Ad Report Card: The Wrong Kind of Stupid

It would be difficult to do a recurring feature on advertising without addressing stupidity somehow, so this week’s “Ad Report Card” tackles the subject directly: A current series of ads from Reebok and an online retailer called Finish Line provides the ideal canvass. These ads are stupid–intentionally stupid, turning on the actions of cartoonishly stupid characters. This in and of itself is not necessarily a misstep, because stupidity has been a monstrous force in popular culture for the better part of a decade now. Or maybe longer. In any case, there are three of these stupid ads, apparently crafted specifically to play off the CBS series Survivor, and you can view all three at a tie-in Web site. At the site, click on the appropriate button to see “Poison Oak,” “Snake Bite,” or “Realy [sic] Hungry.”  You can use either the QuickTime or the RealPlayer plug-in.

The ads: All three ads are pretty dumb, but I’ll focus mostly on the one called “Snake Bite.” Like all the spots, it revolves around a particular pair of stupid young guys. Buddies, I assume. One tall and one short, in the classic style. They’re hiking somewhere, and Tall suggests a shortcut. Stupid move! A few steps into the tall grass and Short is snakebit! “I’m vulture bait,” he exclaims, stupidly, while hopping about. “Hunker down, man, you’re gonna be fine,” replies Tall, with the familiar overconfidence of a fictional dope. “I saw this thing on a survival show once.” Tall bends over and starts sucking on the snake wound. Cut to: A camera angle that might make it appear to a passerby that Tall is in fact performing a sex act on Short, an impression underscored by all the loud slurping noises and the groaning. When suddenly … a babe jogs by! Midriff exposed! As you know, stupid guys are always lusting after babes, but fail to impress them because they are forever committing precisely this sort of gaffe. Short sees the babe–who has a look of surprised revulsion on her face–panics, and hurls Tall away from him to the ground, affects a “cool” posture, and says, “Hey,” to the babe as she jogs away. “Want better advice?” a confident voice-over asks. “Get the Reebok Mistral with DMX, at Finish Line. How will you survive without them?” The other two ads involve similar misadventures of Tall and Short, one climaxing in Short using poison oak leaves as toilet paper, the other in the pair eating worms in the mistaken belief that they are on a deserted island. Both have the same tagline about getting better advice and buying the Reebok Mistral at Finish Line.

What it’s trying to say: You, unlike Short and Tall, are not stupid, and instead of engaging in foolish behavior, you are wise enough to know that you are better off simply buying some Reeboks at Finish Line.

Why it fails completely: For starters, I’m willing to bet that most people who have seen this ad didn’t even realize that it’s touting an online retailer. It seems to be entirely an ad for the Reebok Mistral (“with DMX,” whatever that means), and the advice to get them “at Finish Line” (for some reason the phrase “dot-com,” which might clue you in to the fact that there’s a Web site involved, is not spoken) drops right off the map. That, to me, seems like a pretty critical failure. Even if you set that aside, there is the matter of the ads’ guiding stupidity–which, even as stupidity, is flawed. Tall and Short are throwbacks to the heyday of the New Stupidity, when for whatever reason America was applauding the loveable morons in Beavis & Butt-head, Dumb & Dumber, and Wayne’s World. But Tall and Short aren’t very funny and don’t really seem lovable, and besides, this shtick has long since been left behind by a New New Stupidity, which is more crass and outrageous, supposedly more daring, and less endearing–South Park, Tom Green, Me, Myself & Irene. So Tall and Short seem dated. And finally, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no logical link between the action in the ads and the tagline about “better advice” and a particular style of shoe. Does the shoe give better advice? Does the unmentioned Web site give advice? Is the advice simply to buy the shoe? It’s hard to say.

And so: These ads, I’m afraid, get a full-on F. They’re stupid in all the wrong ways.