Barbara Lippert’s Critique

I’ve seen so many of these scruffy-cheeked guys in commercials lately that this particular mini-genre would seem to deserve its own name. How about soul-patch theater? SPT is not entirely literal: You’ve also got your goatee boys and the dudes with the three-day beards; others shave but achieve the look by wearing free style, upward-sticking hair and several layers of wrinkled clothing. Dining in their cars, bonded to each other and a bit out of it, these guys seem to embody the prized 18-24 male demographic as it goes on its mild testosterone ride.

Goatee-boy culture, and all it represents, is in full force in these new spots for 7-Eleven, the first campaign for the convenience chain from GSD&M. The spots break next month and will run all summer (summer being Christmas for car-friendly stores like 7-Eleven). Based on a viewing of the first three spots, they make use of the expected crudeness (given that the target is “young, on-the-go and predominantly male,” according to the agency) but are saved by being short (these three are 15 seconds), fast and funny.

Considering the reductive list of possible topics (mostly bodily functions) in this boy-bond universe, the first spot is about as basic as you can get. (Penis jokes are fundamental to soul-patch style.) A guy who seems a little straighter and nerdier than the usual soul-patch boy sits behind the wheel, waiting for a friend, sucking on his Big Gulp. (That’s the simple truth, though it sounds pornographic.) He waits, as many drivers do, with the drink between his thighs. His friend gets in, also putting his drink between his thighs. But the friend has a Double Gulp. He tries to play down his obvious size superiority with a raised eyebrow and a nod.

“Gulp Envy” is clever because it’s wordless. It depends entirely on our own visual inferences. And it’s well shot and cut. But I’d be a lot more enthused if I hadn’t recently reviewed a Heine ken spot called, yes, “The Envy.” Another slice of soul-patch theater, it featured two guys at a urinal, one eyeing his neighbor’s cute little Heineken can atop the porcelain.

A second 7-Eleven spot is more of a shocker: A teen guy quickly sucks down a Blue Slurpee, then tries to articulate, “OK, I’m weady.” He arguably already has “brain freeze,” a phrase coined for 7-Eleven back in the day. He’s using a similar rush technique to numb his tongue: He sticks the blue thing out, and, with lightning speed, a piercing professional clamps and punctures it. Aargh!

What is admirable throughout is the way the agency crams so much into 15 seconds: The comedy is captured in eight seconds, leaving plenty of time for the brand, uh, pumping that follows: “Thank heaven for 7-Eleven” appears in text as a tagline at the end, and there’s a new logo, with the “7” becoming a straw sucking it up as the audio offers a slurping sound and then an “aaah.” (From such “slurp … aaah” devices are fortunes made.)

A third spot is, again, prime SPT, but also the most original. Two goateed guys sit in a car—they are so scruffy, it would appear that they just pulled off a bank heist, although for these stoner types that would require too much energy. They are enjoying some dashboard cuisine, 7-Eleven’s new Go-go Toquito. It’s such delicious finger food, and the snacker relishes it so, that he licks each of his fingers. This is disgusting, and his friend—no Emily Post himself—gives him a look of death. It’s surprising that the other guy would care, but then he pulls away his hand and we get the joke: The Go-go Toquito eater had been eating his friend’s food and sucking on the other guy’s fingers.

Other spots will push 7-Eleven’s new sandwiches. The emphasis overall is no longer on convenience but on craving the food. I guess the whole genre hits on something deeper: that what these guys are really craving these days in America is the freedom to sit behind the wheel of their cars with three-day beards, eating, away from the confines of jobs or screens (or, for that matter, women).