The Biggest Travesty of the Census Ad

You know the United States Government spent something like $2,500,000 to air an ad in the Superbowl, right? This ad:


The official version is on YouTube here complete with the “Visionary and Director, in that order” self-loving profile.

You know, it’s not bad enough that the Department of Treasury spent that much money buying space for an ad in the Superbowl. They had to make it worse by just giving a blank check to an ad company that proceeded to make an ad company ad for it.

I’ve done some work in the field, and you can tell an ad company’s ad (or an interactive agency’s Web site) because they’re not targeted to consumers. They’re targeted to other ad companies to show how cool the producing ad company is. The ad company can break all the rules of comprehensibility and including a call to action since the ad is not designed to convince you of anything, but merely to exist in its coolness.

This ad shares some of the core features of a hip ad-man’s dream ad:

  • Incomprehensibility. They’re having a meeting. The title tells us that. What is the point of the meeting? In most commercials, it’s to get to the punchline. This ad doesn’t really have a punchine, nor a core call to action. What is the viewer supposed to do? Embrace the existence of hip use of tax money budget.
  • Self-reference. It’s an ad company having a meeting to talk with a client. A stupid client! Haw! There’s your punchline. Also, it’s epic, because the lives and livelihoods of those who work at ad agencies are dramatic, glamorous, and exciting (see Mad Men or just interact with ad agency people. They’re thespians without any acting skill, so they live the melodramas in their own lives. And if you let them, they make advertisements about them.)
  • Expensivity. When money is no object, it will be spent. On an ad buy. On expensive sets and catering. Money is no object!

As a conservative, I feel outraged enough that the government profligately wasted Chinese bondholder money on an ad in the Superbowl. As a viewer, I felt worse that the ad sucked that badly.

I also feel a little bad for the “client,” whatever government functionary signed off on this. Didn’t he or she realize that the ad company was mocking him or her? Or was he so hip as to accept its mockery, feeling that he was in on it even though the ad agency didn’t think so?