George Duncan

Marketing copywriter/consultant, author

World’s Worst TV Ads

From Watch Your Ads — A media memo by George Duncan

Have you noticed on TV recently a series of ads featuring people who have suffered from shingles? Did I say suffered? To hear them tell it, they almost died. I had shingles several years ago for about six months. It was no walk in the park to be sure, but it wasn’t a near death experience either. Where did all this concern with shingles come from, anyway, I wondered.  Until I’m at the drive thru window of my local pharmacy and there was the answer: a sign on the glass booth announcing the availability of shots for…yes, shingles! Now I got it. A clever marketing campaign starting with shingles survivors bemoaning their pain and suffering on TV and waddaya know – shots just happen to be available at the pharmacy! I thought those testimonials were a tad promotion-y.  The vaccine, by the way is Zostavax and the Big Pharma company that makes it is Merck. I felt like I’d just been had.

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I guess we all have our favorite candidates for the World’s Worst TV Ads, but I have two currently in contention for the title. The first is an ad for the VW Passat featuring a dad who throws like a girl (in fact damn few girls I know would throw that poorly) and is teaching his 8– or 9–year-old son to do likewise. One day in the middle school yard and that kid’s life will be over. Also, from a marketing perspective, it’s difficult to make the connection between the malfunctioning father and the VW Passat, which I assume is a pretty good car. Yes, the voice over message talks about leaving your son (or daughter, I presume) something of value, namely a VW Passat. Oh. I see. As most any creative director except this one will tell you, a strong graphic will finesse any verbal message you provide. We learn visually first and foremost.

The other – and possibly the winner – is the Dish TV ad for the Hopper, a streaming software. Several members of a family are discovering that they can download and view their favorite TV shows anywhere all the time on any device. Including the guy upstairs sitting on the toilet. Pants down, briefs around his ankles and all. Class act. Eeeeuww.

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And what does that woman in the Subaru ad mean when she says her daughter grew up in the back seat? Really? Well, they do say that “love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” So…

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Acela is Amtrak’s super express train running the northeast corridor, Boston to D.C. Good as it is, I don’t think it has left the tracks just yet.  So perhaps Amtrak is a little premature with the Acela tag line: “Take off” complete with wing-like graphic. Can’t blame them for trying, but many folks take the train because they hate/fear flying or don’t need the hassle. Is it smart for Acela to assume airline imagery?

Makes me grateful for that wonderful family of penguins checking in to the Marriott Residence Inn. They restoreth my soul.

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