Sometimes a TV commercial is more entertaining than TV

The latest version of the monster movie, Godzilla, will hit the screens sometime next month.

As a child, I used to love the cheesy Japanese Godzilla movies, but I gave up Godzilla about the same time that I picked up Catcher in the Rye and The Red and the Black.  I never go to monster, horror or sci fi movies, never read the books and channel surf away from a TV station as soon as I realize it’s playing programs of any of these related genres. I didn’t see the 2004 opus about the fantasy giant lizard that destroys Tokyo and I have no intention of seeing the latest retelling of the myth.

But I know it’s coming, thanks to perhaps the most creative and entertaining television commercial in years.

No, the commercial is not for the movie. It’s for the candy bar, Snickers. Mars, the company that manufactures Snickers, has entered into a marketing agreement to be the official candy bar of the movie.

Who knew that Godzilla ate candy?

The commercial starts with a montage of Godzilla having fun with his friends, all active and attractive twentysomething males. Godzilla flirts with a beautiful woman on the beach, it drives an all-terrain vehicle along the sand dunes, it hits a hard smash in a game of ping pong, it dances with a few girls at a house party. Godzilla is clearly the alpha male among his posse of cool dudes.

The commercial cuts to two of Godzilla’s best buds, who hold the following conversation while gripping plastic cups of beer: First guy: “Godzilla’s actually pretty cool.”  Second guy: “Except when he’s hungry.” Suddenly, we cut to scenes of Godzilla destroying a city. Someone unwraps a Snickers and tosses it to the giant lizard, who snatches the candy bar in its enormous jaws and smiles in appreciation. The action now cuts to Godzilla on jet skis, impressing all his buds with his form. We see Godzilla balanced gracefully on the jet skis, moving towards the camera, his left hand curled into a “thumbs up.”

You’d think the sugar high from eating a candy bar on an empty stomach would send the giant lizard into a hyperactive frenzy that would level not just Tokyo, but Yokohama, Osaka, Sapporo, Kobe and Kyoto as well. But not in a TV spot for a food product that its maker is shilling as the perfect way to keep up your good mood and energy.

The final scene of jet-ski Godzilla as the hippest guy around dissolves into the sell lines:  “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry. Snickers satisfies,” followed by a reminder that the new Godzilla will be in the theaters soon.

The idea that Godzilla is a cool chick-magnet is hilarious. Also funny is the paradox of language that the commercial creates: Mars is saying that Godzilla is not himself when he’s hungry, but in fact he is himself when he’s hungry and destroying buildings with paw swipes; he transforms into a softer, nicer, different creature when fed something good and substantial, like Snickers.

The pleasure derived from this very funny TV spot comes through the reference not just to the fictional character of Godzilla, but to the series of commercials that Mars has been airing for Snickers since 2010.  The series, unified by the slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” shows men turning into different, less attractive people because they’re hungry. By gnawing on a Snickers, the men return to their true selves.

So for example, a determined and focused football coach turns into Robin Williams doing one his crazy routines in which he imitates three or four characters within a few seconds, throwing off absurd statements in rapid fire succession. A Snickers turns him into a calm and focused coach again. In another spot, a guy at a party trying to connect with some girls turns into an angry, sadistic and out-of-control Joe Pesci (playing on his roles in Casino and Goodfellas).  Once he has a Snickers, he’s a charming guy, but one of the girls is now Don Rickles.  In another spot, a touch football player becomes Betty White. In England, it’s a guy in a locker room transformed into Joan Collins.

These spots have one target market: young men. All the characters are men in groups. The situations are typically play times, like sports, parties or clubs. The solution to what’s ailing the main character—whether it’s prissiness, confusion, incoherence or anger—comes from a male friend.  The point of view is male, and a little sexist, as several of the scenes objectify women into sex objects and in none are the women anything more than goals for conquest.

The message that the ads are trying to make is particularly pernicious:  that you can curb your hunger and return to normal by eating a candy bar with peanuts. The peanuts are good for you, to be sure, but all that sugar sure isn’t. Most people would be better off having a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts or raisins, some raw vegetables or a piece of bread with chickpea spread for a snack. As the commercial suggests, it’s true that Snickers is convenient. You can carry one in your pocket or buy one almost anywhere that young men congregate. But it’s not healthy, which is the inference in returning to oneself or remaining one’s self.

But the fact that the commercial is built on a lie doesn’t prevent us from enjoying it. After all, how often do we enjoy plays or novels that glorify gangsters or, worse yet, kings and queens? (who represent the principle that some people are better than others and deserve more than others by virtue of their birth.)

So by all means, chuckle or snigger when you see Godzilla munching on a chocolate bar. Just don’t believe the message.


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