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Jack Palance and the Big Bucking Chicken

Marty Schroeder | Monday, May 1, 2006

During sophomore year, I was introduced to the concept of the supertext – the overarching combination of amazing, entertaining programming and the clever commercials that go along with it. The power of the commercial, as I came to find out, was nigh gargantuan.

Let me give you an example of how commercials insinuate themselves into our malleable subconscious. Imagine yourself on your favorite La-Z-Boy easy chair, a cold beverage in one hand, a Cheetos bag in the other. You are raptly watching Notre Dame destroy whichever team it happens to be playing on the gridiron.

They cut to a commercial break and that hilarious Pepto-Bismol commercial enters the screen – you know, the one with the funny jingle. You never thought that the digestive tract of the human body could be summed up so toe-tappingly well.

All of the sudden, the bowels begin to move and the depths begin to rumble. Could it be the beverage? I thought I checked the born-on-date. Could it be the Cheetos? You are lactose intolerant. Does the cheese on Cheetos count as lactose? What are you going to do? You race to the bathroom without an hour to spare. You throw open the door … and stop. Why am I stressing out? I could take some Pepto-Bismol.

The commercial has done its job and whoever makes that bottle of pink gold has you $5 in their pocket. This, dear reader, is the power that those fiendish 30-second spots of marketing have.

Another popular commercial that I am sure you are all aware of is the Burger King ballad, “Big Bucking Chicken.” In all my days I have never witnessed a more moving and touching commercial. The look of the cowboy as he watches the Big Bucking Chicken buck is priceless.

After seeing a giant chicken run around a holding pen with a cowboy on its back, who would not want to head right to the Burger King and order a sandwich with a big and bucking piece of chicken?

However, as clever and conniving as some commercials can be, there are others that can be spotted from a mile away – the Mach 3 razor commercials. These try so hard to make the banal act of shaving seem to be the end all and be all of one’s relationship with your significant other.

While it is very nice to be a well-groomed person, is it really necessary to show me a computerized grid of my jaw line to display the cooling factor of your shave gel? And who makes those diagrams of the hair being cut by the razor? The special effects look like an eighth grader designed them and tell me nothing about the shaving product.

So you can make bad computer graphics, but you had to get rid of Jack Palance. Remember when he was selling after-shave? Those were some fine and upright commercials. When you hear a man with the sagaciously raspy voice and those chiseled features that Mr. Palance possesses, who would not want to buy his product? Scratch the bad graphics and give me Palance.

Commercials have been with us since the creation of network television. In their endless quest to get us to buy stuff, they go from the funny to the sad to the incomprehensible. Television commercials can seem as though they advertise nothing, which can make them much more tricky than they should be. As long as we as viewers remember to watch out for those feral bucking chickens and attempt to get Jack Palance back on the air, we should all be fine.

Contact Marty Schroeder at mschroe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.