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Old 11-29-2011, 04:28 AM
Miller Miller is online now
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Why I love AT&T's "Greenhouse" commercial

I'm referring to this commercial, which seems to be the most popular - er, perhaps I should say frequent - suggestion in the "Television Commercials You Hate" thread. People really, really hate this commercial. They hate this commercial like Jews hate Hitler. I've got a slightly different opinion of it:

I think this commercial is amazing.

Aside from packing in an impressive amount of drama and character into a few seconds, it's one of the most blatantly subversive films I've ever seen on TV.

Starting on a simple textual level, look how much this thing communicates about the characters and their relationship. It's impossible not to watch this thing without absolutely hating the wife, and for very specific (if entirely implied) reasons. In roughly seven sentences, it spins out years of bitter resentments and swallowed anger in the face of a steady barrage of belittlement and emotional castration. The expression on the husband's face, and that little catch of suppressed rage when he responds to his wife's reflexive criticism, and her "I may have just gone to far..." reaction, suggests that decades of buried aggression are about to come to the surface. I like to think that seconds after this commercial ended, the marriage dissolves in a profanity-laden screaming match that leaves no pane of glass intact in that greenhouse. Taken as a dramatic work, this commercial is a marvel of economic storytelling.

But on a subtextual level, the real brilliance of the work is revealed. Because the whole thing is one big middle finger to the commercial's target market.

One of the reasons most often cited for hating this commercial is the idea of a woman who can afford her own private greenhouse bitching her husband out over how much money they're spending on text messaging. You are, of course, meant to despise her. But this isn't just one over priviledged yuppie hausfrau. She's a stand in for the American consumer. You are meant to hold her in contempt, and by extension, you are meant to hold anyone in contempt who frets about something as petty as text messaging while living surrounded by opulent wealth. Which, relative to global prosperity levels, includes the majority of people living in the United States. What the commercial is saying is that if the service being offered in this commercial interests you, then you are the bitchy housewife. There are thousands of children dying every day because they don't have access to uncontaminated drinking water, but here's America, in its little hothouse, desperately worried about how much money it costs to pass vacuous, semi-literate e-notes back and forth, like a nation of arrested adolescents gossiping during algebra class. The searing hatred this commercial clearly feels for the wife is a cover for a searing hatred of the very people the commercial is counting on to buy their product. It's a bold and unmistakable indictment of the entire capitalist system, disguised as an advertisement from a major multinational corporation. This is a commercial that says, "If you buy our product, you are what is wrong with the world." That is some absolutely dazzling chutzpah right there. As a work of short fiction, this is a masterpiece.

Of course, for exactly the same reasons, it's an utter failure as a commercial. But I'm not sure that wasn't also the goal - nobody goes to film school for four years so they can pursue their dream job of making cell phone commercials. I think someone at this ad agency is starting to resent their career choices to date. God love him, whoever he is, but I hope he stays in the ad business just a little bit longer.

As a final note, please keep in mind that I'm just identifying the message of the commercial, not endorsing it. I'm not going to try to defend the accuracy of the message, although I'm more than happy to defend the accuracy of my interpretation.
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Old 11-29-2011, 04:59 AM
jackdavinci jackdavinci is offline
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You know, I've seen this commercial many times. And I've never noticed the greenhouse.

All I've noticed is the bitchy wife.

But past that, I've also noticed, in order to get the free whatever, the husband had to sign up to PAY for some plan to get the whatever.

So, the bitchy wife's point remains the same. The husband is spending extra money without his wife's consent. Whatever extra nifty things the plan gives him is irrelevant. He's still spending extra money over all.
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Old 11-29-2011, 09:53 AM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
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Originally Posted by jackdavinci View Post
But past that, I've also noticed, in order to get the free whatever, the husband had to sign up to PAY for some plan to get the whatever.

