The State Farm Jake Problem

Posted by on Oct 17, 2013 in Business Writing | 1 comment

OK, so this week I was going to continue on my blogs about collaborative writing, but first I need to address an issue related to both creative writing and business writing that’s been driving me insane for the last year. I call it “The State Farm Jake Problem.” If you watch TV at all, you’ve seen it. I personally have seen it five billion times and it aggravates me exponentially more each time. Seriously, I clench my fist and growl when it comes on between innings. My wife can verify this.

By now, many of us have seen the commercial in question. A sort of odd-looking guy in pajama pants is on the phone in his living room at 4AM reacting to the person on the other end as if soft seductions are being whispered.

“Yeah, I’m married,” Pajama Pants guy says. “Does it matter? You’d do that for me? Really? Yeah, I’d like that.”

Just then his suspicious wife barges down the stairs in her nightgown and flips on the light, intent on catching him in the act.

“Who are you talking to?” she asks.

“Uh, Jake from State Farm,” he answers.

Not believing him, she yanks the phone from his hand and in a cranky voice asks, “What are you wearing, Jake from State Farm?”

It cuts to this doofy looking guy in a red State Farm shirt. “Uh… khakis,” he answers in hilarious deadpan.

It cuts back to the living room where the wife turns to her husband and yells, “She sounds hideous!”

Amazing! Brilliantly done, State Farm! That is one of the funnier insurance commercials of all time. I commend you on your… what, what, wait… there’s more?

No… no, please don’t be more! Please just put your logo on screen and cut to black. Please don’t… ahhhh……

The husband comes back at her with “Yeah, well she’s a guy, so…”

NOOOOOOOOOO! AAAAAAHHHH! You killed it. It is murdered. Blood on the lampshade. DAMN YOU, STATE FARM JAKE! DAMN YOU AND PJ PANTS TO HELL!

There’s a simple lesson in the State Farm Jake commercial. If you ever write something funny and then feel the need to explain why it’s funny… DON’T.

My guess is the writer or writers of the commercial ended it at “She sounds hideous.” Because that’s where the whole thing should’ve stopped.

What most likely happened is that when they pitched it, some uncreative State Farm executive in a large, powerful chair had the following thought…

But wait… State Farm Jake isn’t a woman. He’s a guy. I’m just not sure the average TV viewer will be able to accurately distinguish between the sexes based solely on the nineteen context clues we’ve provided. I think we need another line there just to make sure.

In other words, if State Farm wrote classic old jokes, they’d come out like this…

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get to the other side. Because that’s why chickens cross roads, otherwise they’d just stay where they were. The fact that it’s a chicken has nothing to do with it. We could’ve used a dog or a donkey or a human in there and it would’ve essentially been the same joke. It’s called misdirection.”

So this is a great lesson for both creative writers and business writers. The only time it’s ok to explain why something is clever or funny is if some moron is right in front of you going…

“If I was that woman in the nightgown, I’d be furious that my husband is phone cheating with some insurance agent at 4AM. State Farm shouldn’t be exploiting people’s personal tragedies like that. Adultery is a serious problem.”

At that point, yeah. explain it. Then never speak a word to that person again because their very proximity is draining the life right out of you.

So to reiterate – for maximum impact, let the viewer or reader discover your humor or brilliance all on their own. If they’re incapable of making the discovery by themselves, they’re probably in a demographic you don’t much care to target anyway.

Another ancillary lesson here is – make a shitty commercial and you’ll get some free publicity on a tiny, virtually unknown blog.

You see, because they didn’t pay me to mention State Farm here a bunch of times and the very fact that I’m typing their name in any context triggers the reader’s brand recognition recall so…

One Comment

  1. Great observation. That tag could have gone a lot of different directions, and it would have changed the entire tone:

    Bait and Switch – “Yea, well I’m gay, so…”
    Cruel – “You are an ignorant cunt.”
    Romantic – “You know Gladys, in this light, you are truly beautiful.”
    Erotic – “Your jealousy has lit a fire in my belly. I want to be inside you… now”
    Accusatory – “Well, she isn’t a stud like your tennis instructor, Gary, so…”
    Absurd – “Balls.”

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