Sunday, October 23, 2011

Keeping it Real

I have discovered that my newest pet peeve is the wave of “real people, not actors” commercials. The idea behind these is to convince the target market that the products being offered are so fantastic, so revolutionary, that they can survive the spontaneity of a “man on the street” setup. There are three examples currently being aired.

The first is the Pizza Hut commercials where a group of “real people” are being clandestinely filmed as they enjoy pasta in what they believe to be a fine Italian restaurant. Once they have sampled their dishes, it is dramatically revealed that their overpriced meals were not prepared by a trained chef at all. Instead the food was delivered by Pizza Hut and the satisfied dinners are dumbfounded that such a delicious pasta dish could have originated at the hands of part-time high school kids working for minimum wage.  There is, subsequently, much rejoicing.

The second commercial involves the Ford Motor Company, and features a white suburban couple who have recently purchased a Ford SUV. The couple is spirited away from their car and into seats facing a throng of reporters who begin asking them what they think of their new car. The couple obligingly responds in a positive manner and even thanks Ford for “making them the Joneses.” There is, once again, much rejoicing.

The third example involved everyone’s favorite fabric deodorizer: Febreze. In this scenario, real people are confronted on the streets of a large metropolitan city asked to assist in an experiment. They are then blindfolded and led into what appears to be the scene of a recent homicide. Once they are seated on the disgusting furniture, they are asked to describe what they smell. Flowers and rain are just a few of the responses given, which is of course humorous to the audience because we are privy to the fact that these people are sitting amongst human feces and the skull of a prostitute. Unsurprisingly, the blindfolds are removed, shock sets in, and there is much rejoicing.
Febreze Ad (filmed on the set of Saw III)
There are a few problems with such scenarios, not the least of which is the blatant insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Do you really feel that such commercials are building a rapport with the intended demographic? Should I trust the opinion of two women who can be persuaded that easily to allow a strange man to blindfold them and lead them into an abandoned warehouse? And who would be that thrilled to find out they just dropped $75 for two personal pan pizzas and an order of breadsticks? If I am at a high-end steakhouse and someone reveals that I have been chewing on a Hungry Man microwavable rib eye sandwich for the past half-hour the first words out of my mouth will not be, “Wow. That’s Amazing!”

And as far as Ford is concerned, when I see a camera crew attempting to confront me as I exit my vehicle the natural assumption is that I am being featured on Cheaters. I would be interested to see statistics on how many people have been persuaded to purchase a Ford Escape because it seemed like the “real people” on TV have really enjoyed the experience. Having seen the “real people” treatment, I am ok with regressing to the slow-motion sliding vehicle ads of the late 90’s.

If you want some good TV, hide a camera at Sears Auto Center when the mechanic informs people that the oil change they brought the car in for has turned into a $550 timing belt inquisition. Even better, let’s confront real people on their use of toilet bowl cleaner. We could blindfold them, lead them into a room, and dunk their head in the bowl before revealing that the porcelain device in question has been on a decade-long tour of duty at Jose’s Burrito Armageddon.

The bottom line is that the only tactic less convincing than a “real people portrayal” commercial is pretending that the entire marketing department didn’t spend six months choreographing the ad so that it did not look like an “actor portrayal” commercial.  

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