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Less Than Stellar

Advertisers love me because I know what’s true: commercials are the reason TV exists. I only pretend to understand the term “commercial interruption.” As so-called programming transitions into a commercial, I harumph along with my fellow TV watchers, but I don’t share their frustration. I feel relieved to finally get down to business.

Any commercial may grab my attention. I appreciate high-quality persuasion. A fine balance of pathos, logos, and ethos rocks my world in advertising just as it does in other forms. But I admit that I am drawn to a certain characteristic: less-than-stellar production values. When it’s clear that a company has set a limit on how far it will go to get me to buy a product, well, I probably won’t buy it, but I admire that kind of honesty.

Currently, I’m a little fascinated by the Snuggies Designer Series commercial. I find no false advertising in it. The advertiser unashamedly shows you how you can look wearing a backward bathrobe made of zebra- or leopard-print fleece. The disembodied voice says it “looks as good as it feels,” and I’m going to trust she’s telling me the truth.

If only I had some of the problems that Snuggie allegedly addresses, I might buy one, but I have no problem staying warm while lounging on my sofa, petting my dog, or any of the other issues mentioned. The free gift (a press-and-open booklight) does not sweeten the deal. Somehow I am able to appreciate yet resist the offer.

It’s amazing how much this kind of commercial has not changed over the years. Within a minute or two, you are presented with images of people (actors) happy because of the product, and you learn that you can get the product and more (a free gift and/or double the offer) if you call immediately. I can’t remember ever calling, but I enjoy the game.

For a brief time many years ago, I wanted to become a star of less-than-stellar commercials, perhaps because I loved the irony of such a goal. I was signed up with a talent agent, who sent me out on go-sees for print, TV, and industrial jobs. I quickly learned most talent, including me, didn’t have the look to do fashion modeling. But there was decent money to be made playing common people. I rose to the challenge to be common and landed a commercial for a product called the Stretch-Out Strap. The strap was designed with loops that help the customer do various stretching exercises.

The director guided me and a young woman through various scenarios in which the product made our workouts easier. I remember smiling a lot, but I had to be prompted. I understood that the product was useful (and I’m impressed to see that it’s still being sold), but I did not have a gift for communicating unfiltered glee about poking my foot through a loop.

Of course, performing in a commercial is not about the experience itself. Having to perform under time constraints in a canned setting does not call for one to “just act natural.” If an actor can pull that off, great. What you need to do is communicate what is emotionally possible by using the product (in this case: relief, satisfaction, etc.). Looking a little deranged is even preferable to my typically pensive, frustrated countenance. Despite my performance anxiety, the director didn’t seem bothered by me at all, really, and was able to coach an adequate performance from me. And I got my $25 for the job.

Shortly after that, I went on a go-see for a print ad for a major retailer. It was supposed to be big. The job paid $75/hour and was supposed to run nationwide, so there was a possibility to earn a lot from residuals. As it turned out, I got the job, and everything I’d been told was true. The image that was distributed to millions of homes focused on the clerk’s face. Since I played a customer, the viewer got a 3/4 shot of the back of my head. There were no residuals, and my work on the ad took a grand total of 45 minutes of my time.

No fame. No fortune. Beyond that, no cult status in the less-than-stellar market. And no lounging around in my leopard-print Snuggie dreaming of what could’ve been.

But do I smile when a disembodied voice demands, “But wait; there’s more!” Daaaaaamn right.

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