Doink-O-Rama is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Ad Man X on finding just the right ding
For behind-the-scenes industry insight on the ads you’ve been forced to watch a hundred times, we visit once again with my friend Ad Man X.
Of course, "Ad Man X" is not what I call him in person. When I see him in real life, I say, “Nice to see you again, Phil Kensington, at 4739 N. Damen Ave., your place of residence here in Chicago.” In these pages, however, Ad Man X remains anonymous, using his pseudonym to avoid professional blowback for the piping-hot opinions he shares in these pages. And I think he’s right to be careful. It’s like I’m always telling him, “Phil, your Social Security number is 516-18-6712.”
Ad Man X has written and directed more than a few commercials in his time—commercials about many of the very same products that you and I unthinkingly consume every day! Cars? Sure, he’s advertised a few of those. Beer? You bet—this guy has advertised all manner of legal poisons. “Fast casual” restaurants? Um, I actually have to double-check if he's done any of those. The important thing to remember is, his mother’s maiden name is Crandall.
For this installment of the feature, I’ve asked Ad Man X to comment on an “organic mention” of Rocket Mortgage during Sunday Night Football, a pair of Uber Eats commercials featuring retired NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, and—of course—the latest star turn by Jake from State Farm.
Rocket Mortgage mention during Sunday Night Football
To kill time in the third quarter of the Bills-Chiefs game, Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michele Tafoya presents her latest quarterback word cloud, a cloud composed of words that teammates have used to describe their respective quarterbacks’ arms—but you already know what a quarterback word cloud is. The crucial moment comes after Tafoya notes that SNF analyst Cris Collinsworth has already used the word “rocket” a number of times on the broadcast that evening. Collinsworth chuckles and responds, “Yeah, but I was getting a mortgage.” He is referring to Rocket Mortgage, a well-known provider of financial instruments. At this juncture, announcer Al Michaels practically falls out of his chair as he exclaims that he was about to say the same goddamn thing! “Collinsworth, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” Michaels exults, if not in so many words.
“I hope they’re a sponsor,” Collinsworth adds with rue. He is aware that network executives, as a general rule, prefer not to give away free advertising during television’s highest-rated program, as it tends to irk the mega-corporations who have paid millions of dollars for the privilege.
Doink-O-Rama: I know you’ve had the experience of a big TV person mentioning one of the brands you work on. Tell me what that’s like from the creative side of things—for the people on the Rocket Mortgage account, for instance. I picture a big party.
Ad Man X: First off, the fact you referred to this as an “organic mention” in your email [that I sent to Ad Man X with links to the ads]—there’s another thing that is going to make people think you and I are the same person.
But whenever I see something like that—an organic mention—I feel bad thinking about all the bullshit that’s about to rain down on these people. As soon as the mention happens, there will be an explosion of texts going back and forth. And everyone will say, “We have to capitalize on this! What are we going to do?”
D-O-R: It’s never just, “Hey, that’s cool,” high-fives all around, and we all move on with our life?
AMX: Oh no. No, no. You have to capitalize on it. The mention will immediately set off a Sunday meeting that everyone has to attend so you can figure out how to capitalize on it. Eventually, the creatives will say, “We can do a tweet! We can respond to Al and Cris with a hilarious tweet.” There will be meetings about the tweet, different concepts for the tweet, edits of revisions of the tweet. Finally, at 9:30 p.m., they’re ready to send the tweet to legal. And legal comes right back and says, “You can’t do that! It’s an implied endorsement, we’ll get sued…” et cetera, et cetera. And the client will say, “You know what? The Al and Cris mention is publicity enough! Have a great night!”
D-O-R: As you know, Ad Man X, but as new readers might not know, I worked for The Daily Show for a while in the Jon Stewart years, and whenever Jon would mention something on the air, the next day we’d come into work and the office would be full of whatever he mentioned. If there was a joke with Dunkin’ Donuts in the punchline, you could be sure there’d be donuts for everyone the next morning. Mention Chuck Taylors, and there’s a dozen boxes of Converse in Jon’s size. Are Al and Cris going to get some thank-you baskets from Rocket Mortgage?
