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On "Mad Men," And Current Clever Commercials
August 14, 2010  | By Eric Gould  | 5 comments

Mad Men is back -- the latest episode airs Sunday night at 10 ET on AMC -- and every week as I watch, I think about one of my real guilty pleasures: the art of smart commercials...

Since American television is commercial -- the most viewers equals the most dollars -- it makes our shows competitive at the highest level, but hardly guarantees quality. Best-selling ad time revolves around something like the Super Bowl, or a D-List Celebrity Turkey Shoot. Hardly the Shakespeare of our time.

I worked with an advertising firm once, and was giddy at the thought of working with quick, talented and creative minds... the kind that made a living cutting through the dross and making a witty case in the time it took you to sneeze. Surely, these were the smartest kids in the sandbox, poets of our modern age, able to sell unnecessary things to people who didn't know they needed them. And through guile and intelligence, the buyers never suspected the sale.

Maybe it wasn't a representative sample, but my group was a fairly dull, humorless crew, eager to cover their A's, without a lot of risk-taking or imagination.


So much for my image of Don Draper, the philosopher poet, lording over Madison Avenue -- and our most intimate unconsciousness -- with piercing insight into why and what we need.

And all that magic conjured up at the vaporous intersection of mass consumerism, corporate finance and desire.

What appeals to me about the ad world (even more than Don's Brylcreem) is that if you do it well, it might well be the perfect job. Thirty seconds of comedy that if successful, makes a lot of money, and is relatively light lifting as compared to say, writing sixty minutes of stand-up. (Yes, yes, I know... those of you in the ad business... it's surely misery: deadlines, budgets, squirrelly clients.)

If done well, a short spot not only is smart, but also can be damn literary, in a few short moments. A few lines, a couple of images, and we associate with much larger themes that can remain unsaid: our future, our health, our self-image, what's right, what’s wrong -- the absurdities we shoulder as we conform to society. Those are big fish to fry, and maybe it's the hardest writing job of all. (Being brief and spot-on always makes me think of Hemingway's alleged six-word story: "For sale, baby shoes, never worn.")


I don't know if these are TV ads racking up sales, but here are my five examples of the smartest -- and funniest -- of the current crop:

"Was Abe Lincoln Honest?" -- Geico's odd mash-up of a Rod Serling-type host and the bear in the woods punch line, asking if switching to Geico will really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.

The faux film grain and tinny sound pops really set this one up so well. See it HERE.


KIA Soul, "You can go with this, you can go with that" -- Not terribly side-splitting, but you do look up and think, "Were those hip-hop hamsters shilling a car?"

And they were.

See it HERE.

Old Spice uber-sexy male spokesmodel -- He's a douche, and we know it, but then, maybe he is as suave as he thinks he is.

Old-Spice-Douche.jpgSee it HERE. (Old Spice, in its Internet campaign, posts some of his responses to viewer email, a great way to take its advertising interactive.

You can see one of those HERE.

And perhaps, though the series of Old Spice commercials is hilarious, the online responses to viewer email may be even funnier than the actual ads.

Orbit Gum -- "More dirty mouths clean up with Orbit," and your dirty mind follows right along, HERE.

Finally, "It's time for Daddy to make some funny" -- This Walmart ad is a spit-shot funny look at Dad's birthday clown routine gone horribly wrong.

You won't be sorry you took the 30 seconds for this one, and as I always say, except for a well-timed rubber chicken, there's nothing funnier than an inappropriate clown. Watch HERE.

Those are my current examples of TV ads that Don Draper might have liked, if not made. So I'm wondering: What are yours?




Angela said:

Hi Eric, Due to the launch of this fabulously forward thinking, fresh, smart, and alluring web-site, soon to be world renowned, it is now a snap to find your reviews. And I'm glad I did.

I couldn't think of any favorite commercials, probably because it was too early in the morning for me, but I did take the time to watch most of the Old Spice response videos, a first for me.

So thank you for my first laughs of the day. And just as important, the new site.

Comment posted on August 23, 2010 1:46 PM

margaret said:

Loved all of your choices and laugh every time I see them. I, also, can't remember my favorite ads (but I'm usually reading during them - no tivo), however, there is an ad that I either turn off or change the station every time I hear it. It is the state farm (I think) ad with the smiling guy with the dimples. First of all, it's hard to believe that he can smile the entire time he's speaking and then there's the obvious bid for full attention as he talks over other actors constantly; someone's interpretation of excitement over this car insurance. I mean, really, the only reason he was hired was the dimples as he's a total zero. Thanks for letting me rant. Makes me feel better.

Comment posted on August 25, 2010 8:00 AM
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