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This Week in Confusing Commercials

Television campaigns by Blackberry, Windows, Edge and Dairy Queen that leave us asking whaaaaaaat???

By / Posted on 13 May 2011

Blackberry PlaybookIn case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, tablets are the new computers. Sure, people still use laptops and desktop computers, but everyone wants an iPad or an Android-powered Xoom or Galaxy S. They’re the step between smartphone and full-on computer that allows the user to be productive and connected while mobile without being tethered to either a chair or a handset phone. While Apple and Google have been duking it out in the tablet market for a few months now, Blackberry is entering the ring with their Playbook. Blackberry beat both Apple and Google to the smartphone field by several years, but now they’re left playing catch-up.

The technology on hand in the Blackberry Playbook is undeniably cool and definitely interesting (the entire interface is one big Adobe AIR application, it renders web content faster and with greater fidelity then the current iPad). The general public consumer is not a huge nerd, though, so those things don’t really matter. To them, Blackberry is still a strictly-business brand. Blackberry remains the smartphone of choice for the business-professional-on-the-go, moreso than either the iPhone or the myriad of Android phones out there. The commercial, though, focuses away from business applications to show the more multimedia-heavy/casual/recreational uses of such devices like watching videos, browsing the web and flipping through e-books with what appear to be embedded video content (other spots in the campaign show games).

By far, the most distracting element is the soundtrack of the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket.” Having your product announce “I’m special!” is unflattering and cocky by anyone’s standards, and while the Playbook is noticeably smaller than other tablets and therefore pocketable, I’m not sure comparing your hot new high-fashion personal computer to brass is a good idea. Also, while this line of the chorus isn’t used in the spot, I can never hear “Brass in Pocket” without wondering what was so damn special about her sidestep. She mentions using her sidestep as though it were some secret weapon. What is this powerful step of hers?

Of course, the tablet market isn’t the only arena for computer wars. Windows has been struggling for years to come up with retaliation for Apple’s hilarious and head-turning “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ad campaign starring Justin Long and John Hodgman as personifications of two distinct operating systems. Windows have been refining their responsive “I’m a PC” campaign for years, first by having real people go computer shopping and realize that Macs were more expensive, then by showing off that Windows 7 wasn’t half as broken and Windows Vista.

In a new campaign that almost admits to giving up, the current “I’m a PC” ad features real people who don’t think their existing computers need an upgrade finding their homes transformed into pop-up PC stores. We’ve gone from “I’m a PC and I’m a cheap date,” to “I’m a PC and now I do all the things you thought computers were supposed to do years ago,” and now to “I’m a PC and I’m nicer than your old PC that you think is fine but you’re just kidding yourself so buy me anyway.”

*sigh*

Of course, Apple aren’t the only company worth copying. Old Spice has been very successful with their revamped public image of the past few years with their eccentric take on the man’s man, first played by Bruce Campbell and then with meteoric popularity by Isaiah Mustafa, now known primarily as “the Old Spice guy.” The spots became a pop culture phenomenon, so a certain amount of imitation was to be expected.

That Edge, another men’s grooming brand, would imitate the campaign is simultaneously surprising and disappointing. It’s just confusing the brands. It’s like if Burger King started using a clown with an afro wig to counter McDonald’s, or if Cheez Doodles had a suave cheese-loving lioness in opposition of Cheetos. You need to differentiate your brand from it’s competition in order to stand out.

At least Dairy Queen is operating in the fast food market rather than men’s grooming. Of course, it doesn’t help that this spot prominently features old-timey shaving:

Though it does still feel like DQ is trying to tell me their milkshakes are the manliest milkshakes this side of Mustafa.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.