Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Great Motivator

This past weekend, I took a moment to enjoy some sporting event or other that was being shown on the local teevee. As usual, much as I tried to avoid being besieged by commercial messages, there I was, appropriately besieged. Some of the ads, I will admit, caused me to laugh out loud at either their sheer audacity or their unexpected but welcome flashes of genuine fun or humor.

One of the TV ads struck me, not for the first time, as more than a bit creepy.

Yes. I have used the word creepy before, in this space, and I shall resist the urge to link you to the post in which I did so. I will not give in to the siren call of “must… have… as many… blog hits… as possible…!” Every time I see that someone has viewed that particular post, I cringe a little. Don’t, uhhhh… just don’t read that one. I’d just as soon avoid allowing a wayward click, or child-singing-star search-engine query, to release the true-believer hornet’s-nest demons again.

Obviously my previous use of the word creepy has had absolutely no effect on me whatever.

In this case, though … in the case of this TV ad … “creepy” was precisely the point.


The series of 30-second spots that make up the latest Allstate insurance company TV ad campaign features a moderately young man in a suit and tie who introduces himself as “Mayhem”, and goes on to demonstrate the sorts of awful things that could happen to you at any time, in the service of suggesting that perhaps buying an insurance policy from this company is preferable to not buying one. It’s an old advertising strategy: create a character who causes problems that only the advertised product can solve. (Anyone remember the ads that insisted that Domino’s Pizza could somehow help us “Avoid the Noid”?)

If the purpose of the ads is to help a viewer to imagine the dangers of life … they work. And the gentleman who portrays “Mayhem” … whether he’s embodying a tree branch that falls off a roof and onto a parked car (“shaky shaky!”), or a flying object that lands on a windshield and causes a car wreck, or a lazy dog who allows robbers to ransack the house he’s allegedly guarding (“HEY [i.e. BARK]! … … you guys are doin’ a great job.”) … that gentleman does his job very, very well. He’s a little bit amusing, and a whole lot disturbing. Score one for the ad agency (in addition to the 80 or so advertising industry awards the agency has won for the campaign).

I’m the key against your side door,” he oozes. “I’m a wild deer” that could suddenly dart out in front of your oncoming car on a dark night. “I’m the puppy that ate your back seat,” he says, and spits out a piece of foam. Said the executive VP of the ad agency that created the ads: “This guy’s trouble with a charming smile, and represents everything Allstate protects you from.”

The actor’s name is Dean Winters, and he’s had experience playing some fairly dark characters (in the cauldrons of dark that are “Oz” and “Rescue Me”). He’s good enough at this character – full of know-it-all grins and mischievous vandalism – to flash me back to junior high school, and to the particular classmates of mine whose sole purpose seemed to be not merely making mischief and making other people’s lives miserable, but doing so strictly for their own enjoyment.  I react rather poorly to those memories, and to anyone who currently seems to fulfill the same role.

I got curious. Who was this guy, really? –Interwebs to the rescue!! It turns out that, according to a number of online sources, he’s seemingly a decent guy, with a non-standard acting career, a near-death experience, and a particularly kind thing to say about comedian Tina Fey in the wake of that experience. So, Mr. Winters is an example of a really good actor. Through the Allstate ads, he had made me wonder what kind of a creep he was – he almost made me believe he could be a horrible person. Or, more accurately, he portrayed horrible-ness so well that I was actually relieved to read that he was not a stealer of babies’ candy, or a strangler of puppies, or worse.

But then I read an article or two which revealed the reasoning behind the ad campaign. Allstate’s ad agency is just the most recent example of a group or individual (a politician, por ejemplo) that uses fear as a way to convince people to think or do something, something which might or might not be in their best interests. To spend money on something; or to vote a certain way. At the time the ad campaign was created, Allstate’s revenues were down noticeably, so the company went away from its signature, Norman Rockwell-esque ads featuring the comforting sight and sound of actor Dennis Haysbert reminding you that you were in good hands.

Well, in advertising, you do whatcha gotta do. Do what works, and all that. But thinking about the ads from that perspective sent me pretty much back to my original thesis, which was that those ads creep me out. They do their psychological job, all right … although I haven’t gone to by insurance from Allstate, so maybe they haven’t done their economic job. Take that.

In the short term, fear can be a highly effective (if perhaps not “great”) motivator. Over the long haul, though? … Umm.


Let’s see how long the “Mayhem” lasts.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | media, television | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This weekend, I had the chance to head in to Boston for what turned into an entirely enjoyable social occasion. I leapt off the MBTA train at the Government Center station, took the stairs (not the escalator – offers exercise, saves time) up to the Government Center plaza itself, strolled vaguely toward the Harbor, past Boston City Hall, down the steps, across Congress Street and onto the grounds of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. As I have done many times before, I walked to the south side of Faneuil Hall, aiming to get around it and to the shops and eateries of the Marketplace.

Unfortunately, I found myself on a decreasingly wide sidewalk, as metal barriers had been set up to herd pedestrians away from the Hall, and … curiously, the barriers connected with the Abercrombie and Fitch store building to the south of the Hall, and there was no way to get to the rest of the Marketplace.

Creative and flexible person that I am … and also since I was more than a bit early for my appointed Social Event time … I smiled, pulled a 180 and walked around the Hall via the north side, which was not blocked off at all. There were more barriers keeping the general public from accessing Faneuil Hall via its main entrance on the east side, the Harbor side. A few tourists milled about, wondering, as I did, whether Faneuil Hall was closed for some reason. A few faintly-official-looking people stood inside the temporary metal gates, wearing relatively dressy and distinctly non-turista clothes. A couple other people stood around brandishing notebooks. No dummy, me – I immediately put two and two together and got “photo op”.

