: unrealistically) inundated with annoying messages from family and friends. As the commercial plods along, the couple gets so overwhelmed that they change their mind and announce they’re eloping instead. The ad ends with that same tagline: “It’s a great time to be a family.”
I honestly don’t know what the message is here. Don’t announce wedding engagements online? Use the internet to connect with your family, but only if it’s convenient? Your guess is as good as mine.
Apple – “iPhone 4S Camera”
The Message: Why purchase a dedicated point-and-shoot camera when the iPhone 4S has everything you could ever need?
The Idiocy: Before I enrage every fanboy in the tri-state area, I should mention that I don’t have a problem with Apple products. They generally come out fully baked, and the intuitive interfaces Apple has honed over the years are perfect for non-techie consumers. But behind most Apple commercials is an air of condescension, of subtle arrogance. There’s no question that iPhones have great cameras, but if you’re a multimedia maven who could care less about taking quality photos with your phone, this commercial barely applies to you in the first place.
While two disembodied hands manipulate pictures at the beach, the ad informs us that the iPhone 4S has an “all-new camera with 8 megapixels and advanced optics…And because it’s an iPhone, you can do things no ordinary camera can do.” Hmm, 8 megapixels, you say? Actually, smartphones with 8-MP cameras have been around for years. Some are better than others, but the technology is hardly groundbreaking.
“Whoa, Apple’s megapixels are way more MEGA.”
And then there are “advanced optics” to consider. Fine, let’s see all this cool stuff “no ordinary camera” would dare attempt (according to this commercial, anyway):
1) Crop a photo.
2) Remove red-eye.
3) Upload the photo to Twitter.
So…that’s it? Lots of cheap point-and-shoots can’t do those things on the fly, but some mid-priced ones can. It takes an extra app to fix red-eye, but my Android phone can totally do this stuff. I guess the Droid X isn’t really an “ordinary” smartphone, but that’s not what Apple is saying—their contention is that “no ordinary camera” can do these things period.
Wait a second. With mobile technology changing in leaps and bounds with every passing year, what the hell qualifies as “ordinary”? Anything but the iPhone, appears to be Apple’s answer.
Me: But Apple, I wouldn’t have even asked that question if you hadn’t baited me into it!
Apple: It doesn’t matter. Everything is ordinary except our stuff.
Me: Forever, ever?
Apple: Forever, ever. Now quit with the Outkast references.
Is there an app for making your daughter cry or apologizing a trillion times?
And that’s the heart of what exasperates me about these kinds of commercials: In pointing out what their newest gadgets do, Apple implies that no other products with similar capabilities exist. There’s no recognition of a middle ground.
So you’re telling me no other app store on this planet makes it easy to purchase mobile apps? Right-o. Very subtle, Apple, but if this is the direction you’re going to continue in for your ad campaigns, can’t you be more honest about it? I found a great business model for you already.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a headache to attend to.