Tuesday, October 16

The Plop Sickens

Janelle Nanos, "Bran Identity: A new and disgusting cereal ad that simulates human excretion". Slate, October 15

HERE'S the thing I like about Slate's "Ad Report Card" column: they either can't, or won't, apply their patented Reverse Double Counter-Intuitive Disestablishment Contrarianism ("Didn't see that comin'? Ha! You're wrong!") to it. One suspects that to the Lazy Libertarian advertising is the only thing like a Sacred Text they've got going. Or else "Report Card" is their way of saying, "Okay, this time we mean it. Ha-ha! Not really!"

(The thing I always forget is that the tagline for the column reads "Advertising Deconstructed", by which they mean "mostly banal half-chewed musings on mostly banal subjects". Double Ha! Just forget I brought it up. Anybody who really wants to do that sort of thing can exhaust the reader without breaking a sweat themselves.)
Who is the All-Bran ad targeting? It begs to be watched over and over, and is filled with juvenile elements that seem designed to make Web-savvy youngsters giggle before e-mailing it along. (Indeed, the spot has notched more than 100,000 views on YouTube.) Could the company be banking on the viral element to bring young people to a brand more popular among older consumers? Is the ad a stealth effort to reach frat boys with dodgy digestive systems?

Nope. According to the company, it's an effort to charm constipated old people with a little frat-boy humor. Kellogg's spokeswoman Allison Costello said the ad's not geared toward the young: "All-Bran has always been marketed to adults and we have no plans to change our approach." All-Bran's target demographic is grown-ups—those 45 and older—and the spot is a nod to the fact that such people can still appreciate potty humor, even at their advanced age. "Talking about regularity is a really tough thing to do," admitted senior brand manager Matt Lindsay, who helped create the ad. "We liked the idea of leveraging visual metaphors to make it a more approachable subject."

Wait...Allison Costello?

Okay, I've seen the ad once, and after the audaciousness of whatever the first visual gag was had set in I found myself rooting for them to keep topping it. It's funny. It'll stop being funny the second or third time I see it. ("It begs to be watched over and over?" It's advertising.) If it's excretory disgust you're looking for, try that Pepto-Bismol campaign where costumed line dancers perform the Diarrhea Lambada. If you can't stand crass, you're in the wrong column, not to mention the wrong country.

Now, I read Slate only so I can appear With It, so I was trying not to fall into the trap of believing that the writer wanted me to think what she was saying was what she thought, but I still wound up off on a tangent (or is that the point?). Being a grown-up, I'm utterly, blissfully, intentionally unaware of the eating habits of those outside my demographic. Of course a little information gets through, but it can hardly be trusted too far: advertisers seem to think people are "into" healthy eating, though I haven't noticed any McDonald's shuttered and plastered with "For Lease" signs lately; there's Soy Dogs at the grocery, but the regular, ground-hooves-and-rectum dogs still command a large amount of cooler space. It never occurred to me that All-Bran was aimed at the Gray Demo. The grown-ups I know do not discuss breakfast choices, bowel movements, or industrial milling processes very often, if at all, and if they occasionally veer off into colonoscopy it's more for the thrill of it than anything else. Kids today might be throwing All Bran parties where everyone eats the stuff with different food coloring and...damn, I hope Katie Couric doesn't read this.

Anyhow, since I actually got the joke, instead of getting bogged down (sorry) in turd-based musings, it was a little disconcerting to get lumped in with a wheelchair-bound demi-monde of teevee-watchin' Mrs. Grundies. For chrissakes, Blazing Saddles was released in 1974. Pink Flamingos is from '72, which means if you're a grown-up of 45 today you were ten when it opened. Who does Nanos imagine was the audience for those things? Or does she think they were parked on a shelf until today's generation of You-Tube peristalsis connoisseurs could show up?

I mean, fine, we've got warehouses of surplus bluenoses and humorless drones if we could just find another country that wants 'em. But it's hardly a function of middle age, just as it's no shining accomplishment to be open-minded enough to laugh at fart jokes. Do the math. Do some research. I suppose it's possible that every Boomer was a drug-and-sexed out hippie in his youth and has now settled into a comfortable Judge Hardy twilight, but the odds are against it, and the reality is, too. You can go on thinking of middle-aged people as, well, middle-aged, right up until you join them (Tip: that's sooner than you imagine), but then drop the pretense that social liberalism was hegemonic in your parents' day, and start earning your right to that cultural superiority on your sleeve.


Houston said...

I have seen that ad half a dozen times and never, not even once, did I "get it." Now that I do, I wish I didn't. Life was simpler then.

I have a mute button on my remote control and a disengage button in my brain. I turn off my attention when advertising comes on, and I'm willing to bet I'm 90% successful at shutting most of the crap out. No pun intended.

Harry Cheddar said...

" . . (W)e've got warehouses of surplus bluenoses and humorless drones if we could just find another country that wants 'em." Someone was saying something very similar 400 years ago, before they put 'em on boats and aimed them westward.

Brendan said...

Glad you ripped this Slate article apart. When I read it, I couldn't think of anything beyond, "Lighten up, Francis."

punkinsmom said...

"mostly banal half-chewed musings on mostly banal subjects"

With your permission, I'd like to co-opt this to replace the insipid current title of my blog. It is the exact definition of the crap I type daily.

Anonymous said...

Wait...Allison Costello?

I hope her aim is true.

pebird said...

I'm still waiting for Top Chef to sell naming rights for the elimination challenge to Metamucil.