Watching sports means watching ads geared for guys

I often take on far too easy subjects, so here is a column about advertising (An old version is here).

Aug. 3, 2005

I watch loads of sports on TV, which means taking in lots of advertising geared for guys. Unlike shows such as my personal favorite, The Price is Right — featuring ads for life insurance and adult diapers — sporting events tend to run manly item ads geared for ¹8 to 30 year olds, just like me.

The problem is these ads are almost entirely lost on me. I’m not a big drinker but within an hour of watching a baseball game on ESPN, I see ¹0 different ads for liquor. And the scenarios are seriously strange: a bear playing hockey in Canada, a train driving through the desert and some lunatic screaming about twins. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, a fat ugly dope opening a beer and scantily clad models bum rushing him was the so­called story line. Now, it’s a good­looking guy popping open a beer and a bunch of referees running at him. As an ugly guy, I prefer the old ads.

Captain Morgan Rum ads are particularly bizarre. Maybe it’s because I don’t have much use for watered down spiced rum, but I find that pirate caricature creepy. With his puffy shirt, outlandish parrot and silly grin, Captain Morgan looks weirder than Michael Jackson and his boy posse taking on DisneyWorld.

The Michelin Man is another creepy character. And if truth be told, he doesn’t look like a stack of loveable white tires. Instead he reminds me of the Sta­Puff Marshmallow Man from the movie ‘‘Ghostbusters”. To most children of the ‘80s, he’s not giving out tires but rather he is about to terrorize New York. He’s a candy version of Godzilla.

Home Depot and similar hardware stores also buy ad time on sports networks. The ads always show a family in the middle of remodeling their house. The strapping father — dressed in sparking clothes — is building something new or painting his home’s exterior. Why don’t these people ever get dirty? They’re always working with sawdust, glue guns and paint, yet everyone looks like they just got back from a trip to Nordstrom.

Not that home improvement matters to me. Since I live in an apartment, I’m not allowed to build anything in my building. My experience with hardware stores consists of passing by one on my way to work.

Automobile and auto part ads also run rampant on sports networks. I drive the most faceless care in America: a mid­’90s Toyota Camry. Since I drive the Starbucks of sedans, I can’t image caring about 20­inch rims.

The actual car ads always seem to be for the biggest, most outlandish cars Detroit can pump out. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure most people don’t have a lot of use for a Ford F¹50 truck that can haul a flatbed full of steel beams.

Some of the car advertising works. SUVs seem to have popped up out of nowhere ¹5 years ago and never left. It used to be a rich guy bought a Lamborghini or another fancy sports car and tooled around the city driving Mach 2. Now, that same rich guy will buy a Hummer, a car built for the U.S. military. These things are made to withstand machine guns and bombs, not Beltway traffic (although, on some days, you might see bombs and guns in Beltway traffic). They get 5 mpg and look like metal boxes. Instead of the German engineering, we get the American military might. Instead of playing dress­up Mario Andretti, working stiffs get to play G.I. Joe.

What’s more, SUVs like the Hummer are built for off­roading. The ads show a guy in a clean flannel shirt and jeans (once again, he looks like he’s dressed for casual Friday) driving his giant car through spectacular scenery. While I bet some SUV drivers do conquer the Grand Tetons, most SUVS are stuck in traffic like the rest of us.