AMX: I’m sure they have some mousepads and T-shirts left over from the golf tournament that will be on Al and Cris’ desk soon.
D-O-R: And a rocket, I would hope.
AMX: And a rocket. And mortgages? Can you send a box of mortgages? I’m sure they’ll find a way.
D-O-R: Yeah, they once destroyed the financial system that way. “Here’s a box of mortgages!”
Uber Eats: “Undersharing,” “Oversharing”
We open on former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, seated by a pool, drinking from a pineapple. He starts to give us the details of the order he just placed using the Uber Eats internet application, but then he decides he won’t tell us anything. It’s a pivotal moment. Lynch has upended the very premise of these Uber Eats commercials in which celebrities gloat about the various meals that they can afford to have delivered to their homes. The scales fall from our eyes as, for the first time in our lives, we confront the possibility that we don’t need to know what famous people plan to put inside their mouths.
The disembodied hand of an Uber Eats driver drops a bag onto the table and immediately exits, as the driver is eager to go spend the $1.58 they will net for making this trip way the hell up to Lynch’s Malibu hideout with 10 dumplings and a fortune cookie.
In a companion piece to the “Undersharing” ad, Lynch has a change of heart. The spirit of revolution has left the air—now Lynch is downright eager to share his dinner order with us. He thinks it’s great to conform to the established format of the Uber Eats ads, it’s really great, you guys. It seems the Uber Eats bastards finally got to Lynch. Football fans across the nation fall to their knees and pound the dirt with their bare fists, hot tears of rage streaming down their cheeks: “Not Lynch, too! You monsters!” But the dream is over. It is our destiny to know what the celebrities will eat.
D-O-R: I come at this commercial from the perspective of someone who really dislikes previous Uber Eats celebrity ads. I find the format grating to begin with, but also I associate them with dystopia, with the pandemic. Because the first ones, I think, were the ones with Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart. They were so gray and bleak and socially distanced.
AMX: We’re in the middle of a pandemic—why are they in a cold, dark warehouse at all? It’s not the feeling I want when I’m cooped up watching football in the middle of awful pandemic times.
D-O-R: Exactly, it is dank.
AMX: And Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart—two of the most likable and charming guys. But let’s not mention the gigantic film franchises everyone knows them from, because we don’t have the rights to any of that. So we’ll just throw them in a dank room.
D-O-R: I do enjoy this Marshawn Lynch one, because it’s just him, also being charming. And there’s no fight. He’s sitting in the sun, and somebody places food next him. That’s it. Now, at 4:00 in the afternoon, when I’m logy from half a day of football, this is an extremely compelling message to me—food without getting up.
AMX: Yeah, no kidding! It’s like Uber Eats finally figured out—oh, we don’t need this complicated concept of dueling dinner orders, or whatever. We can just say, “Hey, stoners! Would you like someone to bring you food?”
I am a little disappointed that they pull that thing where Marshawn Lynch fakes us out by not doing what celebrities usually do in these ads! They’re already playing off the history of the Uber Eats commercials. “We’ll blow our audience’s minds…”
D-O-R: I actually appreciated the switch-up for the “Undersharing” one because, yeah, I don’t care what any of these celebrities are eating for dinner. Leave me alone! Then I saw there’s an “Oversharing” one too. That one, I like for Marshawn Lynch’s sly delivery of the phrase “pork in a dumpling.” He’s so perfectly on the edge. Is he saying it as four words—as food? Or is he saying it as three words, which—I don’t know exactly what “porkin’ a dumpling” would involve, but I can imagine, and I think Marshawn Lynch is happy I imagined it.
AMX: It’s great, and it reminds me that it can be so hard to make these celebrities and pro athletes do your bidding.
