There are people in this world who take incompetence to an art form. You know who we're talking about: people who cannot be trusted to use scissors, cut themselves to ribbons when they try to use a potato peeler, and cannot even use a blanket without help. How can such utterly incompetent people make a living in this world?
You see, for Task [X] (say, cutting paper), performed previously by using The Old Way (a paper-cutter, or, for added angst, scissors), there is someone trying to sell you a new PaperSlicerMax 3000, capable of doing the same thing. The new product has to be better than the Old Way if you want to convince an audience to throw out their old tools and buy new ones. All too often, the appearance of improvement is provided by showing the previous tool being used by someone so ridiculously clumsy and uncoordinated that it defies belief. What better way to advertise a new paper cutter than to show someone trying to use scissors and reducing their paper to modern art? Or, say, some idiot who cannot fold a map, to make GPS navigators look so much more efficient?
A popular format is to have the narrator say "stop wasting your time with conventional blankets", and showing a big red X or "no" slash over a typically monochrome and/or heavily desaturated video of someone apparently having a lot of trouble with it, or someone tossing it down and shaking their heads melodramatically. Bonus points if these conventional products cost thousands less in the long run. Expect Bad "Bad Acting" to be used to demonstrate frustration. Often the same person becomes dramatically more competent when they switch to the product being advertised — the idea is presumably "even a moron could use our product", but often comes across as "only a moron would need our product".
Let's face it, this could be Truth in Television for some products and indeed, some users. In reality, however, many of these products were invented specifically for the elderly and physically disabled, people who legitimately could have problems with some of these tasks; the "being too incompetent to use it" factor usually arises when the item is marketed to a general audience (needed in order to secure a big enough market to make the product profitable) and it becomes necessary to convince able-bodied people that they can't live without these products. So instead of showing the situations where the item could actually be useful, advertisements depict youngish adult actors of sound mind and body acting completely goofy...and inadvertently casting a negative light on the people who might have a legitimate need for the product.
There may also be an element of Reverse Psychology in play. Market studies suggest that seeing people act incompetently makes viewers feel smarter, and thus boosts their confidence, making them more likely to feel good about a spontaneous decision such as, say, buying a product from an infomercial.
Sometimes goes hand-in-hand with The Power of Cheese, which is people acting incredibly stupid due to desire for the product being advertised instead of as a "demonstration" of a competitor. Related to Brand X, Cable/Satellite Mudslinging, and Side-by-Side Demonstration. May be used to cover up a Never Needs Sharpening flaw. Basically Disastrous Demonstration invoked for marketing purposes. Compare Deceptively Simple Demonstration, where the product is being used in a way that looks harder than it really is. It doesn't help that with few exceptions infomercial products are low-quality examples of their product type being pushed at a markup.
A Sub-Trope of Strawman Product. This may overlap with Lethal Chef if the product in question is related to cooking. Compare Viewers Are Morons.
Compare and Contrast Modeling Poses (when people do their best to make a product look good).
- The acting career of the main character in Hamlet 2 is mostly limited to performing these roles in commercials.
- In the film Roxanne, the volunteer fire department CD is in charge of is pretty much this at the beginning. The first time we see the firehouse, CD arrives to find a fire burning in a barrel in the firehouse. This is why he hires Chris to train them properly.
- In Airplane!, Ted Striker has a drinking problem: he always misses his mouth.
- Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle: Apparently, before the Baron invented a special type of cut-less paper, for his own complicated reasons, thousands of office workers across the Wulfenbach Empire died from paper cuts each year.
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: Wonko the Sane decided that mankind had gone insane after realizing that toothpick packages came with step-by-step instructions.
- Friends played with this. Joey Tribbiani is a struggling actor, and once accepts a role in an infomercial in which he portrays "Kevin", a guy who has trouble with milk cartons that are "flingin'-flangin' hard to open" (he rips one open while trying, spraying milk all over the place). But with the Milk Master 2000, he has no trouble. "Now I can have milk every day!" (Rachel is later shown using one.) In another episode, Joey laments that his fellow cast members in a play tease him about the infomercial by asking him to open milk cartons... and making fun of him when he really can't do it.
