You have to do what you can in the advertising industry to make your idea or commercial standout. Now with content curators like YouTube and Vine, there are millions of videos out there begging for your attention. A new trend in commercials is to see which campaigns can be the most absurd, the most outlandish, by breaking conventions and frankly sometimes not making any sense at all. Internationally the bar has been raised by countless Japanese advertisements that could be mistaken for fever dreams or a social experiment, even before that master absurdist Harry Egipt was making head-scratching nightmarish and sometimes erotic commercials for Estonia throughout the 70s and 80s.
The American equivalent would have to be the viral campaigns from Old Spice in the past few years most notably “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” You know, “I’m on horse,” the attention grabbing spot is composed seamlessly in one shot featuring the talent transitioning from shower to a boat to aforementioned horse and the absurdity of the environment changes paired with Isaiah Mustafa’s effortless swagger delivery racked the commercial nearly 48 million hits on YouTube. Old Spice smartly noting they had a winning formula of wackiness on their hands enlisted director Eric Wareheim of equally absurd Tim & Eric Awesome Show fame to direct their next series of ads featuring the muscled Terry Crews (“Expendables”) to control a cacophony of instruments by merely flexing. In another campaign Crews crashes into a woman’s kitchen on a jet ski who is actually apart of a different commercial for fabric softener before rocketing himself through the ceiling. Their mantra seems to be “nothing is too insane” with many of the spots ending with him screaming “power!” or “explosions!”
The formula here pushing this brand of absurdity is “how can we outdo the last one?” If you’re Old Spice, you go from bizarre to creepy as seen in the recent Old Spice Mom Song spot from the “Smellcome to Manhood” campaign (yes, you read that correctly) that featured around the time of the Super Bowl. I will warn you there is one frame in this commercial of a janitor that is perhaps the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen. This bittersweet musical spot gets high marks for committing to the weird factor, having one of the mothers dragged along the floor onto a couch knitting in a manner reminiscent of a David Lynch film or the Exorcist.
Similar or copycat campaigns have tried to take away the crown of crazy from Old Spice like their closest rival Axe Body Spray. Axe isn’t afraid to get wild for viral cred but their aim is grounded more in the male/female dynamic than shock humor. With spots ranging from men made out of chocolate being devoured by women, a man being chased by hundreds of bikini-clad co-eds, to astronauts trumping a shark-beating lifeguard for a girl’s affection, Axe definitely harnesses sex appeal over the surreal.
Even tamer brands have tried their hat in the ring. Old Navy debuted recently an ad featuring an airline security worker who gets a little too wand happy next to some hot $19 jeans for their 2014 Spring Collection. Again proving the formula, start with an absurd premise: a TSA worker is enamored with pants during a scan, then up the ante with some vocalized sound effects, cut-ins from her sassy sidekick Larry, and resolve with Black Friday inspired chaos of the crowd scrambling to leave the airport upon hearing about this great new deal! The spot is more cute than crazy but I give them points for trying. Woop Wooop.
An effective advertisement is one that you remember and there is some cache in the psychology of remembering the weird over the profound. Could some of these brands go too weird scaring potential customers away or not weird enough letting people see through their gimmicks? I have to give credit to Old Spice for really transferring their brand to something only my dad or grandfather would wear to something I’m not afraid of having caught in my gym bag. Who am I kidding? I don’t work out. I’m on a horse.