Sexism? Check. Glorified greed? Check. Annoying avians? Double check. Yes, this year’s 10 worst television ads manage to incorporate all the old favorites.
It may not be possible, however, to pinpoint precisely what qualities transform a run-of-the-mill bad commercial into something truly terrible. A willingness to offend large swathes of the viewing public seems to be part of the equation, as does a general lack of concern for whether a spot makes much sense.
But perhaps, what is true of the best ads is also true of the worst: Creating them just requires a certain kind of genius.
And so, without further ado, I give you the 10 worst ads of 2011:
10. The product: Klondike mint chocolate chip bars
The ad: Shlubby everyman Mark agrees to listen to his wife for (gasp!) an entire five seconds, a feat that earns him a Klondike mint chocolate chip bar and the attentions of two ladies in tight, short dresses. “I did it! I did it!” he exults, as his wife sits on the couch, looking confused.
Why it is horrible: Men dislike marriage! Women should wear short skirts and bear frozen treats and not, you know, talk! The insulting gender assumptions — about both men and women — are transparent, heavy-handed and profoundly trite.
9. The product: Dairy Queen
The ad: A leering, mustachioed spokesman extols the virtues of Dairy Queen’s ongoing quest for excellence. The company turned soft serve into the Blizzard, he tells us, and the full-sized Blizzard into the miniature version of the frozen treat. It also upgraded garden-variety rabbits into “old-fashioned shaving bunnies.” Why? Because at Dairy Queen, “good isn’t good enough.”
Why it is horrible: Quirk can work, but only when an ad strikes precisely the right tone. Dairy Queen, it is safe to say, did not. The spokesman’s attitude is so aggressively lecherous that it doesn’t make me want a Blizzard, it just makes me feel vaguely dirty about the Blizzards I have previously enjoyed.
8. The product: Target’s 2-Day sale
The ad: A woman in a red tracksuit, blond hair pulled into a tight ponytail, “trains” for Target’s two-day Black Friday sale: She does curls with fully loaded shopping baskets, runs sprints in the aisles of the store, and gives herself a pep talk in front of the mirror, assuring herself that “You will win this.”
Why is is horrible: Though this same spot came in at #7 on the 2010 list, it is back by popular demand. Upon hearing I was compiling this list, my friends and family brought up this ad with a speed, consistency and vehemence (the words “annoying” and “obnoxious” came up more than once) that made it impossible to ignore.
7. The product: State Farm insurance
The ad: As Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shakes hands with his local State Farm insurance agent, a couple come up to thank the agent for performing a “discount double check” on their policies. At the same time, they make a gesture with their hands as if tracing belts around their waists. Rodgers identifies the move as his touchdown dance; the couple scoffs at his claim that he is a quarterback. The ad ends with a frantic cheese-hatted man knocking on the front window of the office, yelling Rodgers’ name and making the abdominal gesture.
Why it is horrible: This commercial makes me think that State Farm signed Aaron Rodgers as a celebrity spokesman but then couldn’t figure out what to do with him. How could Rodgers’ celebratory touchdown move conceivably represent a careful search for discounts? And if the main joke is supposed to be that the couple fails to recognize the famous athlete, why end the spot with a character who clearly knows exactly who Rodgers is (if not what his move represents)? Nothing about this commercial makes sense; it makes the list for its sheer incoherence.
6. The product: AFLAC
The ad: The AFLAC duck is joined by people, a pigeon, some frogs and a worm to perform what I will loosely describe as a rap about the benefits of the insurance product.
Why it is horrible: If you’ve seen this commercial, then four words of explanation should suffice: “Major medical, boy, yeah.”
5. The product: Summer’s Eve cleansing wash and cloths
The ad: This ad is titled, “Hail to the V,” and if you know what Summer’s Eve is, then, yes, “the V” is what you think it is. It is, the commercial tells us “the cradle of life … the center of civilization.” These tributes to, sigh, “the V” play over a backdrop of epic scenes: an ancient civilization cheering its ruler, men fighting as the damsels for whom they battle watch from the sidelines.
Why it is horrible: This ad purports to be about empowerment, about stirring women to love and respect their, um, anatomy. Why? Well, because “men have fought for it, even died for it.” And if men care about it that much, then you probably should too. And how should you care? By worrying that it is gross and unseemly and needs special products to care for it.
4. The product: Pepsi MAX
The ad: A young pair sits in a restaurant on a first date. As she looks at him, she wonders how much money he makes, if he’ll lose his hair and if he’s The One. As he looks at her, he thinks about how much he’d like to sleep with her. That is, until the waiter serves the young lady a Pepsi MAX, at which point the calorie-free cola becomes the new object of the gentleman’s lust.
Why it is horrible: What makes this spot truly troubling is the fact that it was one of the winners of the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which awards promising user-generated content with an ad slot during the big game. If the creators of this sexist cliche are what pass for exciting new talent in the ad world, then the industry is in very serious trouble.
3. The product: Lexus
The ad: A husband and wife — clearly an urbane, affluent pair — head out of their apartment on the way to some social engagement or other. As they ride down the elevator, the Lexus holiday theme song starts playing. The man’s ears perks up. He gives her a glance that says, “Really?” Her look responds, “Yes. Aren’t I awesome?” They emerge from the elevator to the sight of a shiny new Lexus, replete with — you guessed it — a giant red bow.
Why it is horrible: Perhaps 99.9 percent of those who view this ad would never consider buying their spouse a car for Christmas. Most of us would incur wrath rather than delight if we unilaterally chose to spend $50,000 of household income on a surprise luxury car. And there is something insufferably smug about the way the ad assumes the little Lexus jingle incites raptures in all those who hear it.
2. The product: eBay
The ad: A family gathers around the piano to sing “The 12 Days of Christmas.” When day number 5 comes around, a teenage girl sings that she would like “five new tops,” then goes on to explain, in sing-song detail, that last year’s gifts simply weren’t up to standard and that she really hopes everyone stuck to her list this year. Aunt Carla storms off in disgust.
Why it is horrible: Yes, overly earnest holiday ads can be cloying, but eBay goes a little too far in the opposite direction by defining “Christmas spirit” as behaving like a grasping brat, insulting your relatives and ruining everyone’s caroling.
1. The product: Groupon
The ad: In Groupon’s first ever Super Bowl ad, scenic shots of the Himalayas appear, as a voiceover by Timothy Hutton intones gravely about the dangers facing Tibetan culture. But, he informs us, they still whip up an amazing fish curry, that he got for a low, low price because of a Groupon deal he got! No, really. Groupon glibly and dismissively taunted efforts to preserve the heritage of Tibet. On TV. During the Super Bowl.
Why it is horrible: It kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? In fact, the spot was so universally reviled that it was pulled less than a day after its first airing.
This story appeared in the Cape Cod Times on December 11, 2011. Read the original at Capecodonline.com.