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"Hi, I'm a smooth, hip, young Mac."
"And I'm a stiff and dorky PC."
This happens most often in adverts for a type of service (phone, delivery, store, etc) but can apply to products as well:
The brand name and its competitor(s) will be represented by employees of the respective companies, usually low-level workers such as cashiers, stockboys or delivery drivers. When the shortcomings of the competitor are inevitably brought up, they are pinned directly on that company's employee — as if to imply that this minimum-wage grunt is actually responsible for company policy. Sometimes the employee will be a Jerk Ass
and/or fanatically supportive of his employer's policies, thus justifying everyone's ire; but he is as often as not an innocent scapegoat, which can inadvertently
turn him into The Woobie
Alternatively, the competitor's employees will be depicted as slow, unhelpful, unknowledgable, dense, rude, slovenly, etc. while our
employees are clean, competent, prompt, confident, friendly, professional, pretty et al.
Another common variant paints the scapegoat in a more favorable light: S/He works for the competition, but uses the advertised product, essentially acknowledging any shortcomings in the competing product.
This is also a case of Values Dissonance
as in most countries comparative publicity (that is calling your competitor by name in an ad) is prohibited because their trademarks rights allow them to prevent competitors for using their name in marketing campaigns even if its for comparison purposes. In the U.S., however, the right to engage in comparative publicity is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and tourists from other countries can be shocked to see such outright mudslinging in ads on American TV.
of Strawman Product
and Take That
Compare Cable/Satellite Mudslinging
- The Capitol One campaign featuring David Spade and his simple-minded intern. Throughout the campaign the intern is conditioned to say NO to every customer for every request, according to company policy; later on, a disgruntled customer comes in and attacks the boy. Note that this is played for laughs. Also note that this takes the term "scapegoat" and squares it, as it was actually Spade this customer was angry with, and Spade misdirected him toward the intern.
- Similar to the Progressive ad, a campaign for Lending Tree features a woman breaking the news to her banker that she's defecting to Lending Tree; the punchline is his stunned response of "But Karen, you work here!"
- The "Peggy" ads for Discover, wherein an obviously male representative of "USA Prime Credit" (who is also obviously not an American) calls himself "Peggy" and screws over his customers in various ways.
- AT&T, a telephone company in the US, ran a series of radio spots in defense of their Yellow Pages advertisement book by depicting the ill fates of those who used the services advertised in "less complete" competing advertisement books.
- Curiously, they ran a parallel series of ad spots for businesses who advertised in those "other books" and "didn't get the same response." Hmm.
- AT&T also has the ad wherein a cable installer visits a school to talk about his job, only to be slapped down (even the teacher gets in on this) by the virtues of AT&T's service. His eye roll at the end is probably supposed to mark him as a Jerk Ass, but that's the response any normal person would have to the level of disrespect he's enduring.
- A Vonage commercial in which the smug shlub who represents "the telephone company" is pushed off screen by the Vonage spokeswoman.
- What makes it disturbing is that it implies that Vonage will have a monopoly on the phone industry. (Which they won't for as long as the Internet runs over phone lines.)
- Similarly, in Alltel commercials, Alltel is represented by a popular looking guy named Chad. All other companies are represented by a group of comically inept Butt Monkey nerds who want nothing more to stop him from selling phone plans. Chad still comes off as a Jerk Ass.
- Plus, they take a shot at Dungeons & Dragons players. Alltel can stick a +5 vorpal up their keisters.
- Alltell got bought out by Verizon. Verizon has kept the ads running, turning the whole thing delightfully surreal, the Verizon guy has "mysteriously" disappeared from them.
- The four geeky scapegoats were another Take That after legal threats forced Alltel to stop using likenesses of the other companies' commercial representatives.
- Verizon FIOS ads have the friendly, cute and helpful Verizon employee vs. the socially inept, rock stupid and dishonest cable guy.
- New York-based cable operator Cablevision fired back with a series of ads about a Verizon FIOS salesman who is followed around by his mother, who makes sure he always tells the truth, much to his annoyance when he is confronted with upset customers, and his mom simply tells them that Optimum is better than FIOS.
- Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile get down right vitriolic over this stuff. Almost every add for them for a while was mostly a company spokesman mocking the claims of the other companies.
- T-Mobile's ads (comparing their 4G phone to the iPhone) are similar in set-up to the Mac and PC ads, but are generally more fair to Apple. T-Mobile is represented by an attractive woman in a pink dress, but the iPhone is represented by a handsome man. The scapegoat here is the lawyer who hangs around the iPhone and represents the AT&T subscription plan. ("Why pay more to get less?" "It makes sense, if you don't think about it.")
- Cable One has been running ads about AT&T's "U-Verse" service. U-Verse is offered by a rude, snarky schlub of an installer who talks about U-Verse costing more and being worse service as if these things are positive features—unsubtly implying that AT&T thinks all their potential customers are idiots. He brings along a cardboard cutout of a Cable One guy, for some reason. The series of commercials, ending with the oh-so-clever tagline "Maybe it's really you versus AT&T," always feature the same guy.
- Sega's entire ad campaign in the early 90's was nothing but this. Particularly remembered for a jingle about "Genesis does what Nintendon't" and ads about how Nintendo lacks "Blast Processing" (which was about as real as a hedgehog wearing sneakers). Particularly ironic, considering most of their games are now released on Nintendo systems.
- An ad for a regional grocery chain features two competing cashiers in a mock trial, in which the competitor is forced to admit that he has to charge higher prices to those without a store card. Note the wording used: he would "have to charge a higher price" - meaning that he's only following the rules set out by his employer. This does not stop the judge from mocking and humiliating him.
