NFL Ad Report
Can You Hear Me Insulting You Now?
Verizon Mocks Its Audience
By Pete Tothero
very year I tell myself I'm not going to get sucked in to getting angry at advertisements anymore, but then every year I can’t help it.
When the new NFL season started recently, I noticed a new Verizon ad campaign, in which Verizon explained to viewers what "a better network" is.
So it’s 2015, every citizen of the United States of America is required to own a cell phone used primarily to text emojis, every kid age six or older has to do half his or her homework via the Internet on a site synched to the Chromebook the kid uses in class so that the kids can all learn that nine times eight is seventy-two and the Egyptians built the pyramids, and all retired people must own an iPad or Nook they use to play Candy Crush while driving. But Verizon’s market research apparently suggested Americans don't know what a network is, so as a public service to all of us, the company decided to spend its hard-earned advertising budget educating us.
The result is the following masterpiece of American television advertising:
First, let’s start with the obvious. I love Rashida Jones. Rashida Jones has a fantastic voice—it’s a blend of classic Demi Moore and contemporary Tina Fey, but with a much higher friendliness quotient. I could listen to Rashida Jones read the phone book, if anyone still had a phone book. But what kind of opening line do the highly paid writers at a high powered ad firm craft for her?
"A better network as explained by a door."
Rashida Jones is the one explaining the network. Rashida Jones is not a door. The only way a group of writers crafts an opening line this clunky is if the group had only a passing interest in the English language. I’m sure someone pointed out that the ad may be about a better network "symbolized" by a door, or a better network "metaphorized" by a door, but the door is not explaining. I’m also sure someone else in the group told that person that people will be turned off by the words like symbolized or metaphorized, because people don’t like accurate vocabulary. Because, in essence, people are simpletons.
That decision—to open with a ridiculously clunky line because people are simpletons—colors the entire rest of the ad.
"This is data on a wireless network."
No, it’s not. It’s people. I understand Verizon has decided to anthropomorphize data, but data, even anthropomorphized, doesn’t look like a concrete plaza during halftime of a Miami Dolphins game on Bring Your Clone to the Stadium Day. This is not data. These are people.
"Look! A door!"
Hey, it’s dumb-guy voice! I haven’t heard that since Everyone Loves Raymond went off the air! Right! Because data speaks in the voice of a lobotomized male. No. This is actually Verizon—or their ad firm—unconsciously dramatizing the exact intelligence level of the people they believe are their customers. These are the simpletons who would be turned off by words like symbolize or metaphorize, because these people say things like, "Look! A door!"
The advertisement then proceeds to show how dumb these people are. The collision at :15 and the general stacking up of bodies here reminded me of a time this gag—witless people moving left to right and stacking up—had been done before:
At least the people who made Wall-E were open about their dim view of humanity. Verizon, on the other hand, shares exactly the same dim view of us, but pretends they’re just talking about data and networks—as if they’re trying to convince data to join Verizon, because the data will be able to move more easily through Verizon’s big door.
But the ad isn’t aimed at data. It’s aimed at people—who see, on the screen, people, and who will of course then think that the people on the screen represent people. Because they do.
"The door is bigger! I’m running through a big door!"
Fighting to get through a door would, in Freud’s view, be a fairly common anxiety dream about performance. Those kinds of dreams tend to have a clear destination, though: you can’t find your high school classroom, or your house isn’t on the street you thought it was, or you are picking up the poop of the wrong dog and then it turns around and begins to mock the choices you’ve made in life. (That last one might be individual to me.) This advertisement doesn’t depict a destination, though, so what’s the motivation for all of these people to suddenly want to get through that door?
Freud would say the two most powerful motivations are sex and death. So what is Verizon saying here? If sex, it seems it’s "Dumb people keep running to us to get screwed." If it’s death, it’s probably "We know you dumb people want oblivion, so we’ve built a bigger door to it. Run on through."
Either way, the ad taught me nothing about networks. And quite a bit about how my wireless provider feels about me.
Pete Tothero was once a young man with a bit of potential. He now works in the financial industry and writes for Propeller. In the summer issue he wrote about a frightening grocery store display.