Taco Bell wants to give me a hug.
It’s a sweet gesture. And a novel one, too. Of all the things Taco Bell has given me over the years, a hug is not among them.
But, as the guy on the TV makes clear in his practiced, pleasant voice, this isn’t just about being embraced by a corporate entity. It’s about reminding me that Taco Bell still offers convenient, low-contact drive-thru service. And it shows just how advertisers are struggling to find the right tone during a time that is decidedly not right.
And let’s face it: One of the chief appeals of commercial TV is the commercials. If I just wanted bland sitcoms, predictable dramas, and overhyped movies, I’d switch on Netflix. But Netflix can’t give me the My Pillow guy popping up at random times to interrupt any program at any time of day. And you can’t put a price on that.
So now, when you turn on the TV at the end of the workday, life goes from WFH to WTF.
The folks at Tractor Supply Co., for instance, paid for a basic cable commercial to tell me they’re here for me. Always. They’re not promoting their tractors or trying to persuade me to buy a tractor, which would be kind of cool but probably unnecessary for a twin home in Northwest Philly. They just want me to know that they’re here for me. Always.
Also here for me: Cabela’s, the sporting goods giant. And AT&T. And that nice Jan lady from the Toyota commercials. And H&R Block. And J.P. Morgan. And Morgan & Morgan. Considering we’re supposed to be social distancing and all, it’s getting a little crowded in here. I might have to get rid of a Morgan.
Every one of these announcers adopts an overly solicitous tone, like the voice that gives indecipherable warnings in pharmaceutical ads as the people on the screen have way too much fun considering their medical conditions. Or like the tone your mom would use to console you after a breakup. “Oh, honey. It’ll be OK. Just give it some time. We’re here for you.” (At which point dad chimes in, reassuringly: “And take out the garbage. Tomorrow’s trash day.”)
Some spots try to transcend the spoken word. Like the one that consists of inoffensive music, a changing color backdrop, and a series of short sentences apparently written when the copywriter’s 8-year-old snuck up to the keyboard and hit send. And it’s over in 15 seconds. All in all, it wouldn’t be so bad, except it’s produced by ... the Ad Council. Yes. A group of people whose sole purpose is advertising came up with this. It’s as if top automotive engineers from Honda, Chevy, and Tesla were sent away to collaborate on a secret transportation project and came back with blueprints for: a wheel.
Cottonelle assures us, in small black type on a white background — clearly someone was paying attention to the Ad Council — that despite what your supermarket shelves might indicate, there will be plenty of toilet paper to go around. And then we’re asked to #ShareASquare, which sounds a) like something from a Seinfeld episode, and b) way too charitable to be sanitary.
So far, Cottonelle’s archrivals, the Charmin bears, haven’t gotten into the act, though it’s a matter of time until Mama Charmin Bear chastises her peculiarly obsessive brood to stop caressing and dancing with the TP because other cartoon bear families haven’t a square to share.
Even the My Pillow guy did an ad where he was speaking on a stage about God and country … oh, wait, I’m being told that was a Coronavirus Task Force briefing.
It’s all enough to make you nostalgic for those old Krass Brothers commercials. (Krass Brothers. 937 South St. Store of the stars. You can Google it.) Sure, Ben Krass yelled a lot, and he rose from a coffin, and his ads had all the production value of a 1984 Kajagoogoo video, and they were over before you had time to change the channel. But at least he never offered to give you a hug.
I’m sure this will pass in due time, and advertisers will go from soporific and soothing back to shouting and shilling. But in the meantime, I’ve got some tractor shopping to do.