One of the things that inevitably happens when two advertising people are talking to each other for a while is, you ask, “What celebrities have you worked with?” And trade stories. One time, I had lunch with someone who had worked on Gatorade with Michael Jordan. He told me about this recording session where they were just trying to get the slogan, “Is it in you?” And Jordan delivered it like this: “Is it … in you?”
So the director says, “Okay, great! Great, Mike! And now, do you think you could do one like this”—and says it the right way. Apparently there’s audio of this recording session that goes on forever because Jordan keeps saying, “Is it”—really long pause—“in you?” And at a certain point he must have just been fucking with them. “Nope, I don’t have to say it that way, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
State Farm: “Game Show”
Very handsome insurance agent Jake the State Farm guy is a contestant on a game show about insurance. As you’d probably figure, he’s doing quite well. Along comes real-life game show host Aaron Rodgers to ask Jake the final question: something about insurance. Jake gets the question correct, but Rodgers calls him wrong out of spite, even though at this point, he doesn’t even remember why he’s supposed to be mad about insurance rates. Nobody remembers, including the writers of this commercial. After Jake answers his question, some non-Jake stuff happens I guess, I wasn’t really paying attention. But then comes a strong finish: Jake.
AMX: By the way, I just talked to someone the other day who worked with Jake the State Farm guy, and they said that in real life, he’s a really good guy.
D-O-R: Oh, thank God. I was really worried about the end of that sentence.
AMX: Yup. Total pro, great to work with.
D-O-R: When he says “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” I feel like I’m being wrapped in a warm blanket. Anyway, clearly this commercial was inspired by Aaron’s real-life stint as the host of Jeopardy!, right?
AMX: Yeah. There was a meeting, and a slide with a picture of Aaron Rodgers hosting Jeopardy!, and a bunch of text about “capitalizing on the culture.” “What if we had Aaron hosting a State Farm game show?” Of course, he ends up stuck in this business of, he says they’re wrong, but then they’re right, then they’re wrong…
D-O-R: It’s as confusing as ever, and that confusion is not helped by the fact that the “ding” for the correct answer—it’s a shitty ding. At first you can’t even tell if Jake from State Farm was right or wrong. How hard is it to source a quality ding? It’s not hard.
AMX: The people putting this together have thousands of dings!
D-O-R: Absolutely. You want a ding? I can get you a ding.
AMX: It’s just the kind of detail I can imagine a client fixating on. Like, they showed State Farm a cut of the commercial, and they heard back: “State Farm doesn’t like the ding.” And there will have to be a Zoom call about the ding, and a presentation prepared that shows the client the creative justification behind this particular ding.
D-O-R: You’re joking now, right? They don’t make all that hassle over something so minor.
AMX: No! I’m not joking at all. This happens all the time.
So the creatives will have to come up with this whole justification for why they chose this particular ding. “First of all, we wanted a ding that captured the fun and excitement of a game show. And at the same time, we also believe that this ding is a State Farm ding, one that embodies the values of State Farm”—that kind of stuff, honestly. They make the case for why this ding is the one true ding.
Then you hear back, “State Farm says: Change the ding.” And creative says, “All right then!”
From the mailbag: Fox’s touchdown animations
Doink-O-Rama correspondent Sean M. writes in to the mailbag with a sharp-eyed observation:
I was curious how you felt about Fox’s touchdown graphic, particularly the use of the scoring team’s city skyline as the visual’s backdrop. I find its appeal basically depends on how recognizable the skyline is, but my favorite so far is Washington’s. DC has no skyscrapers, so their skyline graphic is essentially just the Capitol building and the Washington Monument awkwardly jutting out from a sea of nondescript low-rises. I'm also excited to see what Green Bay's is going to look like. Fox has only broadcast one Packers game so far, and it was their disastrous Week 1 matchup against the Saints—Green Bay never scored a touchdown! The anticipation is killing me.
