by Marshall Such

I was recently at the supermarket and grabbed a roll of Mentos. I called over to James, a buddy of mine working the express check-out line, struck the dorky guy pose from the Mentos TV spot -- you know, hand securely wrapped around the roll of candy (it is candy, isn't it?!?) -- arm held up at shoulder length, dumb grin on the face, thumb set to "flick mode" near the top of the roll, ready to pop one in the ol' kisser. James laughed and said, "Aren't those the dumbest spots?" (James is hip to lingo like "spots" instead of "commercials.")

Yes, they are incredibly dumb. For those of you living on Mars or who may have had your TV rights suspended, here's the spot to which I'm referring:

The opening shot is a young guy walking through a mall followed by a woman, presumably his mother. It looks like the woman is trying to catch him for some unknown reason. He, being the grandest of grand weenies, looks behind, sees woman and tries to ditch her...but not before grinning inanely and popping a Mentos into his mouth. He then poses next to some mannequins as she races by looking perplexed. Again, the goofy grin and another Mentos into la boca de stupido. Final scene is mother (?) going down escalator, turning around and seeing son (?) standing at the top with a group of friends slapping him on the back. Guess what? You got it! Another Mentos Popping Moment.

What makes this spot even dumber is a jingle that opens with a vocal group singing in harmony "doop doop do waaa!" I swear it sounds like a generic jingle from some '70s "Sizzlin' Jet Set" production library.

The other Mentos TV spot has some confused scenario with a "hunk" parking his car too tightly next to our heroine (another Mentos popper). She evidently needs to go somewhere, so she scarfs down the Mentos and gets four fat guys to pick up hunk's car and literally lift it into the street. Or is it her car...? Same insipid jingle -- woman as dork.

For you nay sayers, I'm sure you're thinking, "Well, you remembered the product name, didn't you?" I sure did, and what's more, I'm reminding myself as I write this not to buy Mentos. In fact, if the Mentos guy showed up at my door and wanted to take out my daughter (which would be really sick since she's only four), I'd ask her, "Honey, wouldn't you rather go out with that guy with the 'Born To Raise Hell' tattoo who's in the biker soon as he gets out of prison?"

What I "get" from the Mentos ad is this: "Pop Mentos and be an incredibly huge geek."

My understanding is that Mentos is a German product, and the only consolation I receive when watching these ads is that the American broadcaster is getting fat on German marks. I hope the Mentos mentality is, "Gee, we haven't spent enough money yet. Sales are off so we better spend another jillion dollars. I wonder if we could use our jingle on the radio?" Arrghhhh!!!!

So you're asking yourself, "Hey, you pud pounding Potatomiester, what the heck does a Mentos TV spot got to do with my highly creative and challenging job as a Production Director of a radio station?" Good question.

Here's what I would do if I were king of the forest:

1) If the general consensus among folks you know is that the Mentos ads are as dumb as I say they are, do a parody song for your morning show. Or to get more mileage, make it into a sweeper. The worse the singing, the funnier/better the parody.

2) Avoid whatever it is that makes the Mentos spots so horrible in your spot production. (More on that in a minute.)

3) Have a Mentos Guy Look Alike Contest at a local watering hole. It would be very hip and doing the promos would be a blast.

4) Create an on-air contest: "Tell Us Your Mentos Moment." The object would be to have a completely inane situation, i.e., "I was changing the kitty litter and the phone rang."

Something else I don't "get:" Levis commercials. Especially the ones that ran last year with these dudes running around topless with streamers and giant beach balls in the desert. When a group of us would be sitting around watching the World Champion Dallas Cowboys (sorry, I'm a big fan), I'd say to the guys, "Hey! How's 'bout next weekend we put on our jeans, stop by the fabric store, blow up a giant condom, and then head out to West Texas for some real fun?"

Everyone would look at me rather strangely because they weren't looking at the Levis spot for the advertising message. They simply were caught up in the visual imaging without thinking about what was really being stated in the spot. And what the heck was being stated in those spots?

Same thing with the newest Levi TV commercials. Kids, in what I suppose are Levis shorts, flipping in the air in front of a plastic "tree" house -- the VO states, "This time around, it's gonna be different." What I want to know is, "What's gonna be different?!? And furthermore, what does flipping in the air in slo-mo in front of an artsy tree house have to do with it? What are the product benefits? If it's imaging, let me see the darn shorts!" Oh, I get it. To be hip, we don't show the shorts, just the tree house, the slo-mo flips, the "Hey de now de hey de hey" Army chant, and Joe Cool's voice. Puleeassee!!

