existentialism

“Eat both squares, please.”

“Eat both squares, please.”

In those four words is concentrated an almost otherworldly existential power that is rarely seen in hundreds of thousands of mundane marketing messages broadcast every day.

Those four words encompass Kierkegaard and Kafka and Camus.  They communicate the ultimate absurdity of the human condition and self-mock with relish our own marketing-based consumer lifestyle.

Do I wax too wildly over a mere commercial message, albeit one that digs such a deep philosophical foundation whose established lineage stretches to the 19th Century?

Yes, I probably do. After all, it’s just a line from a televised candy commercial.

Yes, candy.  But what a line!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Pop Culture Immortality

It’s a line destined to go down in short-lived pop-cult history alongside “Who put the Goat in there?” [See, you already missed that one, didn’t you? Google it]  You can earn lots of money on t-shirts with “Eat both squares, please” before this narrow window of opportunity slams shut.

Why is the line funny? Because of the subtlety it conveys. The commercial message is . . . taste.  And shades of darkly humorous and powerful meaning is shoehorned into those four words.

It is an incredible feat of advertising acumen. An instant classic. It may not rate as highly in the pantheon of ad lore as the iconic phrase “Where’s the Beef?” but it has a far more deeply existential quality to it, a surreal aspect that taps into our imagination and allows us to play out the dark meaning of those innocent words.  For it is in the innocence of the words themselves that we find their ironic power.

I can think of only one other example that has similar power, but it’s far darker; it comes from the novel Hannibal:  “The skin graft didn’t take.”

Incredibly Creative

All of which leads us to the the central question – What’s the source of creativity?  How can we tap our own creativity to construct powerful messages that communicate with humor the points we wish to make. How can we burn our messages into the receptors of our listeners? How can creativity ignite our own business presentations, our business shows?

Commercials are presentations of a sort. They are shows in the same way that your business presentations are shows. So what makes an especially powerful commercial?

Advertising agencies and marketers get to have the bulk of the fun in business, or so it seems.  Oftentimes, their efforts are quashed out of corporate fears of giving offense or going too over-the-top. But every once in a while . . .

This commercial surely substantiates the fun thesis as we can imagine the fun these folks had assembling this masterpiece.  The commercial hangs together superbly in creating a mind-burning moment for the product – Snickers.

What’s that?  You still don’t understand “Eat both squares, please?”  You will in a moment.

 

Shades of Gary Larsen and his cartoon masterpieces The Far Side!

I include this ad in Business School Presenting to illustrate what great creativity can produce when unleashed from the straitjacket we usually find in Business School.  In no way can I analyze exactly why this commercial is incredibly funny, except to note that it combines anthropomorphism with a modern focus group scenario.

And the commercial is played straight, and not for laughs. In other words, the focus group scenario is exactly what you find in such a venue and activity.  The Kafkaesque addition of sharks gives it a kind of restrained absurdity. The combination yields 31 seconds of brilliance, and like most brilliant humor, it’s bounsd to offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Integrating humor into your presentation can be difficult, but this is one way to do it.  Certainly we cannot hit a homerun like this commercial with our own efforts every time, but if humor is a goal, this Snickers formula can work – blending the mundane with the bizarre to produce a pastiche of power that drills a concept into the audience’s collective mind.