Real People, Not Actors: Seafood City (1970s) and Red House (ca. 2009)

It’s a popular TV ad trope now that I’ve been seeing in a Chevy commercial: “real people, not actors.” Chevy of course spends big bucks to put exquisitely appropriate real people (curated real people) on an elaborate set with the best production values. It’s almost as different as it could be from the original home of “real people”: the hokey local TV ad for a business that can’t afford to use anyone except their own employees. But the local ads are more compelling, aren’t they? There’s a proven powerful appeal in seeing on TV people you can easily see in person, especially when they shout slogans or sing jingles at what you are bound to think is not even your own skill level. When they get a little too ambitious, the humor is powerful in real-people-not-actors daring to act. It’s like watching Bottom and his scruffy company put on their “Pyramus and Thisbe” play in Midsummer Night’s Dream. We get to make wisecracks about their performance: “If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men.

Thanks to Steve Jones for nominating these gloriously local Seafood City and Red House ads from New Orleans. Be sure to check out the race relations hook in the Red House ad — it should win a Not Beating Around the Bush award.

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The Bathtubs of Bliss: Cialis (since 2003)

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Judging by online discussions, many viewers have been irritated by the Cialis bathtubs. The complaint is that there is a lack of evident connection with the product’s objective of boosting male potency. But let us grant that the bathtub couple may have just had or may be about to have sex, which we were never going to witness anyway (and really do not want to witness); let us enjoy our more discreet and therefore more relaxed view of their togetherness, even as they relax in their own (presumably warm) bath waters.

It has been claimed that Cialis strikes a more female-friendly stance in comparison with Viagra. This seems right. The bathtubs put the two in equal positions and slows down the romantic pace while exciting romantic feelings. The outdoor setting makes us think of being caught up in vast rhythms.

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Wait! Those two aren’t holding hands! It makes a difference to the interpretation, so let’s restore that feature:

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What strikes me as beautiful about the bathtub placement of the lovers is that it faces up to the central paradox that we so fondly seek bliss — pleasure and completeness, a convincing physical and emotional self-sufficiency — and also so passionately seek sharing, fellowship, not being an island, mattering and being mattered to. (Which suggests a new word for the height of romantic feeling, “matterhorny,” a word I will never say again.) Each lover is installed in the bathtub of his or her own subjectivity, with its supportive walls that exclude the rest of the world. His experience is his and her experience is hers. The bathtubs will never be one.

We can’t help but think that one bathtub would be better than two.[1] We can’t have that. But it’s important that we know so well what is going on in each bathtub. Warm water on a naked body! The experience of the other person is not an enigma! Yet it’s very definitely there not here. Holding hands across the bathtubs does not erase their separation; it poignantly bridges it.

When the lovers do have sex, they may as well still have bathtubs strapped on because they will never actually have one experience. But they can profoundly impinge on each other in concert. They can carry this out as a thrillingly successful action.

Holding hands between bathtubs, aren’t they doing that very thing? Charging the warm waters of bliss with the intent to meet, dynamically to link, to tarry together? Everything important is shown.

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[1] According to a marketing director at Eli Lilly, consumers frequently call in with ideas about the bathtubs, and “the most frequently mentioned idea is to just use one bathtub.”

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Introduction to Ad Hooks

The idea we’ve been pursuing on the Hooks music site is that there are memorable moments of peak value in recorded music (we know! we love them!) which reveal interesting elements when we look at them closely. Maybe they manifest some general pattern we wouldn’t have thought of, or they’re informed by what else is going on in the piece, or in the universe, in such a way that they bring larger things to a brilliant focus.

We should be having this sort of conversation about hooks in advertisements, too. Like popular music tracks, advertisements set out to hook us, and we want to be savvy about our own hookability – this is part of our cultural competence. Also like popular music tracks, advertisements sometimes succeed, whether skillfully or in spite of themselves, in powering up some dearest wish, darkest fear, or deepest thought, perhaps a widely shared one; and sometimes they just burst out in beauty.

Can we talk? I’ll start the ball rolling. Comment away, and let me know (smithsg@millsaps.edu) if you’d like to post a Contribution.

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