Welcome, everybody, to House O'Pain, the hot new MTV show dedicated to the latest trends in celebrity self-mutilation. Today, we'll send Cindy Crawford to a tattoo parlor for a teeny touch-up on her left ankle, and watch as Drew Barrymore gets a second nose ring on her right nostril. (Way cool, Drew!) Finally, we'll check in on the new cue-ball charm of Christian Slater, who just minutes ago agreed to shave his head on camera."
Of course, House O' Pain doesn't exist (yet). But if it did, it would have an honest-to-goodness, tailor-made sponsor called Protest.
Protest is a new clothing company that makes a line of reasonably priced vests and tops for young men and women. This is grungewear (as verging-on-parody as that sounds); presumably, it's for those who just can't get to a Salvation Army thrift shop, or know that the good stuff is already gone.
Actually, I was under the impression that grunge was dead and nobody's wearing flannel in Seattle anymore. But grunge consumerism, I guess, is a contradiction still in its formative stages. The Lollapalooza tour (the Woodstock for grunge bands) has become so much a part of the heartland that it's more like spring break at Daytona Beach for college kids with shaved heads, nose rings and Daddy's credit cards.
And the paradox of grunge advertising has been with us for nearly one year and is still growing. There was the deadly nervous Generation Xer standing next to the Subaru Impreza, for example. And Converse All-Stars recently ran a total grunge campaign. One spot, called "Ugly," used messed-up video and an angry spokesman saying, "We don't want to live in a beer commercial." Another featured a young woman getting a tattoo.
But these three new commercials for Protest (produced and aired, appropriately enough, on a thrift-shop budget) define the new genre. Call it ad noir. It's based on speed, shock, new music and a readable logo.
The campaign comes from Andrew Janson & Associates, a small agency in Culver City, Calif., that specializes in this sort of maximum-publicity-for-a-minimum-run-on-MTV advertising. The art director, Chad Farmer, was the guy who created the Cole of CalifOrnia "Inflatable Bikini" spot, using a cleavage pump and techno-rave music.
These three ad noir Protest spots really do feature self-mutilation as an advertising event. They're much more surgical than you'd expect. In "Piercing," for example, we see a scary steel device penetrating a female model's nose. We then see a Visine tear running from her eye. (It's actually a fake piercing and a clamp-on gold nose ring.) But some of the layers of contradiction here get surreal: The spot was produced to feature a "scrunchy popping sound" as the piercing was completed, but MTV, the network of Beavis and Butthead, censored it.
MTV also won't allow "Tattoo" to run before 9 p.m. ("Too instructional," they said.) In the Converse commercial, the act of tattooing was used as sex metaphor (trendmeisters say it's a way to take back control of your body in the age of AIDS). Here, the spot focuses on the instrument. In the opening shots, the tattoo gun looks like a syringe, and that is ominous.
All the spots feature a voiceover saying, "We all find ways to protest. Some are less permanent." And indeed, the least permanent is the third spot, showing a dorky-looking guy getting his head shaved by an electric-razor wielding woman. This shaved-head thing is getting mainstream. Maybe it's all Michael Jordan, but even the most recent Lay's Potato Chips campaign features all these straight-arrow sports guys with their heads as clean-shaven as Free Willy's.
After the shave is complete, the guy offers a horrified smile to the camera. It's kind of goofy, not at all hard-core. C'mon: We're not yet ready for noir lite.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)