Sunday, November 30, 2008

Final Words...

Cellphone commercials are generally a loathsome lot. First there's the problem that cellphone service has reached a point of such uniformity that there's really nothing special one company can offer you except annoying bells and whistles that most people never need anyway. It's pretty difficult to put out a compelling, unique advertisement under those circumstances. Secondly, cellphone commercials seem to be the single most ubiquitous and overplayed advertisements on TV. Sure, beer and car commercials are pretty widespread but those are usually more heavily concentrated around sports programming. Such a universal product like cell phones can be advertised at any given time on any given channel. I'm pretty sure one can't make it through a standard network commercial break without a visit from the Wizard, or the dysfunctional roll over minute family, or everyone's favorite bespectacled douchbag. Aside from one lone amazing exception, the best a cellphone commercial can hope for is to be borderline tolerable.

That brings me to AT&T's line of commercials featuring personalized versions of people's cell phones literally calling themselves to tell them how they won't get the call. While there are clearly some haters, I for one don't really mind these commercials all that much. They may be overplayed as much as the other ones, but their uncanny amount of variety (I can probably think of at least five more along with the five listed) do a good job of mitigating the annoyance. I also find the whole format to be moderately novel and presented well. While all the situations have been exaggerated for obvious comic effect, at the core these are pretty relatable problems associated with insufficient cell phone service (business miscommunication, inability to contact a friend, lost opportunities, etc.). Although I have yet to run into a situation outside of a fallout shelter where I get no bars, I'm sure for some people out there this must be a recurring problem.

Going back to the ads, like I said, they're all slightly wacky but tame situations. The worst that could happen to someone is a perhaps getting fired or spending a night in the wrong hotel or missing a concert. I once joked that perhaps they should start increasing the stakes in these commercials to the point where not switching to AT&T cellphone service will lead to a gruesome and untimely death. Well, imagine my shock when I can across the latest AT&T ad:

He died!! Poor Mr. Sanchez's unwise choice for cellphone service cost him and the two other members of the Action News team their lives. Doesn't anyone find this to be deeply disturbing? Why is there no uproar about what's going on here? On the whole, I can't think of any ads outside of anti-drug/smoking/gun violence public service announcements that explicitly show death as a possible consequence of not using their product. Sure Bud Light emphasizes their "drinkability" over other beers but you'd never expect them to say you'd DIE if you went for Coors!

I really don't know what to make of this commercial. On the one hand it's probably the most provocative cellphone commercial I've ever seen, on the other hand it treats a horrific multi-fatal accident with the same flip attitude as the Michael Phelps fan missing out on meeting him. If this is the strange new direction AT&T is headed with their alter-ego campaign then may I suggest the next one be a kooky version of the Brian McKnight "Back at One" video, but with the guy not having the bars to make a final call to his wife. Hilarious! In the end, I guess it did its job by burning a small hole in my memory, perhaps not for the best of reasons. I know one thing, if I were a television reporter who constantly covered building demolitions, I'd consider switching plans.


  1. That ad is horrible! Not only is it generally in poor taste, but does it not bring to memory the thousands that died trapped in two buildings that collapsed on 9/11? I mean, you'd think that with two wars, an out of control military budget, and more troops killed than those that died on that fateful day, the national stance on people getting killed by exploding buildings would have been considered by AT&T before they greenlighted this one.

  2. Definably too soon, for reals