- A commercial for Pella Windows shows the fit Pella crew quickly and accurately installing the windows, smiling the whole time. The "What a Pane" crew arrives and fumbles over the windows, buys them from the back of some truck, and quibbles over the payment. It makes the local contractors look like they hire a bunch of slobs.
- A similar commercial for Re-Bath Remodeling depicts its Brand X competitor's employees as chimpanzees. Literally.
- An ad for energy-efficient bulbs showed a curly CFL bulb acting superior to a regular filament bulb in much the same vein as the Mac VS PC ads.
- When Massachusetts changed its automotive insurance laws, nearly all the existing companies released ads mocking the more recognizable mascots of the newly-arrived national firms. Esurance struck back, with a commercial featuring Erin Esurance debating an old man on...cartoon mascots.
- Some of Progressive.com commercials include Bob and Tom, bumbling representatives of Another Insurance. They are presented as being forgetful of their clients, disloyal to their own company, and blatant liars.
- A series of insurance ads revolve around 'Jerry Neuman', an accident-prone fella who got suckered in by a rival company's quick-and-easy sign-ups. Now his car's wrecked, the other company suddenly won't answer his calls, and he's stuck crying to his old agent.
- Geico has a truly bizarre set of commercials centering around a taste test. A taste test. During the ads, a Geico rep offers people two different drinks, one representing Geico, the other representing it's opposition. Guess which one tastes better? Guess what also decides the issue in-universe? There are no words.
- The commercials for Gainomax (a kind of nutrient drink) tries to make the viewer the scapegoat. The main commercial features a monkey who explains (with a childish voice) that it's starving because people eat bananas after exercise, leaving none for the monkey; therefore, drink Gainomax, and leave the bananas to the monkeys. Later ones have another monkey attempt hypnotism.
- Most commercials featuring Burger Fool employees are like this; it's especially prevalent in "Pizza Fool" commercials.
- Two guys are eating pizza from Pizza Hut, on the roof of their office. At the end of the commercial, we can see their Domino's Pizza uniforms. Never saw that coming in any of the 2300 commercials they've done using this formula, did you?
- An ad campaign for Pepsi Max features two delivery truck drivers, one for the "good guys" and one for Coke Zero. The drivers make friends and swap drinks, but as soon as the Pepsi bottle gets to the Coke driver's lips, the Pepsi driver is snapping a picture with his camera-phone. The problem with this ad is that it makes the Coke driver look like a nice guy whose trust was betrayed by the Jerkass Pepsi driver, especially seeing as a picture like that could easily get the Coke driver fired.
- An older (circa 2004) Pepsi ad—this one featuring Pepsi Vanilla vs Vanilla Coke—featured two drivers at a stop light. The V-Coke driver cranks up the music on his radio (playing an older rock song) and the Pepsi-V guy responded by flipping a switch that transformed his delivery truck into a gaudy, hydraulic-bouncing, oversized, low-rider wanna-be truck that was blasting a generic hip-hop track. The Ad failed for three reasons:
- Does Pepsi have nothing better to do with their money than outfit their delivery trucks with hydraulic suspensions and speaker systems that can earn "disturbing the peace" citations?
- Does anyone know what happens to cans of soft drink when they're bounced around like that?
- Does Pepsi not understand that a large swath of the population actually prefer rock music over hip-hop?
- Of course, this last one might have been a matter of target market: Pepsi's schtick has always been to be the "younger" and "hipper" drink ("For Those Who Think Young," anyone?). They also have a history of appealing to minorities, particularly Blacks (in the Bad Old Days, Whites used to serve Pepsi—which was cheaper—in Coke bottles so as not to be seen as serving a "n*** drink" to their guests).
- A hilarious 7UP ad from the late 90s had a blind taste test when Orlando Jones was their spokesman. Saying that 7-Up tasted better than those other drinks. The "other drinks" ranged from chum, dishwater, wallpaper paste and bile to name a few. The people who did the taste test reacted just like anyone would.
- Apple's "Mac Vs PC" ads, as noted in the (paraphrased) page quote, which pit a smug hoodie-wearing hipster (representing the Mac) against Adorkable geek icon John Hodgman (representing the PC). Every attempt to play up how much "cooler" Mac is makes him look like a complete dick to most viewers, whereas the PC's faults make him look, at worst, like The Woobie.
- The ads are noted by some as repeatedly backfiring — one ad, for example, attempts to criticize the PC for being too focused on the mass market, but ends up painting Apples as being inferior for home use. Another makes fun of the PC for being used to work with spreadsheets and other "boring" applications—you know, stuff that people use computers for.
- And when Apple tries to go after PCs for having all sorts of equipment? That's just giving Microsoft ammo.
- One ad falsely implies that error messages are a PC problem Macs don't share. This is like advertising a car by saying it has no dashboard indicator lights.
- Charlie Brooker points out that whoever wrote the advert pushing Macs as more fun has never been to a game shop to compare how many games are available for each system.
- Apple are at it again. Apparently, there is a major issue with the hardware antenna design of their new phone. Their solution is to tell everyone that all other phones are broken
- The "Mac vs PC" series is backfiring further with T-Mobile's own parodies going on the offence against both Apple's iPhone and AT&T.
- A Radio Shack ad from the 1990s played up the "competitors' unhelpful employees" angle; it was the entire point.
- Shows up in radio ads for BnH photo and video equipment store. Anyone who doesn't buy at BnH is painted as an absolute moron
- A chinese commercial for FedEx shows a messenger with a huge package saying that it was a very important parcel in mandarin. Then a old woman just gave him a weird look. A voice over tell us that there are 235 dialects in China. Then he tries in Cantonese, and then in as many dialects as he can. Then they show us a Fed Ex messenger speaking in the correct dialect on his first try. note