Even if you haven't seen it, if you spend any time at all on the Web you have probably heard of the commerical for HeadOn, a headache relief product. The commercial itself is very simple. It features a model against a simple background applying Head On to her forhead and repeats the slogan "HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead" three times. The commercial has created considerable buzz in that many believe that it is the most annoying commercial currently on television. Personally, I don't find it that annoying, especially not compared to other commercials.
Indeed, when it comes to commercials for pain relievers, the ad for HeadOn is positively pleasant in my opinion. Historically, I rather suspect that the most annoying commericals of all time may well have been those promoting Anacin. Starting in the Fifties with commercials that portrayed headaches as sledgehammers attacking the brain, I swear that the Anacin commercials were designed to give viewers headaches. Not only were they often accompanied by annoying graphics (such as the tiny sledgehammers or, in other commercials, lightning bolts), but the loudest and most annoying sounds possible in a commercial. As a child I simply could not stand these ads. But even now I can't complain that they did not sell their products. Their commercials having induced headaches in viewers, a lot of people probably rushed out to buy Anacin for "fast relief."
Of course, when it comes to loud, annoying commercials, I suspect no one has mastered the form like the automotive industry. I am sure you have seen these various commercials over the years; they usually air during the local news. Most of the time the volume on these commercials is as loud as they can legally be. In fact, I swear that their volume is usually three to four times louder than the average television programme. I have never been able to watch one without turning down the sound on my TV set.
While the old Anacin ads and the average car commercials are annoying because of their volume, other commercials are simply annoying because they are either repetitive, they are aesthetically unpleasing (poor grammar, bad rhymes, et. al.), they are seen by viewers as just plain stupid, or all of the above. A case of a series of commercials that is most likely all of the above are the ads for Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Pads. First, the ads are saddled with what could be the worst advertising slogan of all time--"Are you gellin'?" I have to wonder if Dr. Scholls' advertising agency did not think they were creating a catchphrase that would spread like wildfire and that "gellin'" would become an established part of American slang. If they did think so, then they were seriously mistaken. Most people I know seem to think the use of the word "gellin'" in any context beyond "to become a gel (which is a semisolid body...)" is just plain stupid. Second, as if the catchphrase itself wasn't annoying enough, they have to rhyme it in every way possible ad nauseum: "Are you gellin'?" "Like a felon;" Are you gellin'" "Like Magellan..." In the end I don't so much want to buy Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Pads as slap the folks in the commercials upside the head...
Of course, Dr. Scholls isn't the only big advertiser who has been saddled with a bad catchphrase. I'm sure many of you remember Anheuser-Busch Budweiser's "Whassup" campaign from several years ago. The original commercial simply consisted of a bunch of guys talking on the phone and repeating "Whassup" over and over. I think what is even sadder is that, unlike the Dr. Scholls "Are you gellin'?" slogan, for a time "Whassup" actually entered Amercian slang of the time. It even became a bit of phenomenon on the Internet for awhile, with parodies appearing almost immediately. Why the "Whassup" commercials caught on I will never know, as I find them among the most annoying commercials of all time. Indeed, they grated on my nerves even more when it seemed as if every child in my life insisted on repeating "Whassup" over and over again.
I think annoying ad slogans can often be made worse by annoying music. A perfect example is the most recent Old Navy commercial. Running throughout the commercial is one of the worst rap songs I have ever heard (which is saying a lot considering how much I hate rap), repeating the line "We've gotta get our fash' on" (or variations thereof) over and over. Besides using a song that is just plain bad, the commercials are all the more annoying for the slogan "Get your fash' on." Now I have always enjoyed good puns myself, but "Get your fash' on" is not a good pun by any stretch of the imagination.
The sad thing is that the song in the old Navy commercial isn't even the worst piece of music in a commercial these days. That honour would go to that horrible "Woo-hoo" song in Vonage's commercials. The song is repetitve and shrill and simply downright unpleasant to me. In fact, I can't see how people can even think of calling the HeadOn commercial the most annoying commercial on television when those Vonage ads are so much annoying. Their commercials don't make me want to run out and subscribe to Vonage. They do make me want to mute the television everytime that they come on.
Of course, I do not think that there will be a time when there are not annoying commercials on television. The sad fact is that, as much we might hate them, irritating commercials can often accomplish their goals better than more pleasant ads. Prior to the notorious commercial for HeadOn, I seriously doubt that very many people had even heard of the product. I now rather suspect that the majority of Americans have. And at least some Americans probably will buy HeadOn when they need headache relief. In that respect, the ad for HeadOn has done its job in promoting its product. As long as annoying commercials succeed in creating product awareness, they will continue to be part of the television landscape.