Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and flattery sounds like a pretty good thing. Unless you’re being imitated by Patrick Buchanan, in which case I’m not so sure. Consider, for example, a pair of ads, each with a punch line that turns on the death of the spot’s main character. One of these commercials wants to sell you FedEx for your delivery needs; the other wants to sell you Buchanan for president. The FedEx ad can be seen here on the Adcritic.com site, which uses QuickTime. The Buchanan one is on view here on a site called Freedom Channel, which asks you to use RealPlayer.
The Ads: In the FedEx spot, which has been airing for a while now, an Australian outdoorsman type holds up a snake for the viewer and begins explaining, in the style of one of those wild-animal shows, how dangerous the thing is. (This guy turns out to be Steve Irwin, star of something called The Crocodile Hunter. Whether that makes him a celebrity or some Australian guy I leave to you.) Anyway, so the snake bites him. “No worries, mate,” he says. “We’ve had the anti-venom sent from America via FedEx. In my line of work,” he adds with a smile, “if you’re not absolutely sure, you’re absolutely dead.” Someone leans on camera and whispers something in the guy’s ear. Turns out they used a different courier. His eyes roll back in his head, and he keels over. Heh heh.
Meanwhile, in some anonymous kitchen in Pat Buchanan’s America, a guy is eating meatballs. News comes over the radio: An executive order has been signed “saying that English is no longer America’s national language.” Our fine American starts choking on his meatball and lunges for the phone to dial for help. “Thank you for calling 911,” says a recording, “please listen for your language. For Spanish, press one,” the list begins and continues from there: five for Swedish, 12 for Swahili, and so on. “Do you ever miss English?” the announcer asks, then swiftly adds, without transition, that “immigration is out of control.” The upshot is that the only candidate who will safeguard English is Buchanan. The spot closes with the meatball-eater prone and apparently lifeless on the floor. Haw haw.
Why? Humor is often an effective way to make a point, even a truly bellicose one. And these ads certainly aren’t the first examples of corpse-dependent humor. To me, the FedEx spot is basically a throwaway–a quick and broad play to the cheap seats that isn’t particularly funny the first time you see it and gradually becomes unbelievably grating upon repeated viewing.
I’m a little more interested in the Buchanan spot, not because I see any point in disputing its ludicrous premise but because the guy chokes to death on spaghetti and meatballs. Shouldn’t he have been eating something a little less … immigrant-ish? And where’s his family, anyway? What kind of American is this guy, exactly? Actually, it’s not even clear that he would have been able to talk even if he’d gotten through to an English-speaking 911, so maybe this ad isn’t really suggesting that funny-talking immigrants have killed a good citizen but rather that a foreign-food-loving social deviant got what was coming to him.
The Grades: A pair of D’s. The thing about humor and advertising is that it’s risky: If you’re not absolutely sure your spot is funny, then there’s a good chance that your spot is absolutely dead.