When ads mock ads

By Christopher Michael

A new technique – I was going to say trick, but see me hold back – of advertisers is to pretend they’re not really advertisers at all. “Hey,” they say. “We think ad cliches are dumb, too!”

In effect, they pretend to be YOU watching the ads and laughing at them. This disarms you, they feel. It’s a bit like when the other kids say they like you and ask to borrow your wallet for a minute and it’s only after everyone’s gone home that you realise you’re going to have to panhandle for bus fare.

U by Kotex, in addition to some semi-clever undercover spots in which female shills ask men to help them pick out menstrual pads, thus highlighting the ridiculousness of what Marx might call artificial product differentiation within the particular confines of the pad market, has jumped into the “Aren’t ads stupid?” camaraderie nudgefest:

It’s a bit funny. Yeah, the blue liquid. I’m pretty sure that’s been a joke for 15 years.

All in all, Kotex has essentially just aped the brilliant Sarah Haskins from Target: Women. Here’s Sarah, way back in 2008, talking about birth control.

1m29s: “Now you can do the woman-things you love, like run, wear big earrings, hug friends, and have a cool, non-specific media job.”

(Does it make me less of a man that I already enjoy all those things? No. No, of course it doesn’t.)

A shorter, simpler but altogether better effort in the ad-cliche parody genre is this clip for Volvo, which proves it’s not so much what you say as how.

The obscure product demo did it for me. Still, it’s a little strange. If this isn’t a “real” ad, then what exactly are we all sitting around watching? And why is it “for” Volvo? Is Volvo a particularly ironic car? How meaningless IS branding? Thinking this way about the stock market is what breaks the economy. So let’s stop.

But Andy Richter’s contribution is best of all:

Dark, and rings true, because of course it isn’t an ad, so it can risk being actually satirical, instead of just vacuously surface-level satirical.

Moral? It’s tough for a confirmed retrograde Simpsons throwback ironist such as myself to admit, but advertisers stole irony from us long ago. Now they’re all over poststructuralist meta-mockery, too. Just another weapon to use against us like Superstar Rajinikanth versus the Tamil army.

Reposted at Toronto Standard.


  1. Malcolm wrote:

    These are the ads that really get me screaming at my television. Don’t implicate ME in your attempt to sell women a superior (or inferior? Or average?) brand of tampon. You go ahead and do what you’re doing: presenting product benefits, creating brand awareness, etc. That’s fine. It’s how our economy keeps running, and I accept it. But get. Your fucking. Hand. OFF. My shoulder.

    We’re not friends, Kotex. Stick it up someone else.

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