As regular readers of this column know, I feel the urge to vent about commercials in this space from time to time. To be honest, 99 percent of ads are fine at what they set out to do -- offering a product to a potential consumer -- which means that it's as rare to find a great commercial as it is a truly lousy one.
Which brings me to today, and a decidedly not-great series of commercials from KFC.
The internationally-popular restaurant chain is currently running television ads promoting their new boneless fried chicken. The commercials show hungry folks happily chowing down on the Colonel's secret recipe-robed poultry, until they look down at the crumbs that remain in front of them and come to the startling -- and false -- conclusion that they've not only ingested the meat, but the bones as well, leading to confusion, fear and even panic among grown adults.
I imagine that the marketing department wanted to give the impression, through an absurd comic twist, that the new boneless fried chicken at KFC is as delicious as their regular offerings. But, instead, the ads seem to indicate that in the people's quest to satiate their hunger with tasty chicken, they are overcome with stupidity, blindness, illiteracy and/or short-term memory loss.
Remember, these people chose to eat KFC's new boneless chicken. In order to have this food, they had to:
1. Decide to visit their nearest KFC,
2. Travel to the building,
3. Walk into the restaurant (or use the handy drive-thru),
4. Look at the menu board, and
5. Order it. (A guess at the thought process: "Hmm. Boneless fried chicken? Sounds delightful.")
And even if they didn't take those steps themselves -- meaning that someone else ordered the food ("Hmm. Boneless fried chicken? Gary will think that sounds delightful.") and put it in front of them to eat -- the eaters dove right in, without paying an iota of attention to what was put in front of them, falling back on that primal, animal instinct to feed. They clutched the fried chicken with both hands and took massive bites, not noticing the distinct and obvious tactile differences between chicken on the bone and off. No teeth were cracked or chipped off, no cartilage was crunched into, no little bits of chicken skeleton (or "chick-eleton," as no one will ever call it, ever) scraped or lodged against the soft tissues on the back of a throat.
But suddenly, at 10-15 seconds in on a 30-second spot, here comes the horror -- "I ate the bones?! I ate the bones!" And the ads insist on leaving it at that; instead of anyone being helpful enough to talk the "victim" through their swirling terror or grab the clearly-marked box the food came in and show it to them, the poor fools are given no catharsis at the end, and neither are the viewers. (Since I'm left to my own devices, I can only imagine that the aftermath features stomach-clutching "bone eaters" curled on bathroom floors or hunched over in emergency room chairs, whispering teary prayers and promises to their Maker, while cursing their chicken-lust.)
I can already hear you. I'm being too hard on a handful of TV commercials that are just supposed to be a funny way to promote a new variation on a popular food from a popular restaurant. Besides, wanting a 30-second spot to have enough story sense to offer a fully fleshed-out arc for its characters is a lot to ask.
But "supposed to be funny" isn't the same thing as "actually funny." Not even close. And ads of varying degrees of success, whether featuring a talking lizard shilling insurance, a dog bribing a man with bags of tortilla chips or anthropomorphized bottles of nutritional shakes bragging about their healthfulness (among many, many others), manage to have a beginning, middle and end in their half-minutes.
KFC's ads are all build-up, and no follow-through. Since they want to be seen as funny, I'll synthesize my criticism in joke-telling terms. The commercials assume that "I ate the bones!" is the punchline. In truth, it's only the set-up -- and, frankly, it's not a very good one.