No trust, all weird: Advertising in 2014

Skittles doesn’t want you to buy Skittles. At least that’s what I’ve assumed since 2007. See. that’s when Skittles, and by extension their owners Mars, Inc, decided that instead of telling people their candy tasted good or was easy to find they were going to tell people that Skittles were less a candy and more an elusive, ephemeral product capable of great and terrible things to those that dared to purchase.

You know, like all the other candies on the shelf.

It was in 2007 that Skittles launched a commercial called “The Skittles Touch.”

Yes, the commercial had a name.

In it a desperate and sad man, sitting alone at a desk, is approached by gawking co-worker with a non-employee friend of hers; she is eager to share her delight in his condition with her non-employee friend in tow.

She asks the man to demonstrate how everything he touches turns into Skittles. The man taps a stapler with his finger and it transformers into a cascade of Skittles.

The co-worker and her friend are elated at this “awesome” ability. The sad man then explains how terrible his life is, how he cannot hold his own child and how he inadvertently killed a man on the bus by shaking his hand. The coworker and her friend are compassionless.

Then they tell you to buy some Skittles.

What I had assumed could only be Werner Herzog’s first foray into commercial advertising was actually just the start of a new campaign by Skittles that eschewed the traditional approach to advertising (making your product look appealing) and instead embraced a new idea of making your product look horrifying.

Skittles wasn’t even the first company to take this new, antithetical approach to advertising.

Is there anything remotely appealing to the pale, plastic face of the Burger King staring at you while you sleep? How about when you bolt awake, only to find him already in bed with you, offering little in way of an explanation beyond handing you a warm breakfast sandwich?

No. No there is not.

And yet Burger King kept these commercials around until 2013 when it was phased out due to “scaring away women and children from the chain,” and their marketing decided to take a more “food centric approach.”

How bad must it have been for Burger King to decide that the best way to get people into their restaurants was to focus on the food?

So Burger King took it a little too far with their Creeper King, but Skittles is still going strong with their “Skittles aren’t a candy they are a curse” campaigns.

And Skittles isn’t alone. TV channels, car insurance, alcohol, actual cars, clothes; pretty much any popular consumer product with a lot of competition and little concern for competence.

Which is why I?think these kind of ads are perfect for politics.

Think about it: Nobody wants to see an ad from Pfizer or Bayer with a lot of avant garde imagery diametrically opposed to consumer satisfaction; we need to trust companies that make medicine.

But who trusts politicians?

According to the latest AP-GfK poll, only 0.0 percent of people trust Congress, the Senate, the President or anybody seen wearing a flag-pin on their lapel.

So let’s say you’re a campaign manager here in Iowa. You’ve got a few more months until November, the ad money is rolling in nice and steady but you’ve been running the same old plays about how the other candidate doesn’t “share OUR values” or “doesn’t support the troops” and it hasn’t earned you a single vote you wouldn’t have received anyway.

So you’ve got independent voters in the booth, ready to vote. They do not and most likely will never trust you, so how do you get them to remember your guy or gal’s name over the other?

Two words: Get. Weird.

Let’s say you’re Joni Ernst. Instead of another round of leather jackets and chambray shirts and talking saying the word “values” while you tip your head to the side how about …

Joni Ernst walks out of the Mississippi River, dripping wet wearing fatigues. She walks up the beach, onto a highway, comes face to face with a kangaroo and silently shakes his hand. Suddenly a small man steps between them and says “you ladies can’t be here!” Ernst delivers a punishing backhand to the little man and he rolls down towards the river. The kangaroo then knocks the camera on its side, turns to look at Ernst, and they both walk into a nearby cornfield, which then explodes in fire.

Or if you’re Bruce Braley …

A featureless white room, lit with harsh fluorescent lights and full of monkeys. In slow motion we see a wooden replica of a Spanish galleon being lowered, by chain, into the pool of monkeys. Epic music swells. As the monkeys reach for the galleon the lights start to flicker, and in the brief spurts of darkness the figure of man is seen walking through the monkeys towards the ship. The lights flicker back on and the ship lies on the floor, chain broken, surrounded by surprised monkeys. The camera pans up, through the ceiling, to the roof of the building, where Braley is standing, screaming at the night sky as blue light pours from his mouth and eyes.

Tell me THAT wouldn’t sway an independent voter! Hey, if these tactics can get people to keep buying the fruit flavored sugar cement that is Skittles then it should work for just about anything.

Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or