Annals of American Marketing
in the Rex Zone
Memorial Day Display Blows Minds
I’m sending this photo to you because you seem to be the one who analyzes bad advertisements. I know you normally write about television ads, but I saw this display at my local grocery store (a Fred Meyer in Portland) on Memorial Day and wondered what you would think. As you know, baseball’s regular season and the NBA and NHL playoffs were all going on Memorial Day. I think the French Open had matches that day. The women’s World Cup is definitely coming up. The one major sport NOT in season on Memorial Day is football. So why this display in the wine section? What do you make of it? Thank you for any insight you may be able to offer.
Brian in Portland
First, thank you for your email. I would also like to write something like “thank you for your support of my work,” but you don’t actually compliment my ad analysis, you just acknowledge that it exists. Smart.
Second, this store display, if it is real (more on that in a bit—I’m not questioning your fine photo), is a stroke of absolute marketing genius for precisely the reasons you outline in your email: it appears to make absolutely no sense. Let’s take a look at your original, uncropped photo:
So you were in the store on Memorial Day trying to grab some last-second hamburger patties and discount buns and cheap beer. You were probably humming along to whatever Bruce Hornsby song was being piped through the speakers thirty feet overhead, happy as a clam. (Readers not as serious about fine music as I am are probably thinking there’s only one Hornsby possibility, “The Way It Is.” Come on. Have you forgotten “Every Little Kiss”? Or “The Valley Road”? Or the masterpiece that is “Mandolin Rain”? There is no Death Cab for Cutie without Bruce Hornsby and the Range. You’re welcome.) While you hummed along to Bruuuuuce! (Hornsby), what were you not thinking about at all? Rex Goliath wine.
Then: everything stops when you encounter this cardboard display. What does “The Rex Zone” mean? Why must we get in it? Why is there a football helmet with a rooster on it in a grocery store on Memorial Day? These are the surface elements that momentarily arrest your consciousness.
But anyone can create a stunt. The question is, do they follow up? And boy, do they follow up here! There’s a score: 47-00. Why this score? What can the 47 refer to? And look at the teams: Rex Goliath versus the “VISTORS.”
This is the savviest use of a misspelling since Dan Quayle decided he needed to raise his Q-score. Like studying a one dollar bill after dropping acid, this display just continues to give. What does the “HRM” above Rex Goliath refer to? Why are the fans in what is ostensibly the “VISTORS” side of the stadium unclear on whether their team wears purple or blue? How did those fans manage to get so many tickets to what appears to be a Rex Goliath home game? (This cardboard display is clearly part of a marketing conspiracy in our world, and in a stroke of further genius, it depicts some kind of marketing conspiracy occurring in its own world—the conspiracy of the VISTORS ticket sales.) Why, in an image otherwise filled to overflowing with runic mysticism and occult symbols, are the field’s end zones apparently labeled “ENDZONE”? In an advertisement this fiendishly clever, the one thing ENDZONE cannot mean is that those are the end zones. It has to be code for something else. Or perhaps...the key to the code?
I mentioned that I want to address whether this display is real. Here is what troubles me: Rex Goliath wine features roosters on the label, and I noticed that the bottles arranged before this board do not feature roosters. Those are not bottles of Rex Goliath wine. They are bottles of Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon.
I see two possibilities here, one pleasant, one frightening.
First, the pleasant possibility: this was set up by people who work in a grocery store and were just trying to get through the weekend. What was on the other side of the board, for instance? Was there a display that required some kind of support, and the employees went back into the dusty storage area desperate to find some big piece of cardboard they could use? They probably knew perfectly well that if you looked at the back side you saw a totally out of season Rex Goliath ad, but they were pressed for time, or they didn’t have another option, so they just made this work. I like this possibility, because it’s human.
We must also consider, however, the frightening possibility: namely, that whoever created Dark Horse wine is a savage marketing supergenius overlord who will soon rule us all. I’m thinking here of a person who makes a phone call to your grocery store that goes something like this:
Dark Horse Overlord: Is this the beer and wine manager?
B/W Manager: Yes.
DHO: I represent Dark Horse Wine and [mumbles something about the Illuminati]. I understand you feel there’s a problem with the marketing materials we sent?
B/W Manager: Oh, right. We got an old board for a different wine.
DHO: No. You did not. That is our board.
B/W Manager: But it advertises a different wine.
DHO: Does it? Does it really?
B/W Manager: [Long pause.] I think so?
DHO: I want you to listen very carefully to me. I would like you put our Rex Zone board behind our Dark Horse wine.
B/W Manager: I don’t understand.
DHO: You don’t understand because you don’t need to understand. Just put. The Rex Zone. Behind. The Dark Horse.
B/W: Okay, buddy. Whatever you say.
DHO: Yes. Yes, indeed. Whatever I say.
And that’s it. You have neither knowledge of nor any connection to Dark Horse wine. You don’t need wine. You just need to get home to your barbecue grill and your family. And yet what are you looking very closely at while humming “Look Out Any Window”? What are you considering buying? What are you taking a photo of and sending to Propeller?
I have no choice but to give this advertisement an A+ and pray that we never again see its equal. Because Brian? I am going now to buy a bottle of Dark Horse wine. I need to know. I fear I am not the first, and will be far from the last.
Pete Tothero is the magazine’s Sports Editor, though he serves this function irregularly.