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An Open Letter to TV Commercial Writers

To the writers of today’s TV commercials:

First of all, I thought we were friends. I thought that if we treated each other with the same level of respect, then I wouldn’t see some of the mind-numbing poop that keeps my hand firmly wrapped around the remote. We had a good run with non sequitur (such as this), and I was fine with ads that were less captivating than watching grass grow (such as this). However, you have let me down to a new low.

Let’s start with that Dannon ad, the one with “the Activia lady”. I understand Jamie Lee Curtis needs the work, but isn’t there a better environment for this veteran actress – this icon of American cinema – than as a sampler in a grocery store? For Christ’s sake, she was in “Trading Places”!  Would you cast Eddie Murphy as a Wal-Mart greeter?

Moving on, Jamie Lee getting sassy and making an announcement over the PA system was enough to make me gouge my eyes out with a shrimp fork. The content is too flimsy, and the context is too grim, leaving me with one burning image in my mind: Jamie Lee Curtis dropping a deuce. I am now in no mood to even consider eating yogurt.

Another ad that just shouldn’t be is the latest Speed Stick commercial. It starts with an immediately off-putting question: “What’s your pit type?”.

Now I must preface this by saying that there are certain health conditions that should not be approached via TV commercial. I would rather be pleasantly surprised with certain strides in hygiene technology. Is the middle of an episode of “Heroes” a good time to inform me of my choices for handling vaginal burning and odor? Exactly. Now back to the Speed Stick commercial.

Once asked about my “pit type”, I’m braced for what uncomfortable subject matter ensues.

“Sweaty? Hairy? Sensitive?”

What? Did you really just ask me that? I don’t think I ever cared what differentiates the needs of a sweaty armpit versus a hairy one. That commercial didn’t spark an interest either. I felt like my television presented me with a subject I wasn’t prepared to tackle at the moment, kind of like when your six year-old asks you what a douche is for.

Of course this wouldn’t be complete with what is, by far, one of the worst advertising campaigns ever: the Geico cavemen. This campaign should’ve ended about 30 seconds before it started, and the creative geniuses that sparked it should’ve had their right to use English revoked. But no, I should be led to believe that cavemen walk among us, and pity that their intellect is insulted by cheap advertising. I never felt sorry for them, probably because I’m too preoccupied with having my intellect insulted by cheap advertising.

In conclusion, if nothing can be taken from this post, please consider this: we thirst for wit; we are starved of clever humor. Take note of the catchy quips of the not-so-legendary Vince Offer (“stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life”). Do you part to boost the economy (and your profession), and make me want to buy something!

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • Denise says:

    Great article Patrick! Made me LOL while simultaneously grossing me out. You forgot to mention the ad that makes every parent of young children cringe, especially since these ads are on every 5 minutes: Viagra and Cialis!

  • Patrick, This piece got be thinking… what is an explanation behind the current state of creative results of advertising? Lack of training? Brand manager hubris? Creative Director-Hollywood-Mogul-in-Training?, Audience not getting what we grumpy older folk thinks is cool?

    Another question: Why does this work? I’ve seen our industry give the Geico campaign plenty of praise from awards to making “Caveman” into a cultural phenom. There are many stories I’m familiar with where an agency executive likes or dislikes an ad and debates a younger staff who thinks the opposite. Is today’s ad linked to creative trying to “raise above the clutter?” Outrageeousness over Well Crafted….

    Langston Richardson, VP Digital Brand Strategists, Creative
    LazBro, Inc.
    Twitter: @MATSNL65 @lazbro

  • Carrie says:

    Bravo, Patrick! After needing a good 5 minutes to pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard, I just want to remind you not to forget the onslaught of late night Extenze and Postivac ads that we female insomniacs are subjected to.

    After hours of alternating these ads, I would welcome an Activia Lady!

  • Sherrie says:

    Great article Patrick, but you did prove the point these ads are effective! The simple fact that people are talking about them, gets the word out and better yet their goal is to get you to remember the ad and the name of the product, which has worked.

    Humor is short lived in advertising and I agree that the cavemen are way over rated. Remember last fall NBC (I believe) tried to make a t.v. show about the Caveman, because they became so popular. Although, I do agree that having Jamie Lee Curtis as a spoke person is a little strange!

  • Yeph TV ads are dying and this time not because of a more attractive alternative or the reason ad agencies love to argue with “The diversity of advertising channels” – TV ads are dying because the majority of viewers not only can’t stand them but actually are unable to even absorb them. Not “absorb them”? An average American is bombarded with about 4,000 brand messages a day – 120,000 each month – 1.4 Million a year.
    Keep dreaming that advertising is still effective.


  • Kelly Brown says:

    The article is ver good. Write please more

  • Mary Castello says:

    And people wonder why I quit watching any network tv that has commercials, choosing instead to only watch dvd’s which I know don’t contain commercials (or if they do, I can scan through them). Some time ago, I committed myself to consciously NOT purchasing any product I see advertised in such insulting manners as you describe above. I’m sure the advertising industry will not be injured by one person boycotting their insulting offers, but in good conscious I cannot give them my “hard earned” and encourage their behavior.

    I know you don’t remember, but when you were in diapers, the big promise behind the push for cable tv in the ’70’s was commercial-free programming. I think that went out with the Ford Pinto.

    By the way, PLK, good job.

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