I probably don’t mentally process TV commercials in the way advertisers intend. And for this I blame a story my mother told me about Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical, South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949.
In the musical, one of the characters, a nurse named Nellie, decides she wants to get over a man she has fallen in love with. She tells her fellow nurses about this by singing the song “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.” In true musical fashion, the fellow nurses sing back up and everyone dances around.
During test audiences, R&H couldn’t figure out why they were completely losing their audience during this number. People were invested and engaged in the story until this song, at which point they were all strangely snapped back to the reality that they were just watching people dance around on stage. It took some tweaking, but they eventually figured it out — the actress playing Nellie began singing the song by actually washing her hair (in a bathing suit) on stage in a real shower with real water. Being 1949, audiences immediately ignored the words the actress was singing, and starting thinking about the shower itself – was that really real water? how did they manage to get that shower on the stage? weren’t they worried about water damage to the stage” etc, etc. Nellie sang the meat of the song in the shower, and then she got out and danced around with the other nurses to the instrumental part of the song, and then the song was over. By simply switching the order (she sings the song to the nurses, then she gets in the shower while the nurses dance around), R&H fixed their problem. Audiences were free to think about the shower itself without missing anything in the plot.
This is how I see a lot of commercials now – they make choices that may have made sense to them on paper at the beginning, but in practice they completely distract me from their point. I’ll share with you three examples of what I’m now calling the South Pacific Shower Effect.
Example 1: Honda Pilot Commercial
I’m guessing their intended point is that everyone in the family can be more comfortable on road trips when they have space. And if everyone is more comfortable, everyone will be happier.
However, when I see it, I think the following:
Why is there a random black kid in the car when everyone else in the car is reeeeally white? The rest of the people easily look related, and then there’s just this random black kid. If all the kids looked a little less like they could plausibly be related, then I could theorize that they were an adoptive family. But why would this couple adopt just one kid when they already have five kids? Or, if the black kid is just the best friend of one of the family’s kids, why would the black kid’s parents just be okay that the kid go on some other family’s vacation?
And why does the oldest kid look entirely pissed off? He’s just glaring out the window or at his family the whole time. Isn’t the point of this commercial that buying this car makes everyone a little happier on road trips? I understand that most of the time teenagers are unhappy, but this is a commercial. Since when do advertisers focus on reality? And there are lots of times when teenagers actually have fun with their family. They’re all singing Crazy Train. Not the Barney theme song. Anyone could buy that the teenager just goes along with it.
Example 2: “Imagination” Netflix / Wii Commercial
(fast forward to :30 for the one I’m referring to)
Judging by the other ads Netflix does, I’m guessing they’re just going along with the ‘easy access to any movie you want at any time’ theme. But really I’m not sure.
Watch the commercial again – it starts with kids playing. Using their imagination and being clever and creative to have lots of fun. And then they put a remote control in the kids hand. Immediately cut to the family sitting on the couch watching a movie. The message I get from this commercial? “Everyone just wants to watch movies. Using your imagination is a crappy second best to watching movies. Imagination is for suckers in the 1920s.”
Example 3: The “My Idea” Windows 7 Ads
This is just one example of the whole ad campaign I’m sure you’re familiar with. A bunch of regular people saying they had this idea, and they told Microsoft and then Microsoft put that idea in their new OS. Then the regular person brags about how great they are that they came up with this idea.
What I took from this campaign? Wow. Windows users are idiots. They really think they changed the new Windows? Also – they’re completely delusional. Their re-enactments always feature ridiculously beautiful people. (Even though the ‘regular’ people are pretty good looking anyway) Also, it’s not even like ‘their’ idea was the outcome. “I think my PC should be simpler” is not an idea, sorry dear. Also, I’m pretty sure Mac OS had these ‘new ideas’ in operation for multiple years. (Yes, I’m a Mac user. But that doesn’t change the fact that just calling something revolutionary and new doesn’t make it so.)
I now apologize to you, dear reader, for pointing all of this out to you. I have a feeling some of you will now over think commercials and become increasingly annoyed with idiot advertising campaigns, too.