The four worst ads of 2015

What with Donald Trump running for President (not to mention Mayor Nutter calling for a city-wide blockade on Trump and a subsequent press release I got about a guy who immediately began selling “Ban Trump From Philly” t-shirts for $25 each), the dude who paraded into a Philly coffee-shop naked last summer, Starbucks’ crimson Yuletide war, and my divorce and subsequent joining of OKCupid, there were plenty of ways to be offended in 2015.

But I, ever the enterprising connoisseur of the insipid and the tasteless (or “a snob,” as my mother puts it), was on the lookout for still more ways to be insulted. And lucky for me, I rely on SEPTA (Philly’s public transit system) to get around the city, and the advertisements featured in trains, subways, concourses, and stations did not disappoint.

So without any more messing around, let’s visit the four most cringe-worthy print ad campaigns I spotted on SEPTA in 2015.

First, a campaign for a new urgent-care clinic in Center City.

I realize we’re walking a fine line here. How do you remind people of crucial healthcare services without peeling back too much of our own mortality (or, say, the $3,000 MRI bill you’re likely to get AFTER your insurance company is also billed — God bless America).

This ad, with its terrible slogan of “because LIFE HAPPENS,” crosses that line.

I’m fully willing to admit that maybe walking by this ad every week came within a hairs-breadth of giving me full-on PTSD (and I say this with respect for mental health patients, having had my own therapist point out PTSD symptoms in my own behavior) because of the hellacious surgeries I had earlier this year. Having struggled up and down stairs for months on crutches, crying and gritting my teeth through the pain, this picture, suspended in what is possibly the last moment this jeans-clad lady will ever walk unaided again, gives me the absolute head-to-toe shudders.

There is just so much badness happening here. She is carrying a laundry basket. The stairs are only partly carpeted. Was that ball not there when she walked up the stairs? Is there a malignant poltergeist in the house? And she is in fucking flip-flops. Her husband is probably at work and the kids are at school, and she’ll be lying at the bottom of the stairs with double compound fractures for God knows how many hours.

As she struggles to recover from the shattering of her limbs, and possible debilitating spinal and cranial injuries, she will not only cope with the loss of her own independence, but the growing resentment of her partner, who is used to having somebody else do the laundry and make dinner, and the gradual descent of her house into lonely, grimy chaos as friends who visited every week for the first month or two gradually stop showing up, and she still calls it a major victory if she can get to the toilet and back on her own.

And then there is this ad for Internet service, spotted, horribly, at 30th Street Station, the very gateway to University City: the pride of Philly’s educational realm, with more bike cops than burger joints to keep all the undergrads safe in the big, bad city. (Or maybe to keep us safe from the undergrads.)

First of all, are you in a fucking library? Did you cut the pages out of a book and hide your iPad in it so you could secretly watch television WHILE YOU ARE SITTING IN YOUR CAMPUS’S TEMPLE OF THE WRITTEN WORD?

Or, perhaps worse, are you in class, watching premium cable that is, let’s face it, pretty much a mix of fatal swordplay and soft porn, imagined by a man who wishes he was the next J.R.R. Tolkien but really just added some dragons and weird names to his own version of the Wars of the Roses?

I don’t mean to hate on people who like Game of Thrones. I read the novels. I watched a season or two of the TV show. But I would like to dig deeper into the abysmal lack of appreciation for education we have on display here.

Make college more entertaining? Are you telling me that living in a dorm full of hot young twenty-somethings who are just trying out life without Mom and Dad isn’t entertaining? Whatever happened to beer pong and Netflix and chill? (Unless you’re sexiled? Maybe that’s why you have to watch TV at the library?)

Worse, are we supposed to believe that learning itself isn’t entertaining? An education that may be the intellectual founding of your whole adult life and the spark of your career? An education which, if you’ll recall, you labored through standardized tests, college applications, approximately 12 years of school, and probably FAFSA to achieve?  A privilege that, in the United States, is out of reach for millions who can’t afford it or have some other barrier to quality higher education?

And while the entire country wrings its hands over Millennials’ general collective failure to buy homes, marry in their early-to-mid-twenties, and give birth before age thirty because we can’t afford anything but the rent, our cell phone data, and our student loan payments, are college kids these days (good God, I just said “kids these days”) pretending to read books while they watch TV on their iPads?

Will you graduate with $120,000 in debt and nothing more than an intimate knowledge of the houses of Lannister and Stark, Greyjoy and Baratheon, Tully and Targaryen and Arryn and Martell? (Sorry if I missed any; I don’t mutilate my books for a tablet and headphones.)

And now we come to the first runner up (not to be confused, Steve Harvey, with our winner).

What do you think of when you need a lawyer?

A hot “paralegal” named Melissa in stilettos, a little black dress, and flowing hair, obviously. Because when you need help with your worker’s comp suit, the first thing you want to know is whether the auxiliary staff is sexy.

She’ll visit you at home or in the hospital. How nice of her.

Finally, we come to the winning campaign, whose facets of horribleness almost outweigh the facets of the diamonds it’s selling.

Let’s take this one first.

I didn’t realize there were still more ways that the contemporary commercial fetish for men bestowing diamonds on women could be gross. But this campaign is digging deeper than an exploited miner.