Joey: See, I'm an actor, I can actually open milk cartons just fine.
Actress: And then you choked on that cookie!
Joey: Yeah, that was real.
- 30 Rock when Tracy advertises his Meat Machine in order to show bread is bad: a woman picks up a slice of bread and reacts as if it burnt her fingers.
- "Are you tired of your bread making you angry?"
- Ironically his Meat Machine turns out to have a flaw that makes it easy for the user to get burnt.
- "Are you tired of your bread making you angry?"
- The Snuggie, as well as its commercials, were parodied in iCarly with "The Sack," which is just a giant burlap sack to wrap around your body. The commercial begins with Carly lamenting that her blanket keeps flying off her body (pulled by an invisible string).
- Parodied and subverted in one episode of The Honeymooners: Ralph and Ed are trying to sell a multi-function kitchen utensil on an infomercial. They only have two apples, so they don't practice coring them. When they're doing the actual commercial, Ed, in full Cloud Cuckoo Lander mode, doesn't bother faking having trouble with the normal corer, and finishes in less than five seconds. Meanwhile, Ralph spends several minutes trying to get the product to work, growing increasingly frazzled.
- Mr. Show
- One episode features Mayostard, a bottled mayonnaise-and-mustard combo, and goes to absurd lengths to suggest that getting sandwich spreads from two different bottles is an unbearable waste of time and effort.note Then a competing product, Mustardayonnaise, enters the picture. Then the post-credits gag introduces Mustmayostardayonnaise, because having to apply Mayostard and Mustardayonnaise is such an enormous time sink, it will cause you to miss your daughter growing up, graduating college, and then growing older than you and dying.note
- An episode features Janeane Garofalo as a woman who simply can't organize the bags in her kitchen, shouting, "Help me!" at the camera. The solution is "Bag Hutch," a box to put bags in. The writers had to change the name of the product because "bag box" was already the name of a product that did the exact same thing.
- Picnic Face featured a segment called "Infomercial Plus" - an infomercial actor agency that offers people Too Incompetent To Operate A Blanket in real life to make your infomercial even better! Highlights included a literal blanket-operating failure, a man unable to comprehend fruit and another utterly incapable of cracking eggs.
- The Daily Show featured a segment on New Jersey planning to switch to self-service gas stations by allowing its citizens to fill their own cars (up until that point having a station attendant do it for you was state-mandated). Ed Helms, in a move satirizing the interviewed labour union leader making some unfortunate statements as to why this switch was a bad thing, attempted to fill his own gas tank and ended up strangling himself with the hose.
- Note: The measure fell through, and Jersey girls still don't pump gas.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Bulk once tried to star in an ad for a karate dojo and ended up serving as an example of what happens when one tries to learn karate without proper training.
- Parodied in a Russell Howard's Good News sketch. A faux-ad for Bic's new "Lady Pen" depicts a woman being completely incapable of using a "manly" pen.
- Infamously - nay, Legendarily - Inverted in the second episode of The IT Crowd, wherein an advert ("Has This Ever Happened To You") depicts an elderly woman falling down some stairs, getting right back up with no problems, and then falling down some more. But before she can dial up Emergency Services, the ad cuts in with how, as part of a general improvement, they've changed the number - it's no longer 999note , but (*jingle*) 0118 999 881 999 119 725...
- ...3. ("Hello, I've had a bit of a tumble.")
- In one Horrible Histories skit, there is a parody commercial for John Joseph Merlin Roller Skates, the first roller skates ever invented. However, due to the very slippery floor and the poor design of the skates, Merlin is constantly slipping and crashing over and over during the commercial, until he has a bloody nose and bruised right eye from all the falls he's taken. This is based on the apocryphal story that Merlin demonstrated his skates for the first time at a party... and skated right into a wall (or in some versions, a mirror).
