It never ceases to amaze me how far we’ve come in our daily living in the last 50 years, at least technically. But it never ceases to amuse me how stagnant we’ve remained in the last 50 years, in visual ideas.
I was watching television last week and remember commenting to my wife that cartoon movies, which have come so far in animation over the last eight decades, from acetate/still camera flat art to wild 3D, still have what they’ve always had—talking animals. From Steamboat Willie to The Secret Life of Pets 2. And movies especially have pushed the envelope: we’ve had talking toys, talking cars, and even talking trees.
Advertising is no different in many respects. I was watching the newest ad from K9 Advantix II, an ointment in a tube you apply to your dog’s coat in weekly or monthly applications to repel fleas and ticks—apparently more effective than merely having them wearing a collar. The ad I watched has several different breeds gathering around a campfire discussing their doggy anxieties about pests.
The ad instantly reminded me of one of several paintings I’d seen back in the day: dogs sitting around a card table playing poker. I don’t know where that image came from or who might’ve first painted it (there are different versions of it, some I believe showing at least one dog wearing a banker’s green visor.)
Of course, there are many other ads on TV having animals doing human things, such as cats playing piano (The Shelter Pet Project) and that know-it-all owl wearing glasses (America’s Best). Apparently America finds it absolutely hilarious seeing and hearing animals playing instruments and talking. It has been this way forever.
Then we have another kind of ad in which we find people dressed up as vegetables. This takes theater to a whole different spectrum. The first time I saw this was in the old Fruit of the Loom series from the 1970s. And then, it was inventive. Fruit of the Loom was pushing its line of men’s underwear, and with the company’s logo of assorted fruit, having a gaggle of goofy men dressed up as the depicted fruit from the logo was funny.
I would dare say that Land O’Frost Foods has obviously picked up on this theatrical idea. Land O’Frost makes packaged foods, one of which is their line of lunchmeat. And if you’ve seen their latest ad, it shows several lunchmeat ingredients sitting around a conference table supposedly discussing company food matters.
Actors dressed up as vegetables (or animals) is no longer a novel idea. Times change and audiences become more sophisticated. Their tolerance for some things goes down and some themes have long become tiresome.
One local ad series we see down here on the SunCoast of Florida is for an exterminator, in which actors are dressed up as roaches. They talk and think they’re funny, telling jokes a la Henny Youngman. Then the exterminator spokesman carts them off to his van. The whole schtick is as old as theater itself and is very tacky. Yet there are countless advertisers still using this trite gimmick.
I think the reason they go to that bastion of hackneyed themes is that a business owner who takes himself too seriously in a series of TV ads is going to look too self-important. But if he uses a humorous approach, it may work regardless of how old the line is. Of course, law ads can’t be too humorous, and by contrast, an ad for an exterminator shouldn’t be too serious. Getting sued is always serious, but a bug infestation can be funny—as long as it’s not yours.
Talking animals, on the other hand, somehow perpetuate to infinity. Don’t ask me why.