good folks at M&M/Mars and BBDO New York have combined recently
to give the world one of the more uplifting cinema experiences of the
year: a series of commercials in which hapless, ambitionless zeroes
with terrible haircuts make improbable journeys from their couches to
the throne of mankind after eating Snickers bars.
plot-heavy monstrosities that have lately been sullying the timeouts
of NFL games are, I think, the most hateful spots produced this year.
I was shocked to learn that they were not the work of the British, the
usual masterminds of especially loathsome ad campaigns; the key villains
here appear to be Swedes. That said, the "Make it Happen With Snickers"
series is revolting in a way that really transcends nationality. Like
the industry itself, its ugliness is a global phenomenon.
you haven't caught the spots yet, here's Adweek's enthusiastic summary
of the worst of the three ads, a fiend called "President":
"A man is sitting in his living room when he eats a Snickers. The
burst of energy makes him help a friend move, and when he yells in pain
after a couch falls on him, a talent scout hears his voice and signs
him to be part of a boy band, "The Residents." When people
mishear the band's name, they mistakenly elect him president - all thanks
to a Snickers bar... Did you get all that? What could be the plot of
a two-hour movie is stuffed into a 60-second spot, one of three new
ads by BBDO that begin breaking today..."
message to the Adweek folks: you're wrong. This couldn't be the plot
of a two-hour movie. Not one that wasn't dreamed up for use in torturing
prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, anyway. Though, of course, for that purpose
it would be beautifully effective, if only the storyline was continued
a little. After the Snickers eater is elected president, he drops fuel-air
bombs on Damascus and forces all women on the Arabian peninsula to work
in bikini car washes. Cue the tagline: "Make it happen with Snickers
- and air power!"
away their Korans and make them watch two hours of that: see how long
it takes them to confess. Although there are a few detractors who think
they're a little too busy, the BBDO/Mars ads are being hailed in the
industry as bold, innovative pieces of filmmaking. It's not difficult
to see why. The ads are conspicuously devoid of any of the the industry's
top 1,000 visual or directorial cliches. There are no idiot dads acting
like bumbling lunkheads in front of their sneering, wisecracking wives
and children. There are no long slo-mos of creepy liquids pouring from
one side of the screen to another. And there are no jittery pans of
wind-swept groups of supermodels bursting with wacky, giggly happiness
(they can't believe how wonderful it is to wear these clothes!) in the
middle of deserted city landscapes.
the BBDO ads are expensive, complicated pieces of cinema that try to
disguise thievery of a whole range of recent marketing cliches in innovative
starters, "President" marks just the latest effort in an exploding
election-year advertising phenomenon - the presidential campaign leitmotif.
Barely a blip on the industry screen four years ago, this Bush-Kerry
election is suddenly working like Spanish Fly on ad copywriters.
months ago the only serious offenders in this arena were Miller and
Budweiser, who blasted each in the "President of Beers" spots
with underhanded public slime campaigns that cannily anticipated the
future course of the actual Bush-Kerry race.
lately a whole slew of companies has followed suit. By my unofficial
count, that group includes alcohol giant Brown-Forman, as well as Nextel,
NetZero, Mattel, Maker's Mark, and Captain Morgan. Taglines for president-themed
ad campaigns include B-F's "I'm Jack Daniel and I approved this
message," and "Think Pink in 2004," the campaign slogan
for Mattel's Barbie, who is running for president as the nominee of
the "Party of Girls." The really sad thing about the latter
campaign is that Barbie's "Pink" slogan which stands
for Peace, Inspiration, Nature, and Knowledge - sounds suspiciously
like something stolen from the "out" bin at the Dennis Kucinich
campaign headquarters. In other words, the legendary consumerist sex
object Barbie is now too progressive for even the Democratic party.
The "Pink" campaign has been kind of a dud, incidentally.
ads also touch on recent cliches like "Purchase of our product
allows you to surreptitiously explore your latent sexual identity conflict"
(in one spot, a man eats a Snickers Cruncher and becomes a hairdresser),
as well as the increasingly popular "Patronizing our evil multinational
corporation will allow you to save the environment" (Man eats Snickers
and invents environmentally friendly car, a nice homage to the recent
green-friendly campaigns of Eddie Bauer and British Petroleum). This
is in addition to the older junk-food concept, "Eating lots of
our candy will make you a healthy jogger with clear skin who is desired
the thing that really irritates me about these ads is that they were
directed by a Swedish shop called "StyleWar." First of all,
no company should be named "StyleWar." That should be against
the law, and the U.N., I think, should intervene when this order is
violated. And certainly no company that is both named StyleWar and run
by Scandinavians should be allowed anywhere near an NFL football game.
what gets me about StyleWar is that it won its reputation on the strength
of work it did for Ikea. Several of its Ikea ads, including a famous
European spot called "Lamp," helped make the furniture giant
the mightiest private company in the world (more people now read the
Ikea catalogue than the Bible). That means that StyleWar has now been
the chief creative force for two prominent multinational companies who
have been attached to child labor and child slavery scandals.
world's largest chocolate maker, M&M/Mars has still refused to endorse
Fair Trade chocolate, meaning that it is still the largest purchaser
of cocoa from Cote D'Ivoire, where 43% of the world's cocoa is produced.
Groups like the ILO, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture,
and even the U.S. State Department have consistently reported the use
of forced child labor in Ivory Coast cocoa farms. A 2002 study by the
IITA estimated that 284,000 children, many of them immigrants brought
in from countries like Burkina Faso by child traffickers, are working
in the Ivory Coast farms. Mars, meanwhile, refuses to agree to minimum
price levels and the rest of the Fair Trade chocolate program, which
includes prohibitions on child labor. All so that we can have M&M/Mars'
shitty chocolate (400 million M&Ms produced every day) at low prices.
to me that represents the beginning of the "two-hour movie"
that was never made. Ghanaian 9-year-old climbs tree with machete, hacks
open cocoa pods, taking two of his fingers with him. Plantation owner
separates pods from fingers, pays child ten cents for his day's work,
sells beans to distributor at half-price. Distributor sells cocoa at
additional markup to Mars, which in turn makes hideous Snickers bars
and sells them to Midwestern idiot with bad haircut, who is not in his
living room but rather on a set in South Africa that looks like an American
living room (StyleWar, ironically, shot the spots in Africa to cut down
on production costs). After he eats the Snickers, he joins the boy band,
becomes president, bombs Damascus, opens bikini car washes, etc. Tagline:
"Make it happen with West African child labor - and Snickers -
and air power!"
that would be a hell of a movie. But to be an artist in the marketing
industry, you don't need to shoot the beginnings and the ends. Just
the peanuts in the middle.