|Joe Posnanski||Jan 31, 2013|
You can debate, of course, what is the single most disgusting feature of the WaxVac (Gentle and Effective Ear Cleaning!) but it seems to me that the name is as good a place to start as any. As every info-commercial enthusiast knows, unless there's a specific reason for it -- say you want to the product to sound dangerous as in "Ginzu Knife!" -- products are supposed to have cute and endearing names that seem to be begging for exclamation points. Snuggie! Pajama Jeans! Wraptastic! Tiddy Bear! Forever Comfy! ShamWow!
And, if not cute, the names must have an info-commercial code word in them. Examples might include: Magic … Insta … Fast … Miracle … Chop … Hot.
But "WaxVac" -- as in "earwax" and "vacuum cleaner" -- has none of the above. And more to the point: Those two words just don't belong together. They are two words that, if they ran into each other on the ice, would drop the gloves and start punching each other. I'm just not much for putting internal body features with every day appliances. Intestinal Blender. Nasal Toaster. Saliva Disposal.
The WaxVac is exactly what the name suggests: It's a vacuum cleaner you stick in your ear to suck out the wax. Yes, if given enough time, you probably could come up with a more repulsive image. But if faced with the question on Family Feud -- 100 people surveyed, Top 5 answers on the board, name a more repulsive image than an Earwax Vacuum -- I would heartily advocating passing.
Then again -- and this is always true with great info-commercials* -- it isn't about the product itself. The product will always be stupid. What makes a great info-commercial is, yes, the commercial. And the WaxVac definitely is earning its place in the galaxy of infoco greatness.
*As those of you who have read my info commercial reviews before -- you know that they are not "infomercials," which are technically those half-hour shows featuring that woman who can make meals in 12.4 seconds or a Suzanne Somers or a doctor who can teach you how to speed-read so fast you would literally explode Twitter with your mind or Chuck Norris.
Scene 1: I certainly would not call myself a Info-commercial historian -- I am merely a layperson -- but I do believe that it was the Snuggie commercial that launched the "start your infoco in black and white" revolution. Well, I guess, if you want to be technical about it, the revolution was launched by "The Wizard Of Oz" which showed Kansas in stark black before making Oz into this colorful wonder. But it was the Snuggie that used this brilliant back-and-white to color technique to market useless products. Back in the old black-and-white days, you would cover yourself in a blanket and struggle to pick up the phone. Now, in color, you can wear a blanket with sleeves.
Here, in black and white, we see a man in the bathroom about to use a Q-tip -- no, wait, sorry, a "cotton swab." One time, not long ago, I wanted to make a list of product names that seemed only to exist on television. You know: Cotton swab. Bathroom tissue. Lip balm. Anyway, he's about to use a cotton swab and right away you realize this has a chance to be a breathtakingly great infoco because, before, he sticks the cotton swab into his ear, he looks at it. Just looks at it. I wonder what the conversation was like.
Director: "Before you use it, look at the swab for a second."
Guy: "What's my motivation?"
Director: "You are pondering whether or not to use the cotton swab."
Guy: "OK. I can visualize."
As he regards the swab -- not unlike the way Hamlet looks at the skull of poor Yorick -- the narrator says: We all know we shouldn't use cotton swabs to clean or dry our ears." Yes, we do know that. The man in the commercial knows it too. "But we do it anyway," the narrator laments, and sure enough the man begins to use the swab to clean or dry his ears -- we are not sure which. The narrator offers one more advisory: "They even warn us." Then the camera shows the blue warning label on the side of Q-Tips -- how did we get color? -- that says: WARNING: Do not insert swab into ear canal.
But we cut back to the man in black and white (maybe it's more sepia) and he's already digging that Q-Tip right into his ear, and so you know something bad is about to happen. But it's it's still quite jolting when the man suddenly shouts:
You have to watch the infoco to see just how sudden and shocking it is. That "Ow!" is astonishing, a piece of performance art that should be studied by acting classes for years to come. I've been dying to know how many takes it took -- it is, unquestionably, the most enthusiastic and yet least convincing "Ow!" I have ever heard.
