The Innocence of Advertising

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:

About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
This entry was posted in Armchair Philosophy, Home of the Bizarre Rant, Projected Pixels and Emulsion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Innocence of Advertising

  1. Clint says:

    Really interesting observation on the kid seeming to be phased out of the equation in modern commercials… now I’m going to have to be watching for that.

    Also you’ve just made me piningly nostalgic for those old Star Wars playsets. They were the shit, even if I never completely owned all the pieces.

  2. Erik says:

    I imagine it has something to do with the sensitivity toward “violence on television.” In the older Star Wars ads, the whole thing is so participatory. To me, that was the magic of the old Star Wars toys. They were, in many ways, a blank canvass and I spent more time creating new stories with them than I did recreating scenes from the movies.

  3. Clint says:

    It makes no sense to me that it would be a matter of minimalizing “violence”. I mean, unless we’ve really gotten to the point where having an AT-ST or shield generator that can fall into pieces is considered an appalling influence on our children. Also, Hot Wheels seems immune to the phenomenon since the little boys are still shown shrieking in prepubescent Spartan triumph when they jump past the giant shark and force their rival into the lava pit.

    There must be some other reason. Is it because there’s a growing acknowledgement now that a lot of non-kids are purchasing these toys, possibly without even the intention of ever cracking open the box they come in? When I was a kid my cousin and I set up Star Wars figures that are worth hundreds of dollars now and hurled dirt clods at them to knock them off the garden wall. But I don’t regret that. My feeling will always be that toys aren’t toys if they just stay on a shelf.

  4. Erik says:

    I considered it might have something to do with that, except collectors aren’t really watching the cartoons during broadcast times. They’re part of a scene and their advertising is primarily from Internet enthusiast sites.

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