Borrowing from Psycho, USPS Gets the Evil Clown Commercial Right

Alfred Hitchcock knew this:  You don't need a lot of special effects to get your audience's attention, and sometimes, it's the simplest thing that works. 

In leaning on these two conventions, the US Postal Service has gotten its take on the evil clown commercial just right.  They've stuck to an often forgotten advertising formula:

You've got yourself a problem?  We have the solution.  Your solution.  And we'll give it to you in a language you can easily understand.  But just in case you're not paying attention, we're going to use a jarring but familiar attention-grabber right in the middle of our story so we can suck you back in to the message.

It doesn't get much clearer than that.

This 2009 ad features a huddling family stranded on their front porch, too afraid to enter their own home. It's because they've received a package containing a small but frightening clown with the eerie ability to move through the house on its own power.  To make matters worse, they've ordered the thing through the internet, essentially bringing the problem on themselves.

Enter the USPS to the rescue.  As Mom, Dad and kids cower outside their own front door, a friendly postal worker confidently approaches and inquires as to what the issue might be.  The next phase of the commercial begins a transition ushered in with a 3-frame but effective static edit straight out of Hitchcock's Psycho, complete with music. It's convincing, but you can almost hear the hero's anthem cue in the background as the USPS worker shrugs off the clown to deliver a very succinct script containing all the information the family needs to easily rid themselves of the invader.

"Perfect" says Dad on hearing the solution.

But it's the very next shot that seals the deal, placing us, and the postman, firmly on the side of the frightened family.  For the first time in the commercial, the point of view is shown from deeper inside the house, pulling back a bit to neatly frame both family and the USPS.  And conveniently, the shot includes our postal worker holding a box of perfect size to contain and rid the home of the horrible little clown.

Contrast this with the Walmart Evil Clown  commercial, where the harlequin is shot from a low angle as he creeps into the room.  My interpretation of this take?  The retailer unintentionally presents itself as a blue-haired giant that lumbers into rooms (communities) to crush unicorns (mom and pop stores) under its feet while roaring at children (protesters).  And in this particular scenario, what's interesting is that its only the moms (target market) that remains unfazed.


photo credit:  The Fresh Site


Please Stop the Snarking - Walmart Clown Commercial

There was a time I would have found myself invited to birthday parties where I'd hope to be entertained by funny men with brillo hair and brightly painted faces.   It was also a time my parents may have turned aside as I played with minature horses crowned with extremely sharp edges.  But when I want proof that era is far gone, I tune in to watch Walmart's new screaming clown commercial.  In one short sequence, the magical silver unicorns of my childhood are rebranded as ugly weapons, and the normally mute and smiling funny men that used to give me giggles can now clear entire rooms with their tortured screeching.  

This transformation from kiddie to horror show is the center of the 30-second piece introduced this week.  Within the world of the commercial, the show is witnessed by a woman whose main concern seems to be sharing shopping tips while her husband's honest effort to entertain and charm their child is met with complete and utter failure. Though this commercial doesn't represent the worst offense, it fits a genre I call disheartening.  I'm bored with the long-standing advertsing trend featuring scenarios where women wear smug smiles as they snark at their well-meaning but bumbling partners.  Yes, it's obvious that Walmart, and other retailers like it, knows its target audience consists of women, specifically moms.  But to appeal to women by insulting their husbands is a quick and easy strategy that does nothing but get a cheap laugh.

Of course, looking down my nose at this commercial could just be because I've developed a real fear of painted men in pom-pommed jumpsuits.

Walmart has been removing the commercial from YouTube, but for now, you can view it here.

Evil Clown Poster credit:  Allposters.com


Kindle's Got A WayBack Machine? - Commercial Escapism

Amazon, you've got a great piece of art in your "Fly Me Away" commercial.  I've got to give you that.  It's not easy to come up with a visual representation of the amazingly varied experiences of reading great books, but your ad folks have done it.  The stop-action is perfectly suited to the way we remember stories we've read, not word-for-word, but in flashes of sometimes impossible adventures.

But it's also the music.  No doubt, you knew the song would be a hit.  By the google results when searching for your commercial, though, I'm not certain whether like me, viewers loved your Kindle or the gorgeous visuals.  Then there's that earworm sweetly sung by Ms. Annie Little. 

The only problem I see with your pitch is that the images call to mind words like "retro".  Don't get me wrong. I'm with you on the whole vintage thing.  I mean, take a look at my blog header.  Where I think you're missing the mark, Amazon, is in using the nostalgic tone to introduce a completely non-retro and decidedly modern way to enjoy a centuries-old medium.  It's a tall order to get readers to switch away from the very tactile experience of turning pages as you move through the story.  I'll be interested to see whether you accomplish your goal, but am left wondering whether a commercial recalling what appear to be stories from childhood reading material will help you reach it.

Speaking of effort, directors Angela Kohler and Ithyle Griffiths get an A in the category of Creative.

Fly Me Away

Silver moons and paper dreams
Faded maps and shiny things
You’re my favorite one-man show
A million different ways to go

Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you, my love

Painted scenes, I’m up all night
Slaying monsters, flying kites
Speak to me in foreign tongues
And share your secrets one by one

Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you, my love

Can hardly think what life was like
Before I had you by my side
Can’t say what I’d do without you
Knowing what it’s like to have you

Hidden walkways back in time
Endless stories, lover’s crime
In my mind I’ve been set free
We’ll take this journey, you and me

Will you fly me away?
Take me away with you, my love

Music: Annie Little, Ithyle Griffiths, and Marcus Ashley
Lyrics: Annie Little
Produced by Marcus Ashley
Mastered by Hans DeKline at Sound Bites Dog, Culver City, CA
Annie Little: Vocals and Piano
Marcus Ashley: Bass, Drums, Percussion, Accordion, Synth
Alanna Vicente: Trombone


30 Freaky Commercials and some Modernista!

Has anyone else noticed that commercials have gotten
very WEIRD lately? No, I mean even stranger than usual.

