Unfunny TV Commercials: Sonic, DriveTime, and the PA Lottery

You would think an expensive TV commercial would tell you about a company’s products, why you need them, why you should choose those over the competitor’s. You would think the ad writers would lie awake nights trying to get this right. But no.


So often, they think they need to entertain us with comedy to hold our attention. This is true, but the keyword is “comedy.” My current peeve is the Sonic commercial (a fast-food drive-in chain that is not in my neighborhood) that shows two guys sitting in the front seat of a car parked at one of the Sonic establishments. The one in the driver’s seat is the straight man. The other guy tries hard, but is not funny. Maybe mentally challenged, but not funny. We can readily understand why he has no woman in his life and lives on fast food.  He is also the writer, so he dissevers double blame. Neither one is a role model as a customer we would want to copy.

The company does change the commercial frequently, which is a big plus. Still, a commercial that is supposed to be funny, but is not, quickly becomes irritating. Sonic commercials are irritating. If I saw a Sonic drive-in, I would drive right past, afraid I would meet those two guys in the parking lot.


Running a close second in irritation are the DriveTime commercials, showing two women, one black, one white, in some sort of electronic van that can detect when a car customer is given a bait-and-switch car estimate over the phone. Their company never does this, and they drive the customer to their lot to get a real deal (not necessarily a good deal). The humor comes from their spastic antics in the van that makes you wonder who would ever get in with them. They must drink way too much coffee.

I admit caught my attention the first time I saw it, but the same commercials air over and over, and the jokes, if any, have long passed  their sell-by date.  I blame the sponsor for these.

You can see the DriveTime commercial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1wB_xsSm-Q/  YouTube makes you watch another commercial to see this one, but you can quickly opt out of theirs.

Pennsylvania Lottery

This is cute?

Then we have the obnoxious “Gus,” the newly created groundhog mascot of the Pennsylvania Lottery. He is meant to appear cute, but doesn’t come close. Cuteness is deceptively difficult to create. Even Walt Disney took time to evolve Mickey Mouse into an acceptably cute character. A mouse is not an inherently cute animal, and early versions of Mickey look too rat-like. A groundhog is not inherently cute, either. (Disney discovered cuteness comes from human baby characteristics: big eyes, bulbous forehead, fat cheeks, tiny nose and mouth, but not overdone or it will look alien.)

Gus is a visiting celebrity, highly honored by the other people in the ads. He does not seem to know them. He is among acquaintances, not friends. He makes very weak jokes and laughs alone at them, a low, mirthless laugh. But mainly, he pushes any new version of the lottery. No one blames him for all of the loosing tickets they bought. They are of mixed race and gender, but not Asian.  I guess Pennsylvania doesn’t have Asians. No Indians, no Native Americans, no Hispanics, either.  Just whites and blacks.

I know it must be hard to come up with an animal associated with Pennsylvania. But a groundhog is only associated with Punxsutawney (and now Bill Murray), not all of Pennsylvania. Having graduated from Penn State, I know a variety of Pennsylvanians. I would have picked a deer, a dead deer whose head is mounted on a wall. (The Penn State campus emptied out on the first day of deer season. That is a holy day in Pennsylvania, and many public schools close. Most of Pennsylvania is very different from Philadelphia.)

Although showing a deer, even as a mascot, even mounted on a wall, would have many Pennsylvanians reaching for their rifle.  “Oh boy! Venison for dinner, Honey!”

Trivia: “Punxsutawney” is an old tribal name meaning “land of the mosquitoes” (and you thought “Schuylkill” was hard to spell).

Maybe you have never seen these commercials.  I tend to watch daytime TV and shows that are watched by unemployed people with marginal credit and living with their parents.  You can get a clue of who the real you is by the commercials you see.



About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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