Thursday, February 15, 2024

The dumbest Super Bowl commercial ever

There were lots (and lots and lots) of commercials during Sunday’s Bowl game. Many, if not most, missed the mark completely. The reason? The ad agency folks who created them and the clients who approved them neglected to explain the features and benefits — the reasons  viewers should buy whatever product or service they were promoting. Many featured celebrities who were paid handsomely to promote themselves, because they sure weren't saying or demonstrating anything about the products they were supposed to be pushing. Disagree? OK then, take this test. What product or service was Kris Jenner promoting? Laura Dern? Dan Levy? Tina Fey? Chris Pratt? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Gimme the name of the brand, not the genre. See what I mean? 

But the worst commercial of all didn’t feature celebrities. It featured the second unhappiest family in America (after the Bidens). 

A quick recap: A young figure skater is performing in a competition. Camera cuts to her dad in the audience as his daughter finishes to wild applause. The seat next to him is empty. For a split second, he smiles, pleased his daughter did well, but then glances at the vacant seat beside him, loses his smile, and becomes instantly sad as a wrist-slashingly depressing singer starts intoning a song that reminded me of the opening scene in Dr. Zhivago where young Yuri follows his mother’s casket to her grave. The singer continues her dirge until the commercial ends. 

The skater who, for a second, had flashed a triumphant smile, is now looking as sad as her dad — she obviously heard the music. Cut to a blue KIA EV9 as dad drives his daughter through the snow along a twisting mountain road. He uses the car’s navigation system to map out his route and arrives at a home which, conveniently, has a frozen pond in the yard. 

Cut to an old man — presumably the girl’s grandfather — inside the house, in a wheelchair. Cut back outside to the girl’s dad. He is stringing carnival lights above the pond, which he plugs into a generator that, in turn, he plugs into his electric car. Someone wheels the old man to the window as the lights come on above the pond, revealing the girl re-creating her skate show. The old man’s tears up, puts his hand on his heart and writes “10” (e.g. the score an Olympic judge would give for a perfect performance) in the frost on the window. I assume he wrote 10 to indicate his approval but perhaps he wrote it to let his son and granddaughter know that’s how many days he has left to live since they obviously don’t visit often — otherwise they wouldn’t have had to use the navigation system to find him.

Cut to, and hold on, the car as announcer intones, “Kia. Movement that Inspires.”  

I’ve had bowel movements that inspired me more. 

There are so many things wrong with this commercial I hardly know where to begin.

For starters, why did Kia choose a sad situation — a seriously ill elderly man unable to leave his house? Why didn’t the creators have the girl perform on a frozen pond outside a hospital where, from a window, her mother, holding the baby to which she just gave birth, watches her daughter do triple axels and spins? That would have been a happy occasion. Don’t you want products that make you feel happy? Of course you do. Everyone does.

Another observation: This is 2024. Everyone has a smart phone. So why didn’t the girl’s dad simply take a video of her performance with his phone and share it with the old man?

Why is the music track that plays under the commercial as depressing as “The Funeral March of a Marionette?” Shouldn’t a commercial for a trendy product be lively and/or happy to communicate how using it makes one feel? 

Why didn’t the girl's dad, when he installed the lights above the frozen pond, simply get an extension cord and plug them into an outdoor socket? Wouldn’t that have been cheaper, faster and easier than buying a $42,000+ electricity-generating car? 

Come to think of it, are there any benefits of owning a Kia EV9 other than being able to use it to generate electricity?  Does the car reduce CO2 emissions?  If so, that could have been mentioned to appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers. Does it help owners save money on costly gas? That benefit would have appealed to budget-conscious viewers. Is it fun to drive? Does it have unique safety features in snowy driving conditions? How does it compare to other cars in its price class? Does it convert, at the touch of a button, into an airplane? Who the hell would know from this commercial? 

Certainly not viewers, though it’s a safe bet both the agency and client got VIP tickets to the Super Bowl from CBS which charged something like $14 million to air the spot.

What’s the next Kia EV9 commercial gonna show? The dad and daughter in their KIA following a hearse carrying the old man’s body to the cemetery? 

Sure, why not?

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Death of Capt. Waskow

Ernie Pyle

I just finished reading “The Soldier’s Truth” by David Chrisinger. It is the biography of Ernie Pyle, the journalist known for his reporting from the European and Pacific theaters during WWII. Pyle’s dispatches from the front lines about ordinary soldiers were printed in hundreds of newspapers back home and eagerly devoured by millions of readers. Pyle was killed during the Battle of Okinawa in April,1945.

Pyle filed “The Death of Captain Waskow” from Italy in early 1944. I read it for the first time yesterday while using a treadmill at the gym. At its conclusion, I had to climb off the treadmill and sit down. My head was spinning not only from the story, but from the beauty, truth, power and simplicity of Pyle’s writing.

Every journalism student should be required to memorize it,  It should be read aloud from the Capitol steps every Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. It should be on the syllabus of every American history class. All of us should read it and re-read it often, to remind ourselves why, whatever our differences and there are many, we can be proud of our country and, especially, how much we owe to those who fought and sometimes died for it.

The Death of Captain Waskow

AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 – In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.

"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.

"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He’d go to bat for us every time."

"I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.

The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.

I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I’m sorry, old man."

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:

"I sure am sorry, sir."

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.