From the Bunker: Dancing Bubble People

Dancing bubble people —

The teenagers I know (I know them well – the state says I have an obligation to feed and house them) don’t spend much time watching television. Like – zero time watching television programming in a given week. We see ‘tv’ on road trips in hotels or when we visit extended family who have cable subscriptions.

And these teenagers of mine -well, they notice things. Recently, I overheard them talking about “dancing bubble people,” and I realized that they were using this phrase as stand-in language for commercials. All commercials in their teenage lexicon are ‘dancing bubble people.’

I stopped the moment and began a quick interrogation into this peculiar phrase – that either a) they developed or b) they pinched from pop culture or saw it in a meme. I couldn’t tell you which.

So, here it is: there is a staggering number of ‘bubble people’ animations in commercials – brightly colored toy-land characters: sort of like the vintage Hasbro weeble people from the late 70’s/80’s. These ‘bubble characters’ ( I was informed) primarily express happiness or delight in the form of dancing. A dancing motion is the go-to animation sequence for “I think this is good pizza,” or ‘I just saved some money” 

and thus- I dance.

Now, as their father, I had no idea that this was a trend in television (or other media platforms), but as soon as they mentioned it – I kinda knew what they were talking about. And now – now, I notice it everywhere.

So – what are the agencies and brand managers noticing that push them to buy these kinds of ads? I don’t know. I can hazard a few guesses – why not? I think there are a few possible reasons these ads perform (or they wouldn’t keep ordering them).

a) The last couple of years have been, well – stressful. Whether their markets targets are red or blue households, vax or anti-vax, pro statues or anti statues – we can all agree that America’s stomach has been in knots for two years. Cartoon animations feel better than real life. Cartoon characters likely draw less ire or feelings of resentment toward other humans: I think hatred of other Americans is probably at a high right now (I mean, do you love ALL your extended family right now?! – yeah, thought so). Cartoons harken back to a kinder/gentler age and soothe our addled minds.

b) This next reason dovetails with the first – though there ARE a few distinguishing masculine/feminine add ons – visual signifiers to these ‘characters’ – many of them are hard to categorize by gender and I think this is preferred by major brands right now. There can be slight hat tips, winks, and nudges toward same-sex coupling and ungendered characters without any overt casting or big social statements.

Subtlety works to a brand’s advantage without setting off firestorms either way. The viewer sees according to their own lens. They see what they want to see.

c) Now – to the dancing.

First, dancing is an activity that is ONLY conducted in a jovial frame of mind (assuming you aren’t a professional dancer). I mean, nobody angry dances or annoyed dances or loneliness dances. Generally, this is true. So – dancing equals fun, happiness, enjoyment. Fair enough.

More than that, the animators of bubble people don’t have to slow a piece down, zoom in, or spend a great deal of time animating facial features. A little dancing will do it. – BAM! instant happiness.

‘So – dancing bubble people’ – you should know that these ads DEEPLY annoy my children and their friends. They hate them. They give giant eye rolls (teenagers are very good at this gesture, by the way, the eye rolls) when they see these ads.

Why? I’ll tell you why – they feel insulted.

They don’t like being ‘messaged to’ in any synthetic way. In a digital world of constant noise, they much prefer a candid, direct, no-BS interaction. No nuance. No artifice. Just give it to me straight, honor my intelligence, and don’t waste my time. They are very discerning. This GenZ crew, they’ve tasted everything from across the globe and the enchantment of what could lie just over the next horizon – that is gone. They’ve seen over the next horizon. They’re used to consuming a TON of user-generated content and plain speak.

Give it to me straight – they say.

Authenticity. Nuts and bolts. Features and benefits from a relatable human seem to matter more than ever. Hold the hype accountable and prove it, or don’t bother me.

Sheesh, this generation. I think they might just yank the needle off the record player to stop all the dancing and then use that needle to pop all the bubble people.

The marketers and advertisers out there better be paying very close attention. I am!

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