Saturday, October 16, 2010

Does Sap Sell?

Buy some shit or I'll make you cry.

It is probably a fact that sex and rock n' roll sell. As much as feminists and other ad police complain, we can't deny our basic urges for sex and ecstatic rocking (or jazzing, or grooving, or hip hopping or whatever it is you do to lose yourself). But who came up with the idea of salesy sap? Lately everything from phones to cars to pills has a commercial with sappy, sort of hopeless music. What are they trying to do to us? Make us more depressed than we already are?

Remember when they'd sell us stuff by rockin' us out? By "they" I mean the current advertising hegemony. A couple years ago I wrote about the abuse of classic rock lyrics in advertising. They always take the lyrics so far out of context that the ad becomes absurd. Well that still pisses me off, but at least the music is good! It's catchy, upbeat, and I can see it making someone want to buy something. Motorola used AC/DC's "Back in Black" a few years back, and it successfully made me buy a bitchin' black Razr phone. It died and I miss it.

In addition to sucking, sappy music doesn't help the consumer remember the product. I can think of half a dozen sappy car commercials, but I have no idea what the hell those cars those were. A vague impression of a Chrysler logo comes to mind for one of them. Snappy, not sappy, helps memory when it comes to products.

If sap does sell for some people, it might be because of a current trend in listening to sappy music, like Jack Johnson. Even if you like that sort of thing, you can't call it catchy or advertising appropriate in any way. The makers of the sappy commercials, knowing their music won't appeal to anyone who doesn't listen to "adult alternative," usually throw in a sappy storyline to help us remember the commercial. That car commercial where the just married couple drive out to a tent in a field (dude, you could have at least gotten a real tent that doesn't melt in the rain), and the girl is kind of funny looking in a cute way with her weird haircut and flowers in her hair... yeah that one. So sweet right, with the sappy music and all? Well, I couldn't tell you if they were driving a Subaru or a Volvo or a Volkswagen. I'll guess that it wasn't a Volkwagen because VW usually has an excellent sense of humor.

Here's that commercial, in case you don't watch TV (you probably shouldn't). The singer sounds like he's dying. I like that it even ends with "We could have gone a more traditional route, but it wouldn't have been nearly as memorable." Wait, what are you selling again? Life insurance?

The worst part about some of the sap songs, like the one in the AT&T commercial that rips off Jeanne-Claude and Christo, is you can't even understand the lyrics. So you walk away from the TV with some vague impression of a vague product (some phone or another...) and some vague lyrics to go along with it, that just sort of vaguely depress you and you don't even know why! I saw some shit or somethin'... and it was beautiful... (The only reason I know that's an AT&T commercial is because I looked up "Jeanne Claude and Christo ripoff.")

I don't like being sold to any more than the next educated person, but I at least like the sales pitch to have ring to it. I don't like to be depressed by advertising. It is depressing enough that advertising even exists, that it is a huge cash cow, and culture shaper. It shouldn't also make us want to jump in the ocean. Advertisers: if everyone kills themselves, no one can buy your shit.

I can think of two commercials that actually make great use of contemporary music. The music is a little saccharin, but it's happy! The Target commercial with the triplets (In a land where the river runs free...Where you and me are free to be you and me!) and the Holiday Inn Express commercial that's made Kyle Andrews famous (You always make me smile...Don't know why I love you...). While you won't catch me riding down the highway or even doing laundry to music like that, I'll at least acknowledge that the marketers of these products understand that making you cry isn't going to get you to buy backpacks or go on vacation. Giving you a little smile and a catchy tune to stick with you just might.


  1. If you want an answer to that just look at how many damned soggy Nicholas Sparks books are on the shelves. They wouldn't keep publishing them if they didn't sell, so why not use sap to sell stuff?

  2. Every time I see the AT&T commercial (that I didn't know was for AT&T) I make up words that I think the guy is singing. And think of the time I went to see Christos' Umbrellas. I think they use that music because so many people listen to that kind of thing now. I guess people around our age aren't the ones spending all their money on phones or cars, so they don't try to get us with their advertising.
    P.S. That Subaru commercial looks like some place we have been together, either CA or AZ. And that guy should have bought a better tent.


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