In honor of Mad Men ending tonight (NO SPOILERS you guys, I won’t watch it til tomorrow) here are two incredible ads that appeared one right after the other in an issue of the New Yorker I was trying to read.
Look at us. Look at what we’ve become. Our desires, our needs, are so modest. These are ads promoting some degree of LUXURY–of a state of consumership higher than just the regular state. Both are advertising a more pleasurable, fancier level of consuming something than the level of the regular hoi polloi. But these are not the insane first-class ads where like a full geisha is bending over a sleeping business man holding a mimosa and singing the songs of his childhood to him to gently wake him up for his 3 course breakfast and foot massage. Instead, what’s special about these luxurious offers?
“Now, flying and comfort go hand in hand.” That telling “Now” lets us know that the company knows that flying, until “now,” has actually been an uncomfortable hellscape. They’ve been making the seats smaller and smaller and closer and closer together to pack us in like we’re being human-smuggled to our stupid conference in Sacramento. But “Now,” if you pay EXTRA MONEY, you will be given the unbelievable luxury of a REGULAR HUMAN-SCALED SEAT. Look at the pose of the man. One leg demurely in front of the other a little bit. This is the dream we now all strive for. “With up to four extra inches of leg room.” Oh God, what does “up to” mean? Does that mean that sometimes you pay the extra money, and sometimes you only get two extra inches? Or one?
“Slouching isn’t just permitted–it’s possible.” Here the airline is acknowledging that slouching your seat is impossible in the regular seats they make available for their customers. You have to pay extra if you want enough room to….slouch. “Slouch”? Is “slouch” the best the marketing team could come up with, really? Why not “recline” or “relax” or “stretch”? The word “slouch” connotes absolutely nothing positive. “For too long, you’ve been dying to slouch in defeat in your shitty airplane seat. Well now you CAN.” And the twin of “permitted–possible” is frankly frightening. The first reminds me of prison; the second just seems so tepid. Why not “Slouching isn’t just possible–it’s required”? That connotes a more realistic picture of how we all feel when we ride on an airplane.
Finally, the passenger himself. What will we use all our newfound (paid for) freedom to do? Stare at our glowing screen. Good thing he’s got that up to four extra inches of leg room, so he can more easily shift his glowing screen from knee to knee? Or something. And his face! That is a SHOCKINGLY slack and blank face. I can’t believe an ad company would put such a passive non-face in an ad. Scholars of the future will be astounded by this ad. “Is the man a cyborg or a portable fuck-doll? Are these the pens they kept their robots in while they sat in regular human seats doing regular human things?” And then one brave scholar from one of the UCs will be like “Colleagues I posit that this image is actually OF an early 21st-century human, and that this would have been an image that they considered completely normal.” And everyone at the conference will GASP.
This second one is even sadder. “Going home for a long weekend”? Wait, don’t you LIVE at “home”? Where is this “home” that you can only visit on weekends?? Also the copy is unclear, which I can only assume means heartache for anyone who tries to use this deal. “We’ll save $100 with a free checked bag”? Does this mean that the card will save you $100 on your ticket, AND give you a free checked bag? Or does it somehow mean you will save $100 BY not having to pay to check a bag? Either way, is this really that exciting of a deal? You have to get a special credit card and pay $100 a year just so that you can check a bag for free? News flash–that checked bag AIN’T FREE. Also, so glad that two people get one free checked bag. One of them has to cram all their shit into the other one’s bag, as they fight about how she’s bringing too many shoes and makeups and why does he need all these x-boxes and beard trimmers. Their entire lives have become circumscribed by what credit card companies and airlines tell them they ought to want, but it’s okay, because when they get to the airport and pay for an egg mcmuffin (to share) with their Mileage Plus Explorer card, everyone will know that they are special.
Then there’s this
This ad at first reminds you of Don Draper! I don’t think I have seen an ad quite like this yet. These three ads put together create a real triptych of our times. Our sad, self-hating, intensely modest dreams; our overwhelming fears we can’t escape from. You can picture Don in that pitch meeting. The client’s going “everybody is ‘smart phones’ this and ‘macintosh’ that, but our watches are just wheels and gears like from the medieval period! We’ve gotta start making digital watches that you can watch Shakira videos on while you stumble down the street! I’ve got it–‘stumbling isn’t just permitted–it’s possible'” But then Don Draper, who has been listening (or has he?) with his back to the group, staring out the window of the conference room, probably at Peggy, suddenly turns around. “People don’t want Shakira videos,” he says, “they just THINK they do. But your product gives them something better. Something that will never break down or have to be replaced. Your marriage may end, your kids may come to despise and pity you, but this watch will keep on ticking. The Runwell. It’s….TIMELESS”
Except that’s not what the copy says, so now I’m thinking this was a campaign cooked up by early-period Peggy before she became a genius. This is a Peggy ad before Don tweaks it into perfection. “The Runwell: It’s just smart enough”? I don’t think so. Don would be all over that like Don Draper on a brunette. The word “just” is so tepid! It spoils the delightful clarity of the line and the sick burn it’s pitching at Apple! “The Runwell: IT’S SMART ENOUGH” would be so much better, like fuck you, smartphones, how smart are you, you won’t even run in 6 months! This shit will keep running even if the power grid goes down, even if aliens attack! And I DON’T NEED TO WATCH SHAKIRA VIDEOS WHILE I WALK TO WORK, HAVE WE ALL GONE INSANE??
Also, Don would never let that copy be all about fear. It should be about bravery! You’re not afraid of the Apple watch, are you? No, you DESPISE it and all it stands for! Also, the copy should not actually also take a dig at the targeted consumer with that stupid “sundials” bit. Calling your own potential customers fearful Luddites is not the way to go, I don’t think. Why not make them brave holdouts in a disposable world? The few, the wise, who want things made to last, who want independence and quality craftsmanship? This ad has too much going on in too many different directions. It’s like if Don and, I don’t know, Pete Campbell, both came up with concepts and then instead of picking one they went with both. I feel like no client on Mad Men would accept this ad but I guess we don’t live in those times anymore, and is it a blessing or a curse? It’s so hard to tell.