That anime cartoon I was watching turned out to be an ad for car insurance
May 1, 2007
I try to avoid television. Thankfully, the advent of DVDs with entire series of t.v. shows has allowed me to stay reasonably au courante without having to drown in the flood of commercials between and within shows. If commercials attempted to be witty, as they did in the early to mid-nineties, perhaps they’d be bearable. But the quick camera cuts, irritating (and loud) musical hooks, and reality-t.v. plot devices crammed into recent commercials leave me as nauseous as sailing on a schooner without fore- or aft-masts. I’d avoid such terrors completely if I didn’t occasionally watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report when they come on, as both lose something when viewed on iTunes (plus, that costs extra). Having steeled myself for an onslaught of crap commercials, I was amazed to see a fairly well-drawn anime cartoon switched on when Jon Stewart disappeared for a commercial break. Yet, I was also uneasy when the anime-ercial concluded. Was this some hideous new evolution of the commercial, which will slowly mimic television shows until we can’t tell the difference? Perhaps some web-sleuthing will save the day.
Integrating the content of broadcast media with corporate sponsorship is nothing new. As the name “soap opera” implies, those lurid, multi-camera melodramas you can see during the daytime were once sponsored in their entirety by different brands of soap. Yet, although the advertising was integrated into the running-time of the show, these were demarcated moments, apart from the drama itself. Although the shows’ actors read through the promotional slogans, they typically made the endorsements themselves, and sometimes changed the inflection of their voices to better establish the break from character. Nowadays, product placements are returning, but without clear boundaries. Of course, this is not to say that they are subtle. For example, an exchange on the truly execrable show “Alias” went as follows: “Oh no! They’re getting away!” “Quick, get in the Ford F-150!”
A less disingenuous trend has been when advertisers create new content for viewers. The gradual proliferation of broadband internet has made it possible for advertisers to make this available for people to actually elect to watch, and the results have been pretty good. A few years ago, the short-lived BMW films captivated a considerable audience of fan-boys. Similarly, the Superman-Seinfeld features for American Express (which shall always be held dear to our hearts here at the Salad) demonstrated that such content could both be funny and extend beyond the few minutes of a YouTube clip.
Yet, since I hadn’t seen the clip in question from a website, but from live t.v., was the anime-ercial an anime or a commercial? It had a fair number of anime-elements, such as explosions, humanoid robots, seizure-inducing flashing lights, and martial-arts-esque action. However, closer analysis reveals that it lacks a number of essential anime characteristics. There were no fey villains, no animal companions, no evidence that the key frames were tweened by underpaid Korean workers, no fatherly figure with a moustache, no oblique references to Jewish mysticism, and no giant beads of sweat on the characters foreheads. Also, I think that the size of the characters’ eyes would have meant that they would have been mole people in a typical anime. With a little googling thrown into the mix, it becomes clear that this was in fact an advertisement after all, for something called “e-surance.” This is puzzling due to the fact that no one seems to be driving a car during the ad. If e-surance coverage extends to apache helicopters, the advertisement might have hit its target demographic, after all.
Although the relation between commercials and television shows might be resuming what was once a more direct relationship, and the relative quality of commercials is increasing, advertising still has a ways to go before it replaces broadcast t.v. Yet, if this little adventure has taught us anything, it’s that the gradual creep of adver-tainment might not be such a bad thing. As the quality of commercials gets better, the quality of television shows is sinking faster than an anchor after a squall. Just as the reality t.v. binge of recent years seemed to be receding, the rash of celebrity trash t.v. has guaranteed that twenty-four hour coverage of Paris Hilton will dwarf anything you do in life, up to and including curing cancer. Thus, revisiting the e-surance ad, thanks to YouTube, it comes as little surprise that little Miss Erin Esurance (yes, that’s her name) is actually a lot more entertaining than her cable-t.v. doppelganger, Kim Possible. Given the fact that none of the Saladeers has had a misadventure featuring whoever does the voice for Miss Esurance, and that Kim Possible has never saved me money on my car insurance, it might be time to give up television altogether… provided that they keep putting commercials up on the web.