Look At All Those Members
11 June, 2007 - 08:24 — Bryan Lambert
Memo to American Express: FUCK RIGHT OFF.
As a technologically-aware geek, I don't see a lot of TV ads anymore. If you're wondering why advertising has become more and more intrusive over the years, blame me. I fast forward over them on my DVR. I ignore them when they're on in the background. And while I'm sure that someone, somewhere is convinced that my attitudes are being subtly shaped by the combined impact of all this marketing. I can't remember the last time an ad made me want to buy something.
This is why advertisers have to work harder to get their stupid message across. If they don't grab you right away, or trick you into watching an ad, or getting you into a place (like a movie theater) where you have no control over what you're watching, they've lost you. From my standpoint, the corollary to this is that an ad has to work REALLY hard to piss me off, because I have to notice it before I can hate it. Well, congratulations, American Express. You made all the right choices.
You chose to advertise during The Daily Show, one of the few shows I still watch live. And you included two things in your ad which will inevitably draw both my interest and my ire: a conundrum, and a singularly unfunny joke.
If you haven't seen the ad, it's the one with all the people in black talking about their causes. It's supposed to be a self-aware ironic parody of pretentious actors with outspoken views, but it's harmed by the conundrum that out of the five celebrities in the ad, I only recognized one of them. Now, this is not necessarily American Express' fault. I have been trained by years of captioning to not have to recognize anybody. It turns out that three of them are people ejp I actually do know in another context: Andre Agassi, who had hair the last time I gave a fuck; Sheryl Crow, who I've actually made fun of fairly recently for being a dipshit; and Alicia Keys, who sits well within my apathy zone.
The last one, a Lily Tomlin-lookin' motherfucker, is named "Shaun White". The Internet says he's a snowboarder, and reveals that the reason I've never heard of him is that his video game isn't out yet. Fair enough. And the one I recognized, and this brings us to the singularly unfunny joke, is Ellen Degeneres.
The point of the ad is that the celebrities are talking about their causes when an average dude comes in and talks about a polluted lake. You see, the ad is for the Members Project, which is one of the most ridiculous ideas any company has ever decided other people need to be told about. It's basically a combination of charitable giving and reality TV. And just like reality TV was meant to reduce the amount of work networks had to put into writing, acting, and directing, so to is the Members Project designed to minimize the amount of work AmEx puts into charitable giving.
The idea is that you, the unfortunately-named "cardmembers", submit user-created video for a cause you'd like to see American Express support. And through the power of the Internet, all these important causes are killed off in the gladiator pit of popular opinion. It's almost Marxist, if Marx had said "from each according to their ability, to each according to their ability with Final Cut Pro." All AmEx has to do is provide some webspace and a bit of cash (one buck for every person who registers to vote) and everything else is pure marketing gold, baby. American Express looks like they care, average people look like they have as much pull as celebrities, and since it's a commercial, the fact that none of that is actually true is not an issue.
Back to the ad. Average Guy talks about a lake, Martin Scorsese whores himself out in a cameo, and then Ellen talks about how she went swimming in the polluted lake and then she took her bathing suit off and then the bathing suit caught on fire but actually that happens every time she goes swimming so it wasn't the pollution in the lake after all it was something strange about her that causes bathing suits to spontaneously combust. And as a non-existent God as my non-existent witness, I cannot figure out if it's an actual joke, or meant to be a self-effacing parody of how mind-numbingly unfunny Ellen has become. Either way, the whole commercial just sits there like a dog turd in a paper bag on someone's doorstep - one you decided not to take a match to because it might violate outdoor fire codes.
If anyone ever asks you "Hey, why don't I ever see 157-year-old financial service companies doing twenty minute sets down at T.J. McFunnybones?" just show them this ad. Either they'll understand, or they'll laugh at Ellen's joke, at which point you can kill them, rip off their skin, and expose their plot to colonize Earth.