Apparently, all women are fifteen years old. And they’re not living in the 21st century. They’re in love with firemen, sailors, and rockstars, but one diamond ring will bring them back to earth and make them settle for any dude with a couple thousand bucks to spare. Because you wouldn’t want anyone with an interesting career to strike up a conversation with your woman.

Sailors? Really? Have the men returned to Nantucket with enough whale oil for the winter? Is the Great War over yet? (Could this ad be re-written for modern twenty- or thirty-something women? “She will forget every app developer, urban farmer, and local micro-brewery founder of her dreams”?)

I wish I could smash this ad like I’d smash a well-grown house centipede.

While you’re out there on the green with Important Clients, flexing your putting gloves, tipping the caddy, and looking forward to a nice snifter at the Club, she’ll be sitting rapturously at home, staring at this diamond bracelet, checking on the leg of lamb, and feeling SO glad that she married you.

But really, can we all just agree that the copy here is danker than that bit of your kitchen sink right under the drain? “Men love golf. Women love diamonds.” Somewhere, a whole department of creatives was well-paid to craft this. I hope they were all weeping into their office-party eggnog when this hackneyed horseshit actually went to print.

Women are forgetful, you know. Also, they do not respond to small human gestures, like giving them a hand with the laundry. And women do not know their own minds — until you buy them an extravagant yet otherwise unremarkable piece of jewelry.

The remedy to all female foibles is in your hands. To wield every once in awhile. When you want some attention. Whether or not you love her.

Did you see any remarkable ad campaigns during your own journeys in 2015?



Add yours →

  1. In the London Underground, I noticed Las Vegas tourism advertising: “Come to a place where your accent is an aphrodisiac”. Or, Las Vegas. You’ve heard of the alcohol and gambling, but did you know about the no-strings casual sex? As if we did not know what pubs are for. I have heard this about British accents all over the US.

    • Ha THANK YOU for this report from London! America, the place where we’re dying to jump in bed with you if you sound like you were born overseas. Also lots of Americans probably think there is a single homogeneous British accent — maybe like Colin Firth’s. But that’s probably as hopeless as comparing a Maine accent to a Texas one.

      • The further you are from a place, the greater difficulty you have in picking up the subtleties of accents. Canadians gently explain when I think them American.

      • It’s so true. Even Americans from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston sound worlds different to each other — there was even a recent Saturday Night Live sketch that was all about people from Brooklyn talking to someone from Philly b/c her accent was so exotic to them, but we all just live a couple hours away. And few Americans would mistake a Canadian talker for one of their own (not just the French Canadians, either). But lots of Americans probably would have a hard time distinguishing Welsh or Irish or Scottish accents from each other. I hope the Canadians you mistake for Americans are polite — I’m sure they are. I’ve heard of Americans traveling in Europe w/ a maple leaf or Canadian flag on their backpacks, so the Europeans will not know they’re Americans and be nicer to them…

      • I’m not of an age, any more, that I mix much with backpackers, but no doubt they have all the sex they want 🙂

      • well that’s the important thing.

  2. I hadn’t seen those jewelry ads. Thanks for making me feel worse about American society….
    Although, I must admit, every time I drive on Street Road in Southampton, I see a billboard asking “how mad is she?” It offer three size diamonds depending on the level of madness she is feeling.

    But the worst ad of the year, for me, is not one I have seen. I hear it every day on my beloved NPR.
    Courtesy of our own WHYY: “GET MORE INTERESTING” this is the most insulting tagline I have ever heard, and always causes me to quickly switch to New York public radio.

    Alaina, 2015 has been a tough year for both of us. May 2016 be even a little better!

    • Oh man that is TERRIBLE about the three diamond sizes. No piece of jewelry will ever expunge my rage about this.

      Ha, I’ve heard so many people complaining about that “Get More Interesting” tagline! Definitely did not land the way WHYY was hoping…

      2015 has indeed been among the toughest years on record. I think if we keep sticking together 2016 might be better. xo

    • I’m with you when it comes to Get More Interesting. It ticks me off almost as much as the head honcho’s mammoth salary did when I learned about it a couple of years back. So much for my membership.

  3. Having broken several body parts, the stair ad is especially frightening to me, but all are disturbing.

  4. Let it be know that I can quickly and easily tell a Welsh from a Scottish from an Irish accent (although probably not yet distinguish variations within those groups) and can produce a reasonable facsimile of all three.

    Also, I adore this piece. Those ads are so barf-worthy (and the first one made me so sick to my stomach) that I’m really grateful you turned your keen eye and keyboard upon them. I want the whole idiot world to read this post.

  5. Great blog. Laundry lady write-up was hilarious. She ded.

    The first jewelry ad is asinine. The other two are brilliant. “Remind her how much she loves you.” Funny. “Get him the Titleist P1X driver, and remind him how much he loves you”. No biggie, right?

    “She’ll love you almost as much as you love golf” is just comedy. I don’t understand why you loathe it so much. Good, short, memorable pitch.

    WHAT, WHITE MIDDLE CLASS MEN CAN’T HAVE JOKES?!?! I’m important and I matter and don’t you forget it.


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