Thursday, August 09, 2007

The worst-ad-of-the-season contest begins

Warning: Unsettling material to follow.

Every NFL season brings its share of loathsome television commercials that run insipidly and incessantly throughout the season. Who can forget, for example, John Mellencamp's epic "This Is Our Country" sellout last year? That was the ad that equated driving a gas-guzzling, shoddily built Chevy truck with serving in the armed forces or defending the institution of marriage. Or the series of ads two years ago in which the New England Patriots "drafted" a Diet Pepsi machine? Those spots taught us that Rich Eisen and Suzy Kolber can be bought, and rather cheaply.

We're only two games into the 2007 NFL season -- and they're just preseason games, too -- and I think we already have this year's winner. I've only seen it twice, but I have no doubt that by the end of the season all of us will know every word of it. I'm talking, of course, about "Viva Viagra."

As the ad begins, six multicultural guys ranging in age from about late 30s to mid-50s are gathered in a saloon for a little jam session. The drummer counts off, and they begin telling us a story through the magic of song, to the tune of Viva Las Vegas. Their version is about a guy who has a lovely woman waiting for him back at the ranch, and he's eager to go home and drill her, but there's a problem: His penis is shriveled and lifeless, incapable of producing even the slightest erection.

One of the men lip-synchs: "At the end of the day, I'm not a guy who'll stray because she's my heart's desire" -- and also because his sexual organ hangs tiny, limp and soft between his thighs, making infidelity physically impossible. Another guy chimes in that he's "sick of the road" and also "can't wait to go home." His penis is also chronically flaccid, but he has a secret. He has medicine that can give him a boner. "Viva Viagra!" they all sing. Wide smiles break out all around as the men anticipate popping a pill and then popping a tent.

At this point, a cheery narrator lists all the ways that the boner pills might kill or cripple you. A graphic on the screen urges viewers to "See our ad in Golf magazine, which confirms that the target audience are the kind of men who spend a lot of time and money just trying to get it in the hole.

As the ad comes to a close, the group breaks up and exchanges high fives as the men hurry to their cars to race home to their women before the pills wear off and their penises are once again just drooping fingers of doughy flesh. The camera lingers on a dog with his warm, wet tongue hanging out, so maybe not all the guys went home, if you know what I mean.

Watch it if you must (if you can't see the player embedded below, watch it at YouTube):

I think the Burger King is going to have to slip Wendy a Roofie and then stick it to her via the drive-thru to come up with an ad more awful than this one. Ick.

There's a reason this ad is so offensive, and it's not because it's an ad for erection medicine. When Viagra first came on the market in 1998, its spokesman was Bob Dole -- World War II hero, distinguished United States senator, Republican nominee for president and, most important, really old guy with a pretty good sense of humor. Dole looked us straight in the eye and told us that we were going to talk about impotence. He even used the word "impotence" in explaining to us that from here forward we would use the euphemism "erectile dysfunction."

Having Dole as a pitchman set the tone: 1. ED is simply a medical problem, one that can brought on by age, obesity, hypertension, "even smoking"; it's nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. 2. Pfizer has a new medicine called Viagra that can treat ED. 3. Check with your doctor to see if it's right for you. 4. And: Fuck you very much, America; I hope Bill Clinton molests all of your daughters (admittedly, this was more of a subtext).

Since '98, however, at least two other ED treatments -- Levitra and Cialis -- have dropped onto the market (or, maybe, penetrated the market), so Viagra no longer has a monopoly on chemically induced Woodrow. Pfizer subsequently dropped the medical mumbo jumbo, told Dole to go screw himself (because now he can!), and began filling their ads with younger guys whose could conquer any woman they saw if they could just get their little soldier to stand at attention.

Since then, the ads for erectile dysfunction medicines have settled into a routine: Guys in their 30s and 40s have smiles on their faces and a bounce in their step, newly confident that when push comes to shove (and push and shove and push and shove), they'll be able to perform. There was the one where the horny guy pauses the game on his TiVo after his wife wiggles her ass at him. There was the one where the guy could get the ball through the hole in the tire every time. There was the one with Mike Ditka. And there was the one with baseball slugger Rafael Palmeiro, who later proved just how much he knew about making body parts bigger through chemistry. (Interestingly, no boner-pill maker chose to emphasize just how much their products had revolutionized the porn industry.)

"Viva Viagra" brings this to a whole new, distasteful level. The message was once that using Viagra to treat impotence was once nothing to be ashamed of; now it's that using Viagra to treat impotence is something to be proud of. The message was once that Viagra allowed you to perform with women; now it's that Viagra allows you to perform with other guys.

This is what's so offensive: Because there's no real difference between any of these medicines (and even if there were, they couldn't advertise it because these are prescription drugs), Pfizer has decided to market Viagra as the cool boner pill. You can't get it up without medical intervention? Hey, me neither! Awesome! Let's start a band! It's an attempt to turn erections into just another commodity, like gasoline or cola or bottled water. When the stuff you're selling is the same regardless of the box it's in, then you have to sell the box rather than the stuff inside. Viagra's six-man Limp Dick Combo and their appalling boner song aren't selling Viagra; they're selling the box.

I don't care if you can or can't get a boner when you need one. That's between you, your woman, and your doctor. KEEP IT between you, your woman, and your doctor. I'm begging you.


Rich Lanthier said...

Oh YUCK, that has got to go down in the annals (ANALS?) of the worst.... Good catch... I have not had the pleasure of seeing that live... AND remember, if you have an erection that last longer than FOUR hours...

PCS said...

They include that "warning" because they want you to say, "I can have an erection longer than FOUR hours? Where do I sign up?!" I mean, if I have an erection longer than four hours, I'm not calling my doctor; I'm calling everyone I know ...

Rich Lanthier said...

Umm, be sure to NOT call me PCS... I just saw the ad live... Even worse than watching it on youtube... THe warnings are getting more graphic... BE SURE TO ASK YOU DOCTOR IF YOU CAN HAVE sex... Wow: DOC! Can i have sex? I have had this viagra induced boner for 3 hours and 58 minutes....