The Geico stack-o-cash ads are admittedly odd, but not nearly on par with these included in Adfreak's The 30 Freakiest Commercials of 2009.  Quite a few of the ads are international PSA's I've so far been spared, but Tabasco's greasy talking pepperoni faces have regularly infiltrated my living room.


I can only guess that the economy has advertisers reaching far into their back pockets rummaging for a WOW only to come up with a ball of hairy lint.

My vote for CreepQueen goes to Palm Pre's Tamara Hope.  It's been a while since I've seen the green-faced woman with a strange sense of Zen, but she really makes me nervous.  I'm never really certain what she was trying to tell me.  Is it that owning a palm pre, a phone she'd like me to purchase for the purpose of keeping in touch with friends and family, watching videos, playing around with silly apps, or connecting to social networks, is a quiet and lonely experience?  Seems ad agency Modernista! may have missed the memo on what a smartphone is actually used for.  My theory that the ad is communicating a simple wish that their own personal phones would stop the incessant delivery of work-related messages.  Of course I could be wrong.  The commercial could very well be a philosophical commentary on the zen concept of emptiness, though a very literal interpretation. 

Have you visited the Modernista web page?  It seems a lot of folks can't make much sense of their message, let alone this client's.


Geico's "Who's Watching" - Pushbox Voted Most Pointless Commercial

Geico is so committed to appealing to "every man" that they've created some of the worst commercial spokescharacters going.  I've written about that little Gecko before.  You know, the one with the accent that used to sound more British but has recently decided on possibly Australian?

Then there were the cavemen, those featureless, raceless beings who, with their unamusing misadventures, are meant to appeal to everyman.  And now they've taken their unwillingness to commit to an identity to new heights.  Meet the one character who'll never offend -  a mute stack of money with eyes. 

It's one thing to play it safe enough to offend no one, but you've gone to great effort to remove the human element from all of your ads.  The Somebody's Watching Me campaign is decidedly one of the worst I've seen in recent memory.   Somebody's watching?  Even the song has a problem with commitment.

Need I say anything more, Geico?  The only thing these commercials have going for you is that Michael Jackson's memory is fresh.  Because nothing else about this is.


Channeling Madge thru Amy Winehouse - Progressive Commercial

You know Flo.

Men have fallen hopelessly in love with this unassuming, aproned girl-next door, and I'll confess I've got my own girl-crush going.  Maybe you've stumbled across The Cult of the Progressive Car Insurance Chick while googling for tricked-out nametags or tickets to the white-space nirvana, a cloud computing shopper's heaven. 

Or should that have remained my own little secret.

Twitter's always buzzing with Flo "hot or not" quizzes where the debate on her sexy status falls hard into the territory of fandom.

With her tricked-out nametag, Flo, or Stephanie Courtney, is said to be baffled by the attention, but she's in a family of commercial personalities Americans don't mind barging into their living rooms.  She's a perky Amy Winehouse channeling the folksy and outspoken Madge, Palmolive dishwashing liquid's spokesperson from 1966 to 1992.   Colgate-Palmolive got Americans to trust the savvy working woman in uniform then, and we seem to love Progressive's red-lipped, quirky reinvention.

For your comparison:

Stephanie's signed on with the insurance company for at least another year, so we'll have plenty of time for the romance to grow cold.


Alright Trigon, But The Kid Gets It

Love viral YouTube videos featuring wisecracking kids?  Well, even if they hold no special place in your cold little heart, you've probably at least grinned while viewing this 2007 collection of commercials from the creative works of Bob Ebel.

Bob's achieved industry guru status when it comes to directing children. His most virulent ads, filmed for Trigon health insurance, have been blogged and reblogged worldwide and I'll admit that even after bumping into them in every cranny of the internet, I'm still not done watching. As a matter of fact, I'm here to continue spreading them.  The kids are just that funny.

...I trust the children and the children trust me.

The secret to his literal "commercial success", says Ebel, is that he
trusts the children, and the children trust him. It's a nice enough sentiment and time tested notion but where the idea becomes craft is in the ad industry's understanding that we, the consumer, want to join in and trust those precocious little people too.

Marketers have been disarming us with children since the beginning of the Ad Age (Mikey, Life Cereal), but Ebel's talent for getting us to love his pitch comes in creating finely balanced and very clever juxtapositions that dangle us on the edge of that "circle of trust" he brags about.

What's his trick? Within the world of the Trigon commercials shown below, the fact that the not-so-ingenue is selling a product is laid bare and the children themselves seem to be in on the game. You'll even find one little one acknowledging his stage by breaking eye contact with his audience, glancing off-camera at least once during the long take. This is a very self-aware bunch and there's no attempt to mask the fact that what's going on here is a Sell, using bits of recognizable dialog borrowed from a very adult world. When one of the little girls lapses into a fit of giggles, her costar's dour expression, just in case we've lost sight of what really needs to transpire in the ad's 30 seconds, reminds her and us, "We're doing business here."

We watch, understanding that we're entering a deal. We'll agree to listen to your obvious pitch, Trigon, as long as we're all in on the joke delivered by those precocious little minxes.  Well done.

These two ads speak volumes in little voices.  For your enjoyment, I'm including a link to the entire playlist.


Mad Men, Hanna-Barbera Style - Winston Commercial

2010 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most popular television cartoons in Hanna-Barbera history.  Along with Alka-Seltzer, Winston cigarettes became one of their primary sponsors. 

The cigarette company dropped their sponsorship when Wilma became pregnant in 1963, but not before leaving us with several commercials never to be seen on television again.