Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Whine, Cheese and Macaroni with P.D. Singer

P.D. Singer brings some wicked wit to the blog ... and that's enough of an introduction! 

I have become hyper-aware of commercials. I’d like to convince a reader or two to try my stories, so why not take notes of what works well enough that big companies pay big bucks to put it in front of us?
Sorry to say, what I’ve found instead is a bunch of things that tick me off. Now I frown at small white dogs. I scold members of the Fortune 500 in absentia. I call for blisters and bunions for the designers of ads and the morons who approved them. And once I kicked a display in a store.

Okay, that wasn’t one of my finer moments.

Part of my irritation came from overexposure. The triggering ad had played half a dozen times during the course of one show we were trying to watch. Normally we record things and fast forward through the ads, and my poor husband wished we’d done it this time too. I think it was the third time Whiny Child had snarked about her mother’s cooking as inferior to Dehydrated-in-a-Box when I started talking back to the TV.

Part of it was content. This possibly very-nice-in-real-life little girl was saying things that should have gotten her sent to her room without supper with a lecture about starving children overseas had it been a real dinner table. And so deeply into Mother-mode was I that I launched into the starving children overseas speech without quite registering that this was not an actual child I was speaking to.

“Honey?” The Marital Unit is always very careful about interrupting a rant. “She can’t hear you.”

Halting in mid-lecture, I had to acknowledge that not only could Whiny Child not hear me, but that she was mouthing lines written for her by adults who should know better. Adults whose mission is to cause money-wielding parents such as I to purchase their product. I should mention that I have two teenaged bottomless pits with multiple TBP friends, who can demolish Dehydrated-in-a-Box by the case as an after school snack.

Subtext played a huge role in my little fit. The writers of this commercial were probably thinking that they’d added in the subtext, “Make your child happy and buy this product.” But not quite. They’d added in a great deal more for any parent who has fought this particular battle over the years. What lurked in there was, “Mom, your cooking is absolutely atrocious and even if you did prepare this meal for me out of love and caring, I cannot choke it down.” Alternately, or additionally, “I am such a little horror that I refuse to eat until such time as you present me with exactly what I want and only what I want.”

Either of these messages said aloud will make a parent emit a noise like a broken crankshaft, or worse. Offered in subtext by an actress in a recording, they elicit less dignified reactions, especially on the sixth repetition.


Partially directed at the whiny-child ad, but more aimed at the team behind it, who thought that the way to greater sales was to insult the person with the grocery list. Or to tell her that her child is a small ogre and must be appeased rather than taught better.

This is not the way to my heart or my pocketbook. On my next visit to Foods-By-The-Case Store, I walked right past the pallets stacked with Dehydrated-in-a-Box in handy 24-packs, perfect for feeding my ravening horde of TBPs. Collecting a case of Different-Shaped-Dry-Stuff, I aimed a swift sideways kick at the stack of the offending product.

Olderson was appalled, though at my action or the type of cheese in the product I’d selected was hard to determine at first. (He’s met sneaky-mother portion control via flavor choice. He’s also seventeen and clueless about what others are thinking.)

Youngerson had watched the show with us, and had heard me use language that almost never comes out of my mouth. He’s unusually well-attuned to people’s moods and emotions, and awfully charming for a fifteen-year old. (He does have Teenage Moments, which at least reassure me he’s not an alien.) He took the case of DSDS from me, and before putting it in the basket he whispered, “Your cooking really is yummy, Mom.”

So now, not only have I behaved like a jerk in front of my kids, I’m a melted puddle of goo from Youngerson’s perceptive remark. I’d feed him anything he wanted right now, even the Odious Product.
So what have I learned about advertising from this?

Be nice. I’d like to think this is my usual method, but I could be as wrong as those ad executives. After all, I did punish some boxes I’d never met before.

Have variety. Hearing one message over and over is also groanworthy.

Be positive about your product. This is different than being negative about something else.

Which leaves me, an author with no skill in creating slick little commercials, saying something like:
My new novel, The Rare Event, is out from Dreamspinner, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

The Rare Event

Hedge fund trader Ricky Santeramo has it all: money, looks, and fellow trader Jonathan Hogenboom. The two couldn't be more different: Jon is from old money, while Ricky clawed his way out of blue-collar New Jersey. Jon hedges his positions; Ricky goes for broke. Jon likes opera and the Yankees; Ricky prefers clubbing. Jon drinks wine with dinner; Ricky throws back a beer. Jon wants monogamy… but Ricky likes variety.

Bankrupt airlines are facing strikes, the housing market is starting to crumble, and Jon can’t wait any longer for Ricky to commit. One last night alone and one last risky trade make Jon say, “Enough.” Then Jon’s old friend Davis comes to New York City, ready for baseball and forever. The whole world is chaos, but there are fortunes to be made—or lost—and hearts to be broken—or won.

Faced with losing it all, Ricky must make the savviest trades of his life and pray for a rare event. His portfolio and Jon's love are on the line.

More of P.D. Singer’s news and musings can be found at her website, http://pdsinger.com, where she plays word games, grades spammers, and talks about books.


  1. Great post (and funny)! I swear, I think some marketing departments must be high when they come up with the concepts. And though I could probably go on for days about what commercials do wrong (seriously, you don't want to hear my thoughts on toilet paper commercials), the ones that truly drive me nuts are the ones advertising THE SHOW I'M ALREADY WATCHING. Grrr. I have an attention span slightly longer than a goldfish. I won't forget during the 3 minute break, I promise! So, yeah, I can get behind your advice about variety!

    Also, Louisa, your site looks absolutely awesome on my phone.

  2. Whoo-hoo, KC. Thanks so much for letting me know. I look at others sites on my phone but not sure if I've looked at my own! lol

  3. Louisa, thanks for having me stop by today! See you again soon!