Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Sunday, July 08, 2007


-- television -- this is your brain on skittles

Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on with the latest Skittles ad? Because I do not get it. I am one with the not getting of it. I'm pretty sure that only a Martian, or people in an ad firm who somehow do not realize that everyone else in the world is in fact NOT Martian, would get it.

Canadians do not get the weird, oh no no no. Canadians get the charmingly quirky, albeit replete with overtones of Magical NonWhite (well, they're neither from the US nor apparently African, but the intent is the same). To wit:

I assume the ad to be Canadian because of the way the other guys sound, plus the whole "flavours" thing. It may be that this ad (with corrected spelling) appears in some US markets somewhere; however, given the current hostility to immigrants, I think it would not play well, and it wouldn't surprise me if it simply wasn't aired here. (Note that I'm also not sure how old that ad is; it may have played here in the past and simply be past its air dates.) Regardless, it's a reasonably standard, if vaguely quirky, presentation of the product. It gives you the idea that someone might actually want to eat it. This, it seems to me, is at least part of what a decent ad does; it makes you curious about the product for itself, and not just because it's a catchy or clever ad campaign.

This ad, however, is clearly too infatuated with its cleverness -- if that's the word -- for its own good.

Now. Leave aside the fact that, colloquially speaking, when one speaks of "milking" a man ... the above is not at all what is meant. Leave aside the fact that when people talk of experiments attaching milking machines to males -- usually involving adolescents, dairy farms, extreme amounts of PAIN! and ruined batches of milk -- again, this is not at all what they mean. Yes, just leave that all aside.

We're left with a man giving milk, a concept that would appall most men, who really don't want to give milk. We're talking about a man with truly a surfeit of supernumerary nipples -- the guy has at least six, for crying out loud. We're talking a man who apparently gives milk for human consumption and profit. And his main problem is somehow that Skittles is making his milk sour.

This is an ad that was somehow allowed to escape from the ad firm into the wild. Someone at Skittles' corporate offices was seduced into thinking that putting this ad on television would be A Great Idea! (I'm guessing that they ate too much of their own product, if this ad is anything to judge by.) Somehow, they lost sight of the fact that most people would fixate on the whole, "freak man giving milk" thing, and it would kind of swamp the product itself -- leaving aside the fact that the commercial itself is so oddly low-key and matter-of-fact about what appears to be a workplace issue that on its own, it makes the product nearly invisible. To the extent that it doesn't ... how many people really want to try a product associated with lactating men?

To be sure, this is not the first time that Skittles has embraced the weird. There was this ad campaign from a couple years ago:

I ask you, would you hire a person with a mobile beard? In fact, leave aside the weirdness of the mobile beard. Would you hire a person who mocked you during the interview process and then stroked your cheek? The message of this ad seems to be "Skittles animates your hair and makes you lose all connection with reality." And the woman's reaction, deadpan as it is, does seem to reflect that.

I suppose I'm terribly old-school about advertising. It always seemed to me that advertising wasn't just about making the ad memorable; it was also about making the product appeal, in some way, shape or form. Now, I don't know about you, but I do not wish to give milk, nor do I wish to have my body hair begin to move about in strange and interesting ways.

The Russian ad actually kind of works in an old-school way. Kind of.

Mind, I do not think I would ever care to eat candy from a bear's coat, nor does the ad explain quite precisely what is wrong with the bear. We are left to assume that Skittles are apparently hallucinogenic to large mammals -- which would explain a great deal aobut the various ad campaigns, wouldn't it? In any event, it at least presents the idea that the candy is so good that you would want to eat it out of a bear's coat, if not why the bear would allow you to do such a damn fool thing. I can at least see where you could present this ad as something cute and quirky that nonetheless says, "Despite our product being in a somewhat disgusting state, it's so incredibly good that people will risk being mauled and possibly catching who knows what, just to eat it, even though it's dusty and muddy and furry and ... ew. It's just that good!"

I don't think it is that good myself -- not that I particularly do or don't like Skittles; I just don't favor getting mauled in the hunt for candy. I prefer to find it stunned and helpless in the candy aisles of my local store. But maybe that's just me.

Questions, comments, cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos?

Posted by iain at 12:22 AM in category media and society , television