Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fixing Bad Commercials: The Travelers Insurance Dog

So I want you to think of at least one problem with this advertisement. After you watch the two videos, click "read more" to see if you and I are on the same wavelength. If you thought of a different problem with it, or couldn't find very much wrong with it at all, that will be interesting because it's entirely possible that I am the only one who hates this commercial concept.

Anyway, the two videos:

And now the read more link:

Okay, so if your answer was one of these three:

1. Poor execution
2. Relying on the "cat burglar" pun
3. Having a two-part commercial

Then we're pretty much on the same frequency here.

I mean, I am what the young folks call "gay" for story arcs and character development, but a thirty-second commercial is perhaps the worst format for either of those things.

Especially if, like me, you somehow managed to miss the first part of the commercial and just saw this repeatedly:

before ever seeing this:

I guess what bothers me most about these commercials is that neither of them make any sense from a commercial perspective even when viewed together.

First of all, at no point in either commercial do you actually see the dog insuring his item. It's almost as if Travelers  wanted their product to be in the ad for as little time as possible, which seems kind of stupid for a commercial, but hey, they have an artistic vision and by God are they sticking to it. They stand by this vision even in this later appendix to the dog commercials, which I found on YouTube but have never seen on TV:

That shot with the van speeding away seems less like it was supposed to be there and more like the director was shouting at it to get out of the shot, because it's there for all of a second. It really seems like it made it into the commercial by accident, as if the editor had a temporary spell of forgetfulness and tried to make a commercial instead of a series of short videos about a dog and his bone.

You may notice, by the way, that the third commercial is the only one where it ever shows the bone actually needing to be protected. In the original commercial, the dog's reason for insuring the bone is an imaginary threat. This seems kind of like the wrong message to send.

This is why most insurance commercials and salesmen try to frame it not as "what if this gets stolen?" but as "if you love something, don't you want to be able to protect it as best you can?" But here the dog only gets worried about his bone when there's a report of a cat burglar (and do any newspapers that aren't time-traveling from the fifties even use that term?).

This kind of suggests that you only need to go to such extremes once you become worried about something current that might affect your item (how, say, Ming vases only get more fragile over time, or how this year alone twenty Ming vases have been destroyed by pets bumping into their pedestals). That's not how you want people to see insurance. You want the dog to have been so happy with his item that he went out to insure it right away, like any wise person--or animal--would. And in fact, in my improved commercial, he does just that. But we'll get to that in a moment. First, about these two commercials:

THEY MAKE NO SENSE. Especially the second one. Okay, so, you've... you've got the dog hiding his bone, and then a... a something (a cat) runs by and makes him think it's not safe (which we don't see in the shorter cut of the commercial), so then... he takes it to a bank. But then he misses it, or maybe his sleep is just disturbed by the fear that... that it will evaporate somehow? From a secure bank vault? So the dog takes the bone back out of the bank, and then... I guess he got insurance at some point. THE END.

By the way, here's the full cut of the commercial.

Notice that this barely improves it, and only then by adding the cat... which actually makes it worse.

So... what happened in that commercial? Nothing. We saw him put a bone into a safety deposit box and take it back out again. That was it. Commercials are supposed to be visual, so why are we having to infer everything? Don't get me wrong, I like a good, subtle commercial, but this commercial is less subtle and more... well, stupid, I guess.

Why can't you show the dog getting insurance? You saw him put a bone into a safety-deposit box at an apparently legitimate bank. You show him riding on a bus for forever in the full cut. And why even screw around with that stuff in the first place? Even as a mini-arc it makes no sense. I get that he was worried about his bone, but why have it unfold like that? They could have chosen to make it play out a better way, one that involved less running back and forth and, even better, less accomplishing of nothing.

Additionally, in the long cut of the commercial, the dog being afraid of that cat that runs by while he's burying the bone only makes sense if you've seen part one of this series. You're requiring your audience to have background knowledge for a commercial what is wrong with you

Also, here the dog's fear is once again imaginary. That other dog he saw while riding the bus isn't going to be able to break into a high-security bank vault. He doesn't have thumbs. And he doesn't even know where the bus was headed. I guess they want to play up the "oh how charming, animals just don't understand things like us people do," but if you go that way it actually defeats the whole conceit of the commercial, which is that an animal is trying to get insurance. So you can't have it both ways.

Here's how I would have done the commercial.


The dog receives a bone. Immediately his tail wags.

The family tries to get him to play with them, but he just keeps licking the bone. The family leaves for a vacation (we can tell by their dress and the luggage they carry). They wave good-bye to the dog. A credit card has been left behind on a nightstand in the parents' room. The dog seizes this opportunity.


The dog takes the bone to Traveler's Insurance. where he signs forms (pressing his paw on an ink pad and then onto the paper).


The dog carefully places the bone on the floor, then backs up and looks at it for a moment, cocking his head. He seems dissatisfied. Then we hear a DING and his tail shoots up, wagging furiously. He has had an idea.


The dog walks in through the automatic doors. We hear LUMBERY NOISES and a CASH REGISTER. The dog walks out backwards, dragging a seemingly large and heavy bag with his teeth.


When the family arrives home from vacation, they stop and stare in shock. If there has been music playing in the background, it stops now.

There is a pedestal in their living room, in front of the TV.

On the pedestal is the bone, resting on a crushed velvet cushion under museum lights and a glass box. The glass box has a dog flap in it, and stairs on the pedestal make it clear that the dog could climb up them to remove his bone and play with it. There are even those little posts with ropes set up around the pedestal, as if it was a display in a museum.

They're called stanchions, and they are the gentleman's choice for keeping the unwashed masses at bay.

The family looks at the dog in shock. He wags his tail in response.

TITLE: Travelers. Protect the things you love. (Or, alternatively, "Pedestal not required.")

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