Are Stupid ‘Meme’ Ads A Reflection of Our Generation?

I’m on the cusp of a realization: Either advertising executives think we are stupid, or they themselves are the stupid ones. Maybe it’s both, but it certainly can’t be neither.I’ve just watched a Ragu advertisement in which “social media darlings” the “Charlie Bit My Finger” kids, tried to get me to buy pasta sauce. These boys are now old enough to be annoying in the sense that Haley Joel Osment (the “Sixth Sense” kid) was when he used to talk about making “character choices.” They are not old enough, however, to know any better about being corporate shills. I don’t fault them, nor do I fault Tay Zonday for licensing his hit song “Chocolate Rain” to anybody willing to pay him money. Some people might erroneously call him a “sellout,” but I think the true intent of that word has been lost in the way we’ve lost our ability to correctly use the term “racist.” In a few years, many social media celebrities aren’t going to be the answer to anything but a difficult Trivial Pursuit question, so they might as well get some of them ducats while they can.

In fact, I wish no ill will on anyone from the social media ranks who is able to utilize their window of relevance in order to make a buck, because it seems the new media definition of celebrity has evolved to be a thing of transience. In the new media world, people are nobodys* until they are huge, and then the next huge thing comes along and they are nobody once again — they shouldn’t be held to some higher level of morality and ethics. Zonday releasing “Cherry Chocolate Rain” for Dr Pepper’s Diet Chocolate Cherry campaign (or whatever the fuck it was — I’m not gonna look it up; this is a rant about advertising, not a think-piece on euthanizing orphans) did not compromise the integrity of the original song because the original song had no integrity. Zonday (in my black-hearted, brutally frank estimation) is a one-trick pony, and so are the “Charlie Bit My Finger” kids. There is a wealth of tremendously sustainable talent in new media (Rebecca Black ain’t it), and YouTube is certainly fast-becoming the recruiting pool for the mega-stars of tomorrow, but nobody quite understands how to actualize the transition yet, and so we get these flash in-the-pan Internet sensations trying to sell us Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (hello, “Golden Throat”). I don’t blame the Ragu’s and the Kraft’s of the world for this, and I certainly don’t blame the “celebrities” for cashing in; I blame the advertisers.

Corporations get a pass because they know nothing of “cool” or “good.” They only know how to make tires or soda or McNuggets (sometimes they don’t even get that right). Advertisers are the ones who shape the brand into a recognizable entity with human-like values. Madison Avenue’s entire job is to figure out what makes us buy a product and then utilize that knowledge for every product. I know this world, I got my degree in advertising, I am passionate about advertising still, and while you Tivo past the commercials, I watch them and judge them (harshly). Many of the kids from my ad school days are now partially responsible for the advertising that floods our televisions and computer screens (what the hell is radio?). And the bulk of them were morons (I had a book published instead of going into the advertising world, so your point is moot). I remember many of my peers created advertising campaigns simply because they looked or sounded “advertise-y.” When advertisers recruited the “Charlie Bit My Finger” kids to sell Ragu pasta sauce, they were basically either admitting, “We don’t know dick about social media and positioning (selling) to young moms,” or “We think (insert demographic) are so dumb that they will essentially ‘see funny picture’ and throw money at the screen to buy the corresponding product.”

The sad thing is that the evidence seems to support the latter. From September 2010 to October 2011, the “Wonderful Pistachios Company” saw a rise of 134% in their sales volume after utilizing such social media “names” as the Winklevoss twins (of Facebook notoriety), “Keyboard Cat” and Snooki from “Jersey Shore.” What the hell does “Keyboard Cat” know about selling us nuts? In fact, the original “Keyboard Cat” video was filmed back in 1984, so that cat is long dead.

“1984” is an appropriate reference point, because I feel like Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s book of the same name (in that maybe I should just give up my frustrations, get the lobotomy and love “Big Brother”). Advertisers have qualified and quantified the data of our generation and correctly diagnosed us to be simpletons. Simple-minded advertisers aptly creating ads for simple-minded people. I like that word, “simple.” It is fun to say: sim-ple. Me want Dr Pepper.

*Of course, this is only in the realm of “Q Ratings” and “star power.” Everybody’s a “somebody” in this shimmering, shiny world of ours, so don’t bother with the whiny-ass comments.           

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