So, the bitchy wife's point remains the same. The husband is spending extra money without his wife's consent. Whatever extra nifty things the plan gives him is irrelevant. He's still spending extra money over all.
See, I figure the only way it makes sense is that his wife gave him a simple task -- go buy us some minutes for the cell phone (or whatever) -- and he comes back beaming, proudly announcing that he's just now gotten them an unlimited texting plan (or whatever). So she's thinking I sent you to do this one simple thing, and you blow a bunch of money on this other stuff, and she bitchily informs him that she should've married John Clark -- and, with the lights dying in his eyes, he replies that the other stuff was free with the stuff he was, y'know, already buying as per their plan.
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Old 11-29-2011, 11:08 AM
markdash markdash is offline
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I like the commercial because I find it funny.
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Old 11-29-2011, 12:10 PM
Frylock Frylock is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Miller View Post
Starting on a simple textual level, look how much this thing communicates about the characters and their relationship. It's impossible not to watch this thing without absolutely hating the wife, and for very specific (if entirely implied) reasons. In roughly seven sentences, it spins out years of bitter resentments and swallowed anger in the face of a steady barrage of belittlement and emotional castration. The expression on the husband's face, and that little catch of suppressed rage when he responds to his wife's reflexive criticism, and her "I may have just gone to far..." reaction, suggests that decades of buried aggression are about to come to the surface. I like to think that seconds after this commercial ended, the marriage dissolves in a profanity-laden screaming match that leaves no pane of glass intact in that greenhouse. Taken as a dramatic work, this commercial is a marvel of economic storytelling.
That it is so easy to fill in these blanks is an indictment of the culture that produced the commercial--and in that sense, is an indictment of the commercial itself.

Quote:
But on a subtextual level, the real brilliance of the work is revealed. Because the whole thing is one big middle finger to the commercial's target market.

One of the reasons most often cited for hating this commercial is the idea of a woman who can afford her own private greenhouse bitching her husband out over how much money they're spending on text messaging. You are, of course, meant to despise her. But this isn't just one over priviledged yuppie hausfrau. She's a stand in for the American consumer. You are meant to hold her in contempt, and by extension, you are meant to hold anyone in contempt who frets about something as petty as text messaging while living surrounded by opulent wealth. Which, relative to global prosperity levels, includes the majority of people living in the United States. What the commercial is saying is that if the service being offered in this commercial interests you, then you are the bitchy housewife.
No, the commercial doesn't ask us to identify exclusively with the housewife. The two character represent two different voices the commercial expects us to have in our heads. The money-worrier is the voice we should not listen to, and so its character is represented negatively. The stuff-buyer is the voice we should listen to, and its character is represented positively.

The commercial presents us with our fears about (among other things) ourselves--and pretends to offer us a way to escape (with dignity and innocence intact even!) from that fear. We are sometimes cautious, but we're afraid that caution is mere bitchiness. We are also sometimes spendy, but we're afraid that spendiness is foolhardiness. The commercial pretends we're right about the bitchiness, and wrong about the foolhardiness, by trying to force us into an internal dialogue that matches that of the characters portrayed in the commercial.
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Old 11-29-2011, 12:33 PM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
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Originally Posted by Frylock View Post
No, the commercial doesn't ask us to identify exclusively with the housewife. The two character represent two different voices the commercial expects us to have in our heads. The money-worrier is the voice we should not listen to, and so its character is represented negatively. The stuff-buyer is the voice we should listen to, and its character is represented positively.
I take it to be a bit subtler than that: he's not quite represented positively, as he sets off his wife's bitchy response before feebly relaying the fact that he got the stuff for free. So the implied takeaway is something like "How good is this deal? Let me put it this way: don't start off, as this guy did, by mentioning how much stuff you got; start off by mentioning how little it cost, lest folks jump to the conclusion that you must have paid a ton of money for something so wonderful."
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Old 11-29-2011, 01:33 PM
drastic_quench drastic_quench is offline
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Awesome. This discussion is worth 10,000 "commercials I hate" threads.

Frylock, you raise some very interesting insights as well.
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Old 11-29-2011, 02:20 PM
El_Kabong El_Kabong is offline
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I mostly agree with the OP's analysis, except maybe for the notion that the director somehow slipped one by the suits at AT & T. For one thing, I doubt the director wrote the script as well; for another, surely this passed some sort of internal review process both pre- and post-production and I have to question whether the rather glaring subtext passed completely over the reviewer's heads.

While I appreciate the cleverness of what's going on there, however, it doesn't make me like the advert any better. All I can think of when I see it is: "Why the hell does AT & T want to depress me so badly?"
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Old 11-29-2011, 05:04 PM
BigT BigT is online now
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So, in summation, the commercial is good because it makes people hate it.

You can't call something a good commercial that makes people actively want to avoid the brand. Commercials are not complex films. And it takes absolutely no talent to create a character that people hate.
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Old 11-29-2011, 05:14 PM
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Now, for me, I imagine the husband EXPLODING in rage, and the wife just ... disappears.

The plants in the greenhouse grow bigger, stronger, faster, better than ever.

The husband marries a stripper.