I hadn’t really noticed this before Sean called my attention to it, and the screenshot directly above might help explain why, as the skyline is hard to make out amid a hodgepodge of other visual elements: a drawing of the player who scored the touchdown, the name of the player, a giant 3-D rendering of the team logo, and the slowly exploding word “TOUCHDOWN.” Even as someone with a soft spot for Fox’s aesthetic excesses, I find this composition awfully busy. It’s like a version of the Frasier intro designed to infuriate Frasier himself.
So I don’t love these touchdown graphics, but now, like Sean, I am determined to “collect them all” by the end of the season. Since I’ve started looking, the most notable touchdown animation for me has been the Arizona Cardinals’ graphic, which, instead of a city skyline (the Cardinals play in Phoenix), draws the silhouette of iconic rock formations in Monument Valley. The illustration presents these natural beauties the way they were meant to be seen: as the hazy, bottom-most layer of an overworked After Effects project.
Your guaranteed-correct Week 6 picks, as computed by DORPFASTCALC
The football picks featured in Doink-O-Rama are guaranteed to be correct, as they are calculated by the Doink-O-Rama Pro Football Anticipation Satellite and Tip Calculator, or DORPFASTCALC. From its perch at the L2 LaGrange point in the vacuum of space, DORPFASTCALC observes the comings and goings of earthbound football mortals with serene omniscience. It’s like the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey, except that DORPFASTCALC’s serene omniscience can be used for gambling purposes.
In its Week 5 picks, true to its ironclad guarantee, DORPFASTCALC correctly predicted the outcome of nine football contests.
Also in Week 5, there were six aberrations due to radio interference from DORPFASTCALC's nearby sibling satellite, BELVENDFIND, a robot observatory designed to predict the outcome of old Mr. Belvedere episodes.
Last week: 9 - 6.
Season to date: 32-28. Science works!
SUNDAY — EARLY GAMES
Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (CBS, 8:30 a.m. Central): Miami 20, Jacksonville 9. It’s a treat for Florida fans in London this Sunday, as the state that brought you the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers now presents: two other professional football teams! Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will play host to the Miami Dolphins, Florida’s second-best football team, who are matched up against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida’s third-best football team not including the Orlando Magic.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Washington Football Team (CBS): Kansas City 28, Washington 19. With lightning storms in the area delaying the Bills-Chiefs game in Kansas City on Sunday, viewers could reasonably expect regular weather updates. Accordingly, the Sunday Night Football halftime show wielded the full meteorological might of NBC by repeatedly returning to a dubiously informational view of weather patterns at Arrowhead Stadium and—barely—the surrounding area. It was a display that put the zoomed-in-ness of other networks’ football weather reports to shame.
Los Angeles Rams vs. New York Giants (Fox): Los Angeles 24, New York 14.
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts (CBS): Indianapolis 20, Houston 13. A number of years ago, I wrote about a game in which the Colts executed a trick punt that was such a clumsy disaster, it looked like the Colts were playing an entirely different sport. On Sunday, the Texans ran their own unorthodox punt play in which the punter ran up toward the line as if he were going to throw a pass, then at the last moment scrambled back into punting position, took the snap, and promptly punted the ball into a teammate’s head. The ball bounced out of bounds for a net punt distance of minus-2 yards. The Texans now understand what the Colts learned long ago: The trickiest trick punt of all is the punt that tricks the punters themselves.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Detroit Lions (Fox): Detroit 27, Cincinnati 24.
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears (Fox): Green Bay 30, Chicago 23.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens (CBS): Baltimore 25, Los Angeles 23.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers (Fox): Carolina 21, Minnesota 20.
SUNDAY — LATE GAMES
Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns (Fox): Arizona 26, Cleveland 21.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Denver Broncos (CBS): Denver 4, Las Vegas 0.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots (CBS): New England 21, Dallas 19.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Seattle Seahawks vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC): Pittsburgh 34, Seattle 24.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans (ESPN): Buffalo 26, Tennessee 10.
Keep on long snappin'
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Thank you for reading. Until next week: Keep on long snappin’.