Friday, June 15, 2007

A Little Dumber Gas Station

If you make a habit of watching television, no doubt you have seen the new advertising campaign rolled out by British Petroleum, or BP, called "A Little Better Gas Station." I was introduced to these commercials by a coworker who was complaining about them, stating that the babies driving the car aren't wearing child restraints, which sends a negative message to both impressionable children and irresponsible parents. Curious, I searched online for these and found that the babies were actually wearing child restraints while driving the car, but it actually never occured to her to point out that it might also send a negative message to both impressionable children and irresponsible parents because babies are driving the car.

I also discovered just how bad this advertising campaign actually is. These poorly-designed and otherwise inept commercials annoy me. For one, I enjoy good animation, which these are really rather not. These are badly-drawn characters animated lazily using obvious Macromedia Flash technology. Most of them are drawn to look like they're missing a few chromosomes, which I suppose doesn't matter since they don't do anything remotely interesting during the commercials anyway.

The soundtrack to the commercials consists of bland, emotionless pop music by what I'm assuming is an imitation modern rock band, considering that if it were a real band their recent collaborative pact with the devil in performing this song would automatically exclude them from any future notoriety. The singer takes flat, emotionless, lazy singing to a level Mark McGrath could only dream about. Not only does his voice betray all the excitement over the concept about which he's singing that it deserves, but he compiles it by sounding tired to the point that I'd half expect to see him rolling straight out of bed after an all-night bender and into the audio booth and just start singing with his pajamas still on. It's catchy, but only in the way that songs you would never want stuck in your head are catchy. You know, the kind you walk down the street mumbling then suddenly stop yourself in a confused panic, shouting "Why the fuck am I singing this?! Why do I know this song?!"

BP not only created a
fully interactive website that provides a complete backstory full of worthless information about something no one would ever care about, (and if there actually are people, up to and including those who designed the ad campaign, who care about these things, they deserve to be drug out in the street and shot as an example to others). They also stocked their stores with free merchandise such as "collectors" cards, wall posters, and activity books. Wall posters? If you are on a hot date with some guy or girl and it's going well and you decide to go back to their place and they have a BP wall poster from this "A Little Better Gas Station" ad campaign on their wall, then not only should you break up with them, but you should bury a pickaxe in their heads as a precautionary measure before they have a chance to breed. The same goes for them having the website offerings on their computers as wallpapers or screensavers. Or if they own the song used in the commercial, counting double if they actually paid for it.

This interactive merchandise is even more insane than the advertising campaign itself, as strange as it may be. I think my favorite characters in the entire line-up are the closest things to gas station workers the commercial alludes to, The Beeps. Visually, BP basically equates the average gas station attendant to adults with Down's syndrome, and if you don't believe me, check out the pictures below:

How would you like to see those things walking up to you, not saying anything, just pushing a broom with those open-mouthed smiles and beady, unblinking eyes. Think about it. Think about that female one just silently walking up to you and past you, staring at you with that unchanging face like some sort of freakish Real Doll. It would probably be the scariest moment of your life. There's also one routinely seen flying a hoagie over the tops of buildings, which further leads me to suspect subliminal drug references, because not only could the entire thing be vaguely reminiscent of a fairly powerful acid trip, but hoagies don't fly. Further subliminal drug references might appear in the form of the dog, Jackson, who as you can tell by the dilated pupils facing two different directions and the contented smile, is very likely floating on some real good stuff.

The website goes into elaborate detail about the characters that we are only introduced to during fifteen-second TV spots where they proceed to do nothing except get gas and drive off without paying for it, which is a very good message to send to the people who are going to be frequenting your gas stations. The Lighthouse family has a completely different backstory on the
website than on the trading card. Apparently something got lost in translation between the rough and final drafts, but it's highly more likely that they didn't want to continue to have the family portrayed as pot-smoking hippies. On the back of the card it says that "Clark, the driver, is a former bus driver for a 60's rock group. His wife Ellen is into health food and holistic medicines." Nothing tiptoes around the Bohemian world of the sex and drug revolution like a one-two punch of 60's rock groups and holistic medicines. They also probably realized that for him to be a bus driver in the 60's, he'd be pushing 70 this year with two teen-aged children and a baby, which although might be realistic in some cases, doesn't occur very often.

On the back of the
trading card for the Beeps, it states that "Even a piece of pizza can be turned into a cleaning tool of near-deadly effectiveness in the hands of a Beep." This is an absolutely brilliant sentence. Take a moment to reflect on that. "A cleaning tool of near-deadly effectiveness." One thing that I want to associate with cleanliness is death. They're basically saying that the Beep will take a slice of pizza and rub it on a spot of dirt until you die as a direct result. The website changed it to "A cleaning tool of the utmost effectiveness," but they also go on to divulge more backstory of the history of the Beeps:
"Even a quick search through the history books that document the gray areas around human understanding will reveal a hidden beep presence throughout history, whenever dirt was near and the defenders of clean called out for help. help."
"The Black Plague?" shrugs Edgar, "Whoops, our bad." (Yes, it actually does say, "whenever the defenders of clean have called out for help. help." I find it amusing because it's like the writer chose right then to call out for help and see if a Beep would magically appear. Maybe they spilled some grape juice on their shirt and wanted some pizza rubbed on it or needed the inside of their car engine shined at that precise moment.)

The website entry for the Beeps also reveals one more example of just what the perverse minds of the creators of this ad campaign were contemplating at the time. If you note, on the Beeps profile page, it states that the eldest Beep, Edgar's, Castillian name was "Limpio." I could make some sort of innuendo about old men and limpness here, but I'll refrain. More blatantly phallic symbols show up on the trading cards where the female baby, Abby, is holding a teddy bear that quite obviously has an uncircumsized penis growing diretly out of its chin. One might hypothesize that it is just the way the bear is being held, but is there really a need for the other arm of the bear to be showing? Can't we just assume that the bear does have another arm that's obscured by its position in the picture? The artist seems to have gone to some trouble to ensure that the arm, with its slit-like opening at the tip, is fully visible at the bottom corner of the picture, to the point of deforming the teddy bear to make it fit. That's some determination to not have been added in that way deliberately.

Babies driving cars, stoned-out dogs, hippie families, retarded employees, customers stealing gas, and little girls holding teddy bears with displaced phallia, all animated poorly and cheaply as possible under the friendly, poppy soundtrack of a band that's barely awake performing poorly with no emotion. When you stop to think about it, this fine advertising campaign makes one stop to contemplate whether they have any sort of editing or quality control going on in the marketing department of British Petroleum.

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