Monday, April 30, 2007

Smoke Screens

A couple of commercials are currently battling for the title of Most Awesome Ad Campaign Ever.

In this corner, ComEd. Electric companies are a hard sell, especially ones that have just jacked up their rates. But ComEd really, really wants us to like them—or at least to stop sending them hate mail. So they had their CEO tape an ad announcing a $64 million assistance plan for people who can no longer afford things like light and heat (or air conditioning, now that spring might have sprung) under the new rate plan. Which immediately begs the question: Instead of giving away $64 million, why doesn’t ComEd just charge us all less? And how did the company get its hands on such a fat pile of cash in the first place? Because I’m pretty sure they told the state legislature they would go bankrupt if lawmakers kept a rate freeze in place. The moral of the story is this: The assistance plan is a smoke screen. ComEd is still evil—keep the hate mail coming.

In this corner, the challenger, BP, aka British Petroleum. If there’s a group of corporations currently more reviled than those belonging to the oil industry, I’m hard-pressed to identify the topper. Hence BP’s new series of animated “A Little Better” commercials, set in a world where apparently 4-year-olds can drive, as long as they’re cartoon characters, and pumping gas passes for entertainment. BP knows that paying 3 bucks a gallon sucks, big time, they just want us to feel “a little better” about being bilked at their stations instead of Mobil’s. Sort of like a cardiologist hoping you feel “a little better” after triple-bypass surgery instead of quadruple. I’m waiting for competitors to devise their counterattacks. Conoco will buy the rights to “don’t worry, be happy.” Shell will encourage customers to “turn that frown upside down.”

And the winner is: BP. ComEd has to publicize its assistance plan, sham though it may be. BP’s ads are utterly superfluous (though their jingle is devilishly catchy) and their claim is just plain stupid. If the tank is on “Empty” and I have a choice between making a right-hand turn into an Exxon or a left into a BP, I’m going with Exxon. Reverse the situation and BP wins. It doesn’t matter because, here’s the key, gas stations are all the same. Until one of them finds a way to make their nozzles smell like chocolate, no one’s even a teeny bit better than the other.


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