The Denver-bred Quiznos chain is an odd duck. While its toasted sandwiches are now sold coast to coast, it's courted controversy because of its franchise practices. And its commercials, while memorable, are pretty damn strange, whether it's singing mutant hamsters, sexualized talking ovens or its possibly NSFW "2 Girls, 1 Sub" campaign. But when it comes to balls-to-the-wall insanity, the new Chicken Bacon Dipper sandwich campaign may take the cake.
We don't even know how to describe the ads. We're stunned speechless, and sort of frightened. It's better to let you judge them for yourself:
Like the folks over at the Denver Egotist who first spotted the spots, we're clueless as to the ads' target audience. Meth users? Salvador Dalí? It's a mystery.
But who knows: Maybe Quiznos is on to something. After all, it's hard to argue with the lucrative success of the comically nonsensical Old Spice guy commercials. And dreaming up odd marketing gimmicks like Burger King's Subservient Chicken campaign helped propel the Boulder-based ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky to worldwide prominence. So, if something is funny, does it automatically sell?
Science, in fact, has the answer to this. Enter Peter McGraw, a CU-Boulder professor who, along with the research team at his Humor Research Lab (HuRL), is hard at work at figuring out what, exactly, makes things funny. Since McGraw works at the Leeds School of business, much of his research relates to humor in marketing -- and he's found that all too often, such humor backfires.
According a universal theory of humor McGraw developed with his colleague Caleb Warren, humor only occurs when someone perceives something to be a violation while simultaneously realizing that violation is in some way benign. The "Benign Violation Theory" suggests comedy is a careful mix of pleasure and pain -- and if the elements are out of whack, the joke fails and, in the case of marketing, the commercial falls apart.
Take an experiment McGraw did wherein he had HuRL lab participants view a real-life lime cola advertisement featuring an anthropomorphized lime peeing into a glass of soda. While the participants reported they found that ad memorable, they were not too fond of the lime cola HuRL researchers subsequently asked them to drink. Maybe they thought it tasted like pee.
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Funny ads work best, says McGraw, when the product for sale isn't the target of the joke. That's why the Apple's "Mac vs. PC" ads were so successful -- because the joke was on Apple's competitor. As for these new Quiznos ads? While they may in some strange way be funny, the jokes are definitely targeted at the sandwich and those eating them. It's hard to associate sauce-smeared beards and sandwiches held up by bare feet with anything that's appetizing.
"By now, brands and the agencies employed to create advertising campaigns know the risks of missing the mark when trying to create entertaining, humorous, and potentially viral campaigns," says McGraw. "It seems to me that in this case, they have done their follow-up research and the result is a somewhat strange, off-putting campaign."
Quiznos, consider your new ad campaign toast.
More from our Media archive: "Rachel Maddow: MSNBC host teaches America how to pronounce "Colorado" (VIDEO)." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner