Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday Whatnot: bing, The Idaho Potato Museum, and Car Insurance

I've often wrestled with the role that television plays in my life. For a spell, when I was a wayward young man, I lived in several households without TV sets, and inhabited a few domains not worthy of the title of household, so I found it auspicious to let those who'd listen know that I did not, in fact, watch television. It was, I felt, a good way to put a label on my still-developing persona, and although technically true on many occasions, it was mostly a load of crap. It's not like I grew up in a home without a television, or that I've never had favorite shows, or that I've never watched a gazillion sporting events on the tube. No, I do watch TV, and probably a little too much of it, right now, but I still pass plenty of judgment on certain shows people watch.

For example, it was just yesterday that a co-worker said to me verbatim, "I mean, I don't watch TV," which she then followed up with, "however, my new favorite show is 'Mike and Molly.'"

I related to this on two levels, the first of which should be obvious. The second of which is that I had just privately lambasted an ad for this program, having seen a commercial for it, then hearing the end of the commercial with one of those the-best-new-fill-in-the-blank-program sort of lines that's supposed to get people to check out a show. I thought to myself: There wasn't an ounce of funny in that ad, and what the hell is this show anyway? A program for fat people to feel good about themselves?

Of course, when my colleague stated that, I felt like a jerk, so I'm going to try and refrain from passing judgment on what other people watch, even if my sister mainlines Real Housewives, a couple of buddies of mine flog the dolphin to Jersey Shore, and frankly, watching television has adverse effects on, well, everything else I'd like to get done, but that's the goal. Meantime, I thought I'd wax philosophical on commercials for a minute.

I'm somewhere in between really interested and thoroughly fascinated by TV advertising. That is, I don't think I've watched one single commercial in the last five or six years and not had a really strong opinion about it. That opinion either goes one way -- That was the worst piece of advertising I have ever seen in my entire life, and having endured its atrociousness, I will now make a conscious effort to never, ever give that company one penny of my money. I cannot believe that people got paid to make that pile of televised garbage -- or it becomes and instant favorite, I never get tired of seeing it, and want everyone I know to love it just as much as I do.

This is the case with the bing traffic jam commercial, which I adore:

For my wife, she loves the Geico commercials, most notably the woodchucks:

and especially the little piggie:

I have no idea how many times I've heard people say that they hate this commercial with every fiber of their soul, but I always pipe up and mention the wife's affinity for it. Personally, I like the jackwagon one, but whatever.

The point is, that I think a lot, if not most, of us have opinions on commercials. They're fascinating to analyze from a conceptual standpoint, and to try and determine how they thought their angle(s) would generate new patrons, or reaffirm the confidence in customers that already existed.

Take car insurance, for example. You have, in my estimation, three companies that have been fully engaged in this advertising competition for some time now: Geico, Progressive, and State Farm. Geico has been hitting the bricks hard with the 15-minutes-could-save-you campaign for a number of years. It started out as simple, but then they stepped it up a notch with the caveman campaign, went high-brow by adding the gecko, and have kicked it in to high gear lately with all of the Mike McGlone spots. On the other hand, you have Progressive. Everyone knows Flo from Progressive. Her spots are great, and even though she's one of those folks cursed with the two-first-name situation (Stephanie Courtney), I think most people find her benign, if not slightly tolerable bordering on enjoyable. Personally, I'm waiting for her sex tape to come out, but that's another post.

Allstate has stayed the conservative route for a long, long time, now with Dennis Haysbert as the all-too-familiar spokesperson. They've recently attempted a new direction, though, by stepping out of that secure, feel-good mode, and suggesting that going with a newer competitor with a lesser tenure could impose chaos upon your world. State Farm felt like they had to get in the mix by adding their blink-like-you're-I-Dream-of-Jeanie-and-like-a-good-neighbor-your-agent-is-there agenda. And of course, Farmer's Insurance is coming at us with the think-quick, on-your-feet propaganda. There are, of course, others, but we've given enough examples already.

My stance has been cemented for most of 10 years, though. I grew up using State Farm because that's what my mom used because a family friend was an agent. I dumped them, however, when they started acting like jackwagons, and went with Allstate because I had an uncle that was an agent. When he retired, however, things changed. I got a new car, added it to my plan, and my premiums skyrocketed. So, I did some shopping, and compared premium quotes among Progressive, Geico, State Farm, and a couple of others. Suffice to say that the rates Progressive offered were not only the best, but their customer service was far superior. And for the record, Geico was more than double all of the rates offered, but the point is not to steer you in any direction on car insurance, but to mention that I went with the company that presented the best offer, and have stuck with them ever since, and no amount of dollars and sense invested in clever ad campaigns will even get me to consider for a moment switching companies. I'm sure there are those that will ponder it, but it's an interesting concept, at least to me.

As far as bing and search engines are concerned, I'm not even interested in what they're trying to advertise. I do, however, find their commercials clever and entertaining, so I will never not consider using their product. Finally, there is the third leg to this stool and that is the advertising of the outright obnoxious company and its product/service. The only example -- and I'm certain there are plenty of others -- that immediately springs to mind is something like the current Domino's ad campaign. You know the one. It's the neverending stream of commercials where they profess that they've been making a crappy product and insist that they've improved upon said crappy product. It's not that I have a beef with the philosophy behind this campaign, and I don't have a particular problem with past experiences eating Domino's pie.

The situation is this: I typically order local pizza, and almost always prefer it over any chain pizza. But now, having endured dozens of these ads, I will, in the event that my local delivery service is on the fritz, definitely refrain from ordering Domino's pizza because their commercials are so God-damned annoying, and frankly, way overplayed.

Enough about all that, though. The point was that commericals are psychologically fascinating, and I'm going to make a point of screaming "Visit the Idaho potato museum!" anytime someone uses the word visit, Idaho, potato, or museum. Just 'cause it'll be a hoot.

And that's all I have to say about that.
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