Ad Report Card: Zenith Hopes Urine-Trigued

It would be easy to criticize the Ad Report Card for its consistent focus on crude humor and the blatant use of sex in sales pitches. But I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about that. Recently, for example, I’ve gotten some e-mail from readers asking what I make of a Zenith ad that features a piss-soaked pair of trousers. So I have to weigh in. There’s nothing else I can do. You can view the ad here by way of Zenith’s Web site; click on Feature Spotlight, then on TV Commercials, and finally on “Nightclub.”

The ad: The setting is a trendy nightclub, the kind of place where everyone spends the evening checking everyone else out. A guy saunters out of the men’s room and through the crowd, and heads turn. Then faces twist in disgust and revulsion. Despite the guy’s smug expression, it’s obvious why everyone’s appalled—they’re reacting to that big stain in the crotch area of his pants. The guy apparently doesn’t realize it, or perhaps he doesn’t care. Cut to the men’s room, where a line of slack-jawed male clubgoers stare at the Zenith 60-inch flat-screen Plasma Display HDTV Monitor mounted above the urinals, apparently not paying sufficient attention to the business at hand. “Careful,” says a voice-over. “That’s a Zenith digital TV you’re looking at.”

The missing punch line: The first time I saw this ad, I was waiting for the surprise twist. Maybe the guy bought pants with a fake stain on them for some reason. Maybe he spilled something but was so self-confident he didn’t care what people thought.

But no. The joke is that he wet himself. That’s it. Zenith TVs are so good, see, that they obliterate our most deeply internalized patterns of social behavior. You, the potential consumer, can look forward to a viewing experience that will leave you soaked in your own urine and oblivious to boot. Does this even count as a joke? Let alone as a humorous sales pitch? What is Zenith thinking?

Another Zenith spot, called “Parachute,” shows a guy jumping out of an airplane only to discover that he’s packed his socks and underwear where his parachute should have gone. A flashback reveals that he made this error while mesmerized by a Zenith 15.1-inch LCD TV/Computer/HDTV Monitor. Apparently he will now plunge to his death.

What about that? Is that funny?

Actually I think it’s a little funnier than the uncontrolled urination spot because it’s less puzzling. But maybe that’s damning with faint praise. And I guess I’d have to admit that the “Nightclub” commercial is almost certainly more memorable. From now on, if I ever see a guy who’s peed all over himself, I’ll definitely think of Zenith.