Jul 10

Buy Me, You’re Sick – pt 2

Do You See + FT4 comments • 459 views

Sonny the Cuckoo BirdIn our first installment of Buy Me You’re Sick we looked at products that offer to serve the same psychological function as high-end prostitutes. Today it’s about consumables whose commercials basically say “our loyal customers have mental health issues.”

Please note the distinction with Crazy Eddie’s Used Cars – “I must be insane to offer prices this low!” No, these products tell you that you’re the insane one. These products are so great – they inspire such fervour and loyalty – you will pride them over family, over friendship, over even sex or sleep.

Of course there ARE products that genuinely do this. They’re called videogames. But curiously, videogame advertisements don’t call attention to these time-sink life-destroying qualities (A friend of mine used to call Tomb Raider “Tumorator” in honor of the cancer it had become on her relationship with her boyfriend.) Maybe they’re defensive about that kind of thing.

Anyway, how far back can we look?

Well, first there was Sonny. Sonny the Cuckoo Bird was midwifed in the Mad-Men sweet spot year of 1962, appearing on-screen engaged in some random activity when something would trigger a memory of Cocoa Puffs. Like an OCD child his bird-brain would go into a tizz and he’d compulsively start chanting “crunchy… munchy… CHOCOLATEY!!” and explode in orgiastic joy – “I’m CUCKOO for Cocoa Puffs!!” and then tuck into a bowl of them.

Relatively innocuous as these things go. “These little breakfast nuggets are so fucking good, they’ll release the beast within.” All of the self-repressive apparatus you’ve assembled in order to be a civilized person, it’s out the window when confronted with our product.

Well, OK. But this basic message has had an astonishingly enduring appeal. It has persisted and strengthened since 1962. All through the entire, record-breaking run of Sesame Street, incidentally, whose core idea is that sharing is good.

Republicans have often said that the American government ought to abandon its funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in turn funds Sesame Street, arguing that if the programming is really worthwhile then it would be supported by the magic of the marketplace. But tell me, could you really see an ad break in Sesame Street being occupied by this Juicy Fruit spot?

Hilarious. It’s a double veil that comes off here – the veil of the actor, who’s supposed to stick to the script, and the apparent veil of just normal human decency, revealed as bullshit nanny-state artifice. Confronted with the awesome power of Juicy Fruit – and its potential absence – we humans will cave to our basest impulses and ignore all professional codes of conduct, ignore the loss of paycheck that beating a co-worker senseless would entail, and abandon self-respect.

In short, Juicy Fruit will make us insane.

But apparently this insanity is realer than anything else! The desire for Juicy Fruit lets us be ourselves. When we give into the desire for products in general – that is when we are being true to ourselves. The rest is artifice and repression.

A final example. It’s not online but there’s a screenshot here

For some time, DirecTV (the American equivalent of Sky, but not nearly as powerful) ran a series of ads depicting a satellite dish installer visiting someone’s house, making the installation and preparing to leave. At the end of the ad, the man or woman of the house approached the installer. There was a moment of hesitation. Then suddenly, they’d hug him. A big, long, heartfelt bear-hug. Cut to reaction shot of installer, only slightly surprised. Like Chekhov the doctor, he’s seen this all before.

TV completes them.

The product itself, sure – the basketball games, the cooking shows, the snazzy menu system – but also everything that a vast number of channels makes available. First, and quite foremost, it provides an escape from any obligation to actually interact with your wife. Let your hair down, dude! But it also provides access to a galaxy of ads like the ones above which just reinforce what a great choice that is. The ones that say you don’t have to put on a nice face. It’s OK to be a fucking jerk. Give in to your most childish impulses. Sharing – your time at home, your Juicy Fruit, your Cocoa Puffs – is for children, simps and pointy-heads who think they’re better than everybody else.

Any other examples?


  1. 1
    Tracer Hand on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Now, I realize that TV can be a very shared a communal experience.. There’s just something so awesomely pathetic about those hugs in the DirecTV ad, such a giant admission of the yawning void in these people’s lives..

  2. 2
    Pete Baran on 7 Jul 2010 #

    The British classic of the last few years is Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. The recent one of which makes no sense, as in no way would dropping said cornflakes down some stairs in any way damage them. So not only is the add callous in as much as CNCF > Baby, but also CNCF leads to mental impairment.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Eli, here’s a compilation of DirecTV hugs.

  4. 4
    Martin on 7 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve always wondered about this. The obvious place where unbridled need manifests is in beer commercials, American ones anyway. In many American beer commercials, the message is always that a typical American male will gladly, unhesitatingly make some underhanded act that might put his roommate’s leg in a cast for a month, if it means getting ahold of some watery slop that costs a dollar and is available on literally every street corner thirty seconds earlier. Now, understanding that need drives advertising, it seems to me that this model must break down as quality microbrews become more common and the differences between Bud and, say, Bass become too apparent to ignore. But then again, maybe Freud would know better. The ads are already placing front and center one of the beers’ worst qualities (they don’t taste good). Or here’s something else — demonstrating Juicy Fruit-esque levels of need for alcohol might land you in an AA meeting or, failing that, definitely get you a DUI. I don’t know — I relate much more to Heineken’s ads — clever, and also they depict a more normal world of enjoying life in upscale bars — not everyone’s ideal or actual way to spend time, but I those people are still recognizably human beings.

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