Sunday, June 30, 2013

Today's "Mad Men": What Planet Are They From?

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One of the shows I really like right now is AMC’s “Mad Men,” the story of dissolution, intrigue, betrayal, and general degeneracy in a New York advertising agency in the 1960s.
It takes me back to a different time. A time of great turmoil to be sure, but also a time of great style and sophistication. It’s also a time when I actually understood advertising. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but a lot of the ads I see these days leave me scratching my head, and not because I need Head and Shoulders.

Take, for example, those ads for Cialis. You know the ones I mean: the ones where an affectionate and attractive couple is engaging in various everyday activities, when the woman does something that makes the guy gaze at his significant other with a look that says, “Once my little pill kicks in, you and me are gonna get BUSY, girl.”

That part I get. What I don’t get is the activities that spark that sudden flash of interest. I mean, I know different people have different turn-ons, but having my sweetie wipe a crumb of food off my face has, to the best of my knowledge, never caused either of us to want to tear each other’s clothing off.

Nor has watching a woman, even a cute one, hop on one foot while trying to get a shoe on. You know what happens to a guy who starts laughing at his lady trying to get dressed? I’ll give you a hint: It’s probably not sweet, sweet lovin’.

Then there are the ads for Miller 64, which I assume is a low-calorie beer. I assume this, because the ads consist of various young (and of course attractive) people engaging in a variety of healthy and strenuous activities, like going to the gym or playing beach volleyball, all the time singing a rousing chorus of what sounds like a pirate sea chantey. Because if there’s two things that you associate with healthy athleticism, it’s beer and pirates, right?
Sorry, you’re never going to convince me that beer — any beer — is a sports drink like Gatorade. And light beer? Pheh. You may as well be drinking water, which if you’ve been working out or playing beach volleyball, you should have been doing in the first place anyway.

By the way, have you seen the new Apple ad? The one where the narrator praises Apple as if they’d just created the Mona Lisa while finding the cure for cancer? “We spend a lot of time on a few great things, until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches,” the narrator intones. “You may rarely look at it, but you’ll always feel it. ... This is our signature, and it means everything.”

This, I suppose, is supposed to make me think “Wow, Apple is so awesome! I need to go out and buy all their stuff right this second.” What it really makes me think is, “Jeez ,Apple, get over yourself.”

The “signature” referred to, by the way, can be found engraved on many Apple products: “Designed by Apple in California.” What it leaves out is “…and built by workers in China living in near-slavery and driven to suicidal despair by their conditions.” I guess they figured that wouldn’t fit.

But the weirdest ads of all are the one for Velveeta Shells and Cheese that feature guys like the one who sells remote-control helicopters in the mall, or the one who has a ham radio in his basement and can talk to “Mongolia and all the Koreas.” (Wow. I didn’t know people still do ham radio.)

Apparently, the fact that these slightly offbeat fellows are fond of “Liquid Gold,” as the narrator calls it, is supposed to make us hunger for Kraft’s version of the classic comfort food. “Eat … like that guy you know!” the narrator commands in a drill-sergeant growl.
Look, I like mac ‘n’ cheese as much as the next guy, but it’s not because basement-dwelling radio enthusiast or some geeky mall rat selling toys out of a kiosk likes it.

I know it makes me sound like an old dude, but back in my day, we had ads that people could understand. Oh sure, they were annoying. Remember “Ring Around the Collar”?

 It made you want to punch someone, but at least you could understand what they were trying to make you paranoid about, and it did draw much needed attention to the previously unsuspected problem of neck dirt.

But some of the things I see now make me wonder if the modern day “Mad Men” come from the same planet as I do.