It would not be an efficient usage of my time for me to ask whether or not everybody is now sick of the heavily-marketed insurance-related ad campaign which centers around the phrase, "So easy a caveman can do it," because, clearly, everybody is. What I will ask, instead, is why the company responsible for these ads have not yet realized this fact.

For whatever reason, despite the millions of dollars which are regularly poured into these operations, advertising agencies remain oblivious to the most basic facets of the standard gag lifespan.

For illustrative purposes, let's say that you're at a party, and one guest arrives sporting a mustache that has recently been over-trimmed from the sides. The situation may well seem ripe for a jibe from the assembled crowd, and so some wiseacre yells, "Hey, Hitler, can I get you a drink?"

This initial verbal swipe is equivalent to the first commercial of any given gag-centric marketing campaign. It's not all that funny in analysis, but if you're at the party and you're in genial company and you've already had a few, it's not at all unthinkable that it'll go over pretty well. So pretty much everybody laughs. Hence, a successful initial marketing effort.

Seeing the positive reaction to the initial gag, somebody else in the crowd yells, "Sieg heil!" Properly executed, this will garner a reaction similar to the initial gag. It is not at all clever in and of itself, but it succeeds because its humor references the first gag, which is still fresh in the audience's mind. This is equivalent to the second commercial in any given gag-centric marketing campaign. Not funny, but generally benign, and passable if the first commercial was funny.

Here, however, is an important distinction that has escaped the grasp of more television ad men than current technology can record. The second gag in this situation is a follow-up, not a one-up. The follow-up, as noted, consists of a non-humorous statement that operates solely on residual humor from an initial gag salvo. A one-up takes a minor theme from the initial gag and crafts a separate -- and generally superior - gag around it.

The differences between these two may seem minor, but become quite substantial over a length of time. A good series of one-ups can actually increase in humor as new entries are added, one atop the other. The humor derived from a series of follow-ups, however, is like a small amount of water passed from one hand to another. At best, you may be able to keep up your momentum for a while, but even that requires considerable skill in delivery, and you can never generate more humor with this method than that with which you started. Inevitably, the humor trickles out ( or dries up, timing itself being an important element in these situations) , and you're left passing around a concept with no humor value, whatsoever. Hence: the third commercial of any given gag-centric marketing campaign through whenever they decide to put it out of its misery.

It's possible I'm overthinking this, but if this article can in any way contribute to the long-overdue death of the caveman commercial series, it's been worth it.



Check out Hsu and Arnie in an EGM reprint, "Wrested Peace," in the archive!

All content copyright 2006 (or earlier-like) Jeremy "Norm" Scott, all rights reserved.