I know, I know. The name of my show is Fox News Watch, not Fox Ad Watch. And the name of this column is Fox News Watch, not Fox Ad Watch. I realize that.
But watching news means watching ads. In an average daytime hour on an all-news network there are between 12 and 14 minutes of ads. In an average half-hour of evening news on ABC, CBS or NBC, there are eight minutes given over to sponsors. A recent issue of Newsweek had ads on 57 of its 98 numbered pages.
In fact, according to James B. Twitchell in his book AdcultUSA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, the average citizen sees 3,000 ads a day, notices 80, and reacts to 12.
As a result, when the trade publication Adweek recently came up with its list of the ten most offensive ads of the past decade, it seemed worth discussing, and lamenting, in this space.
Number one on the list is the Calvin Klein (search) campaign of several years ago that showed teenage boys and girls in their skimpies, and featured “the deep lecherous voice of the off-camera narrator asking the kid to take off his shirt [and] the fresh-from-the-bus station look of the curly-haired male waif in underwear who was his prey.” So redolent of child pornography was the campaign that both the FBI and the Justice Department (search) threatened legal action.
Number four on the list, also a few years old, is Benetton's (search) use of real-life death row inmates as models for their clothes in magazines. As Adweek points out, the victims of the inmates, and their next-of-kin, “didn’t merit a mention.”
At number five is another magazine ad, surely the greatest such miscalculation ever made by Nike, a company far better known for the efficacy of its salesmanship. In this one, the company promises that its Nike ACG Air Goat sneaker will help the wearer avoid running into trees and turning into a “drooling, misshapen non-extreme trail-running husk of my former self, forced to roam the earth in a motorized wheelchair with my name embossed on the side on one of those cute little license plates you get at carnivals or state fairs, fastened to the back.”
You don’t have to be handicapped to be offended.
Then there was Fox Sports Net, promoting its Best Damn Sports Show Period with an ad showing the terminally deranged boxer Mike Tyson as a baby-sitter! The ad ran for three days before viewer complaints forced the program to cancel it.
The worst damn Midas Muffler ad period ran for longer than that — three weeks, to be precise. In it, two Midas employees explain their lifetime guarantee to an elderly woman. “That’s great,” she says in response, then flashes her breasts. “What can you do with these?” Said a Midas spokesperson after the ad was yanked: “It did not have a positive impact on retail sales.”
In some ways, the most memorable entry on the Adweek list is the TV spot for Nuveen investments that shows, thanks to computer technology, the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve (search) rising from his wheelchair and beginning to walk. Said the accompanying narration: “In the future, so many amazing things will happen in the world. What amazing things can you make happen?”
Disabled viewers condemned the ad for raising false hopes. Abled viewers condemned it for its bad taste. Gullible viewers condemned it for disillusioning them once they found out Reeve really didn’t walk, and in fact still could not.
According to one of the creative morons responsible for the commercial, “The idea was to get a quiet and sleepy company [Nuveen] immediately on the radar.” It worked. And viewers from one end of the country to the other shot it down.
So please tune in to this weekend’s edition of Fox News Watch. You have my assurance that none of the ads you will see are among the worst of all-time.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.