My Beer Could Beat Up Your Laptop: A Word on Competitive Advertising

Can I talk to you for five minutes about a recent trend in television advertising?  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling downright neglected by my TV lately.  It’s like it doesn’t even recognize my existence anymore.  Granted, it’s never been the most attentive appliance, but it at least used to stop what it was doing every ten minutes or so and talk to me about shampoo, HD TVs, acne medication, or whatever else was on its mind.  Not anymore.  My commercials, those bright nuggets of affirmation and opportunity, have been stripped of their intimacy by a disturbing trend in marketing known among business professionals as “Mine’s Bigger Advertising.”

You know what I’m talking about.  Mine’s Bigger Advertising is the kind of commercial that feels less like an intimate conversation between your wallet and your favorite fast food chain and more like a domestic dispute between two corporate rivals.  No longer content to settle their beef in the privacy of their own boardrooms or trading floors, advertisers have brought the bickering into the living room and we can do nothing but sit awkwardly on the couch, listening to the name-calling and the ugliness, wondering if it’s our fault that mom and dad are always fighting.

This is the modern television commercial.

As with most things modern, trendy, and annoying, this movement was created by Apple. That’s right, the mad scientists who invented the lower case “i” and taught nerds how to be pretentious are the same people who sucked the fun out of commercial watching when they introduced their “Hi, I’m a Mac” campaign.

I’ll admit, as far as Mine’s Bigger Advertising goes, the Mac commercials are probably the most palatable.  As with many harmless ideas gone horrible (i.e. Star Wars, fur boots, Lindsay Lohan) the full evil of competitive advertising was not seen in the first manifestation but only in the monster that followed.

No sooner had Justin Long completed his first pwning of the bespectacled John Hodgman than every other major corporation decided that – like a towel fight at football camp – they just had to get in there and find someone to pop.

Before we knew what was happening, Burger King was talking smack to Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr was dogging on McDonalds, and the GMC Sierra was pulling the Ram, the F-150, and the city of Detroit out of a mud hole.  (Hahaha!  Oh snap! Take that Dodge/Ford/Michigan!)

Yet all of these examples pale in comparison to the very public, very petty dispute between Verizon and AT&T.  With assistance from Luke “Holy Crap I’m Getting Fat” Wilson, these two telecomm giants have spent millions of dollars and up to ten minutes of our lives (depending on how much NFL football you watch) trading petty insults about flaccid maps and unresponsive 3G spots.

Whenever I see one of these commercials, I feel like I’ve just walked into a fight between two Twilight fanatics about the relative merits of the vampire guy and the werewolf guy.  Both parties are passionately defending their position and disparaging their opponent, and I immediately lose interest.  I don’t know enough about the argument to know who is right and I don’t care enough to figure it out.

That’s what these hostile companies fail to understand.  Most of us don’t hate their competition as much as they do.  Sure, we have our favorite brands, but – with the exception of Apple’s flock of catatonic disciples – most of us don’t care enough to get involved in an argument over our phone plan or favorite light domestic beer.

Not only do we not care, we often leave these commercials with the wrong idea.  It’s a natural human tendency to root for the underdog (unless the underdog is from Oakland), and Mine’s Bigger Advertising often leaves me with greater fondness for the supposed inferior product.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear an arrogant Big Carl ridiculing an insecure and emotionally unstable Big Mac I start to feel bad for the Big Mac.  The poor guy already has an extra bun and a pair of undersized patties, and now he’s getting bullied?  Screw you Carl’s Jr.  Why don’t you go heckle a special ed softball team while you’re at it?

I guess in the end, I’m just tired of being neglected.  As someone who spends 90% of his weekday nights alone with his television, commercials represent the closest thing to a conversation I can get this side of a 900-number.  I need them to stop talking to each other and start talking to me again.  I want to be directly addressed by the faceless corporations who are destroying America.  I want Luke “Chumbawumba” Wilson to look directly into my eyes and tell me why AT&T and nothing but AT&T will satisfy my deepest dreams and desires.

Speak to me, Luke.  Lie to me, confuse me, lead me astray, cloud my reason with beautiful women, whatever.  Just pay attention to me.  Forget about Verizon, put the tape measures away, and pay attention to me.

That is all I ask.

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