- Warning: Early roller skates do not include stoppers or brakes.
- Sometimes parodied on World's Dumbest... when they present a dumb idea as if it were an infomercial.
- Charlie's ad for "Kitten Mittens" in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia does this in a particularly silly way. Charlie advertises them as being able to keep your cat from "constantly stompin' around, driving you crazy." To show this off, he shows a cat lightly springing across a table, while behind it, he reacts as if he's hearing nails on chalkboard and loud crashing sound effects play. Yes, he's too incompetent to withstand the sound of a cat walking. Overlapping with Disastrous Demonstration, when he shows off how quiet the cat is while wearing Kitten Mittens, it actually is stomping around and making audible noise.
- In this clip from Dave Gorman's Terms and Conditions Apply, Dave shows and discusses adverts which portray people as being too incompetent to crack an egg, cook pasta and carry kitchen utensils, and has his guests create a spoof ad for an extendable shoehorn for people who struggle to put on and take off their shoes.
- The Phoenix punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad created a commercial for their product the "Salad Glove," a nylon-free glove used to eat salad by those who struggle with forks but don't want to appear rude by using their bare hands. The product was originally invented as a lyric in their song "People 2 II: Still Peoplin'."
- Parodied by You Don't Know Jack in one of its faux advertisements, which began with "Playing Solitaire on the computer is fun, right? But it's hard to remember all those rules!" The "ad" proceeded to hawk a fictional computer game titled "52-Card Pickup 2000".
- In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the molotov cocktail preparation minigame at gas stations suggests that Huang Lee would be a great candidate if there was ever an infomercial for people who can't efficiently pour gasoline into their gas tank.
- My Horse And Me 2 requires frenzied button-mashing to turn on a spigot.
- Exaggerated in No More Heroes with the gas-pumping minigame. Failing the minigame by overfilling a customer's car somehow causes Travis to spontaneously burst into flames from sheer incompetence.
- This is how the Artificial Stupidity in The Sims manifests itself. Common sights include Sims setting themselves on fire while trying to cook, being incapable of crossing fences, getting lost in their own houses, forgetting how to walk through doorways, dropping babies on the floor for no reason, and drowning in pools because the ladder got removed.
- Slackerz provides the page image.
- Parodied by Housepets! in this strip, the ad selling a product aimed at people supposedly too stupid to operate a regular drinking glass.
- The xkcd strip Kitchen Tips isn't selling anything, but still fully embodies the trope.
- Repeated in strip Household Tips.
- 5-Minute Crafts and other life hack channels play this straight in their videos. Often the channel will set up a hack by showing an actor hopelessly fumble with the normal way of doing something, but immediately know how to use the unconventional and often impractical hacked method. One sketch shows a woman give up at scooping pickled eggs out of a jar because her spoon's too short, then decide to use two spoons tied together to reach the eggs (when it would be easier to just tilt the jar).
- The CollegeHumor staff knows what kind of person needs infomercial products with the "Has this ever happened to you?" opening tagline.
- First, he bumps into tables, managing to pull the tablecloth off.
- He fails to open the door because he can't use the knob right.
- He is unable to start his car because the battery has died. When a little girl comes up to him, he rolls down both windows on the driver's side of the car. She asks him, "How many times has this happened to you?" He says "Happens to me every fucking day. Every day."
- At home, when moving a boiling pot of pasta to the strainer in the sink, he drops it because he isn't using potholders.
- He keeps all his plastic cups in the same top cupboard, causing them all to fall out when he opens it.
- He cuts his finger while slicing a carrot.
- He gets tangled up in his phone cord as he tries to call 912. Goodbye!
- From nowhere, more plastic cups rain down on him.
- Depressed, he sits down on his bed and puts a gun to his head to kill himself, but when he pulls the trigger, it clicks empty, informercial music starts playing, an X is emblazoned on the screen, and an announcer shouts, "ARE YOU TIRED OF UNRELIABLE GUNS?!" revealing that what we saw was the lead-in to another infomercial.
