The problem with lazy irreverence


Sometimes, when I’m thinking of setting myself on fire because in the ICU burn unit I’d finally be out of reach of that Swiffer “Who’s That Lady?” commercial for a few weeks, I long for advertisers to take more risks with their broadcast media.  I dream of more irreverent, non-sequitur-laden spots like this:

(I loved this spot when it came out in the early 1990s, and I’m pretty sure it’s still my all-time favourite tv commercial.)

So you’d think I’d have appreciated Kmart’s recent viral sensation, ‘Ship My Pants’:


Sure, it was a risky move for a big, family-oriented, mainstream American brand to make – you won’t be seeing JC Penney or Walmart creating a whole campaign around a play on the word ‘shit’ any time soon.  

The problem is that it’s a whole campaign around a play on the word ‘shit’.  It’s a one-note joke.  It’s not particularly creative, it’s not kooky or irreverent, and it makes people think of poop when they think of your brand.  It’s only marginally amusing because no one can believe that K-mart is referencing shit in a commercial.  If this kind of pun was used by, say, a clothing brand targeting the urban 18-24 crowd, the 18-24s would all think it was lame and trying too hard.

However, the biggest problem with this kind of lazy thinking (there’s a reason why Samuel Johnson said that puns were the lowest form of humour) is that it leads to stuff like this:

All the ick factor of the original, plus bonus racism!

Oh sure, this wasn’t done by Kmart – it’s a parody by some comedy outfit called Gunfordemay – but if you look at the comments on YouTube (the video has now been posted to several accounts), you’ll see that more than half the viewers don’t realize it’s a parody. The original ‘Ship my Pants’ spot was so preposterous that they now think that a spot which plays on the N word is within the realm of possibility for Kmart.  

If you thought scatological humour was risky for your brand equity, just think what racism will do for it!

(Interestingly, if the aforementioned clothing brand was targeting urban 18-24s who over-index for thinking that Drake is a great artist, this N-word-referencing spot might be just the ticket. But that’s beside the point.)

Now, we all know what happened here.  Kmart’s sales are tanking, so a bunch of suits sat around a boardroom table saying things like “Guys!  If we’re going to turn this around, we have to start thinking outside the box!” and “Let’s really get crazy with this!  Now that we’ve got Nicki Minaj, we can really go nuts!  Maybe we can use glitter!”

Except that people who use terms like “think outside the box” in boardrooms are the kind of people for whom slim-fit khaki pants represent a bold fashion statement, so they end up confusing ‘toilet humour’ with ‘creativity’ – and thus Ship My Pants was born.  Their ad agency is DraftFCB, which isn’t necessarily the most avant-garde creative agency in the world, but which should have been able to do better.  I’m 99% certain that there were any number of better, more creative ideas which got left on the cutting room floor because the suits didn’t ‘get’ them or thought they were too ‘out there’.

“But Sarah,” you may say, “the Ship My Pants spot got 18 million views and lots of PR coverage.  Doesn’t that make it successful?”

Well, it’s possible that it reminded people that Kmart exists, and perhaps that’s what Kmart really needs right now, as it loses ground to other discount department retailers.  But reminding people of your brand while simultaneously associating it with shit, then spending a week assuring everyone you didn’t have anything to do with the N-word spot, ultimately puts you farther behind.

Maybe we really are running out of music



Like everyone else who’s heard the various commercials it’s in, I like that Icona Pop song, “I Love It”:

But I’m starting to agree with Chris Stark that we’re running out of music, because Transvision Vamp did pretty much the same song 25 years ago:

Though Icona Pop has better wardrobe.