Local TV Commercials Become a Modern Day Art Form

October 27, 2011

This post was authored by Will Goodman, managing editor of CBSNews.com's The Feed, for a YouTube Trends series exploring viral video phenomena.

Before there was the Internet, humanity’s main source of unintentional comedy came in the form of local television commercials. Often low-budget, poorly scripted and completely random, people from every city and town had their unique blend of visual insanity that would make us all laugh. Fast-forward to the present and we all now have the opportunity to share in this odd sensation on YouTube. Local commercials have joined cute cats and gruesome skateboard injuries as an important segment of the online lolosphere. Let’s start this off with an actual commercial to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

The video is (shockingly) a real commercial for Divine Rags in Memphis. Did you laugh while watching that commercial? Shhhh, of course you did. (They always say “yes” when I ask that question...) But what’s fascinating is that real commercials like this have led to something of a new viral video art form. Which leads us to our next video, a recent viral video hit for The Feed and an ongoing Internet meme sensation.

What many aren’t aware of is that this is an actual commercial that was created specifically to have that “What the...?” reaction (and many laughs) from us all by the clever comedy group Rhett and Link. The duo saw the genius in something so bad it becomes epic, and took the idea one step further by creating an IFC television show, “Commercial Kings,” that actually makes these types of commercials for real companies. So now we have entered the realm of art imitating life imitating art. In essence that same low-budget, poorly scripted and often random clip played on local television is specifically done in a hyperbolic style because it gains more attention online and has a laugh-factor to it. Here is a much earlier example of one of those commercials by Rhett and Link that went viral.

And while Rhett and Link have pioneered this concept into a more mainstream television show concept, the idea has spread online. Despite the insanity of what is being offered, this commercial does actually appear real based on the array of local commercials any of us have seen growing up. Spoiler: it’s not.

Toby Jones, the creator of the video above, has taken the success he had parodying local television commercials and gone on to do more. After offering us laughs in the form of a truck rental company, he decided to expand his “enterprise” into the lucrative world of barbecue… and foot massages.

So is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? Well, first off, that local commercial you find online may not be “local” at all. Other than that? Not really. Okay, maybe. I’d say the one big lesson you can take away from it all is that if you’re going to fail, make sure you fail big. And then put it online. It might go viral.

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