The worst commercials on television.

The worst commercials on television.

The worst commercials on television.

Advertising deconstructed.
Dec. 26 2006 5:32 AM

Ads We Hate

The worst commercials on television.

So many awful ads get made each year. The very worst often find their way into "Ad Report Card." But on occasion an ad will provoke bafflement, disgust, or both, and yet somehow slip under ARC's radar. With the year winding to a close, it's a great time to round up recent miscreants and give them the spanking they deserve. Thus, a new feature I'm calling Ads We Hate.

Requip ad. Click here to launch.
Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

The ad that irks me most at the moment: a spot for the prescription drug Requip. This ad's not so much about the pill itself as about a condition called "Restless Leg Syndrome," which you probably have. (And which you should immediately treat with pharmaceuticals.)

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I had never heard of RLS before. But after watching the ad, I've of course convinced myself that I exhibit each one of its vaguely defined symptoms. "Strange sensations"? I get those! A "creepy crawly" feeling? Now that you've got me thinking about it … yes! Damn you, Requip! (And before I get angry mail: I'm sure there are many bona fide RLS victims. My heart goes out to you and your jittering limbs.)

The ad that troubles me most at the moment: This spot for Alberto VO5, in which two young people—apparently subjects of a repressive government somewhere in Asia—use hair products as a tool of rebellion. This ad is actually sort of cute, with the couple bonding over their shared love of the wet look. But I'm a little iffy on using totalitarian regimes to sell styling gel. The ad suggests we should just airdrop VO5 over North Korea, and then sit back and watch the freedom (and fauxhawks) bloom. (Side question: What about Zimbabwe? Does Alberto make a product that both promotes liberty and works on afros?)

Ah, those felt good. But now it's time to pass the hate conch to my readers:

I would humbly suggest you review the horrendous Visa commercial which depicts customers at a cafeteria like cogs in a machine, until one gums the works by forcing the cashier to deal with—gasp!—cash. We in the workaday world should, of course, realize that we are mindless automatons à la the workers of Lang's Metropolis. But advertisements should not remind us of this fact.
—Ben Scott 

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Lots of outraged mail about this Visa ad. And I'm with you: I'll pay for my sandwich any way I damn well please. Perhaps I'll haul out a bag of nickels. Maybe I'll sign over a check from Grandma. Whatchu gonna do about it, chump?

Besides, cash is sometimes quicker than a card, if you have exact or near-exact change. Cards can take a while to get approved, and then you might have to sign something or punch in your pin number. So again: Bite me, Visa.

The Intel ads with the bad music and dancing are so NOT selling their product to me …
—L.K.

Intel ad. Click here to launch.

Word up, L.K. The Intel Core 2 Duo ads feature perhaps the least-hip hipsters I've ever seen. What are these people wearing? Denim culottes? Green velvet suit vests? A snap-brim hat with a feather in the band? They look like they're in a high school ska band. Word of advice, Intel: Do not attempt to make computer processing chips cool. It's a losing battle.

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I just wanted to add my vote to the (no doubt) enormous pile of e-mails you have gotten about Fudgems, the Domino's Pizza cube of brown grossness. I await any insight you might have on why someone thought it was a good idea to have a mascot for a food product that brings to mind Hanky the Christmas Poo.
—Kate Mance

I'm begging you to review the disgusting Domino's ad with the furry, fecal, fudge cube named "Fudgems."Please!
—R. M. E.

Domino's ad. Click here to launch.

Fudgems is not a popular guy with ARC readers. Or with my girlfriend: She literally changes the channel whenever he appears. Personally, I can't understand this. It seems like a great idea to advertise a fudge brownie by first anthropomorphizing it, and then having it smear gucky brown goo over everyone who touches it. But I may be missing something:

I thought I had to be wrong. Domino's can't be offering a free block of hashish with every pizza, because even though it might make the pizza taste good for the first time, they'd go broke doing it. Also, it is illegal. At first I thought it was just me making this connection, but I mentioned it to several friends and they said that it looks more like hash than brownies. Even my 79-year-old father, who is not a user of recreational drugs, said it looked like hash when the commercial came on during a football game. Is Domino's trying to take the stoner market away from Doritos? What is the deal?
—Andy Hall

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"Hello, Domino's? Three kilos of Fudgems, please. And do you sell reggae CDs?"

Please, please deal with the blasphemous Audrey Hepburn-skinny pant-AC/DC horror that seems to haunt me whenever I turn on the TV. (And since I don't have cable, and live in Maine, that's only three channels with ads!) I feel like it's perfect for Halloween—a possessed, dancing zombie terror that was once our dear Funny Face—but terrible for an ad campaign. I wasn't partial to the Gap before, and I can solidly swear that I won't go in now. Not when their pants are used in such a necromantic fashion.
—Monique Bouchard

Gap ad. Click here to launch.

I, too, was disturbed to see emblem of style Audrey Hepburn being used, without her consent, as a pitchwoman for Gap—the emblem of stylelessness. I'm really sick of celebrities being dug up from their graves to sell us products. I was similarly upset when Gap used the image of deceased rapper Common in a Christmas commercial. (What's that you say? Common's still alive? Sorry, but after making that ad, he's dead to me.)

Have you seen the new version of the shockingly violent VW ads? The driver and passenger are discussing THAT VERY AD CAMPAIGN and whether or not it is too shocking and violent! The conversation goes on longer than in previous ads, which lulled me into believing it was something new, and then just when I let my guard down … WHAM, they get T-boned like in the previous ads, with bodies and glass flying around the interior.
—Rachel Yamamoto

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This Passat ad is extremely postmodern, with its ouroboros, self-referential framework. I hate it for two reasons: 1) What happens to the passenger-side woman who says she didn't like the previous set of crash ads? She gets an out-of-control SUV up her wazoo. Meanwhile, the driver, a defender of the older ads, gets off scot-free. This (plus the fact that this new ad is titled "Critique") suggests that the ad agency holds a grudge against anyone who dared take issue with the first set of spots. Let it go, already. 2) The whole campaign seems horribly misguided. The main effect is that whenever I see a VW these days, I reflexively duck and cover. Those things are always getting into violent accidents!

What's the target demographic for this Pepto Bismol ad? I'm guessing it's for 8-year old African-American boys from South Philly who were cryogenically frozen in 1984, recently woke up, and then ate too much pizza.
—H. W.

First there was Breakin'. Then there was Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. The world demanded Breakin' 3: Alleviatin' Intestinal Discomfort, Yo!

Have you seen the latest ad for Travelers Insurance? They show a guy in a steel cage, photographing sharks, when one of the sharks almost breaks through the bars. So, the diver fires off his spear gun, which chases them away. Unfortunately, the spear pierces his boat, which blows up and sinks. The last shot is of this diver, trapped in the steel cage, being dragged to a slow and agonizing death. Perhaps the creepiest, most awful ad ever made, no?
—Ray Johnson

There should be a follow-up ad, with the guy still trapped in the cage, now sitting on the ocean floor. The sharks have almost battered a hole through the steel at this point, and their attacks are growing fiercer. He checks his regulator and finds he's running out of air. He realizes, with a lancing pang, that he will never see his family again. The camera holds on his despairing eyes, seen through the thick Plexiglas of his dive mask. The soundtrack is silent, save for the escaping bubbles that represent his final few breaths. Fade to Travelers logo.