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updated 8/4/2004 2:16:59 PM ET 2004-08-04T18:16:59
COMMENTARY

When you see an exceptionally bad commercial, do you ever wonder what exactly the planning meeting for it was like?

"Hey, those other ideas are great, but what we really want to do is make our viewers lunge for the remote to turn our commercial off! Yep, what we're looking for here is a commercial that will make shivers run up and down our viewers' spines. We want consumers to think: Our company name = gross and disgusting."

If that meeting was held at the Lamisil company HQ, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In our totally unofficial contest (see details in Test Pattern ), the Lamisil toe-fungus monster ad was overwhelmingly voted the worst commercial currently running on American TV.

If you have a weak stomach, or it's early in the morning, or you're eating, whatever else you do, don't click on this link. It shows a snippet of the ad, which features "Digger the Dermatophyte," the creepy toenail fungus monster Lamisil invented to sell their product.

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Watching the commercials, in which Digger burrows under toenails, is right up there with bamboo under the fingernails torture. This ad is creeping me out just writing about it, it really is. Says Staci: "I think the thing that puts it over the edge for me is the creaky door sound effect as the 'fungus monster' lifts up the toenail.”   

Viewers also complained that the medication hawked in the ads is pricey and rarely if ever covered by insurance. Perhaps Lamisil should address those issues instead of trying their creepy scare tactic.

A foot? A singing potato?
The commercial that received the second-highest number of votes for worst commercial was a very controversial ad campaign. Readers either hated it or they loved it, but very few watchers were neutral.

Whereas the Lamisil commercials make me shudder, I can begrudgingly admit that they do have something to do with the product being hawked. That's not always the case with commercials, and if the ad campaign is good enough, it doesn't matter. Quizno's sandwich shops was shooting for that with their mutant rodent ad campaign.

The debate over what to call them is pretty funny all on its own. Reader Amy asks "What are those things? Is it a foot? A singing potato?" Others suggested mutant hamsters.

They're apparently called spongemonkeys, but we're told that they're based on a real primate called a tarsier, which made me go to Webster's for this definition: "Any of a family (Tarsiidae) of small chiefly nocturnal and arboreal carnivorous primates of the Malay Archipelago that have large round eyes, long legs, and a long nearly hairless tail." Reader C suggests we "check out Joel Veitch's original animation which inspired his work for Quizno's."

To give you just an idea of how split our readers are on these ads, here are some comments, plucked at random from the dozens that came in on this topic:

ANTI-RODENT:
"I have to agree with anyone who thinks the Quizno's rodents are horrible. They make me feel physically ill every time they are on."    --Tom

"I have to join the long list of Quizno's-commercial-haters...it's definitely my least favorite. I actually had a friend to e-mail Quizno's in hopes of finding out what in the world those things are, but, of course, received no helpful response."    --Erin

"I have to say that the Quizno's mutant rodents commercial is the worst! I'm anything but hungry after seeing that. Were they on drugs when they thought that up?"    --Silva

PRO-RODENT:
"LOVE the mutant hamster Quizno's commercials. There is something in the weirdness that appeals to me. Their food still sucks, though."    --Toni

"My husband and I are both huge fans of the Quizno's rodents. They are called spongemonkeys for anyone that may be curious. You can go to Quizno's Web site and watch all of their commercials. "    --Martha
[Editor's Note: I don't see the commercials there. Am I just missing them?]

"There are too many reeeally bad ads to pick just one as a worst, but best is easy: the Quizno's spongemonkeys. They grab my attention, cause me to grin in happy disbelief that something so coolly outre is actually on the idiot box, glue the name of the advertiser onto my memory, and even make me want to go try a Quizno's sub."    --Carol

Unlike the almost universally hated Lamisil ads, the Quizno's commercials seem to have made as many fans as they've lost customers. There's no doubt in my mind that the goofy spongemonkeys will bring in some business. And from what readers are saying, some folks will be steering away from the sub shop specifically because of the ads. That's a tradeoff the company will have to make its peace with. But if our readers are a fair indication, they're in a much better position than the ad agency that cooked up the toenail monster.

Hang on to your identity
Readers were much more vehement about the commercials they hate than about those they love. That said, one ad campaign kept being mentioned as a favorite over and over again. And unlike the Quizno's spongemonkeys, it never found its way onto the "most hated" list.

The ad campaign, for Citibank, comes off as a little confusing at first. It features regular people, with a voiceover that obviously does not belong to the person shown. The voice brags about numerous expensive purchases, and as the commercial unfolds, it becomes evident that the voice we're hearing stole the identity and credit cards of the person we're seeing, spending up a storm.

Says reader Cris: "The appeal, I think, is that the visual and audio images actually work/stimulate my brain. In particular, the Asian woman with the voice of the lounge lizard Larry. The way the woman looks when the voice laughs at the end of the commercial is too weird."   

I was really surprised to see this ad campaign revealed as a viewer favorite. It's not your standard go-for-the-heart commercial. Sure, there are occasional goofy images, but no adorable puppies, no gooing babies, no music, no addictive catchphrase. The concept is a little complex, and you have to pay attention to the words to grasp it. The client is a little obscure, and it's more a service than a product.

All that makes me just a little smug that it was received so well. After hearing again and again that we TV viewers are doofuses who need everything spelled out (and watching a zillion ads that assume an average viewer-IQ of approximately 3), it's nice to see that myth dispelled. One of the Citibank identity theft ads, the one called "Outfit," even has been nominated for an Emmy.

Is it my favorite commercial? No, I like the puppies and the music. But that's just me.

I got music
Our readers' second-favorite commercial goes straight for the funny bone, with a brief stop in retro nostalgia-land. It's a Starbucks ad featuring rock band Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," reworked to add lyrics inspiring an average joe, Glen, on his way to work.

Says reader Jeremy: "The Starbucks 'Eye of the Tiger' commercial is fantastic. Very funny, clever, and original. Many commercials use classic rock tunes, but none have ever had the 'you gotta see this' impact of the Starbucks commercial."   

I'm with him. I can't watch the whole thing without laughing out loud.

Another commercial mentioned often with only positive comments was the Office Max commercial featuring an office-supply guy working cheerfully to the infectious tune of The Spinners' "Rubberband Man." (Watch it on Office Max's site. Click on Audio/Visual Club, then on More Commercials, then on "Rubberband Man." You can also watch outtakes.)

Says reader Steve: "I absolutely love the Office Max commercials with the office-supply clerk strutting around, distributing supplies to 'Rubberband Man.' It shows that, with the right attitude, any job can be fun!"

Credit for that commercial has to go to whoever remembered the old tune and thought about how well it would go with the concept of selling office supplies, as well as the casting director who cast irrepressible actor Eddie Steeples as the Rubberband Man himself. And we're not the only ones who recognized this ad as a great one: Like Citibank's commercial, it's up for an Emmy.

Thanks to everyone who nominated best and worst commercials, whether we were able to use your comments or not. We'll keep discussing commercials from time to time in , so stay tuned. Keep those ad agencies on their toes . . . the audience is listening, and we're paying attention, too.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor

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