Who Said It Better: Kraft or Partnership for a Drug Free America?

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Photo: YouTube
Photo: YouTube

As a society, we don't really have to watch commercials. Just about every entertainment watching device offers some special option that allows us to skip past the advertisements (save Comcast onDemand, which no longer allows you to fast-forward during feature episodes -- forced commercial watching!). Yet, almost every time I do see a commercial, I get frustrated. It's not because I just hate watching commercials; it's because they all just seem so lazy, weird or unfunny. I guess I just don't think that kids or babies acting like adults is that funny, but apparently everyone else does. Although, kids acting like kids, as in the case of AT&T's latest batch of commercials, can be pretty darn funny.

Usually, when I watch a commercial these days, I walk away from the experience thinking, "I cannot believe someone pitched that and then several other people with lots of money green lighted that." I am always perplexed by that process. Mad Men has led me to believe that advertising is an art, but, in general, the stuff I've stumbled upon recently seems about as lowbrow as possible. As a consumer, I need a little more. I want to be dazzled. I want to be convinced. I want the creative teams at these ad agencies to take back the creative reigns from the clients, as I assume this is why brilliant, imaginative people in a very competitive field are continually producing boring ad campaigns. When I was a kid, there used to be 30 minute TV specials that chronicled the best in advertising. We used to be excited to watch it. I cannot imagine that happening today.

As I was settling into bed one night recently, I turned on the TV for some noise. Suddenly, a commercial for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese caught my attention. It was based on a 1980s anti-drug PSA, one of my favorite PSAs from childhood. I jolted awake. They cannot be serious, I thought. What an unoriginal ripoff! Who is this ad even for? The adults who were pot-smokin' teens in the '80s? Are you attempting to equate macaroni with weed or are you recycling old material you got at an advertiser's garage sale? My head was swirling. I grabbed my phone and wrote myself a note about it before bed. This had to be revisited. The next morning, I didn't need the note. I couldn't get that commercial off my mind.I updated my Facebook status to indicate my state of confusion. I was hoping to seek solace in the wisdom of my cohorts. Surely, they'd have an explanation or at least share in my frustration, I hoped. But my post garnered a measly two comments: one remarking on the casting of the "tough cop" looking dad and the other simply regurgitating the catchphrase from the PSA. In other words, no one was taking this seriously. It occurred to me that I had to show someone both ads, side by side. Then they'd understand!

When my friend Stacia invited me to check out her new house on the Peninsula last weekend, I saw my opportunity. I told her all about the ads and she was interested in seeing what I was talking about. She does, after all, work in the ad business. I cued up the PSA first. Of course, upon viewing this we both laughed aloud. It's tough not to. It's so old and so intense. The acting is abrupt and odd. Even the voice over is brash and indignant. It really gets the point across; don't do drugs, ever. This PSA was a joke to me as a child and is even funnier now cloaked in nostalgia.

We then watched the Kraft ad, a modernized version of the same ad only instead of marijuana they used macaroni. The punchline landed and Stacia started laughing; a cute, genuine laugh. I giggled a bit too. "Damn," I said realizing what I didn't want to, "that was kind of funny." "It was funny," she replied quietly, averting her eyes a bit as if she'd just spoiled my really important theory. She didn't, Kraft did. It was funny and there I was, days after seeing it for the first time, obsessed.

Even though my point wasn't about the ad being funny, it still annoyed me that it was. How could something so unoriginal be acceptable? Does its funniness negate the fact that the material is reused? Did they think no one would notice? Am I the only person to notice? Sigh. It seems to me that yes, Kraft could absolutely count this ad as a success. It's funny and I've been thinking about it for over a week, but I'm not convinced it has any creative value. I guess the main question that demands an answer is this: is there art in reappropriating and subverting someone else's failed message? If there is, Kraft did a bang up job. If there isn't, then we are back where we started. Perhaps, I'm expecting too much from our advertisements. What do you think about these ads?