Friday, September 16, 2011

Fixing Bad Commercials: Singing (featuring NAPA Know-How)

Singing in commercials can be a fun, lighthearted way to communicate a message. The more clever the lyrics and the more catchy the song, the more an audience is going to respond to it. Unfortunately, most people leave out the first part (I'm struggling to think of a good example of it) and instead just focus on the second part.

You've probably seen a lot of local commercials that make this mistake (perhaps they even drop some phresh beats and lay down a rap!) but national commercials are also guilty of this. Companies, here's the thing. Just because your song is catchy doesn't mean that it's likeable.

The people who made the NAPA Know-How commercial don't understand this.

Okay, so, to start with, we've got this:

When the very first words of your commercial are the protagonist talking about how he doesn't care about other human beings (evidenced by his careless disposal of the very organ he is lacking), you should know that your character is going to come across as broken at best and insane at worst. We'll see which it turns out to be.

The next line, "Pulmonary doctor? No cigar" makes it more clear what they were going for: namely, the joke of taking everyday phrases and tying them in to medical fields. It works for "Pulmonary doctor," because they deal with lungs and smoking, although I don't know what the little lung board the guy pulls in front of himself is supposed to be.

Especially because it's animated and pulses. Is it supposed to be an... an x-raying machine? Clearly this isn't meant to be entirely based on reality, because he just threw a heart on the floor, but why do that? Do they think it's funny? And if it's funny, why not do more with the premise? And, I mean, animating those lungs isn't something you can do accidentally or automatically. What does it add to the commercial? In this picture, you'll also notice the Napa guy's disturbingly flat affect. More on that later.

Anyway, I get what they were trying to do, and "Pulmonary doctor? No cigar" is actually not bad. But it's like they wrote that line first and then were like "Crap, what... what other medical field is there? Oh. Cardiology! What's... what's a phrase that relates to that? Change of heart? No, that doesn't make any sense..." and then went on until they arrived at what you see in the commercial. Of course, it's possible that they wrote the cardiology line first, but that's almost stupider because then it's like the pulmonary line is a complete accident.

Wait, really? You can't... you don't know what those things are? Okay, so maybe he's just stupid instead of a sociopath.

Then he gives some advice about the man's coughing engine. This really won't help the man, since he's the same guy who was about to get heart surgery, but it's nice that the Napa guy is offering.

Until he gets to the part about the air filter. And then you see his expression change.

Woah. That's... that's not good.


So yeah, this guy just... he just becomes full-on insane. Everything he does is geared towards luring this man into his trap and eating his heart.

This is straight-up creepy. And it's not just these random frames, either. He has these expressions on his face long enough for them to clearly not be accidents. He does some stuff with an eye chart later but I'm not going to go into it because honestly, for me the commercial ends once he says "wash it down with this." The rest of it is just a prelude to a snuff film.

How do you fix this? Well, when I improve (or try to improve) these things I usually try to remain faithful to the concept of the commercial, but let me ask you something: what was the concept of this commercial? What is the main idea that my commercial should also try to express? What element should the original and my version have in common?

If you answered "the singing," unfortunately that's incorrect. Notice that the singing has nothing to do whatsoever with the commercial and the commercial would, in fact, be better off without it. It's an extra detail that does nothing but distract from the message.

No, the main idea of this commercial is essentially: We may not know anything about medicine, but we're damn good at car stuff. The singing, again, has nothing to do with this idea. So here's how I think the commercial should go:


A surgeon and his assistants are crowded around a patient. The bright light obscures any details, it's just a body with light on it and surgical stuff around it.We hear the FRANTIC BEEPING of various vague medical instruments. Make everything seem dramatic.

This looks bad.

Be quiet, he's trying to think!

I don't... I don't know what to do...

The Napa guy, who until now was hidden by framing and camera angles, leans into the huddle.

Did you try attaching the throttle linkage to the carburetor?

Everyone looks at him.

TITLE: NAPA: It's Cars or Nothing.

I could have also written one where he suggests restarting a heart with jumper cables, but since that implies an actual death for the patient (where as here it's just critical), I figured it was best to stay away from that because Napa commercials have killed enough people already. Anyway, there you go. You didn't need the singing at all. Unless your commercial is really clever (and this one was not), it's best to assume that your lyrics are not clever either. If that's the case, then don't add another mediocre element to your already-mediocre commercial.


  1. Yeah but no one would remember your commercial. It's a year later and I'm still thinking about the creepy napa know how guy.

  2. I have been a professional counterman for 17 year's. NAPA used to have a reputation for being the place to go for qualified auto parts personell.

    Over the past few years, these comercials have changed all that. They make us seem like the same redneck,turn-left-go-fast,retards that cant see the fact that nascar is more rigged than the old big time wrestling!


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