Call it a pink bunny moment. That twinkling of disbelief when a commercial seems so brazenly bad you pray it's a parody. I had such a moment last week, when the screeching, heavy metal sounds of a band called Danger Kitty rocked my otherwise somber TV world.
This was a Behind-the-Music-type spot, profiling the band whose major hit was "Love Rocket." (Enough said in the obscene, rocket-sockets phallo-ballistic imagery department.) I knew something was up when the announcer said the band "embraced a life of excess, buying mansions, cars, the finest women's clothing." (The band is shown in the hideously ostentatious Ferrari convertible limo with the heart-shaped tub made famous in a Motley Crüe video.)
The gig is up by the time the blond band member is shown working at Tail of the Pup. "Desperate for money," we're told, "Danger Kitty comes back in '96 to play one last show: the Smuckler bar mitzvah."
"Some people just can't live within their means," the announcer says, as a bright orange backdrop flashes a Discover card and the tag, "For the slightly smarter consumer."
Yes, you say, but parodies are the easy way out. They are hardly creative and merely reinforce the cynicism consumers already have for commercials. (And a device that Goodby relies on a lot. The most recent was Joe Montana and the "masculine itching" for Tivo.)
Still, the ads are funny and memorable. People talk about them. The only political ads I can recall that came out of our ongoing presidential election were two parody spots for Ralph Nader. Perhaps if any of the Bush or Gore ads had disengaged from political bickering as usual and gone the shockingly refreshing route of making fun of pop culture, we wouldn't be watching Indecision 2000. (Parodies are good for us—and they can save democracy.)
It's also smart positioning for Discover. Though now owned by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, it came from Sears and is still getting over its lowest-credit-card-on-the-totem-pole stigma. The combination of humor and the "slightly smarter consumer" line works to elevate the brand. I like the take-control-of-your-spending positioning. It's a good benefit, and it stakes new territory in credit-card land, as opposed to the usual aspirational route of "spend all you need because you have the card."
A second spot, however, promotes an alternate line of thinking: "Some people know when to spend a little more." There's a tug-at-the-heartstrings setup as a little girl and her dad are shown at a pet store. She looks at an adorable beagle in a cage.
"This one, Daddy, this one!" she shouts. The beagle sports a price tag of $600. Meanwhile, the dad spies a hyena being sold for the low, low price of $25. "Look, sweetie, he needs a home," the dad says as the hyena's cage is opened. The animal swiftly attacks the clerk, practically dismembers him and howls.
This really hits home. My father was a wonderful man who had an eye for the odd bargain. And that's how, as a 10-year-old kid with a yearning for the World Book and a Schwinn, I ended up with a Korean encyclopedia and a Polish bicycle. (No joke.)
A third spot is funny, but not quite as galvanizing as the other two. These spots as a whole are delightful and inspired. As a follow-up to the invisible campaign for the Discover card that ran last year, this is more than slightly smarter. It is at Mensa level. And as you know, those people hardly spend a thing. Discover
Goodby, Silverstein &Partners
Kuntz & Maguire/