I’ll admit. I can often be Eben Oldish, the Porch Watcher. Case in point, commercials for toys were less sinister when I was a lad. Observe this sequence of ads for Star Wars toys from the mid 1980s:
The ads are rather long showing children in various play activities with the toys. The key thing I’m looking at is the length of the shots, the number of edits, and the surprisingly leisurely tone.
Let’s just step a few years from that into the time of the Transformers, the cartoon/toyline that changed everything. Note that the ads are more frentic with much quicker edits.
It’s also interesting to note the specially made animation for the majority of these commercials. Each one looks as those it is part of the show. Really, it’s some pretty ingenous marketing.
It’s also pretty damned evil. The modern toy commercial tends to follow this tendency, but goes a bit further. In the boys toy market, you no longer see boys playing with the items. Instead, detached hands push the product out at the viewer.
The emphasis almost seems to be totally off play. The product is a static unit. In light of this, the ad must use graphics and camera work to create dynamic action. The effect, at least to me, is strangely isolating. No longer is there a group of boys playing out conflicts they see on TV. To me, and my uneducated understandings, this was key competent of my playtime with other kids. We imitated the fighting, to be sure, but playacting at conflicts was a healthy pastime. Now, it seems the toys must occupy this nether region where conflicts and fights are not acknowledge as a function of the product.
But let’s talk about a non-violent toy and the way an ad can make this irresistible to a child. If you’ve watched cable TV lately, you’ve seen the Pillow Pet ad:
Maybe I don’t have to talk about it. Maybe you’ve already been ensnared because you have some child in proximity that would love this thing. Maybe you’ve already bought one. Look at the quick cuts. Look at the dynamic effects. Listen to the comforting pitch-lady as she convinces you this is the greatest thing ever.
And really, it could be. It is a pretty harmless bucket of fluff, really … but consider for a moment that this commercial airs pretty much anywhere a kid could possibly see it; even into the late hours of the night. Our commercial times were pretty much contained to 6am-8am in the mornings and 2pm-5pm at night. That was also during a time when the programs were longer and the advertisers only had nine minutes per hour of content. Cable changed all that and the bombardment never stops.
And while the Pillow Pet may be a harmless, wonderful toy, something about the way they sell it just makes me shiver.
But then again, this commercial change my life: