Discover more from Brands Mean a Lot
Black Guck on a Duck
What do those Dawn commercials where they clean ducks say about our desensitization to man made disasters?
I lost 20 subscribers after my post about my Insider.com article. So be it. If you’re allergic to success, hustle, and the grind, this isn’t the newsletter for you. Here, we celebrate when our people win the paper chase. Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.
I just started watching the Twisted Metal TV series. This show is based on a video game series which made its debut in 1995 and its most recent sequel released in 2012. The video game series is about cars fighting each other. It’s violent and loud and fits in perfectly with the ‘extreme’ ethos of 2000s marketing. I think the series is pretty much about the same thing as the video game albeit with a more linear storyline and deeper character development. As someone who loved Twisted Metal, the series makes me happy. Given how old it is, I have no idea how it got made.
The show is on Peacock, NBC’s streaming channel. I have Peacock Premium, which means despite paying for Peacock, there are still ads. To do away with ads, you need Peacock Premium Plus. I’d be more upset if I was actually paying and wasn’t given the login to Peacock Premium by a family member. ‘Premium’ as an adjective and product tier is so clever because it connotes something really good, but it’s just vague enough to not indicate exactly how good it is. ‘Premium Plus’ demonstrates the difficulty of maintaining win-streaks in marketing by lazily appending a second word which also connotes something vaguely positive. Writing is hard.
Interspersed between bits of show is a commercial for Dawn dish soap. If you’ve watched streaming television with ads recently, you’ll know that the same ads don’t just appear once, they repeat themselves episode to episode, sometimes even twice within the same episode. The ad shows a cute lil duckling covered in black guck getting plucked from the ground by a savior whose face we’ll never know. After the duck-mired-in-the-guck shot, we switch locales to see our ducky protagonist getting washed in a big tub. Afterwards, ducky is set on some sort of animal drying rack, quacking in ecstasy at its newfound cleanliness. The soap they use? The preferred soap of all animals maligned by human environmental messes, Dawn.
Back to the black guck on the duck. It’s not explicitly mentioned in the ad that it’s oil. But, we know it’s oil because Dawn has been running versions of this ad since 2010, where it’s explicitly mentioned. There are two things happening here, both of which can be true: (1) Dawn has such brand recognition that everyone knows their soap is best for cleaning animals after an oil spill, (2) We’re inured to man-made environmental disasters such that we know animals need to be cleaned up afterwards, so it makes logical sense to use readily available dish soap to do so.
In light of events such as the East Palestine, OH. chemical spill, and that Dawn doesn’t explicitly name the type of disasters where it can be helpful for rescuing animals, the ad implies these events are quotidian. It doesn’t matter what happened, it’s going to happen again. Just know that if you see an otter covered in goo, Dawn’s your best option.
That man-made environmental disasters happen enough for us to be desensitized is hardly just Dawn’s fault, but that’s the tacit message. These sort of disasters probably already overlap synergistically in some way with natural environmental disasters and that trend will only increase with time. This opens up the question of which other consumer products will begin to leverage disasters as a way of proving their efficacy?
Dawn isn’t alone. Bottled water is already a crucial resource in the aftermath of just about every disaster imaginable. Following Dawn’s man-made disaster formula, Budweiser put out a press release in 2016 about sending water to Flint, Michigan. It capitalized on environmental disasters in 2018 when it ran ads about its distribution of canned water following a handful of wildfires and hurricanes throughout the U.S...It did it again in 2022, after Hurricane Ian in Florida.
I think we’re still 6-12 well publicized man made disasters away from this becoming fully normalized. The tipping point for full normalization will be a glut of ads ranging from pickup trucks to deodorant, to MREs from Tyson. Each peacocking its emergency use-cases to sell to consumers for everyday consumption.
Maybe we’ll revisit this in 2025 when Degree becomes the preferred antiperspirant of FEMA workers everywhere. Until then, there are 10 episodes of Twisted Metal. I hope you savor each. I know I have.