Saturday, June 21, 2014

Born To Be Bad

When I'm not blogging (or helping with sophomore homework), I run a boutique ad agency. We're small (or, as I prefer to promote us, "nimble"), and we specialize in technology and higher education, with a little retail thrown in. Our budgets are fairly lean and we hold ourselves accountable for our clients' ROI, that's return on investment.

So, when I see some of today's TV spots that cost hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, I'm always a little surprised. Sure, I'd like to have carte blanche to create my own 60-second Cecil B. DeMille, but the left side of my brain would surely interfere. "Do we really need all those special effects?" "Is a Rolling Stones song in the background absolutely necessary?" And "Couldn't that money be used for something more important?"

No, no and yes.

Often, I just shake my head and wonder "What were they thinking?" I imagine the creative team somehow selling the most outlandish idea to a roomful of clients. In fact, a current campaign is baffling me these days. Not just because the creative is corny (it is for sure, and it's also downright creepy), but because I think the ads are sending a bad message about human nature. 

The essence of the campaign is that some people are just born cleaner, whiter and well ... better. 

Hmmm. Me no like.

The series is from the household product Mr. Clean. The brand itself focuses on a fictional character, a bald white guy in a spotless tee shirt with a single shiny gold hoop earring. In the new spots, however, Mr. Clean has been given a backstory. 

"No one can say for certain where he came from, but they're certain he was born to clean. See, while most little boys always find ways to make messes, he always found ways to get rid of them ..."

The mixed media spot (live action except for a very eery computer-generated Mr. Clean) starts off with a Supermanesque storyline. The baby shows up at the worn out couple's home on the prairie. Sure, they take him in, but apparently he's their new houseboy. (Child labor laws, anyone?) He goes to school, travels the world and becomes the zen master of "getting rid of grime." And, of course, "He wasn't doing it for himself; he was doing it to help others." The saga is paid off with the tagline "When it comes to clean, there's only one Mister."

Why does this bother me so much? Maybe because of the animation (seriously, it reminds me of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth — any minute I expect Mr. Clean to take out his contact lenses and shine his red extraterrestrial eyes at us). Maybe because the brand is boasting too much.

Maybe because if there is a shred of actual human nature behind all of it, I'm doomed.

You see, my own teenage daughter is very zen about grime as well. Zen as in, nothing about dirt or disorder disturbs her in the least. Her room is cluttered, her bed unmade. There are soiled dishes on her desk and nightstand. And, her bathroom (thank goodness our house has more than one) is a fragrant mix of teen facial products and discarded riding clothes and boots. Kiehls Blue astringent topped with sweat, mud and manure.

Someday, if baby Mr. Clean shows up on my porch one evening, I'll make sure he's safe and sound. Then, I'll call child protective services.

As soon as he's finished with my daughter's room.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

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