Weeding Out

Advertisers are familiar with the power of animation, using characters that are usually interesting and successful. But two recent campaigns have broken some unwritten rules: the M&M ads and the Rou

Advertisers are familiar with the power of animation, using characters that are usually interesting and successful. But two recent campaigns have broken some unwritten rules: the M&M ads and the Round-Up ads with the talking weeds.

The highest calling and sole purpose of food is to be eaten. That's why it's so common to see food dancing and singing on television commercials. Suddenly the food wants our attention so we can help it fulfill its destiny. Ads with animated food appeal to our carnivorous nature. Subconsciously they leave us with a guilt-free, top-of-the-food-chain feeling.

In fact, we feel sorry for the food if we don't eat it. It's all part of the circle of life. However, the M&M spokescandies have stepped outside of this circle.

They don't want to be eaten. They resist. This puts the candy and the viewer in uncomfortable positions. The viewer is jolted from his television trance into realizing that some of the chocolate-coated peanuts he's munching on might not want to be eaten. The candy spokespersons now have no purpose in life, no meaning, except to promote the sale of their fellow M&Ms. Animated food isn't supposed to fight back.

Another rule: Viewers aren't supposed to actually see the lovable food characters being eaten. And while we never see the M&Ms being munched, we are taken right up to the moment. Which is just as bad, if not worse, because it leaves the conclusion up to our imagination. At best, the viewer is left with a vague feeling of disgust. At worst he pictures a screaming, struggling M&M being devoured. The hard candy shell becomes like the hard shell of an insect. Crunchy. The inside is chocolate guts, like a big chocolate-covered cicada, except the chocolate is on the inside, so it's like a big cicada-covered chocolate.

Some other rules are broken in commercials for Round-Up. In these, puppet weeds portray familiar stereotypes from film and television. One ad features gossipy weeds talking about Nick who was killed last week by Round-Up. There's the godfatherlike weed warning his nephew about "the spray." And then there are the cowboy weeds "Hank" and "The Kid." These ads would be great if they were selling weeds, because the dialogue and the puppets makes them so endearing. But they're not selling weeds. They're selling weed killer. This makes the ads — especially the cowboys — rather shocking.

If the weeds in my driveway were as interesting and lovable as the ones in the ads, I wouldn't kill them. I'd hang out with them. If I ran over them with my car or mowed their heads off, it would be, "Hey, I'm sorry 'bout that." They'd say, "That's O.K. You just helped us spread our seeds. It's like we just had sex." I'd say, "Ohhhh, that's nasty," and then we would all laugh. But instead of laughing, the ads make me as sad as a dead Muppet.

The hiking weeds are a great idea, but the Round-Up people should make them mean, so that by the end of the ad you want to see them die. For example, the weeds could talk to each other in sneaky, snakelike voices. "Hissssss, hissssss. Hey, Murray, do you want to kill some human babies tonight?" And the other weed would say, "Yeah, let's do it." Suddenly the spray nozzle of a Round-Up bottle would part the sky. The cursing and hissing of the evil weeds would turn into hacking and coughing as the poisonous contents of the bottle rain down on them like a sneeze of divine judgment. With their dying breath the weeds would defiantly cry out, "Got ... to ... kill ... the ... ba .... bies!" The ad would then cut to a picture of the bottle with the tagline "Save the Babies. Use Round-Up!"

Or better yet, use the Round-Up to kill the irritating M&Ms and save the weeds for Sesame Street, where they can teach kids how to say water in Spanish.

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