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Evert F. Baumgardner
Look at this primitive YouTube viewing party.
ROWE: For a good chunk of people I know who grew up in front of the warming glow of a television, an acceptable way to socialize with others is to pass a smartphone with a video pulled up around the group and ask “Hey man, you see that one?” This social ritual shouldn’t be a surprise, as most of the cultural touchstones of my generation are television and commercial jingles. This even predates the Millennial Americans, reaching as far back as some late Baby Boomers, and the entirety of whatever the generation between us is called. So the nostalgia machine that is YouTube is fantastic for seeking out the seminal commercials in our lives.
BRASHER: Hey, that’s my generation you are glossing over there. Generation X: The only generation to change its name after a stint in prison where it converted to Nation of Islam. People say “gen X” because Generation Hakim Al Shabazz X is too long to say. We are a generation marked by our abiding love of slack and Winona Ryder, as-salamu alaykum.
BRASHER: It is truly a shame that reverse time travel is seen by scientists as an impossibility because all I want to do is go back to Mexico Chiquito in 1986 and drink a half gallon of punch and eat everything on that table for $8.99. Maybe I could get my family and 11 year old me to give me from the future a ride there in our Dodge Omni. In fact, I just want to start a chain called Mexico Chiquito 1986 — it’s the same as regular Mexico Chiquito but cheaper and you can smoke in it.
ROWE: Let’s talk about local commercials here — local commercials have to compete with your attention in the same space as national image campaigns. An image campaign has a huge budget to sell you on one idea, like “Drink Beverage” or “Buy Car.” On the other hand, local commercials have to tell you what they do, where they are, and why you should visit on fraction of the budget. So they have to be tacky. They have to be regional. They have to make their gestures bigger.
I really really love the best “bad” local commercials. Most people do too. If you have a local business, you should try to have the most memorable ad — not the classiest or ones with your kids doing cute things. It should be weird and crazy and have guys waving their arms and unattractive people dancing and bad singing and time travel and bodily humor jokes and awful Southern idiot stereotypes and snobs getting their comeuppance and grumpy old people on Harleys-Davidson.
I’ve devised a rating system to grade local commercials, the trademark pending FARTS scale. Each is rated on a scale of 0-5.
Fun — This measures both the fun of watching the commercial with its repeat-ability in daily life. Earworm jingles and catchphrases are king in this category.
Appropriateness — This judges the content of the commercial to the business or product advertised. It’s more an absolute value, as having a wildly inappropriate commercial will also give you high marks.
Regionalism — All local commercials have to appeal to insider knowledge of the region.
Tackiness — This could be production value, camp value or jokes that an 8 year old would love.
Sex appeal — Sometimes you just have to appeal to the base instincts of people, and this rates that. Remember the Watson’s Pools commercial? Have you ever heard someone refer to the “Watson’s Babe?” I have. There you go.
So for Mexico Chiquito’s 1986 commercial, the FARTS score would look like this:
F - 3 / A - 4 / R - 4 / T - 3 / S - 1 = 15
A pretty respectable score here — it’s not the most fun commercial, but it has a decent jingle. It’s incredibly appropriate, showing the viewer exactly what they can get at the restaurant. Regional? You bet! Tackiness is only a three, because this was probably very middle of the road when it was released and is only campy because of the inevitable march of time. Sex appeal is a low 1, however, aided only by some extremely feathered hair near the end.
BRASHER: One-hundred and sixteen chicken sandwiches is what everyone receives upon death if they are martyred for the cause of watching reruns of Benson. You know, watching this video, especially the Krazy Kung Fu Marathon bit, just drives home how lame and bland network television is now. I bet no Fox affiliate has run any marathons, much less a Krazy one since those days. Fortunately, the Internet is still a place we can get Krazy, at least until the Comcast data caps kick in.
ROWE: Full disclosure here, I worked as a news photographer for Fox16 in the late 2000s. I decided to look for other work while serving my company mandated furlough. I wasn’t suffering for my art, but I can tell you that the people who made this promo certainly were. Not just financially, either: The host hits himself in the head several times with his nunchucks. It’s easy to romanticize this freewheeling when you know that many television affiliates are now owned by a revolving door of corporate overlords who have no ties to the area. Oh look! It seems I’ve ground my ax to a nub here. Let’s examine this promo on the FARTS scale.
F - 4 / A - 4 / R - 3 / T - 5 / S - 0 = 16
High marks for this one. It’s very fun, and only suffers from not being sexy in the least bit. High camp value, incredible energy. Its score is even 16!
BRASHER: Looks like we’re kicking off a Jobo rock block here with this news promo spot. Man, this is just terrifying. That music sounds like Einsturzende Neubautengot a hold of some broken church bells at an auction and tacked it onto a video reinterpretation of the "X-Files" intro. Why is everyone looking so somber and scary? There’s a part where the voiceover says “News that touches …” Oh hell no, you better not touch me with that creepy ass news, I want nothing to do with it.
ROWE: David Lynch’s Jonesboro is in effect here. This news promo is between two worlds. So many questions! Who is that bearded man, walking through destruction? Is he on the news team? Is he to be trusted? Why is this sleepy town the home of the essence of evil? Can you understand these questions if they aren’t in backwards speak? KAIT will tell you in 25 years.
