Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2004 / 3 Adar, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports


Quiznos' surreal new pitchman; "XYZ "; more


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: What's up with those screeching rodents on the Quiznos TV commercials?

A: "We love the subs!" wails what looks like a gerbil. Except gerbils are cute. This guy makes roadkill look cute.

His big, asymmetrical eyes are misshapen. He has what appear to be human baby teeth. He's wearing a derby. And he sings like Tiny Tim - if Tiny Tim were on fire.

The singing guy is accompanied by another surreal gerbil wearing a commodore's hat and playing a guitar.

Meet the most talked-about pitchmen in the country: A pair of scrungy rodents - who are selling food.

The Super Bowl commercials passed us by like a glitzy, billion-dollar parade. Most of the ads were slick, some were cute. How many were memorable? These Quiznos ads certainly are.

The computer-animated creatures were created by London-based Web artist Joel Veitch, who's also done spots for VH1 and British TV. Quiznos bought the rights to use the characters.

Is the startling - some even call it horrifying - ad campaign working? Quiznos says sales are up. The New York Times, USA Today, AdAge, Cox newspapers and hundreds of Web sites are all talking about them.

We managed to get an interview with Veitch, himself. (Which took dogged persistence and a little whining.) He's a very nice, you might even say "normal," chap.

GLAD: What, exactly, ARE these things?

VEITCH: I'm not really sure to be honest, but they certainly do like subs.

GLAD: Is the body, or WAS the body, once a real animal? Is that mouth a child's mouth?

VEITCH: I'd love to say I have a sinister laboratory in a secret bunker beneath an evil dome on the ocean floor, where I experiment with the creation of freakish beasts. The truth is a bit more dull, I'm afraid: It's all done in Photoshop. (A computer tool that allows manipulation of photos.) I have a library of 50,000 images here, and a digital camera. Using various source images I fiddle about until I'm happy."

(Veitch would not tell us exactly what images he used to construct the Quiznos creatures - he calls them Spongmonkeys. But he did say they are a compendium of many photographic images, not just features stuck on a dead mouse. He slyly suggested that the eyes MIGHT be racket rubber balls superimposed on white hard hats.)

GLAD: Are some people horrified by your creations?

VEITCH: Yes, I suppose some people are.

GLAD: Are you getting barraged by new offers for work?

VEITCH: I get a lot of requests to take things on, yes.

Trey Hall, Quiznos' chief marketing officer, said there are three basic reactions to the ads:

1. What in the world?

2. What is this company thinking?

3. That's marketing genius.

How did Hall propose to Quiznos' top brass that they use scary rodents to sell their food? "We took the ads to the public and videotaped viewers' reactions. Then - without showing our execs the ads - we showed them the viewers' reactions."

And what were those reactions?

"People went wild," Hall says.

The executives were sold. Even after they saw the ads.

Still, many viewers just don't associate the unappetizing creatures with food. They look like something no restaurant would want scurrying across the floor, much less touting the menu. ("They got a pepper bar!" the rodent singer warbles in one memorable line.)

Other people find them hilarious.

"I just think they're funny," says Jonathan Baker, 14, of Belmont, N.C. "They're so different."

What do you think?

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Q: When I was young, we said "XYZ, examine your zipper" when someone had his fly open. What do they say today?

A: Some young people are saying "wardrobe malfunction" - the term Justin Timberlake lamely used to explain Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "nipplegate." It doesn't take long for current events to work their way into America's chameleon vocabulary.

Paul McFedries' book "Word Spy" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) is just hitting bookstores. He gave us some other emerging terms:

_ The creative and detailed shaving that young hunks do these days? "Manscaping."

_

Can John Edwards come from behind to win? If so, he'll be a "Seabiscuit candidate."

_

Do you get little sleep during the week and try to make up for it during the weekend? You're a "sleep camel."

McFedries, a Toronto-based writer, collects these words from newspapers, Web sites, raps, movies - everywhere. And he says they're important.

"When there's a new invention, service, trend or idea, we need a new way to describe these things," he says. "The emerging vocabulary becomes a mirror to the culture."

New words spring from baby boomers' life changes, technology's effects on the culture - even TV shows like "Seinfeld." Some new words take root, others disappear.

A few others from McFedries:

_

Soul proprietor - Someone who scales back his or her business to concentrate on personal priorities.

_

Dorian Graying - The refusal of some people to show their age, even if it means risky and expensive plastic surgery.

We even taught him a new word:

_

Surf murmur - The "mmm-hmm ... OK ... all right ..." you hear when talking on the phone with someone who is obviously watching TV or looking at the Internet.

___

QUICK QUIZ

On singers of the `50s and `60s:

1. Whose burnin' love almost got cooled off by the cold Kentucky rain?

2. Who didn't look like a poor little fool when he hit on Mary Lou?

3. Who rattled those pots and pans when the clock struck 2, 3 and 4?

4. Who shot Liberty Valance on the main street of a town without pity?

5. What teenager in love warned us to keep away from Runaround Sue?

___

ANSWERS:

1. Elvis Presley, baby

2. Ricky Nelson

3. Bill Haley

4. Gene Pitney

5. Dion

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.

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