Idiocracy: The Death of Intelligent Advertising

This is a guest post from Office Newb Jacqui Tom.

As a career blogger, I often receive emails from businesses asking me to write about their products or services. Usually these companies are small web-based start-ups that are looking to get free exposure on the internet, so I was surprised to receive an email from someone representing Deloitte Consulting asking me to share a video they had produced to entice prospective employees.

Deloitte is one of the one of the top auditing firms internationally and I’m sure that tens of thousands of the top students from top business schools around the globe are dying to land a job there. With such prestige and resources at their disposal, I was flattered that they would bother reaching out to a meager blogger like me to help market them–that is, until I actually watched the video.

Centered around the company’s “Born to Consult” theme, the video follows several job candidates, all young, all head of the class at top-ranked universities, through their interviews at Deloitte. The catch is that the interviews are conducted by a twelve-year-old boy who grills the candidates with such demanding questions as,

“How many ping pong balls can you fit in a 747?”

“Would you rather have a head twice its normal size or half its normal size?”

“Do you get the team pizza or Thai for lunch?”

For two minutes and thirty seconds I got to witness candidates responding either in bewildered earnest or thinly veiled frustration. They didn’t understand why they were being interviewed in such a way, and frankly neither do I. The most successful candidate seemed to be your classic frat guy who initiated high-fives and literally acted like a monkey. Is this the kind of person Deloitte is trying to hire? If I interview at Deloitte will I be asked questions about the price of nougat in China by a twelve-year-old?

What exactly is the message they are trying to send here?

I often ask myself the above question when watching advertisements on television today. Whatever happened to talking about the product you are selling? When did advertisers stop trying to appeal to us on an intelligent level?

Noam Chomsky, famous MIT professor, claimed during a speech in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in January 2005 that

“the main purpose of advertising is to undermine markets. If you go to graduate school and you take a course in economics, you learn that markets are systems in which informed consumers make rational choices. That’s what’s so wonderful about it.”

In a perfect world, advertising would be utilized by consumers to make intelligent, rational choices about which products to by or services to use. But in an effort to stand out from the competition, many advertisers are now turning to so-called “shockvertising” and it online companion, the “viral” video. Characterized by surreal fantasy, these ads can encompass anything from a man in a chicken suit dancing around his living room (aka Burger King’s Subservient Chicken) to the “No Stank You” public services ads warning kids about the dangers of smoking by showing them dancing on giant, smoke-stained, rotten teeth that are floating in space.

Huh? Are consumers so impressionable that they can be influenced to by a burger based on a man in a chicken suit rather than a picture of the actual burger they intend to purchase?

Apple’s long-running Mac ads are a great example of how advertising can be both cool and smart. The backdrop is a simple white background, the product highly conceptualized (represented by “Mac” and “PC”) and the message delivered primarily through dialogue and the occasional sight gag. The products are never shown per se, but the two hip representatives actually talk about the product and tell us what it can do. They represent the product’s simplicity, edginess and capability, which appeals to Apple’s elite core users, those “smart” enough to look beyond what everyone else is using.

What I want to know is when did we as consumers abdicate our responsibility to judge a product based on its merits?

Does this signal a decline in the intelligence of our population? Or is our appetite for the bizarre a side-effect of years upon years of constant media saturation? I’m not sure. But I do know that I’m saving up to by myself a MacBook for Christmas.

# # #

Jacqui Tom is a young professional working her way up the corporate ladder. Launching her career with a series of internships at America Online (AOL) and that helped her learn the ropes of the internet business, she now works as a web writer for a Seattle non-profit.

Her blog, The Office Newb, offers a newcomer’s perspective of office life. Typing furiously from her cubicle, she shares lessons about life, business and everything in between.

Feel free to contact Jacqui at officenewb at gmail dot com

  • Well said. I often wonder how effective many of these commercials really are, or if they’re made just to keep a companies name at the top of the consumer’s lexicon.

    Better yet, does anyone really buy light beer from Bud Lite or Miller Lite based on their constant media blitz.

  • Jurgen

    At least none of the questions came from the “worst top ten interview questions list”!
    See it at:

    I think these questions are OK, as they can help to identify the thought-process a candidate follows to answer the question. It’s about the process, not the answer. In consulting you are faced with some complex problems, often with not much time to make sense of them and there are many possible solutions. Breaking the idea down in your mind in a systematic, logical way will give you a better shot at finding a solution than just relying on your existing knowledge.

  • While you raise some interesting points, I’d argue that Burger King’s Subservient Chicken has had little to do with their success of the past few years. Advertising is only one part of the Marketing process, companies use various ways to ensure that their product or service is going to be thought of when it comes time for your purchasing decision, whether it’s a split second decision among drive-thrus or a heavily processed car purchase. Beyond that, what more can you really say about a chicken sandwhich in order to convince you to purchase it? Rational forms of argument are only one type of rhetoric that is used to appeal to us. It really depends on what product or service you are selling. Brands today have a multitude of options by which they can fight for your mind, heart and ultimately pocket share. The best know who they want to purchase their product, then work to deliver a message that is relevant to them, their brand, and the time and space under which it is received. That Deloitte ad is at times humorous and differentiating from any other auditing firm’s advertising out there. The audience they are going after are recent graduates, who will more than likely base their first career on more than a youtube video. That being said, a message like that can go a long way in creating a positive mental image of Deloitte in the mind of said graduate. One of a fun, competitive firm that understands it’s markets perception. That being said, the ad is pretty unauthentic in my opinion, and would’ve worked better without actors. Feels very much like a campaign that ran up here in Canada for Diamond Shreddies,

  • Good points on a company losing its message trying to be “hip.” Also, while the kid’s questions are goofy, I don’t know if it was a good idea to throw in the first one of “how old are you?” HR nightmare!

  • It seems like most advertising (a very different discipline than PR and Marketing) is now simply designed to get the attention of viewers though any means necessary. There’s so much advertising and so many mixed messages that the entire medium has been diluted to the point where almost anything -anything- that can snap the viewer out of “ad-blocking” mode is fair game. It doesn’t need to make sense. Sometimes, it doesn’t even need to be a positive message – just attention grabbing. Burger Kings ads are quite brilliant though I’m not so sure they make me want to go and eat their hamburgers. In fact, I know they don’t but they do keep the brand in the public consciousness.

  • Jim

    Wierd, goofy, awful. However, I think, though it may be a stretch, that the whole point of the commercial is that the one who got the job was the one who had the guts to stand up and say “what on earth are you doing?”

    In simple terms, break through the client’s own confusion and misguided information gathering process. Tell them what they need to hear, not what they WANT to hear.

    Maybe. . .

  • bob
  • I often find myself judging TV commercials on how entertaining they are. That way they are less a nuisance. However, this judgement is aimed purely at my consumption of between-programming entertainment, and has nothing to do with my informed choice to consume the products they sell.