Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fixing Bad Commercials: Etrade's Talking Babies

or: Why I Should Be In Charge of Advertising for Everything Ever, Part One

Talking babies (and talking animals) are used when the commercial has no actual joke. It is literally the laziest thing you can do. I talked earlier about the terrible trend of faux-nostalgia in car commercials, but this is way worse because those car commercials, while stupid and counter-productive like a video game boss with his weak spot on his front, at least had some effort put into them and some pretty neat (but wasted) concepts. This is just pablum.

 This picture is in case you didn't get the joke because I want you to know how clever I am

And there are people who think this is a brilliant ad campaign to run with, apparently. I'd hate to see the ones they rejected. The current title holder for "Most Popular Series of Talking Baby Commercials" is the series of ETRADE talking baby commercials, which are just terribly unfunny. Let me take you through a tour of them.

The First Commercial

Did you get the joke? No? That's because there isn't one!

That commercial aired during the Superbowl, which, I mean, is essentially the Cannes Film Festival of commercials. They thought it was worth paying however many millions of dollars for the thirty-second time slot. And then at the end the baby spits up! Get it? That's the only thing in there they could think of as a joke! Isn't that funny! Because it makes me want to die a little bit!

How to fix it:

You can't.

Anyway, you'll notice that these commercials have a secondary gimmick: the baby is on a (poor simulation of a) webcam for some reason. Now, in the first commercial it's because he clicks a mouse (which you can't see on the camera, so, uh, great work with the visual storytelling, guys) to show you how easy it is to invest in some financially stable group like Enron or Bear Stearns, but it makes less and less sense as time goes on, like in our next entry:

The Golf Commercial

The only thing this is doing is making me hate babies and keyboards

This, by the way, is another Superbowl commercial. For a different year.

So here, they're in a golf locker room, except they really just stand there like they're in front of a greenscreen, even if they aren't (but they totally are) It looks like they also totally added in that keyboard later, which is just lazy. Anyway, you'll notice that for this to make sense they've also added desks of computers, like you'd see at a library.

Except, well, I don't think that many golf locker rooms have those (even the fancy ones I've been in just have TVs and billiards; computers are too unrefined to be allowed in, I'll bet)

America's country clubs needed something new to discriminate against, and it was just a matter of changing a couple letters

and even if golf places do have computers, the computer in the commercial doesn't have a webcam. So, the baby, see, I guess he just... uh... brought a... connect... I don't get exactly what the logic is here. It's like they took a joke from the cutting room floor that was meant for a completely different product and then clumsily reshot it, like a drunk farrier.

The worst thing about the commercial, though, is the alleged punchline: "shankopotamus." I don't know if you noticed through all of the hysterical laughter, but that's not actually one of those pun-insult-type-things. It sounds nothing like "hippopotamus." They lamely try trick you into thinking it makes sense by naming the guy Frank. Which, as you will notice, already could work as the pun-insult-thing setup. So... why not just be satisfied with that? Why go out of your way to randomly slander an incredibly dangerous water creature?

Hippos don't hire lawyers.

Learn how to fix this commercial right after the jump.

How to Fix it:

Well, to start, they should have just had him say something like "Frank, are you sure your parents didn't name you SHANK? OH MAN BURN" or something along those lines. That would have made at least a small amount of sense, since it's a pretty childish burn and he is, well, a baby. Then it would have actually marginally given them a reason to have a talking baby in their commercial.

See, what probably happened was what I said earlier: the agency threw in this shankopotamus pitch with a bunch of other ones to a client with a completely different product, the client said "no that is a terrible joke, please keep it away from me, thanks" and they shrugged and re-purposed it for Etrade's talking baby on the webcam.

Okay, moving on, here's the commercial that is both probably the best and definitely the worst of the series:

The Clown Commercial

I don't know which is creepier, honestly. It looks like they tied that poor baby to marionette strings or something like a reverse Pinocchio.

   uh     ...all right, so let's start with the stuff that is okay.

Well, the webcam makes a little more sense because he mentions talking with "the guys," so I guess he uses Skype or something. And the punchline is okay, although it relies mainly on the delivery and it's postponed so long that by the time it happens it's not really that funny, because you can see the clown. I'll talk about how to fix it after I talk about why it sucks a lot.

So, why does it sucks a lot? What could possibly be wrong with thi

HOW ABOUT YOU INVITED THE CREEPY CLOWN INTO YOUR BEDROOM, YOU DUMB INFANT. And what kind of clown is okay with being hired by a baby? Not a trustworthy one, that's for sure. Not only did I expect the clown to drop the balloon at the end and pull out a meat cleaver, which although awful would have deprived us of future talking baby commercials, the whole thing really just felt wrong and sick, like I've sinned just by living in a world that also harbors this thing. I think it's actually worse that they didn't show the clown's face.

And I mean it doesn't even make sense in the context of thSOSTUPIDKKENFSDK"}UINEremn,>T<NST;slkdmflkSJDF:IJIW`ENNENT~MS8AAAARGH

So how do you fix this affront to God's laws? The solution may surprise you.

How to fix it

How about not setting it in a baby's bedroom? And how about getting rid of the baby altogether? It would be much funnier if this was some smug early-thirties jerk who became a millionaire right out of college with some lucky investments. Maybe he's being interviewed for some documentary (or maybe a feature on the E-Trade website--this has the added bonus of doing the "come see more of these things on our website" thing that companies like to do), with the clown not visible until the camera pans a little bit to the right so the clown doesn't spoil the punchline.

Like this, but a younger guy. And with a much better tie. And in a different house. And in color.

