Fracking, Rat-Packing & Heart-Attacking: Opening Pandora’s Box of Ads

It is better to give than receive–particularly homework.  But for one weekend my high school students didn’t mind, at first, being asked to watch the Super Bowl and its commercials.

Click here to read...

Click here to read…

The grand-daddy of all Super Bowl ads, the 1984 premiere of the Macintosh.

The grand-daddy of all Super Bowl ads, the 1984 premiere of the Macintosh.

The quickly frowning class soon realized it would have to count the number of edits, how a narrator was used, the use of graphics, music, celebrities, etc.  But my favorite column read, “Intended Audience.”  I started the assignment back when the agencies realized they could had grab the same audience that didn’t get a sandwich during a timeout for the first Macintosh ad in 1984–and the Bud Bowl began.

Generally, a football game will not be the correct forum for Mop & Glow, pet food or feminine hygiene.  (Someone on Madison Avenue once gave birth to the strange descendant of “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” as the cringe-worthy, “It’s not your mother’s tampon.” )

The standards for the “Big Game,” as the NFL insists other companies that won’t be sponsors refer to the hallowed Sunday-game is the trifecta of  trucks, beer and fast food with the occasional spot for a mindless action movie.

Malfunction vs. Dysfunction

But somewhere in the last ten years, erectile dysfunction became a close runner-up to Miller Lite.

"Don't worry, Janet.  I've got your sexy back."

“Don’t worry, Janet. I’ve got your sexy back–even if I did tear away your sexy front.”

February was the tenth anniversary of the holier-than-Timberlake outrage created by the “wardrobe malfunction” of Janet Jackson which begat the awful time-delay that no longer permits one to watch the Tigers on TV while listening to the radio announcers (see a certain Rod Allen post).

But really, I prefered to discuss the momentary breast appearance to my 10 year-old son than the ensuing Viagra spot.

“Well son, you see, um…when you’re about fifty or so years older, you’ll…um…let’s see…”

"Look, if the whole idea of this stuff is to increase romance, perhaps we could get one tub--and a shower curtain."

“Look, if the whole idea of this stuff is to increase romance, perhaps we could get one tub–and a shower curtain.”

The same reason that reruns of Matlock or Murder She Wrote yield spots for life insurance and bladder control do-dads you’re certain to see stock portfolio and Cadillac plush productions during the Masters or during the Cream and Strawberries of Wimbledon.

The handy weapon if your gun misfires.  What more could a nine year-old want?

The handy weapon if your gun misfires. What more could a nine year-old want?

Heavy Mattel

Commercials have been a necessary evil in my life since I wondered why there were gaps in my Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner cartoons on Saturday morning.  My dad explained that it was so they could pay the bills to show me the cartoons.  That made sense.  And the ads weren’t too bad; the intended audience was some six year-old on the floor two feet from the glowing screen convincing me that most of my childhood crises could be solved by GI Joe, Twister or Operation.

One of the greatest moments of my gullibility came from this 1973 spot for the VertiBird Air Police from Mattel:

The following Christmas it was under the tree—along with eight “D” batteries.  The following day it was broken.  I can still feel the pain on my cheek as the blades got a little too close after I became as zealous in my hope to air-lift the bad guys as those little over-actors were.

Define "free" please.

Define “free” please.

When Pandora radio emerged it, like AMC, was commercial-free.  But sadly, like a five-hour airing of The Godfather or my paid Hulu-viewing, the barely-tolerable pair of 30-second ads pops into my eardrums.

I was scanning a pile of snapshots, something I’d originally set out to do 17 months earlier (and chronicled in this blog).  But my son’s graduation party is coming and there’s nothing like a deadline to make you take an hour or so and start scanning a couple hundred pictures from 1997.



It was a double-whammy.  I grabbed the stack and flipped them over and ran across sixteen photos of my dad with a two year-old version of the graduate.  If it weren’t hard enough to revisit those pictures taken just before the accident, I had selected the Rat Pack Pandora channel—seemingly safe since it was most likely going to involve Dean Martin playing the drunk, mixing up words for cheap laughs from the Vegas lounge:  “I left my heart in Fran Sancisco…”

Natalie and Nat

Natalie and Nat

But as I turned over the third picture and got that choked up feeling on my throat, the Pandora’s box opened to play Nat King and Natalie Cole’s eerie remix of the dad’s classic “Unforgettable.”  Boom.  Insta-tears.  Late father.  Grandson.  Sentimental son scanning pictures in a safe basement hideout.

Jim Walsh celebrating #57 with grandson #1.

Jim Walsh celebrating #57 with grandson #1.

But I soldiered through the scanning and was proud of myself.  I was in a good place and feeling pleasantly nostalgic and happy for my son’s graduation and grateful that my dad got to spend two years with Aidan…until the moment was ruined by Pandora and its odd audience-gauging algorithm.

What the frack...

What the frack…

“Yes.  I’m here for the heart-attack, please…with a side of fries.”

The first “ad” featured a pleasant sounding woman who decided to buy a ranch with her husband and children, then how proud they were to have fracking occur on their land.  The controversial hydraulic-fracturing to access natural gas has led many environmentalists to exhibit the side-effects by putting a lighter to drinking water.  At the end of the spot was the disclaimer that the happy mom was sponsored by the petroleum industry.

There has been some online opposition to the spot, including Roya Brown who contacted the Pontius Pilate Pandora who claimed they didn’t make the ads, they just played them.  Brown responded:

“So, I argued that if someone wanted to put an ad for prostitution, I am sure that Pandora would not accept it and I frankly don’t see any difference between prostituting your body or exploiting/ fracking earth.”

Scary TV logo to go with scary narrator

Scary TV logo to go with scary narrator

The second ad was a more surgical, so to speak, technique of local advertising science that must spring from mysterious IP address or my cable-provider.

Either way, the scary Beaumont Hospital narrator began with his ominous music backup band, letting me know that if I come to Beaumont for either “an EKG or a heart-attack,” I’m in good hands.  The bottom line of all this terrifying Beaumont HAL-like calmness is simple:

“Do you have a Beaumont doctor—or do you want to die?”

In the course of just four minutes of “free internet radio,” I’d run the gamut from the very-real world of life, death and acceptance into the shady realm of environmental euphemism and non-profit medical profits.

In nostalgia-land, who needs a windshield!

In nostalgia-land, who needs a tall windshield?

Perhaps this ping-ponging of emotion and “facts” plays well with this Pandora’s stations audience, the Rat-Pack fans—even from folks like me who were too busy being born to cruise the strip in a convertible with Ann Margaret.  Either way, the nostalgia of that playlist works well with the homey-narrators of Beaumont’s funeral-director narrator and the fracking-rancher wife.

My students weren’t as happy with me and my “intended audience chart” on Super Bowl Monday.  But once in a while I’ll get a Facebook post from a proud parent who’s informed me that they’ve made their own kids as miserable watching commercials as I’d made them.

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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 10 years since then. Contact him at: He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion.

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