Looking back on The Simpsons, the show which I quote almost daily, I noticed some intelligent and down-right satirical advertisements built into the show. From Homer’s ‘Mr Plow’ television ad to the ‘Don’t Eat Beef, Eat Deer’ billboard. These commercials mock the ironic reality of the advertising industry as a soulless, money-grabbing and sometimes malicious endeavour. So at least we can say they did their homework.
Almost 33 years since it first came on our screens, the show has satirically depicted life from the perspective of an average nuclear family in the fictional town of Springfield. From episodes featuring the Dotcom Era, the 1996 Presidential Election or the Y2K glitch – the subject matter often reflects topics current to the time of broadcast.
However, the writers haven’t missed an opportunity to showcase their sense of humour when it comes to eagle-eyed viewers. Looking back on some of the episodes I watched from my childhood, almost half of the comedic moments went, honestly, over my head. I now realise how much each episode was packed with wit aimed more towards my parents – at the time.
Having worked in the marketing industry, I noticed how accurately The Simpsons portrayed the advertising world in such a comedic fashion. Whether their intent was to get a quick joke or to portray, although overly exaggerated, the fact that various companies actually adopt some of the following ‘strategies’.
So here are the Top 10 Most Accurate Advertisements featured within The Simpsons – some of which may break a few laws, so don’t suggest this at the next think tank.
10 – Gun outside the bowling alley
I’d like to start off with an all-time favourite of mine, not just this scene, but the entire episode is packed with heartfelt but funny moments. Episode thirteen of the sixth season, ‘And Maggie Makes Three‘, includes the story of how Homer worked briefly at the bowling alley before Maggie was born.
After deciding to market the bowling alley to bring in more customers, Homer researches from a selection of books including ‘Advanced Marketing, ‘Beginner Marketing’ and finally looks up the word Marketing in the Dictionary. The result is using firing numerous rounds of a shotgun to attract the attention of potential customers.
You only have to look at news titles such as, ‘Man shoots wife at point-blank range during marketing stunt‘ to know that this can actually happen. Clearly, it gets a lot of attention, but probably for the wrong reasons.
9 – Lionel Hutz – “No Money, Down!”
Obviously false advertising, this joke is by far one of my favourites. Punctuation is everything when it comes to advertisements – and this scene showed me how to use a comma. It can sometimes be used as a comedic tool within the advertising world. Campaigns like; ‘Let’s eat kids’ corrected to ‘Let’s eat, Kids!’ aimed at catching the reader’s attention.
I always find this scene hilarious, more for the fact that I’ve witnessed many so-called “free” trials charging my card straight after I sign up. Spawned from this scene are many hilarious memes highlighting this very issue. It does teach us an important lesson that looks can be deceiving regarding ads that are too good to be true.
8 – Solar Energy – Taking Out The Competition
Taking out the competition is a sure-fire, but possibly ethically grey, way to succeed in business. This scene doesn’t shy away from threatening fossil fuel companies with slogans like ‘use us and nobody gets hurt’. A satirical view on our ability to provide green energy around the globe – seemingly halted by continuous investment in burning fossil fuels.
Although this episode, ‘The Last Temptation of Homer,’ aired in 1993 (29 years ago), the world hasn’t changed all that much as the same issues still persist. Although many countries have gone a long way to implement greener energy laws and quotas – it’s still a long way off.
7 – A.S.S. American Shipping Service
In episode 393, ‘Rome-Old and Julie Eh‘, Bart and Lisa order shipping materials from a delivery company aptly named ‘American Shipping Service’ A.S.S. for short. The company soon discover Bart and Lisa have built a fort with their supplies resulting in an all-out war of paper products.
SEX! Now I’ve got your attention. It’s pretty much the oldest (and frankly dumbest) trick in the book for standing out amongst the crowd. The trials of naming a company can be struggling, especially if the name you’re looking to pick has other meanings already.
Deciding to use this to your advantage is a clever way of gaining attention to a brand. Companies like Analtech in Delaware or Cockram in Australia are either shrewdly (or perhaps mistakenly) named as double meanings which are undoubtedly risque.
6 – Duff, Duff Lite, Duff Dry
In the episode, ‘Duffless‘, Barney and Homer tour the Duff brewery where a specific section holds three new products, ‘Duff, Duff Lite and Duff Dry’ all clearly coming from the same piping.
