Stain, Stain, Go Away!
Your heart pounds, your legs shake, your palms sweat, you feel nauseous, and it becomes harder to breathe. Will you make it out of this job interview alive? Not to worry, Tide to the rescue! In their 2008 Super Bowl ad “The Talking Stain,” Proctor & Gamble illustrate viewers’ need for Tide To Go by depicting a job interview, a feature common of the financial crisis. The interview gone wrong conjures emotions like empathy and humor, thus leading to a cause-effect situation in which society’s vain behavior is illuminated.
What does 2008 mean to you? To economists, it meant “the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929” (Amadeo). To the rest of America, it meant a suffering economy and stunted ambitions. Rising unemployment rates “ticked up to 5.1 percent from 4.8 percent, its highest level since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina” (Grynbaum). Many were forced into the vulnerable position of fighting for a job.
Appropriately placed, this ad opens by introducing viewers to an office setting with a hiring employer and an interviewee. In doing so, P&G were considering the context. Also known as kairos, Greek rhetoricians referred to this as “attention to the right time and place for an argument” (Alfano, O’Brien 40). The financial crisis of 2008 left many Americans struggling to earn back losses. As if this doesn’t sound bad enough, many found themselves competing for the same job. This ad records the details of a job interview gone awry. “So tell me about yourself,” says the interviewer. The young man utters only three words, “Well, you know…,” before he is interrupted by a pear-shaped coffee stain on his shirt. The applicant tries to impress the employer with his teamwork skills and organization to no avail. His stain’s intrusive gibberish negates all his efforts. The young man tries to ignore the stain and carries on with his positive traits. However, the interviewer only manages to maintain eye contact for a few seconds until his attention diverts to the talking stain.
The camera zooms in on the stain and it is now the viewers who lose the option of turning away from its fluent gibberish. The camera then pans over to the employer with his gaze fixed upon the stain. The expression on his face radiates confusion about the situation and embarrassment for the applicant. His body language and facial expressions show that he is definitely not hearing anything the young man is saying. The interviewer moves his head to the side and furrows his brows, displaying his disbelief. The interview comes to the finale with the young man nervously smiling at the puzzled employer. The tagline appears: “Silence the stain, instantly.” Consumers are then called to action: “Get famous at mytalkingstain.com.”
This use of context resonated with viewers. P&G succeeded in producing strong emotions with a rhetorical technique called pathos, in which “writers…establish an intimate connection with the audience by soliciting powerful emotions” (Alfano, O’Brien 34). A majority of the commercial sounds like annoying gibberish. This grabs attention immediately because we are unable to make sense of the language. Annoying can create a negative image of the product, so humor is introduced with a surprise: a talking stain on the young man’s shirt. An “I can relate” feeling arises in the audience, both in awkward embarrassment for the interviewee, as well as empathy for the interviewer. Obviously, nobody would go to an interview with a stain that big, but that is beside the point. Everybody has been in a situation where there was pressure to make a good first impression, as well as in a situation where a conversation partner has an embarrassing “look at me” issue. We can relate, even if it is extremely exaggerated.
In addition, it does not matter which role better reflects the consumers’ real-life experience. The prevalence of the “I can relate” tactic captures attention and adds to the…