I’m not convinced this is a real promo, but rather the result of a goth, heavy-metal loving video editor using a newly-acquired layer effect on real news promo with some “arty” stuff mixed over it. Of course, you know who was (and still is) working in video production at small-market TV news stations across the country when this promo claims it is from? Goth, heavy-metal loving video editors using newly-acquired layer effects on real news promos with some “arty” stuff mixed over it. What’s in the water in Northeast Arkansas, anyway?
F - 1 / A - 5 / R - 4 / T - 5 / S - 0 = 15
This isn’t a fun commercial, it is a serious commercial. Wildly inappropriate for sowing chaos, not confidence in the news team. This would mean a -5 in appropriateness, but gets the absolute value of 5 instead. All of the people pictured could only live in Northeast Arkansas, and the commercial is incredibly creepy, campy and more.
ROWE: Look, I will not even flex on this ad. I’ve watched experimental art collectives make videos for installations in hip places and this is what they all want to be but can never quite achieve. This is the pure, raw, uncut talent of digital video creations. It’s like Paper Rad met After Dark and had a super-literal baby. The YouTube description even notes that this commercial is the first time a Morph effect had been used in Northeast Arkansas. Neat?
F - 4 / A - 5 / R - 1 / T - 5 / S - 2 = 17
Great marks for fun (that music! the share-ability!) inappropriateness, and camp/tacky value, ultimately only falling in regional and sex appeal categories. A great local commercial!
BRASHER: We can’t all be as irreproachable as Fugazi when it comes to rock 'n' roll and economics. Sometimes you just have to make those ends meet. Somehow.The Moody Blues did a Coke commercial.Paul Stanley belted out a pretty intense Folgers ad. Q-tip hawked Sprite. When music and commerce synergize sometimes you get comically bizarre results, and sometimes you get some totally shredding Cisco 7379G Network systems at reasonable prices! Set up with a low action so you can rip those group client calls that melt faces. Stage dive off the conference table.
I sort of wish this were a reverse commercial, like some dudes in khakis are in an office all installing IP and networking and they’re like, “After we install all this cat 5 and wire up these routers, we like to rock out to the sounds of the LIQUID KITTY BAND. They sound great, just like our private branch exchanges!”
ROWE: This commercial could just be the hook. It’ll be in my head all day. Also, I’m confused. At one point, Lisa from the Liquid Kitty band says that they’re a hard working rock band that relies on equipment that works. She then makes the connection that your telecom equipment should also work, and RockComm Telecom can provide that. So far so good. Then she says, “We also offer high quality repair services.” Uh oh! The jig is up. Lisa from the Liquid Kitty band is also probably working for RockComm Telecom, or reading from a sloppy copy writer. The illusion is busted.
F - 4 / A - 2 / R - 0 / T - 4 / S - 3 = 13
That jingle is catchy, but it's kind of a stretch — a rock band and telecom hardware? The tacky factor is high in this one, because those are totally raunchy riffs going on in the background Sex appeal is higher in this, because it's on video and it's Lisa from Liquid Kitty. Just remember: "Watson's Babe."
ROWE: This is basically the highest form of a local ad. It should be shortlisted for every award at the Gothenberg Film Festival. Cue soft music, which causes a response in the viewer to be aware of nostalgia, but also of the commercial enterprise. It’s a knowing wink, which causes the viewer to be both familiar yet weary of an unreliable narrator. A voice over begins, “I wish I could have been a Coleman kid” — creating a powerful narrative, wherein an incredibly successful athlete and human being laments a chaotic and uncaring world. “...as I grew up in Texas, I had to drink any old-regular-milk.” Clint. I hear you. Texas is a miserable wasteland. “I was somehow able to quarterback the Arkansas Razorbacks, but with Coleman Milk, I figure i’d be four inches taller, and I MIGHT still be in the NFL.” This is powerful stuff. Clint shows that he believes that a powerful totem like a glass of milk would have given him the ultimate power to succeed. Becoming an NFL quarterback is the dream for hundreds of thousands of children and a reality for only a very select few. His belief that Coleman Milk above all other milks shows that even the chosen among us must face death and disappointment.
He then grabs a glass of milk and a glass of chocolate milk. He sips from each, tentatively as the announcer extols the virtues of Coleman Milk. “I’m making up for lost time, because I’m a Coleman Kid today,” Clint says, ending the commercial. An amazing piece of art, one that reflects back each viewer’s hopes and beliefs.
My interpretation is that the commercial is a retelling of "The Sickness Unto Death" by Søren Kierkegaard, and Clint Stoerner is simply personifying the tension between the "finite and infinite,” and the "possible and the necessary.” I am open to other interpretations, as this work is vast and unending in its endless endless.
BRASHER: Clint Stoerner drops the milk, Billy Ratliff recovers.
F - 5 / A - 5 / R - 5 / T - 5 / S - 2 = 22 points
This is an ultimate commercial. Fun and important, you will try to drink milk like Clint does. Incredibly appropriate, wildly regional, high marks all around. Sex appeal is ultimately at 2, because it deals with disappointment and the unfulfillment of youthful promise. Also, Clint is no David Bazzel, who incidentally, would probably like to tell you about Mexico Chiquito.
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