Monday, March 2, 2009

Rocks in their head

If there's any one ad that has to kick off a blog about bad ads, it's got to be those vomitous Geico cavemen, Unquestionably the worst ads of the last year or so. I first caught a wiff of their preternatural funk in an overheard conversation. Two African-American businessmen on the subway. What I heard ran something like this:

"...blatant racism!"
"Oh, you're nuts. You see racists everywhere. I think they're funny."
"They're US. That's how they see successful black men. I'm telling you."
"What? Cavemen? It's TV! Lighten up..."

I had no idea what they were talking about for about a week, and didn't really remember the interaction--until I saw the ad.

When I did see the ad my first thought was, "this isn't funny. But Geico has done some very cool ads, they're entitled to strike out once in a while." My next thought brought back the racism conversation. Now I don't know if they are racist or not. Well, they are making fun of racism, but I don't know if they're intentionally equating black people with cavemen. I tend to think not, but at the same time, I'm surprised more people didn't interpret it that way.

That aside, the 'humor' as I see it, isn't really something than anyone can relate to who didn't grow up in LA, went to film school, or spent way too much time in analysis. Of course, the shades, tennis rackets and shrinks make clear that this is what's so 'funny' about it all. Like my LA acquaintances who did grow up in LA, and do spend too much time in analysis. These guys are uglier on the inside: Totally self-absorbed, neurotically self-conscious and a little paranoid. What's so 'funny' about it is that it pokes fun at us. Assuming "us" constitutes a very teeny, tiny segment of our culture.

Without the caveman exteriors, would there be anything appealing about these characters at all? anything that 90% of America can relate to?
Without the fuzz, these guys are just that annoying wannabe boss we all had to work under when we first entered the workforce.

And you know, the fact that these ads had such "long legs," as they say, illustrates a point that I always have to make when someone at a party corners me and accuses me of doing something nasty to consumers and society through advertising. I always counter by pointing out that we don't make ads for consumers, even though that;s our target market. We make ads for the few guys who pay for them: the clients. I've seen plenty of brilliant ads end up on the proverbial cutting room floor, because the client didn't get it, or more often because it was too different from what they'd seen before. Worse comes to worse, and ad that flatters the client in some way will always sell.

Very likely, this ad rang a bell with the people who were doing the buying. And if TV people are anything like the stereotypes, these tedious, hairy dudes ring the rapport bell there, which is how they nearly made it onto TV.