Monday, September 22, 2008

I Will Not Buy Stocks with You Because of a Talking Baby

What's the logic at work here?
MARKETING VP #1: The stock market is practically a living organism. It undergoes tens of thousands — if not millions — of transactions and processes every day. People actually have to get graduate degrees to really understand it, to see its many tendrils stretching into the economic life of the entire world and visualize how it and the world reflexively affect each other. The average person has no hope of really coming to grips with its enormity and can at best become a kind of thoughtful amateur — sort of like how being a lifetime football fan but never a coach at even an intermediate level would give you some rudimentary horse sense on the sidelines but would get you absolutely destroyed in head-to-head competition by even the worst community college coach. And that non-expertise is not so bad, in its own way, but it's a scary proposition when the thing about which you're amateurish is something that can cause you to lose your entire fortune. So how do we get people who may be incredibly intimidated by this complexity to turn to us?"
MARKETING VP #2: Let's pretend we're a talking baby!
MARKETING VP #1: Yesssssss!
(both mime "ballin'" jumpshot)

(high five)
I know, I know: they're saying that their system for making trades is so ridiculously easy that even a baby could understand it. But is that really what you want to go for? "Hey, you're about to make a major financial decision. Don't worry, you could be as stupid as a baby when you do it; our technology is actually designed to allow you to do baby-stupid shit with your money." I kinda think a better selling point might be, "Our site is coded so that a giant red box comes up when you're about to do something retarded. It flashes, 'YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING RETARDED.' Then you have to click 'OK' six times in a row to make it go away."

Probably the best thing you can say for the thought process behind the commercial would be that they think they can route viewers' train of thought to their company with some sort of evolutionary derail of, "BABYS R CUTE. I LIKE BABY COMPANY, I GIVE THEM MONEY." This ignores the fact that most people get seriously weirded out by the sound of some sleazebag dude's voice coming out of a baby. This was proven, years ago and in slightly altered form, when America got collectively creeped out by the sound of a flat midwestern accent that belonged to a fat c-list actor coming out of a baby. (It doesn't get much more c-list than spending your career as a baby, a part of a full human's psyche on Herman's Head and a baby who sells sandwiches previously sold by floating sandwich demons.)

Obviously, the baby thing provides mixed results. If you're going to commit your public appearance to abandoning all semblance of intelligence, expertise, analysis or sagacity and just go for the "cute" factor, you don't want to have it potentially backfire on account of treading into some uncanny baby valley with your fatman voice work. Better, then, to just run safely to the old standby of selling yourself via cuteness by employing some hot broad. Failure to recognize the dominance and accessibility of the Hot Broad Factor doubtless contributed to the latest string of high-profile bankruptcies of financial firms.

Merrill Lynch certainly didn't do themselves any favors by having that buffalo or bull or moose firing flames out of its nostrils and charging at potential investors. Especially not with potential investors who remember the 1980s and are still afraid to open the wrong beer on the off chance some outraged ruminant charges through a brick wall and gores them to death. In that case, the people at home aren't thinking of you as wise and tested guides or cute as hell: you're just scaring the shit out of them. Can you imagine how stupidly successful Merrill Lynch could have been if they'd just had some hot broad saying "moose" at the viewers?