Commercial Break: The Tantalizing Enigma of the Snuggie
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 17, 2009
One of the best things about working nights is that you’re bound to interact with people that, largely speaking, share your nocturnal habits. For me, at least, this mostly extends to the fact that I can discuss the merits of various late-night infomercials with them without getting blank, pitying stares in return. It’s more than a little comforting to know that there are other, seemingly normal and socially functional people out there for whom these ads are a slightly relevant piece of their existence. And I’ve found that among these folks, two late-night-only products are guaranteed to raise eyebrows–the ShamWOW! and the Snuggie.
Now, we’ve spent a great deal of webspace on this blog delving into the psychology and transfixing appeal of the ShamWOW! (a product which I finally actually bought at a K-Mart, and have yet to use, though I am slightly disappointed to find that it is in fact merely a cloth and possesses no evident supernatural abilities). I find the Snuggie ads to be nearly as compelling, but for diametrically opposing reasons. The appeal of the ShamWOW! ad is largely in its sense of newness–not in terms of the graphics or formatting, necessarily, which like all other infomercials have yet to advance past 1986, but in the form of pitchman Vince Offer. Offer’s direct, in-your-face and downright insulting brand of professional shillery is shocking and somewhat provocative, an unexpected blast of late-night kineticism from a medium that packs very few surprises. It taps into a sense of urgency that few, if any, infomercials had ever quite reached before.
Rather than try to reach the rather high bar set by the ShamWOW!, though, the Snuggie went in the complete other direction–making an infomercial as old-fashioned, cheesy and blatantly pandering as would seem humanly possible. There’s the music, a synth-trumpet serenade so airy and light that would probably insult Go West‘s credibility. There’s the rhyming bit at the beginning, complete with goofy sound effects. There’s even a four-way split screen segment showing the various uses of the Snuggie. Best of all, there’s an utterly ludicrous montage of suggested situational applications of the snuggie–two of which are in dorm rooms and at sporting events, a pair of locations where absolutely no one in their right mind (except for possibly me) would show up wearing a blanket with sleeves. As if that wasn’t enough, the girl in the “Dorm Room” shot has a 60s-looking poster advertising for “PEACE”–as clueless an approximation of what adorns a college room walls these days as you’d expect from an infomercial brain trust.
Yet, despite–or rather, because of–all this laughable corniness, the Snuggie ad makes for viewing nearly as essential as that of the ShamWOW! In fact, it reminds you of what made the ShamWOW! ad so unusual in the first place–because 99 times out of 100, infomercials are supposed to lull you into a sense of comfort and security, a universe where everything is as it should be and nothing or no one dares to disrupt the equilibrium. And that’s what the Snuggie ad presents–a world of totally un-self-conscious laziness, where one has no possible concerns except that of staying blissfully warm while still having your arms available to grab things. The effect is nothing short of hypnotic, and for the product that the Snuggie commercial is advertising, it’s an absolutely inarguable strategy to be using.
It’s all enough to make you forget that the Snuggie is, actually, a largely worthless product. I see the infomercial and I get so tantalized that I practically have ten digits of the phone number dialed (six if you don’t count the “1-800”) before I remind myself that if you remove the gloriously effective brand name (and indeed, I giggle to myself just thinking about it), the Snuggie is little more than, as the Wikipedia entry used to state bluntly before some wisenheimer toned down the language a little, a bathrobe turned backwards. A friend of mine has even threatened swift and decisive action against me should I ever purchase such a useless and derivative item (apparently the Snuggie is predated by the Slanket by many years within the seeimngly rather lucrative sleeved-blanket market), and will no doubt raise hell once she sees that I have devoted some 800 words of this blog to it.
Say what you will against it, there is no doubt that the Snuggie is catching on with those far out of IITS’s sphere of influence. It’s been handed out at the Today show, Jimmy Fallon and all of the Roots recently wore them on his Late Night show (as well as guest Tracy Morgan), and sure enough, I saw someone at my office with a recently-purchased one on their desk. Regardless of the product’s worth, it’s good to know that an infomercial’d product can still hold this sway over popular culture. All we need now is a third ad–perhaps a happy middle ground between the progressiveness of the ShamWOW! and the reactionism of the Snuggie–to complete the infomercial trinity for this era in late-night television.