Though the 4th of July carries with it the monumental legacy of the birth of a nation, making it forever a day of celebration and commemoration throughout America, it is a cold winter Sunday that now carries the flag of the most important date in present-time America. It is a celebration of commerce, influence and the synergy of brand names into the lives of consumers.
There's also a football game going on, for those interested.
On Super Bowl Sunday, advertisers take center stage, in a bloody competition for American attention spans and dollars, both available in shrinking quantities seemingly every year. Even those who don't like football sit down in front of the TV and dare corporations and brand names to win the rights to their laughter and office water cooler chatter the next day, with the implicit, historically-proven promise that their dollars will follow, too.
With the huge money that goes into the competition -- analysts, strategists, marketers, designers, behavioralists, psychologist, test audiences and whomever else can glom on -- it's a big money gamble that seems to represent the free market at its best: the top performers will win out and thrive, the least interesting will crash and lose big time.
But the dark side to this corporate-sponsored extravaganza follows the larger direction of the American economy; big and glossy productions, backed by gobs of cash and executives in high towers, win the eyes and dollars of the consumer, leaving local businesses -- which so often employ those consumers, and provide the backbone of their towns -- helpless against the green tide.
Unless they've got Rhett & Link on their side.
The comedy troupe of Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, longtime YouTube stars, have been using their knack for getting laughs, making music and understanding what makes videos go viral to produce highly amusing -- and successful-- commercials for local businesses on YouTube. With now web-legend ads for places such as Butt Drugs, a small town pharmacy, the two scored a show on IFC, "Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings," that documents the process they go through as they scout businesses, meet with owners and figure out just how to create a cheaply produced, yet highly catchy, local commercials.
"The beauty of the final product in this whole process, is we go in, and we're not going in as a large commercial crew with all these resources, we're embracing those limitations because it's those parameters that actually lead to that quintessential local commercial," Rhett said in a conversation with The Huffington Post.
"I would say there's a certain elegance that emerges from having a zero dollar budget," Link added, explaining that quantity is not always quality, at least when it comes to creating commercials that are memorable, if not beautiful.
The belief comes out of a long time love of those commercials, which began growing up together in North Carolina.
"There was one commercial, and it was called 'Mr. Cash' and I think it would give you payday loans," Link said. "It was 1-800-444-Cash and it was just a guy sitting at a desk. And every Friday night, y'know growing up in the small town Rhett and I grew up in, there wasn't a lot to do, so we found ourselves calling 444-Cash a lot. Needless to say, I don't think we ever spoke to Mr. Cash himself, but the operator, I think she got to know us on a first name basis."
That type of catchy jingle and local hook is part of a tradition they plan on continuing, and the fact that they remember that commercial more than most other corporate ads speaks to their belief that the raw reality of their subject matter, and the amateur equipment with which they're working, give them an advantage over the bigger budget, mass-appeal, vanilla productions.
"The difference is, take a look at a national commercial and you've got this seasoned actor, who is the result of different auditions, they selected the perfect person for this role," Rhett reasoned. "Well, we just show up in Ojai, CA, for one of our episodes, Ojai Valley taxidermy, and Chuck Testa, is a taxidermist. And he's never been in a commercial, and he's never acted a day in his life, but he's a taxidermist, I mean it's his business. So when we put him in a local bar with a taxidermic rhinoceros, he had to deliver a line to close the commercial out. His delivery is something that we could never achieve from an actor. We could try a million times, audition for the role of Chuck Testa the taxidermist, and only Chuck Testa could achieve that role, and that's the beauty of it."
That off-beat subject matter is an ongoing theme in the pair's commercial portfolio. In the first episode of their IFC Show, Rhett and Link make commercials for two pet-centric businesses and their eccentric owners. There is the SuperShmuttle, an airport-style shuttle that brings dogs to a doggie daycare center, and the Holiday Hotel for Cats, whose proprietor says she has the ability to telepathically understand her residents. And the guttural cooing sound to translate.
There is a sense that sometimes, the joke, secretly, is on the quirky characters whom they film. But the pair insist that they're out to help, and finding an interesting hook is part of the process.
"For us, the stuff that we create, the heart behind everything we do is not to get laughs at peoples expense but to really help people," Rhett insisted. "With our commercials, people are like, 'oh are you making fun of these people? Are you pulling one over on them?' And it's like definitely, we're asking people to do things they did not anticipate they would ever do, and they may not understand exactly what we're asking them to do all along the way, but our goal always with a final product is something that helps them and they're proud of."
And that is generally the case, Link said, including a commercial for Presidential Car Wash that saw its owner rap in old time president costumes, and the end result of their Holiday Hotel for Cats work.
"Now, for Margaret at Holiday Hotel for Cats, we showed her the commercial and she just loved it," he offered. "It really embraced who she was, and just the quirkiness of 'hey, she's speaking cat,' and 'she's interpreting what they're saying telepathically.' But you know, it was based on who she was. And so she loved it. But then we just got an email from her, just two days ago, since we've already distributed the commercial on our YouTube channel, she's already gotten two clients just in the past few days, just as a result of the YouTube distribution."
That number may rise dramatically come next week; "Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings" debuts on IFC on Friday, June 24th and 10/9 pm central.
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