The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Has the concept of "reality" programming seeped into the advertising business? Maybe. A few companies and their ad agencies are delving into using the average schmoe, instead of celebrities or professional actors, as the centerpieces of their campaigns.

They may say they want reality, but as always, be careful what you wish for. To quote Dr. Dre (from back in the day):

"Yeah they want reality
But you won't hear none
They'd rather exaggerate a little fiction."
-NWA, Express Yourself

To expand on that: Just as reality TV is very often anything but connected to reality, I don't expect these spots to fool anyone into thinking they found any old random person. For instance, you're not going to see anyone especially ugly or even plain-looking, because no one wants their product identified with that image.

Actually, I seem to recall that the use of "real" people was in vogue in the '70s too. And we all know what happened to the '70s, folks: They ended. So this is a fad that will run it's course soon enough.

One last thing: Take note that the McDonald's example was a Tampa-centric experiment. I wasn't aware of that when I was watching those spots, which I believe are no longer airing.

* McDonald's. Trying everything from new menu items to training techniques to rejuvenate sales, McDonald's is also testing restaurant crew workers and managers in two ads by DDB Chicago. The ads, running in Tampa, feature 16 different workers ages 18 to 60 talking about their customer service. ''We got feedback that customers wanted to know more about McDonald's employees,'' says Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman.

I gotta tell you, I don't think I ever, in my life, wanted to know more about the guy/girl/whatever who was serving up my McNuggets. Call me crazy; you won't be the first.

Update: Upon reflection, I have to retract that last statement about never wanting to know more about any particular McDonald's employee. Back when I was 12 or 13, and the adolescent horomones started kicking in, I vividly recall a girl who worked at the local McD's. She was something else: Shoulder-length dark brown hair, big bright brown eyes, great smile. What really made her memorable to me was the shade of lipstick she always wore: A dark purple-plum color, the likes of which I had never seen before or even suspected had existed (I was a boy; to the extent that I thought about lipstick at all, to that point I guess I had just assumed that all lipstick was some shade of red). It probably corresponds to perennial plum today (isn't the Internet amazing?).

Of course, the extent of my relationship with this girl was ordering a couple of hamburgers and fries from her once a week. She had to be at least 16 or 17 at the time, an unfathomable age gap. And come to think of it, I bet I never saw her more than 5 or 6 times, total. I doubt I even knew her name. Yet nearly 20 years later, the memory of her is burned into my brain. I had hundreds of other fantasy crushes over the remainder of my teenage years, but none of them stayed with me like this one. She must have been the first, and of course, you don't forget your first.