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5/7/99 - Butthole Surfers

One of the Observation Post's predictable New Year's predictions was that 1999 would see a continuation of the long-standing double standard existing between commercials and the programs they appear on. And sure enough, a jumbo-sized example appeared a few weeks after Auld Lang Syne was sung.

It involved Hotjobs.com, a newbie Super Bowl advertiser, which had to quickly shoot a replacement for the spot they'd wanted to air in their $1.6 million Bowl slot. That's because the Fox Network deemed their original storyboard "not in good taste." (See it here.)

The spot featured a zoo keeper who takes a crash course in pachyderm proctology when a big Dumbo unwittingly impales itself on him. (The voiceover asks "Still stuck in the same old job?")

While, as noted in an earlier commentary, the replacement spot was more campaignable, the reasons for the elephant spot's rejection are still questionable. After all, Fox had no objection to a scatological Bud Light spot featuring two slacker dudes faced with making a tough choice between beer and toilet paper.

Was that spot approved because Bud was the biggest advertiser on the Bowl while Hotjobs.com bet their annual ad budget on a one shot spot? Or was it because the action and sucking sound effects were too graphic on the storyboard?

Fox's rejection is surprising considering its familiarity with the public's appetite for tastelessness. The Forth Network was built on shows like "Married With Children" and "The Simpsons." While I haven't seen every episode, I wouldn't be surprised if sometime during the past 11 seasons a character on the Simpsons was encased in a colon.

What's more, Fox pioneered videotape reality shows like "Cops" and "World's Deadliest Police Chases." Which, of course, have their roots in the gruesome "Faces of Death" video tape series that purportedly shows real footage of executions and torture from around the world. (It makes a great gift for any members of Amnesty International you know.)

Fox has even carried its shock aesthetic over to promos like the one for baseball on Fox that has a man wearing a catcher's mask willingly kicked in the face by a horse so he can experience "Catcher Cam."

In fact, Fox's video violence has been such a ratings booster that the Big Three Networks have paid tribute to it with their own additions to the genre. Such was the case the other night when NBC attempted to goose their May sweeps numbers with a show called "World's Most Amazing Videos."

Guess what the highlight was--the show stopper they saved for the finale? A clip of a zoo keeper in Guadalajara, Mexico getting his head stuck up an elephant's keister. (See it here.)

The footage was replayed at least a half dozen times so viewers at home could call family members to the television to see it. And the voiceover announcer milked the situation for tongue-in-cheek pathos by describing the guy's sudden "plunge into darkness."

Afterward, a cash reward was offered (amount not specified) for information leading to the identification of this human butt plug. (Why? So they can publicly humiliate the man and provoke him into killing the elephant just like the murder the Jenny Jones Show instigated?)

The situations shown on "World's Most Amazing Videos" did suggest that the Hotjobs.com elephant spot was more extendable than it initially seemed. (It also suggested its creators had somehow been "inspired" by the Guadalajara footage.)

There was a segment with a guy getting sucked into a jet engine that could be restaged for a spot in which the voiceover asked "Does your job suck?" And another clip that showed a worker getting zapped by 15,000 volts could address "job burnout."

However, the fact of the matter is that Hotjobs.com doesn't have a budget to run a national television campaign. So Fox was really doing them a favor by killing the dirty joke spot they were making their media debut with (not that the spot they ran did much to build the brand either).

Sure, airing this elephantine manhole left NBC smelling like a rose. It helped Julia Roberts' guest appearance on the "Law and Order" episode that followed win its time slot by a gaping margin.

However, the value of shock value for a budding brand like Hotjobs.com is another story. Hopefully, their next one shot spot will use differentiation to butt heads with the competition instead of heads in butts.