I guess the thing that gets me the most steamed about these ads is that they're not real -- don't even get me started on women's fragrances. The ads mentioned above strike me as pretentious, dumb, self serving to the agencies that created them ("and when the kids see this, they'll immediately identify with the line 'this time around.' Trust us Mr. Client."), banal, egotistical, and downright off the mark.

So what kind of ads do I think work? From the title of this tirade, I'm sure you've surmised that I love the Bud Light ads with the "Yes I am!" guy. Do I see a lot of product shots in these spots? No. Are the benefits of Bud Light mentioned? Nope. Is there a reason for me to buy the product? Only one. I love the ads. (Evidently, Letterman does too. He recently integrated the "Yes I am" bit into his show, and even had the guy who does the spots hanging around behind him all night.)

And why do the ads work? Because when that little guy tells the limo driver, "Yes I Am" (Dr. Galekowitz), we know he's pulling a fast one, but he does it with such unbridled confidence that we immediately believe him...and, of course, laugh at the same time. Want another one? Okay. I'll give you two, one from TV and one from radio.

I like the Wheaties TV spot in front of Wrigley Field where the announcer is getting "real people" to try Wheaties. The testimonials sound and look believable to me, and the relaxed/casual setting further enhances this impression. Since I fell off the turnip (or was it a potato) truck three days ago, I'm well aware that the "participants" could all be shills/actors shot in front of a blue screen with the Wrigley Field setting laid in later, but overall I find the spot sells the good taste of Wheaties.

And the radio spot? It has taken me a while, but I've finally grown to "accept" George Zimmer of The Men's Wearhouse as a believable person. (I'm still working on Dave Thomas from Wendys.) The latest batch of Men's Wearhouse ads are testimonials from satisfied customers, but the hook is that these testimonials sound like they've come off an answering machine and not an in-store "hidden microphone" or some studio set-up. Again, the bruise on my head from the aforementioned fall has nearly healed, and I realize that these spots could be just as phony as my Wheaties spot. But my somewhat trained ear hears them as valid.

Was it Allan Sherman who sang (many years ago), "Aspirin Commercials Give Me Headaches?" The song referred to the staid, often pseudo medical headache relief medication commercials of the '60s that set a new record in the arena of "frequency." Yes, they were extremely tedious, but to a headache sufferer, I'm sure they provided some necessary information and probably sold a lot of pills.

But in the '90s.... Wait! What about those Advil ads with the "Real People" who tell you "that for headache pain, I choose Advil. Sure, for regular pain I use Tylenol...." Anyway, in the '90s we're dealing with this Generation X thing, and we've got to be honest, and people in their twenties don't believe Jack Squat, and How Many Roads Must A Man Walk Down, and it's all just B.S. anyway.

My long winded, self indulgent thesis boils down to this: Make it believable! Even if it's your mid-day guy who has the IQ of Ted Baxter but has a great set of pipes, give him spots that show off his voice reading good ol' fashioned "shopping list" copy.

If a client wants to voice his own spot, be a little open minded. I used to be so opposed to the concept of the client as the VT until I began working with a Lexus dealer in Indianapolis. He had the smarts to hire an agency to write his copy, and while he was no John Wells, the honesty and integrity of what he was saying came through on the spots.

Go out to a client's biz with your Sony TC110 and see if you can't get some unsolicited testimony. (Don't forget to get a release signed after you get the "Sloppy Joe's is the best restaurant in town.") If you're busy, send the plebe. It's really great people training for a young intern.

Or if you're a New Rock or CR station, try the Stuttering John (from the Howard Stern Show) approach. Questions like, "Have you ever Rolfed after eating at Sloppy Joe's?" or "Do you think the bartenders really wash their hands after they go to the bathroom?" or "What's the largest cockroach you've ever seen in Sloppy Joe's?" will definitely perk up the listeners' ears and can make for a funny, attitudinal spot assuming the client is on the same wavelength.

I'm convinced that people want to be entertained, told the truth and glean some benefit(s) from trying a particular product. And God knows we could debate the issue of What's Right "ad" infinitum (Man, I'm clever sometimes!)

So you, oh great gurus of the Production Pantheon, are hereby granted the power to make all spots believable, give some a wonderful sense of humor, and make each and every one with the right amount of sell to provide the listener with motivation to go purchase the product/service.

But to do all that, there's a first step: Ask the National Sales Manager if you can pull all of the crappy national spots running on your station from those castrated, wimpoid, Big Guy Ad Agencies. Anyone who succeeds gets a free "Digital Ditties" CD from Radio Potato. Good Luck!

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