Why Does This Not Quite Work?

The new Skittles ad is out:

It’s better than almost all the ads that are out there and yet…and yet…it feels somewhat disappointing.

To me, the problem is one that is common in many episodic art forms that have experienced success: it feels like it’s been written by a fan of the campaign, rather than by one of the people who came up with the goods in the first place.

Other examples of this include Friends from about season 4 onwards, the first episode of season 5 of The Wire, The West Wing from about mid-season 4 onwards, and Spongebob Squarepants from Season 6 onwards. Then there’s all the great old campaigns, like Heineken and Hamlet, that had to lose quality and eventually end.

And when you think about it, it’s an entirely reasonable problem: the shot-in-the-dark unexpectedness of early success can disappear when the task changes from originating something good to merely replicating it. Do we have to get Chandler to say ‘Could I be any more…’? Does Jed Bartlet have to whip his jacket on in that cool way everyone likes? Should Spongebob still like Squidward in the face of such vitriol? Do we need to junk those moments as dead cliches and come up with something completely new? Will that mean we lose the essence of what was great, or will such changes preserve it?

And no one really knows the answers to those questions, otherwise we’d still be watching Peyton Place (I concede there are many long-running serials, but they are usually patchy soaps that can take a few drops in quality).

In the case of Skittles, I’d imagine there would have been literally hundreds of rejected scripts. Why do the Sour man, the Pinata man and the Beard make it over (presumably) so many others? Well, that’s more a question for Gerry Graf, and the reason why he and Ian Riechenthal and Scott Vitrone probably get paid more than I do.

So here we are with Tailor.

I’d say it doesn’t work as well as the others because there’s nothing funny during the ad. The conceit is amusingly surreal, but unlike the others, there’s no elegant build to an even funnier climax.

The others also had depth of character: the frustrated Pinata man, the melancholy Toucher, the cocky Sour man, the sneaky Beard guy…they all had something about them that no one in Tailor has, something that allowed you to see a back story that made you feel as if this was just one of a hundred odd things that happen to them every day.

And it’s as if they couldn’t really think of a decent ending. They’re hard to do, and Touch has the best ending of any ad, ever:

So that leads us into the last point: the bar was set so high, it was a bit of a poisoned chalice. I was amazed they came up with so many crackers, particularly Pinata, which followed the peerless Touch and still held its own.

And as a final note, many people on Creativity have given it five stars, so maybe I’m just wrong (I’m not).