- LoadingReadyRun did a sketch about this, with a man who actually lives in an informercial.
- They also parodied the concept in the video EZ Industries (pronounced "E-Zed" of course). The advert actor tries to open a milk carton without the aid of the EZ Milk Spout, and is promptly murdered by a ninja.
- The "WTF Blanket," a Gag Dub of the Snuggie commercial.
- In an early Knuckleheads short episode, the amazing power of the "Willi Waller" (an ordinary potato peeler) is contrasted with the difficulty of peeling potatoes with one's fingernails (0:49).
- Pretty much most of the examples written below have been lovingly compiled in this video.
- Discussed during the Freelance Astronauts' Let's Play of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Master Quest. Ferr decides he wants a portal to the world where these commercials take place so he can impress its inhabitants with the ability to use the "old-fashioned" products correctly without hurting himself.
- After Hours discusses this trope at length in the episode where they debate which commercial universe is the coolest. Dan O'Brien initially pitches infomercials as the coolest. After all, being able to perform basic tasks in those universes would mark you a deity... but it's quickly pointed out that he'd have to rely on idiots to do everything else.
Soren Bowie: Think of how lonely you'd be being the only person in the universe who can do anything. And what happens if you get sick? Do you really trust a doctor from a world where people get trapped in saran wrap?
- The Onion: "How To Wax Your Floors Without Slipping, Severing Your Spine"
- Buzzfeed features 38 GIFs of Stupid Infomercial People.
- Adding "Thanks, Obama!" to gif examples of these has become a political meme, due to a (real or perceived) tendency for Republicans to blame everything on him.
- Parodied by Smosh in the informercial for the Easy Step. The opening shows Anthony struggling to climb steps.
- It also features NASA, who are shown literally being Too Dumb to Live. They created the product.
- MikeJ has an entire series of these, dubbed Infomercialism. Some items of note:
- The comfort wipe, essentially an extended arm to hold toilet paper for those who are "too important to wipe their own ass" (though Mike conceded that someone with limited reach might, might need one, he'd assume they'd need help with more than just that).
- A multitude of cheese graters, with one electric grater getting the honors of having Mike do a side-by-side comparison with an ordinary hand grater which won by a mile. These products tend to disappoint him the most.
- A Spray (pronounced as Aspray since the commerical left no space between the A and S)
- The pocket chair listed in Advertising above. Mike noted that it was slightly too large for his pockets, and too small for him to feel all that safe sitting on. He also noted that the commercial has the people not taking advantage of the perfectly good bench right behind them in the park scenes.
- Women struggling to drink water. They have a drinking problem.
- A Day in the Life of DarkSydePhil, a skit by Retsupurae fans, parodies Phil's inability to perform basic actions in games as well as his tendency to blame said games for his own incompetence by applying the same thing to real life actions such as starting up a car, unlocking an iPad or even eating pasta with a fork.
- Table Flip parodied this trope hard for the shirt ad. Without the shirt Suzy can't flip a table, and Barry can't even sit down.
- Two Best Friends Play parodies this in this promotion for their new website.
- Deconstructed to a complete T in the Cold Open of "The Meaning of Love" from The Cyanide & Happiness Show, essentially an infomercial for "Not Doing That". Then, it becomes an ad for "Doing That"...then considerable things and some people from "Not Doing That" appear and screw it up. Then, it becomes an ad for "Making Your Own Decisions Based on the Situation", which is...well, yeah.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-2407 is a cognitohazard that renders victims Too Incompetent To Operate A Blanket in ways that are temporarily relieved by the purchase and use of infomercial products. The Foundation suspects that infomercials and related products are being used to spread the cognitohazard.
- Homestar Runner has the Fluffy Puff Bite-Size Nibblers, a smaller version of the cartoon's Fluffy Puff Marshmallows. The ad promotes them as being good for newborn-type babies and that they help the mouth strain of having to eat a normal-sized marshmallow.