Look, I couldn't find a good picture of what I was thinking of, okay? Just imagine it like those stupid ads for cologne in magazines like Vanity Fair where they all lie on couches with a drink or something. Or the interview scene with Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia, but instead he's in a suit, has shorter hair, and is in a mansion with floor-to-ceiling windows. Like Tony Stark's.

Anyway, maybe film it in widescreen, too, give you more room to work with horizontally, stuff the background with a shiny red sports car or a greenscreen or something. Widescreen would also provide a convenient way to not show all of the clown's face, but in a more natural way than that baby commercial did it.

In fact, you could improve the punchline of the joke. Since it actually didn't make sense for the baby to "underestimate the creepiness factor" anyway (I suppose the joke they were going for would be that he wouldn't know, because he was a baby, but then in that case where did he get the idea of hiring a clown?) and it certainly doesn't make sense for an adult, it would be better to state it as hiring a clown from the internet (or, more specifically, Craigslist).

I believe this was the fourth image in the GIS result.

This would also explain the sorry appearance and enhanced creepiness of the clown and how it was possible to underestimate the creepiness factor. Even adults who are okay with clowns find some clowns creepy. And those clowns are apparently usually from the internet or Tim Curry's house.

This also gives you another way to tie it in with the idea of internet trading. You could easily throw in a line about how "Since it was so easy to organize my portfolio online, I thought it would be really easy to hire a clown from the internet, too."

See? Doesn't that make so much more sense? Isn't that better than scaring away potential coulrophobic customers or associating yourselves with John Wayne Gacey?

I would have said those were rhetorical questions, but apparently they are not.

And I'll admit that my solution doesn't help with coulrophobic customers, but I was constraining myself to the original idea of the advertisement and really I don't know how to have a clown commercial that doesn't creep out coulrophobes at least a little. So I blame the original advertisers.

Further Improvements

In fact, my suggestion for improving the clown commercial works for all the Etrade commercials. Now, it's true that usually you don't want a douchebag selling your product, but

1. most people hate investors anyway

2. if your douchebag is motivating them to beat him, they will gladly do it (i.e., the principle behind Allstate's "Mayhem" concept)

3. you can temper the douchebag reaction further by making the douchebag a screwup, which also adds to the motivation to beat him

So if you're eTRADE, how you'd set it up is like this: the first commercial, instead of featuring baby vomit, has this guy being interviewed for a documentary. And instead, let's say the guy is in his late twenties--it reinforces the point more.


Typical interview setup. A BUTLER is dusting a table in the background. We can see his patient face; this grounds the commercial and sets up a gag later on.

Mr. Cocksure, you are the
youngest person to become 
millionaire by trading stocks
ever, and right out of
college. How did you do it?

(false sincerity)
Please, call me Pete. You know,
there's no secret to what I did.
Sure, I went to business school,
but I slept through most of my
classes. I had more important
things to do.

CUT TO: grainy footage of Cocksure (TITLE: FILE FOOTAGE) in the middle of a pulsating crowd of riotous, drunk college students at a party so soaked in liquor if you tried to smoke you'd go up in flames.

CUT TO: Interview footage.

In a way, I guess you could
say I was busy preparing for
my life now.

CUT TO: Footage of Cocksure (TITLE: LAST NIGHT) at a similar party, but clearly in the mansion where he is currently being interviewed. He is still wearing a suit, but instead of holding a beer can he is holding a dish of caviar, which he has his butler (also amidst the throng) take a spoonful from and deliver it to his mouth. 

CUT TO: Interview

So how did you do it?

If I'm being honest,
I just picked my stocks blindly
on e*trade. It was really easy
to do, took me like five
minutes with my eyes closed,
choosing at random. One click per
stock. Buy, buy, buy. My dad
was angry I wasted all that
money I earned clerking for
his law firm in the summer

CUT TO: Security footage of Cocksure at a pizza parlor (TITLE: COURTESY RUSTY'S PIZZA SHACK). He is not very good, dropping one of the pizzas. Or a whole stack.

CUT TO: Interview.

but boy did he change his
tune--once I paid him enough.

But you're not really suggesting
people pick stocks at random.

Oh no, my lawyer said I shouldn't
do that anymore. But in a way
that just reinforces how great
that website is. I was lucky.
Imagine what you could do with
some careful planning. And after
that it's only a couple seconds
of clicking. It only took me
five minutes because I had my
eyes closed. And there are way
more secure options than just

So what do you think is stopping

(actually sincere, somewhat puzzled)
No idea.

That baby is apparently really hilarious, though, so I guess it's good they did that stupid thing that makes no sense instead of my quite frankly brilliant idea. But what do I know? I'm just a guy who doesn't know that E~traDE's talking babies are the pinnacle of advertising humor.

Seriously, though, Quizno's did that talking baby thing, too, and again, people inexplicably liked it, but look at where Quizno's is now. I'll admit that it isn't likely to happen to ə^trAdE any time soon since they're worth about 6 billion dollars, I'm just saying that it should.

Also, this is the update for Sunday, too. Sorry, I have things to do. Less things than I thought. I'll have time to talk about something tomorrow, I'm sure.

Also: advertisers, if you want the rights to this clearly-superior idea, or to put me in charge of everything, you'll have to pay me because I know all about Intellectual Property laws, and my hippo is a lawyer. (Hippos make the best lawyers.)

 here is a hippo delivering his closing remarks 

So have your people call my people. We'll set something up.

1 comment:

  1. This was great, I too hate incredibly gimmicky, ill-thought out commercials. Then again, the fact that you're talking about it shows that objectively horrible commercials can gain awareness for products. Like the adage (which I don't agree with) says, there's no such thing as bad publicity.


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