Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Honey Bunches of TV Ads

It took a good deal of kicking and screaming on my part, but I've finally been dragged against my will into the modern age.

I have long held fast to the shallow yet usually accurate belief that you can judge a person's worth by the contents of their media collection. If I were dating a girl and then went to her house and discovered that she owned every Ernest movie on DVD, I can safely predict that it won't be a love connection. If I see a Twin Peaks box set or a Chuck Klosterman book on your shelves, though, we might just be soulmates.

But snap judgements like this are hard to make these days. I can't gawk at your media collection when it's floating aimlessly on some virtual "cloud." If this keeps up, I might have to actually, like, get to know you first. Frankly, I have better things to do.

Still, as technology advances, so too must I, lest I turn into a curmudgeonly fossil who lectures kids about the "good ol' days" of DVDs. I have to admit, streaming media can be pretty cool. Netflix and Hulu are now a constant presence in my life, and there's few activites I enjoy more than falling down the rabbit hole of binge watching. "I guess I've always wondered what this 'Scandal' show is all about," I will invariably think to myself, and then one week and 69 episodes later, I'll have a good enough handle on "Scandal" to join in the watercooler discussions at work, assuming that my co-workers like to talk about dumb TV shows, which they don't.

I'm already getting spoiled, though. Now that I'm in the Netflix age, I have officially lost every shred of patience for commercial breaks. Netflix is commercial-free, and you can pay a little extra to make Hulu ad-free as well. But the other day, I wanted to watch something on good old network TV, but all I could think about was how insufferable the commercial breaks were.

This is a troubling mindframe for me to have, given that my primary occupation involves selling ads for this very paper. Without advertisers, there wouldn't be network TV or a Dispatch/Argus. I wouldn't have a column. I wouldn't have a job. Ads don't just pay my bills, they also perform a vital service to the local economy. Ads help businesses thrive and survive, and they help consumers make informed buying decisions.

There's a huge difference, though, between print and TV ads. When you read an ad in our paper, you're usually doing so because you're interested in the content or something about it that caught your eye. You can re-read them as often as you'd like and digest them at your own pace. But now imagine if all the ads in today's paper erased themselves thirty seconds after you turn each page, because that's what TV ad writers have to deal with.

In order for an ad on TV to work, it needs to be visceral, engaging, and memorable. That's why so many go for broke with big budgets, catchy jingles, and comedic timing. Everybody remembers that crazy "Puppymonkeybaby" ad from last year's Superbowl, but can you remember what it was selling? (It's an ad for Mountain Dew Kickstart, but I bet you forgot.)

The stakes are high for TV ads, because there's a fine line between an ad that's memorable and an ad that's annoying. There's one making the rounds right now that I find SO annoying I instinctively change the channel every time it comes on. The super weird thing is that it's a fairly innocuous ad that shouldn't really bother me, but for some reason I hate it with the intensity of a thousand suns.

It's an ad for Honey Bunches of Oats, the breakfast cereal. It's one in a series of mostly cute ads where they interview the actual workers in their factory. Most of them are charming, like the one ad where an enthusiastic guy tells the audience how to check the cereal boxes for the packing codes. "If the last three letters are P-2-2, I packaged that box!" It's down-home and downright charming.

But then there's the OTHER ad. The one with the woman who proudly says, "I get off work and I go to the store and somebody's smelling around and they go, 'I smell cookies,' and I go 'Oh no, you just smell me! I just got outta work! It's Honey Bunches of Oats!'" WHY DOES THIS CREEP ME OUT SO?

For one, I don't like the idea of being in a store where "somebody" is "smelling around." Unless the store in question is a perfumery, this strikes me as unacceptable olfactory behavior. Keep your nose to yourself, "somebody." For two, if I left work and knew that I reeked of Honey Bunches of Oats, I'd probably stop home and take a quick shower before I went out shopping. I don't care if Honey Bunches of Oats smell like heaven in a box, I don't especially fancy the idea of suffocating strangers with my delicious oat funk. Calvin Klein is not about to release "CK4: Oat Honey."

I think my real problem, though, is that I've smelled an oat factory before, and it does NOT smell like cookies, friends. Have you ever been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa? It's a lovely town full of lovely people who I don't in any way want to offend. But let's be honest, Cedar Rapidians: your town reeks. You see, Cedar Rapids is the storied home of the Quaker Oats cereal mill. When the wind kicks up, the mill's odors waft through the whole of Cedar Rapids like the bubonic nose-plague. But it's not the smell of oatmeal cookies. It's more like the smell of oatmeal cookies if you left them in the oven and then they caught fire and then the fire burned your entire house to the ground. As lovely as the innocent woman in the ad is, in MY mind she reeks like industrially-burnt oats and I just want to give her a hug but I can't because she's so stinky.

In the end, it's all subjective. One person might like Puppymonkeybaby, another might find it horrifying. (I find it horrifying which is WHY I like it so much.) So honey bunches of apologies to you, stinky oat lady. If you enjoy smelling like cookies and that's your thing, have fun with it. Just PLEASE stop talking about it on my TV, I've got more important things to watch... I mean do.

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