~VOW
  #11  
Old 11-29-2011, 06:44 PM
Miller Miller is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frylock View Post
No, the commercial doesn't ask us to identify exclusively with the housewife.
I'm saying that the commercial doesn't want us to identify with the housewife at all. She's too nakedly hateful. Which is what makes the commercial so interesting, because as you say, we ought to be partly sympathetic to her views. The commercial ought to make us think her complaint is valid: that worrying over the cost of text messaging is a reasonable concern. But the character is so contemptuous that it poisons her entire point of view. It destroys the entire purpose of switching to that plan, because it's only selling point (per this commercial) is free messaging, which the commercial clearly communicates is a petty concern only of interest to cruel and thoughtless people.

Quote:
Originally Posted by El_Kabong
I mostly agree with the OP's analysis, except maybe for the notion that the director somehow slipped one by the suits at AT & T. For one thing, I doubt the director wrote the script as well; for another, surely this passed some sort of internal review process both pre- and post-production and I have to question whether the rather glaring subtext passed completely over the reviewer's heads
Yeah, I'm kind of assuming the director as the auteur of the piece, but it could have come from the writer. I think the director, at the very least, had to be in on the joke, though - and I don't think whoever approved the ad was in on it. Like you said, there was certainly some sort of screening process for this, and I can't imagine the reviewers okaying the ad if they did get the subtext.

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Originally Posted by BigT
You can't call something a good commercial that makes people actively want to avoid the brand.
I didn't say it was a good commercial. In fact, I explicitly said just the opposite:

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Originally Posted by Miller
Of course, for exactly the same reasons, it's an utter failure as a commercial.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigT
Commercials are not complex films.
I didn't say it was complex, either.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BigT
And it takes absolutely no talent to create a character that people hate.
This is also completely wrong. It takes talent to make a character that evokes a response from your readers, either positive or negative. A talentless writer doesn't create characters people hate, he creates characters that nobody cares about.
  #12  
Old 11-29-2011, 09:01 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is offline
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The only good thing about this commercial is that it is one of the very few ads out there where the husband isn't a total doofus.
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Old 11-29-2011, 11:45 PM
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Maybe she's just a miser?
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Old 11-30-2011, 02:25 PM
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Maybe she's just a miser?

A miser with her own greenhouse?
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Old 11-30-2011, 03:01 PM
Johnny Q Johnny Q is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
Now, for me, I imagine the husband EXPLODING in rage, and the wife just ... disappears.

The plants in the greenhouse grow bigger, stronger, faster, better than ever.

The husband marries a stripper.


~VOW
And if anyone asks what happened to her all he has to say is "She ran away with John Clark." Who probably had a similar "accident."
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Old 11-30-2011, 03:18 PM
planetcory planetcory is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
Now, for me, I imagine the husband EXPLODING in rage, and the wife just ... disappears.

The plants in the greenhouse grow bigger, stronger, faster, better than ever.

The husband marries a stripper.


~VOW
I actually just picture him slinking back to his study, muttering miserably to himself over a model airplane magazine, and living out the next 10 years of his life just like he lived the last 10.

Last edited by planetcory; 11-30-2011 at 03:19 PM.
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Old 11-30-2011, 07:30 PM
Jeff Lichtman Jeff Lichtman is offline
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Aside from packing in an impressive amount of drama and character into a few seconds, it's one of the most blatantly subversive films I've ever seen on TV.
I think yours is a good analysis of the intent of the little drama in this commercial. I don't see why I should admire an attempt to make me feel like a jerk for not wanting the service being advertised.
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  #18  
Old 11-30-2011, 07:34 PM
Miller Miller is online now
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Originally Posted by Jeff Lichtman View Post
I don't see why I should admire an attempt to make me feel like a jerk for not wanting the service being advertised.
I'm saying the commercial does precisely the opposite of that. It's trying to make you feel like a jerk if you do want their product.
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Old 11-30-2011, 09:30 PM
kittenblue kittenblue is offline
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A miser with her own greenhouse?
Geez o Pete, if I had a picture of it on my camera I'd show you a shot of the $600 a month rental house around the corner with the huge attached greenhouse! I think the greenhouse makes her seem MORE frugal, because she's into growing her own flowers and veggies.
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Old 11-30-2011, 09:39 PM
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Geez o Pete, if I had a picture of it on my camera I'd show you a shot of the $600 a month rental house around the corner with the huge attached greenhouse! I think the greenhouse makes her seem MORE frugal, because she's into growing her own flowers and veggies.
A real miser would be dumpster-diving behind the supermarket.
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Old 12-01-2011, 09:30 AM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is offline
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I'm saying the commercial does precisely the opposite of that. It's trying to make you feel like a jerk if you do want their product.
I'm saying it's trying to make you feel like a jerk if you want to pay a lot of money for their product: the husband's response only makes sense if (a) he personally thinks it's a great deal, and (b) he figures his wife will realize her mistake once she realizes he got the stuff free -- instead of, y'know, paying what she expects something like that to cost.
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Old 12-01-2011, 09:52 AM
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THis commercial tells a story that can only end in a violent and disturbing murder/suicide that leaves an entire community shaken to the core and causes them to burn down the house and green house and salt the ground on which they stood so that mankind never has to face the horror of such rage and brutality again.






