The 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud showcased 3 highly influential guitar players of the modern-rock era: Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge. It’s a brilliant film. You really should watch it if you haven’t yet.
One glaring moment was when The Edge recounted the time he watched This Is Spinal Tap. He said, “Spinal Tap….That's a movie that I watched. I didn't laugh, I wept.”
Those weren’t “I laughed so hard I cried” tears. Those were tears of shame. Not because The Edge had himself been guilty of the same big-haired, cheese-rock, melodramatic antics that Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls got up to. It was because the parody was so spot on that it was hard not to take personally.
And that’s how I felt when I watched this brand‑new Skittles commercial from Canada.
DTC TV spots are certainly not new fodder for parody. Saturday Night Live has been taking jabs at the category for ages. But having the likes of SNL poke fun at DTC was a little like an outsider looking in and laughing at us. It’s a whole different ball of wax to have our marketing brethren do so. That’s an inside job, a more personal jab. (And it seems to be a common trend—here’s another pharma spoof for Stoogesta, courtesy of the upcoming Three Stooges movie.)
Just as The Edge was chagrined by the over-the-top parody of rock‘n’roll in Spinal Tap, I was gutted when I saw that Skittles commercial. It cut a bit too close to home. Look at every cut in that spot—you’ve seen them all before. Every smile, promise, motion, on-screen effect—all of it. You’ve been seeing them for close to 20 years now.
So how did we get here? Have we squandered the last 15 years creating a monolithic category of pharmaceutical advertising that can be summarily goofed on in 60 seconds by a candy company? You know the answer to that question: yes.
I have worked in DTC marketing for almost 10 years now. And I want to continue to do so for the foreseeable future (at least as long as the FDA allows us to communicate directly to consumers to keep them better informed). But I also want to stay in DTC because I never want to make a “typical DTC commercial.”
Take another look at that Skittles ad. Soak in the horror of such creative mediocrity. Do our consumers really want to see creative like that? As marketers, are we truly satisfied that that sort of work is what we’re churning out day after day, month after month, year after year? Watch that spot again and let it drive you to create something better, more meaningful, that matters. We CAN do better. We CAN create fascinating imagery and tell stories that smash the norms of DTC advertising. We CAN create meaningful messages that do more than serve as fair balance wallpaper in a commercial pod.
We continually struggle to get standout creative to market. We don’t always succeed but that doesn’t mean we or anyone else should stop trying.
Let’s never give anyone reason to rip on our creative again. Do it first and foremost for the consumer. They deserve better. Then let’s do it for ourselves. Because we’re better than that.