Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Snickers commercials have for years been among the most satisfying on TV. They never made any claims or offered great benefits. They merely suggested that a Snickers bar could tide you over for a while during an endless, frustrating wait.

These were not your average holdups. One of my faves involved a football team in
the locker room. The coach announces that the pregame prayer session will now be getting more “politically correct.” “Hit it, padre,” he says to a Catholic priest, who says his bit, followed by a rabbi, a Native American healer and a Buddhist monk. The camera pulls back to reveal a line of holy men snaking out the door. “Not going anywhere for a while?” we’d hear. “Try a Snickers.”

The campaign lasted for five years-quite a run, considering that ad years are like dog years. But by the end, apparently, no matter how funny and unexpected the situations, people started associating Snickers with boredom.

So Snickers has launched a new campaign. The previous tagline, in the form of a question, “Hungry? Why wait?” has been replaced by an emphatic statement: “Don’t let hunger happen to you.” And here’s where we get into the latest trend. Call it the new new hard sell-that’s a sell desperately trying to make fun of the old idea of selling, while at the same time ratcheting up the tension and pressure, and hammering away at sales.

The two spots now airing purport to parody the old problem/solution setup. One centers on a guidance counselor, the other a coach, both getting addle-brained out of hunger and saying the darnedest things (solution: Snickers). The parody even includes the `50s-era suited, pseudo-science-style announcer, who watches the “problem” footage on a screen, categorizing the first as “gross incompetence at work” and the second as “loss of competitive edge”-quasi-medical maladies. He extends his pointer finger and declares, “Don’t let hunger happen to you!” He’s a cross between Niles Crane and Saturday Night Live’s Chris Kattan, with a bit of Jason Alexander’s general smarm thrown in.

The spots include one of the more luscious product shots, with the bar moving sleekly through the chocolate, caramel and nougat.

Satirizing guidance counselors isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. But every sad-sack detail of G.C. loserhood is here: the cheap, short-sleeved white shirt; the bad glasses, moustache and watch; the probable obsession with the coffeemaker that’s in the background. To the kid in his office, he provides the opposite of guidance. “Why go to college?” he says. “Have you thought of joining a cult? You don’t pay any taxes!”

The second spot is set, once more, in a locker room with a football team. (Target audience is males 14-21.) The coach berates the players about a bad first half, yelling and drawing diagrams on the board. It turns out he’s instructing them to get on the bus, go home and play videogames. It’s nicely directed, and the team reactions have a lot of energy, so that the details (especially the wheels on the bus drawing) are so stupid they make you laugh.

Two more spots will be released in January, and they amp up the stupitude. In one, a lifeguard stares at a seagull while a human chain forms to help a drowning swimmer. The other, which is completely creepy, shows a “nice young man” helping an old lady across the street-when she compliments his manners, he asks, “What are you doing Saturday night?” This new set of spots has also been revamped to appeal to 14-year-olds, who just might find that funny.

Snickers used to be sold as a pleasant chew, something to do while waiting. Now, underneath the parody of the whole miracle-product idea, it’s actually being sold like medicine-don’t let human failure happen to you. It’s a candy in search of an anxiety (or a stupid person). But at these times, we’re anxious enough.