A break from the commercial break

“My name is Joe, and I am Canadian.”

If you were a child of my generation, there is probably no commercial slogan that resonates greater than that statement. Proclaimed by “Joe,” in his white T and flannel shirt to an audience of millions, the ad for Molson Canadian became an immediate sensation across the country.

It was on flags and bumper stickers and all sorts of paraphernalia at the beginning of the century. It was an inspired, simple idea that spoke to everyone who watched it. “I am Canadian” was a phenomenon and it stands as the greatest commercial I’ve ever seen.

Now, fast-forward a decade, and how many commercials can you say have had that great of an impact on the average viewer? How many have even come close? In a contemporary world where we are streaming video and skipping the ads at every opportunity, the art of the commercial advertisement has diminished significantly.

Of course there have been a number of memorable spots that we have seen over that time. Most recently the greatest ad campaign (for me anyway) is Snickers’ use of Joe Pesci, Richard Lewis, Betty White and other famous faces to sell their apparent multi-purpose chocolate bar. Those commercials are funny, short, to the point and most importantly, memorable. They take me to a time of McDonald’s commercials from the late ‘90s that would use Wayne Gretzky, Mats Sundin and Michael Jordan, accomplished, hard-working athletes, to help sell their gluttonous menus.

But for every great Snickers campaign, we seem to get ten terrible alternatives. How many people would actually mind if they never saw the “Rogers” family again, with that asshole of a dad and ungrateful kids who complain about “ear smudge” and have “toe-thumbs.” Or what about the abundance of Tim Hortons commercials where supposedly everyday human beings brag about standing on a bus as exercise. And of course we can’t forget the constant array of surrealist Skittles commercials that scatter themselves across the networks like a prescribed dose of Lynchian insanity needed in everyone’s daily diet.

These spots appeal to the lowest common denominator. They aren’t clever and they aren’t funny. Instead they fall into a category of uncomfortable viewing that cause more fury towards the product than they do admiration. And while in the cases of Rogers and Tim Hortons, where the products are constantly changing and therefore require a constant stream of new ad material, you would figure that there would be one or two hits amongst the dozen and a half commercials they put out over every quarter.

But alas, there is just a constant stream of suck in between shows on television and online right now, and it makes me yearn for the days of my youth when skipping the commercials was not even an option. While there were certainly a number of examples that I would have gladly fast forwarded through back then, there seems to be an even higher number now, and it doesn’t look to be subsiding any time soon.

I’m not exactly sure why the quality of commercials has diminished. We are still being exposed to funny, insightful and interesting ads every now and then so there is proof that talent is out there. The Super Bowl is obviously a highlight every year, but those are always a one-time deal for us north of the border and then we aren’t exposed to them after that single instance. More often than not, we’re being treated to the low end of the spectrum.

I’m sure our constantly evolving impatience with not watching what we want has had a great impact on marketing firms’ diligence to produce quality material. I mean, why put in the effort if it’s just going to get skipped over anyway? That is the main concern in today’s world of speed and getting done what you need to quicker.

But despite our tolerance, or lack there of, for waiting through these blips, should it not be the desire of the company to produce some great work and make the viewer want to watch their ad? If it in itself is entertainment amongst the entertainment you’re already seeking out, then why wouldn’t we want to indulge and keep our fingers away from the skip option. Essentially, I think, commercials have always been an underappreciated and often unrecognized art form. They act as short films, which display our state of being through products and announcements from around the world.

And while this may have always been the case, and this column is basically just me ranting about how much commercials suck, I think that there are still people out there who understand the value of a good commercial. It’s just getting harder to appreciate a good advertisement when you see one. Bottom line is, we need more “I am Canadian” and less Subway Monkey. If you are now singing the “five dollar footlong” jingle, I hope you see my point.

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