Commercial Break: Like a Good Advertising Campaign, State Farm is There
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 14, 2010
Like no other advertising campaign in recent memory, I feel like State Farm’s latest series–referred to as “Magic Jingle” spots in the YouTube titles, so I guess that’s what were going with as a title–was created almost entirely to my specifications. It’s all there–the ridiculous central concept taken to an overly-literal extreme, the inexplicable gaps in general logic, the memorable quotes that work fantastically as out-of-context catch-phrases, even the little details in production that make the clips richer upon repeat viewings. As far as I can tell, the only things missing are the appearances of That Guy character actors in main or supporting roles and/or the use of classic pop songs badly in need of a 21st-century second life as either a plot fixture or a soundtrack. Those minor details aside, these spots are about as close as we’re likely to get to an Intensities in Ten Suburbs-approved platonic ideal for what the basic template of a classic ad campaign should be.
And really, it couldn’t have come from a much more surprising source. State Farm’s commercials have never precisely been marked by an out-of-the-box sense of humor or innovation, relying mostly on slight sight gags, mediocre celebrity cameos, and gratingly over-serious catch phrases (Remember the “I’m so there” campaign? Apologies for reminding you if not.) I’ll admit a certain fondness for the “Feeling Kinda Sunday” spots, but that was more for the song than anything. But as friend of the blog Victor inspiredly pointed out to me the other day, it’s actually entirely plausible that State Farm was feeling the heat of the other major auto insurance companies’ viral-oriented campaigns–Progressive’s Flo series, Esurance’s Erin Esurance saga, any number of classic GEICO catchphrase-spawners, etc.–and decided it was time for them to officially move into a 21st-century mindset with their advertising campaigns as well. Whatever the reason, I’m certainly in favor of it, and hope this is just the beginning for State Farm’s weird and wonderful ways.
So you want me to list (in excruciating detail) the any things I love about these commercials, right? Of course you do.
- The bits of unintelligible dialogue being thrown about before the titular agents are called upon. I’ve rewatched the two spots time and again trying to make heads and/or tails of these snippets, but all I can get so far is “Smashing stuff takes–” from “Hot Tub” and “–donuts” from “Parking Lot.” I might need to hire the cast of Sneakers to get to the bottom of this, but believe you me, I’ll get there.
- The absurdly literal notion of State Farm’s age-old catchphrase–written by Barry Manilow when he was a young lad of 28, for a little reference–being used as a direct invocation of one of their representatives. It’s such an unapologetically dumb concept that it’s somewhat remarkable it took them nearly a half-century to devise a whole ad campaign around it. And of course, everyone in the commercials is way too willing to take the whole thing on faith, asking no questions about the deeper consequences if this newly-discovered witchcraft and instead gleefully abusing their power like the chicks in The Craft. Wouldn’t work any other way.
- The enthralled supporting characters. With commercials like this, you need a couple proxy figures to embrace the central conceit with as much reckless abandon as you should be doing watching at home, and these spots dutifully give us one for each. I’m of course wildly obsessed with “AND CAN I GET A HOT TUB?!?!?” guy from “Hot Tub”–I’d glady pay up to $30 for a quote + picture t-shirt, though the number of times I’d be able to wear it out of the house would be admittedly limited–but for my money, the real breakout character here is vacant-eyed chick from “Parking Lot.” Easily the horniest character in recent TV advertising, it’s clear that VEC is willing to go a couple rounds with the dorky-looking State Farm representative, before she realizes her newfound powers of incantation can do her one better, scientifically engineering her perfect man (or at the very least, the compromise between her perfect man and her over-enthusiastic friend’s ideal) and reacting with an enraptured “Helloooo….,” while giddily brushing her hair back. I smell a crossover–maybe she can try to seduce the old man away from the GEICO Gekko or something.
- The helpful, yet distinctly jaded countenances of the summoned State Farm agents. Company men and women until the end, they’re clearly there to do their job, but a hint of cynicism has no doubt crept into their sales pitches after years and years of being called without warning to assist at at random locations by these immature and self-serving clients. It’s evident in “Parking Lot” agent’s unimpressed “Hey, dark side, get your feet off the car” directive to VEC’s dream guy (in itself a fairly wonderful OOC quote), as well as “Hot Tub” agent’s dryly sarcastic response of “Nice” to her titular request. They’re of this world, but that doesn’t mean that they belong to it, clearly.
- The confused, but probably not-as-confused-as-they-should-be reactions of the various characters brought into the situations. It’s one thing for VEC’s theoretical dream guy to be cool with being called to some random parking lot, but it’s quite another for the Girl from 4E–in all likelihood an actual real-life person, with friends and a family and a library card–to be kidnapped from her idyllic early-afternoon of laptop work and plopped into these losers’ apartment. But neither seems particularly displeased or perplexed by their displacement. Maybe this isn’t all that uncommon for them either.
- The frayed remnants of the losers’ kitchen table and chairs, scattered about after the hot tub magically appears to crush them all. It’s a nice little detail, and also a reminder that once they start hosting dinner parties again, they might regret their short-sighted magic-lamp-rubbing.
Actually, one more thing missing? We need that little bit at the end, that little follow-up second or two after the slogan and brand identification and everything, to leave that lingering taste in our mouths. But I’m hoping there’ll be many more of these spots to come, so there’s plenty of time to correct that still.