Hilarious, but also annoyingly accurate. Companies have a habit of breaking up target markets to sell the same product but labelled differently. You only have to look at the number of gendered products marketed ‘For Men’ to see this irritating example.
Slap a combination of buzzwords and divide your product into several variations of the same product will lead to conquering many different target markets.
5 – Itchy & Scratchy Billboard
Billboards have always been a really creative outlet for many marketing departments. It offers inventive thinking to make something unique and imaginative. In season four, episode six, ‘Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie,’ a promotional billboard for The Itchy and Scratchy Movie splatters blood on unsuspecting passersby.
Seventeen years later, a company in New Zealand (Saatchi & Saatchi) actually constructed a blood-splattering billboard to promote the television debut of Kill Bill Vol 1. The blood rained down on one of the busiest intersections in Auckland. I’m sure there were plenty of unhappy car owners even though the campaign was a massive success.
4 – Orange Juice Commercial
In the fourth season, episode twenty-one, ‘Marge in Chains‘, a juice loosener commercial persuades residents of Springfield to buy juicers made in Osaka.
“Until now, this was the only way to get juice from an orange!”
Viewers of the shopping channel (mainly the elderly and unemployed) will understand how accurate this portrayal is of the terrible acting or pointless inventions featured on shopping tv. Whether it’s a vacuum that also lights cigarettes or a glow in the dark knuckle-duster, the shopping channel has always had some very questionable creations.
Play a black & white montage of over-dramatised people struggling to do basic chores with a snazzy named product that saves the day – and you’ll soon see the money rolling in.
3 – Clown College Billboard
Some ads just get stuck in your head – sometimes because of how aggravated you feel after viewing them. The wacky ones intend on stopping us during our scrolling and catch attention to go viral. However, there’s a fine line between comedic wackiness and obnoxious irritation.
I would have to say this scene is the most accurate depiction of those annoyingly catchy adverts that have us singing irritating jingles. In season six, episode fifteen, ‘Home the Clown,’ Homer excitably checks out a number of billboards on his way to work. A particular billboard advertising Krusty’s Clown College ends up worming its way into his subconscious.
“That’s it! You people have stood in my way long enough. I’m going to Clown College!”
I only recently realised the inspiration behind Homer shaping the potatoes into a make-shift circus tent is from the 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A perfect example of the hypnotic effect some of these adverts can have on our thoughts.
2 – Gabbo, Gabbo, Gabbo
Often marketing strategies can take the risky approach of giving the bare minimum to go on in order to rack up a sense of mystery behind a brand. Without even knowing what the product is, sometimes all we need to go on is a name.
The launch of Gabbo in the episode, ‘Krusty Gets Cancelled‘, teaches us this exact strategy with a viral campaign for a new TV programme to rival ‘The Krusty The Clown Show‘. The regional newspaper bears the headline “Who is Gabbo?” while roadside billboards display the name which quickly becomes the gossip of the town.
At the time this episode was aired, viral marketing was just starting to take off as a marketing tool. It wasn’t until two years later that the term ‘viral marketing’ was coined by the team behind the launch campaign for the original PlayStation.
1 – Monorail Song
Lastly, not exactly a marketing campaign but more a commentary on the deceitful tricks of a salesperson. In the episode ‘Marge Vs the Monorail‘, the song sees a travelling salesman razzle-dazzle the town folk into spending their money on an expensive monorail, with all criticism being washed aside through the charismatic performance.
It’s a good lesson in the corruption within political infrastructure especially as viewers themselves are densely joyful with the musical number. There are many moments in The Simpsons that demonstrates the general herd mentality of the town – almost comparable to many anti-vax protesters of today. It spreads the message that distraction is the best tool to create “aggressive ignorance” showing that even smart people can be fooled – evidenced by Lisa’s adoration for Lyle Lanley.
“Young Lady, that’s the most intelligent question I’ve ever been asked. I could give you an answer, but the only ones who’d understand it would be you and me – and that includes your teacher.”
It’s clear that trickery and flattery are among the traits of a prosperous con-man. Hidden behind this catchy show tune is the cynical view that this sort of strategy does work and can fool any of us despite our individualistic beliefs.
Thanks for reading our 10 Most Accurate Ads Featured in The Simpsons! Feel free to comment below and speak to us about other shows with examples of marketing and PR stunts.