...or not.
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Old 12-01-2011, 10:04 AM
Hail Ants Hail Ants is offline
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I'm tempted to just say you're over-analyzing it, but I realize that a mega-corporation like at&t would analyze every possible facet of a TV ad like this. And for that reason I don't think it has the opposite effect of making you not want to buy their product because, if it did, this ad would never have made it past the planning stage.

The idea that they are wealthy enough to own a greenhouse I think is just lost on you in the extremely short setup time. However what isn't at all lost, and what in fact makes it work, is that the characters are huge archetypes, namely the bitchy, shrewish wife and the nebbish, cuckold husband. Given that setup it simply follows the path that the husband will ultimately be correct after being criticized by the wife. Plus even though the wife was overly negative the husband takes the high road and doesn't gloat about correcting her.

For these reasons, using a clearly somewhat dysfunctional marriage as an element of humor, I actually like this ad. I could care less about what its selling because I know that all cellphone plans are nearly identical in the long run.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Death of Rats
THis commercial tells a story that can only end in a violent and disturbing murder/suicide that leaves an entire community shaken to the core and causes them to burn down the house and green house and salt the ground on which they stood so that mankind never has to face the horror of such rage and brutality again.
Yeah, that's what I like about it!
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Old 12-01-2011, 10:32 AM
The Controvert The Controvert is offline
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Why does everyone assume the woman is a homemaker supported by the husband? In these modern times, the woman could be a successful neurosurgeon who paid for her own greenhouse. Maybe she's tired of supporting her spendthrift house-husband's antics and John Clarke is more financially savvy than someone who falls for some "free" minutes promotion for an overpriced phone bundle.
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Old 12-01-2011, 03:44 PM
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You've definitely made me think more about this commercial than I normally would have.

I guess the concept of a commercial that makes you want to not buy the product is kind of like a person entering a painting into a dog show.

Sure, maybe the painting is nice and it's a nice break from all the dogs, but it's jarring and not really appropriate.

Given the constraints and expectations of TV commercials, this commercial is a failure.
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Old 12-02-2011, 12:44 AM
Hail Ants Hail Ants is offline
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I still standby my post. AT&T would have focus grouped the shit out of any & every commercial they make before ever airing it. If most people turned their little dial to 'dislike' then that would have been the end of this spot. The geeky husband represents AT&T in this spot, and he's likable and ultimately succeeds, ergo so does AT&T's advertised cellphone package. The wife thinks it's stupid, that's why she's the villain. Doesn't really go much deeper than that.
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Old 12-02-2011, 01:06 AM
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This commercial, like everything in the American psyche, can be traced back to Stephen King. This is every married man's lonely death as Jordy Verill. Slow apathetic Green Hell. Meteor Shit. It's all the work and no play that makes Jack a dull boy. Rose Madder had a greenhouse connection as well.

Last edited by devilsknew; 12-02-2011 at 01:07 AM.
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Old 12-02-2011, 04:34 AM
Odesio Odesio is offline
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I still standby my post. AT&T would have focus grouped the shit out of any & every commercial they make before ever airing it. If most people turned their little dial to 'dislike' then that would have been the end of this spot.
They don't always get it right. How long did Pepsi's brown and bubbly ad campaign last?
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Old 12-02-2011, 05:13 AM
Miller Miller is online now
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Originally Posted by Hail Ants View Post
I still standby my post. AT&T would have focus grouped the shit out of any & every commercial they make before ever airing it.
Oh, absolutely they did that. No doubt about it. However, I think you're making an error in assuming that a) the focus group process always yields accurate results, and b) that AT&T is always going to act on those results in a competent manner.

While both of these suppositions may be true as a generality, I think we could both think of plenty of counter-examples that disprove their universality.
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