I heard a large cheer and then applause from inside Faneuil Hall. Hmm. Political pep rally of some kind? Concert? (Let me in!)

Then the local gendarme arrived.

There were men and women wearing neon yellow Boston Police Special Operations jackets. There were Boston Police officers wearing dark glasses and motorcycle helmets. They placed themselves along the gates, and responded to some gentle tourists’ gentle questions, first guardedly, and then with wider and wider smiles, particularly when the questions started to come from a few little children. I hung back, about ten yards distant. I thought about going and asking the nearest officer the obvious question: “what’s the occasion?” But for whatever reason, I decided to try and figure it out myself.

Then the fleet of dark-windowed, jet-black vehicles arrived.

Into the blocked-off area of the plaza swept a pair of Boston Police motorcycles. Then a Boston Police cruiser. All lights blazing. Then two black SUVs, each one just about the size of my first apartment. My eye for detail noted Massachusetts license plates. Hmm. Local politico, perhaps.

Then came a stretch limousine with District of Columbia license plates.

Well, that upped the ante. Not local politicos, then. Senator Kerry or Brown? Some other member of the House of Representatives? It’s coming on toward campaign season, after all. Politician? Diplomat? More exciting by the moment, I had to admit.

All of the vehicles pulled up to a (south-) side entrance of the Hall. Out of the SUVs piled an entirely sufficient number of men and women in black suits, mirrored sunglasses, and earpieces. I wasn’t sure whether one could conclusively say, “ah. Secret Service” – but these fine folks were gently assessing the potential of every possible passerby, and doing their best … or rather, their completely pathetic worst … not to look as if they were assessing every possible passerby.

Then the limo’s door opened.

I couldn’t see much. I did see a conservatively-dressed woman emerge from the limo, followed by a gentleman who, from my vantage point (admittedly at a distance of probably 30 yards), seemed like an immensely cheerful version of the rounder-faced member of the Muppets’ “Statler and Waldorf” balcony heckler duo. His flyaway white hair gave him the faint aura of a happy, benign mad scientist; Einstein with a laugh track. He smiled from ear to ear and beyond, and waved gallantly at the assembled onlookers, who by this time had assembled about two or three deep all around the metal gates. And many, many of the onlookers waved gallantly back. It all seemed very friendly. They seemed to know who he was. I suddenly felt like I wanted to know, too.

About half an hour later (my Social Event’s appointed time had, during the meanwhile, shifted to slightly later in the day), the small party of Famous Persons whom I had not been able to recognize – but whom clearly had been recognized by lots of other people – attempted to walk thirty yards from the side entrance of Faneuil Hall to a small restaurant on the corner of a nearby Marketplace building so they could have lunch. It took a concerted security-personnel effort to herd them from Point A to Point B, what with adjusting the crowd-control gates and such.

They must have been rather important. Or famous. Or successful. Or something…

A short while later, I sat at a table of one of the Marketplace’s outdoor restaurants, and my lunch friend asked the waitress, “so, what’s the occasion?”

Oh,” she said, “the President of Ireland’s here.”

(And, to be clear: she was the President of Ireland, and the Waldorf lookalike was likely her husband.)

Hence, the DC limo. Hence, the folks (both hulking men and verrrrry intense young women) in the suits. And (said our server) hence, the snipers on the rooftops all around us.

Snipers, eh? I had chanced to look up toward the tops of the surrounding buildings as the SUVs were appearing, and I hadn’t seen a thing. I guess that was the point…

Okay, then, it was a whole lot more serious an event than I thought. Belatedly, I grasped the idea that precautions had been taken, …in case there might be trouble. Oh, so I was standing out in the middle of the Marketplace plaza when someone at security central was thinking that the weather report might call for “cloudy with a chance of bullets”??


Anyway. So. Still want to be famous, like you did when you were a kid?

Sure, we can say plenty of disapproving things about the One Percent, or the Fat Cat Politicians – the people who rate a stretch limo and a security detail, while the rest of us scrape to afford a place to live and a thing to drive and food to eat and heat to get warm by. A lot of times one of those Famous Persons rates those accoutrements because his or her chief of staff (or manager or agent or publicity department) is concerned about the crush of crowds, or the paparazzi, or the one deranged wacko who might be lining something up on their employer’s forehead.

So, as much as I’d like to be independently wealthy (although I would not nearly so much like to be politically important) – and as much as such a condition would make life easier, what with relieving all the financial worries and such – it all got me to thinking: we (as children) said things like, “I wanna be a rock star, a baseball star, a famous millionaire, the President!!”

Yeah. Great, except for when you want to go around the corner to the store and get a soda. Or to the department store, to buy some more dress socks. Or to a restaurant that you always liked, to enjoy their terrific pan pizza. Then, seemingly, it gets complicated. And okay, so if you’re that well-off, you can employ people to fetch all that stuff for you. But if you’re one of those intensely-protected Famous Persons and you want to take a walk on the Common, or lie on the beach, or ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail, or take in a Worcester Tornadoes baseball game, or pop in on a coffeehouse concert of folk music, or browse the shelves of a bookstore in peace … it’s a more involved proposition, with next to no spontaneity, and probably a good deal less fun.

After the day was over, I realized that I’d found it that much more enjoyable to be able to hop a T train and meet a friend for lunch, undetected. No muss, no fuss. Sometimes, although some Kardashian family members or other members of the One Percent might not believe it, it’s better when you’re able to go places and do things, and nobody cares.

May 8, 2012 Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons | , , , , | 1 Comment