You are no doubt familiar with the idea of extremeness. It came from the world of “extreme” sports, referring to competitive pastimes that seem particularly risky, like the street luge or going over waterfalls in a kayak or whatever. This was such a nifty marketing idea that it was quickly splattered all over every product you can think of, on the theory that those who embrace the extreme lifestyle (or who pretend to) will want every aspect of their existence to be extreme. Even their snack chips. Which brings us to a series of commercials touting Doritos. You can see all the ads in this series at the Doritos site by clicking on “Watch the TV.”
The Ads: There are too many spots to deal with, so I’ll just focus on a couple. The ad that introduces the core text of the series, I guess, is called (on the site) “Extreme Commercial.” It features a pitchman, who is a Creepy Guy. He has a little mustache and slicked back hair and wears a sort of lame swinger outfit, including an ascot. He speaks with a silly accent, and for some reason he’s always standing in a field, with a desk. “New Doritos Extreme,” he says, thrusting a chip at the camera. “A bigger, thicker chip. With an extreme taste. New Doritos Extreme, only for the bold and daring.” He turns to the camera and puts a hand to his mouth in a sort of “Oh, my!” gesture. Kooky background music plays throughout.
The second one is called “Basketball Commercial.” Inspiring music plays as we watch two guys face off on an outdoor basketball court. One has a prosthetic leg. I believe this references a specific public service ad, but in any case it’s certainly meant to look like a spot that has some sort of noble intentions. Then we cut to Mr. Creepy, standing in a field in front of a desk. “Yes my friend, you are bold. But are you also … daring?” He bites into a chip. We segue back to the court: The guy with two normal legs goes up for a shot. The ball sails through the air. Then at the last second, just as the ball is about to sail into the basket, his opponent leaps up and swats it away with his prosthetic leg, which he has removed. His reward is a bag of Doritos.
The other ads are variations on this. A male cheerleader hoists a female colleague onto his shoulders (bold)—then he looks up her skirt (daring). A guy wears an elaborate mink coat (bold)—which turns out to be made of live minks. And so on.
Extreme Irony? Obviously Doritos is being—or trying to be—funny, perhaps even satirizing the “extreme” idea. After all, Doritos surely doesn’t mean for us to think, “Yes, I want to be like that Creepy Guy, or the peeping-tom cheerleader.” There are two problems with this. One is that the ads aren’t very funny. They remind me of a recent story in the Onion (apparently not archived) about a suburban dad who tries to crack his kids up by saying, “Dude, where’s my car!” and so forth. His peers think he’s a real card, but his children are of course bored and mortified; substitute clueless ad execs and their notion of what “the kids” think is funny these days, and you get the idea.
Anyway, that’s all a matter of taste. The other problem is that while Doritos is poking fun at the stupidity of the “extreme” idea, it is also, in fact, selling a chip called Doritos Extreme—which is asinine. If the ads are supposed to make you conclude that extremeness is ludicrous, then what could be a bigger embarrassment than walking around with a big bag of “extreme” chips? Apparently Doritos is thinking: If you want to see an example of how hilariously stupid and pointless this whole extreme thing can get—consider our product! Now, that’s extreme.