Reefer Madness: 1930's Scare Tactic Turned Modern Satire

Last Saturday I witnessed Trustus Theater delivering another raucous performance with Reefer Madness, a musical modeled after a 1936 movie warning parents about the ills of marijuana in the hands of their teenagers. The State’s James Harley explains the plot in his review: “Jimmy Harper…unwittingly is drawn into a ‘reefer den’ by villain Jack Stone, where he inhales and is sent into a downward spiral of depravity and murder.”

The laughs ensue from there as the play engulfs the audience in a parody-filled haze but a semi-serious lesson remains: the play is actually a public service announcement, an educational tool for parents trying to understand the side effects of drug use. Sure, America was still riding on the wings of late 1800s sensationalism in newspapers, advertising and everywhere else, but Reefer Madness demonstrates just how outlandish we became by the 1930s.

Even scarier—big bad government wasn’t heading this one up; a church group, full of honest, God-fearing individuals crafted this outrageous film. I can just see the old ladies directing it now, their large hats teetering with emphasis as they demonstrated to the actors how to simulate lighting a joint. They undoubtedly meant well and scare tactics certainly would’ve been effective at a time when parents’ worst fear was their children reverting to the irreverence of the Roaring ‘20s and government propaganda gearing up to send their sons off for World War II, but you have to question the creators’ respect for the audience. A film meant to “help” the public probably only incited increased paranoia (an actual side effect of marijuana) among parents led to believe the drug directly resulted in sex and murder (fabricated side effects of marijuana). To think this film was probably broadcast in schools, churches and bingo halls across the country is frightening. We’ve advanced somewhat since then, though—one has to admit the infamous “This is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA doesn’t specify marijuana as the sole catalyst for frying our brains like cracked eggs, so we have to assume only the “hard stuff” can accomplish that. Reefer Madness just goes to show, though—when your PSA is still being satirized 72 years later, who are you really helping?


Dell Differentiates Its New Product…By Two Letters

First there was the Asus Eee, a space-saving 2-pound laptop touted through grass roots marketing, most notably the rave reviews from techies around the globe (and everyone right here at Riley Communications!). Then, like the last third grader to get a cell phone, Dell released the E, a self-declared generic substitute for Asus’s innovation from its lowered price to its second-string marketing.

Dell’s most obvious blunder, not bothering to think of a different product name than its direct competitor, might actually be a marketing ploy in disguise. By indirectly admitting the E’s creation was a response rather than an idea, Dell’s uninspired name choice screams “we have no qualms about being the knock-off brand.” Not to mention the product originated from the top of the corporate ladder instead of from the ground up (a no-no for the technology enthusiasts this product targets). On the plus side, their MacBook Air imitation E Slim was given a more unique moniker (although it sounds more like a bad rap artist than an electronic innovation). Hey, a name like “Air” is hard to match…or respell.

These cheeky tricks are all right for bargain shoppers, but for the true technology connoisseurs this brand of marketing (or flagrant disregard of marketing) is a little insulting. Dell replaces the computer industry’s standard of one-upping the competition with downgrading its own brand. Even though the E offers some features the Eee lacks, like extended-memory models for video, Dell sells itself short by putting their product out there as the same old thing at a cheaper price rather than an innovation independent of similar, but not equal, competitor products.

Dell unfortunately serves as a cautionary tale for missing marketing’s fundamental rule: separating your product from the competitors’, not piggybacking off it. Let’s just hope the bargain hunters write glowing blogs and online reviews about the E, so Dell can mimic Asus’s grass roots approach, too.

New Coke Commercial: Redefining “Slimy” Advertising

I’m a little disappointed that a company known for its wholesome advertising that cements its brand worldwide has stooped to a slimy low. No, it’s not sleazy or sexy—it’s spitty. A new television ad series for Coke Zero features some wayward tongues (which speak in brutish British accents) and a lone eyeball that apparently hails from France. As the two tongues tag team a sloshing bottle of Coke Zero to lap up its calorie-reduced contents, the eyeball leaves his post on a computer monitor and pushes his spindly, bird-like, eyelash-fiber legs over to the pair. Berating them for believing the drink is regular Coke (since the tongues lack his ocular omniscience), the eye inadvertently attests to Coke Zero’s amazing ability to taste like the good stuff. The oral duo ceases their Coke enjoyment and each tongue begins bashing poor little eyeball for having no sense of taste (or the accompanying appendages to achieve it), with Coke particles sliding off their slippery silhouettes and their teeth-hooved gum-legs firmly planted.

Though many elements of this commercial don’t jive, there is one that begs the question: why? Why, of all advertising ploys, would unappetizing, slightly swollen tongues and a garish little eyeball want me want to try Coke Zero? All I can think of now when I see one is saliva and conjunctivitis. Also, how do the foreign accents contribute to the overall brand appeal? By establishing that body parts who aren’t even of the same nationality, much less the same body, can enjoy Coke Zero? That’s a quite a warped interpretation of Coca Cola’s previous advertising premise: multicultural, worldwide enjoyment of a well-established brand.

I guess Coca-Cola is trying to cash in on the craze of off-kilter, have-to-youtube-it advertising. We’ll see what this ad boosts more: web views or actual sales.