- A source for many instances of Youtube Poop. For example Introducing the Shiddy Bear by Walrusguy.
- Jacksfilms parodies the Trope Namer in this clip.
Narrator: If you don't know how to operate a blanket... chances are you're a few chromosomes short of a human.
- Conversed in the YourMovieSucks.org review of Neil Breen's films, which compares the clumsiness in the films to the clumsiness in informercials. It even uses film clips to make a parody informercial.
- Binging with Babish:
- Invoked in the Bounty-sponsored episodes: at the beginning of the episode, Babish will deliberately make a mess in some completely improbable way just to have an excuse to demonstrate the sponsor's cleaning ability.
- Basics With Babish parodies this in the "Kitchen Care" episode with Babish failing to slice a piece of paper to demonstrate how dull his kitchen knife is, before the footage turns black and white as he resorts to trying a bunch of nonsensical ways to sharpen it like blowtorching it, pouring a can of beer on it, seasoning it with salt and pepper, and giving it money.
Babish: You tried everything! Why can't your knife just be sharp? Why can't life just be easier when it's hard? Stop throwing money away, or, something, and get yourself a... knife sharpener like this one.
- Much of the content on the Reddit board /r/wheredidthesodago is of this sort.
- The commercial Tobuscus made for Hot Pockets features a man too incompetent to barbecue hotdogs. At first he struggles to open the packaging, trying and failing with his hands and teeth, stabbing himself through the hand when he tries using a knife, and resorts to blasting the packaging open with a shotgun. Then he drops the hotdogs through the gaps in the grill, knocks the barbecue into the pool and takes a shrapnel wound when a propane tank explodes. Later in the commercial, another character claims that the last time he tried to make chilli dogs, he accidentally started a war in Chile.
- This video takes a look at several products advertised through infomercials in this manner and pointing out the flaws inherent in taking devices that, at best, were designed for the elderly and disabled, then advertising them in a way as if able-bodied 20- and 30-somethings needed them just as much.
Yeah, as soon as you sign on for one of these commercials, your intelligence quotient just tanks.
- Parodied in an infomercial featuring Dr. Nick and Troy McClure from The Simpsons, which opens with Troy demonstrating a juicer by first awkwardly squeezing an orange against his forehead for a few seconds before telling his audience that "Until now, this was the only way to get juice from an orange." Immediate cut to Homer who is, of course, in the middle of actually making juice this way.
Homer: You mean there's a better way?!
- Then he demonstrates said juicer, which Dr. Nick shouts is "WHISPER QUIET" and acts incredulous at the fact that only one drop comes out of the machine. "You got all that from one bag of oranges?"
- An early episode of Squidbillies features a fake commercial for a fictional baby crib. It starts off with a woman apparently unable to cope with her ventriloquist infant screaming with his mouth closed, insisting with a lip-synch that wouldn't be out of place in a Godzilla movie, "There's got to be a better way!"
- Another fake advertisement in the same episode starts the same way. This ad is for the Baby Death Trap, which apparently exists solely so the manufacturer can sue people who call the earlier product a "death trap" - not for libel, but for trademark infringement.
- Clone High, where Gandhi and Abe advertise their knork by having Abe dress up as an old lady who complained that she could barely walk because of the difficulty of using two utensils at the same time.
- In Fillmore!, O'Farrell is described as "Isn't trained to use a stapler" when Fillmore assigned him as a bodyguard.
Vallejo: Fillmore! O'Farrell isn't trained to use a stapler, let alone bodyguard somebody!
- Gravity Falls: The commercial for the Huggy Wuvvy Tummy Bundle baby carrier begins with a man trying to eat pizza while holding a baby under his arm like a football as a voice says, "Hey, you! Sick of constantly dropping your baby?"
- In the Danger Mouse episode "Send in the Clones", Penfold is watching TV when an ad comes on for "Soup Funnel", a product for people too lazy or uncoordinated to use a soup spoon. (You stick the funnel in your mouth and pour the soup in. Hard to imagine how that could go wrong.)