Then, the man looks at the offending cotton swab and bright red words come across the screen.
Yes. Indeed. Stop. There … is … a … better ... way.
Scene 2: Now, we are in color … and we are looking at a close-up of this gun-like device that looks a bit like a cheap plastic power drill. This, of course, is the WaxVac. And it will revolutionize your ear-cleaning life.
You know what I love most about that? The logo on top, of course. Let's see here: How can we best convey that this product is healthy? One time, quick, around the room. ... OK, just spitballing here, but what if we start with a red cross. … Good, excellent, red cross, that will suggest that this product is endorsed by the Red Cross, very good. But we need more. … I don't know, what if we surrounded that red cross with blue Band-aids? … OK, that could work, you thinking about like a circle? … Yeah, a red cross encircled by blue bandages. … Winner. Toast yourself folks. We're going home.
The infoco then gets to what I have started to call the "Infoco Hot Woman" segment -- every good info-commercial has one -- and of course she tries the WaxVac. You can tell at first that she's a bit reluctant, and who can blame her: She's putting a chew plastic power drill in her ear. But then, as it begins to do its magical extracting, she breaks out into a smile. Hey, this is fun! She also, not coincidentally, does not appear to be wearing any clothes.
"The safe and effective way to clean and dry your ears!" the narrator says.
The camera then shows a young girl using the WaxVac (it's safe for children!) and an older woman using the WaxVac (It's safe for older people!) and the original guy who, in black and white days, braved the cotton swab method (It's safe for men who will just shout "Ow!" out of nowhere!) and a little boy (it's even safe for this little tyke! It may look like a power drill but we are talking serious safety here!).
Scene 3: "Here's how it works," the narrator says.
These are always my favorite part of the info commercial -- the part where they break down the complicated science of the product and show how it uses all sorts of patented technology to do what you never thought could be done.
The WaxVac infoco -- because it is utterly brilliant -- goes to another level: It shows animation. Oh, man, do I love when commercials show animation. First they show an animated version of a cotton swab going into an ear canal entirely clogged with nauseating yellow stuff that kind of looks like cheddar cheese gone very wrong. I'm not sure a Metallica concert could get through that yellow goop. Of course the cotton swab is utterly ineffective -- it just jams the cheddar wax deeper into the ear. But more significantly, as the narrator says, "It can puncture your ear drum. Ouch!" And while he says it, the entire cartoon blinks red, signifying, well, "Ouch!"
Obviously, the WaxVac will solve these problems. So we go on to the next animation -- only this time the guy's ear isn't jammed with yellow nastiness but instead is filled with blue bubbles that look a little bit like pop rocks. I guess the blue stuff is suppose to represent "moisture." because, remember, the WaxVac both "cleans" and "dries." It is a multipurpose ear vacuum cleaner.
Narrator: "WaxVac gently draws dirt particles and moisture out of the ear rather than pushing it in. There's nothing else like it!"
Scene 4: Now, we turns back to Infoco Hot Woman who, it turns out, is not naked -- she's wearing some sort of pink towel thing that they will probably be selling soon -- and she puts the WaxVac back in her ear and breaks out into another smile -- she loves it. This allows the narrator to try a new infoco technique that I honestly hope will catch on.
He says: "That WaxVac is quiet. Listen."
And sure enough: There's no sound. Amazing! Convincing!
Let's be honest, this was a risky and bold sales move. What if we had heard this loud sound at that exact moment? That could have ruined the whole thing, I mean, I cannot think of even a single way they could have covered up sound. But the risky maneuver paid off in huge ways -- complete silence. What a product.
So, we learn that it's quiet, effective and it's also safe, thanks to it's "unique safety guard."* This is a nit-picky thing, I know, but I do have a quick question here: You just told us that there's nothing else like the WaxVac. That said, why do you have to tell us that the safety guard is unique? Am I supposed to believe that there while there are no other products like the WaxVac, there are other safety guards that you might think are similar. I mean, we're getting an ear vacuum here, I'm going to assume the whole product is "unique."
*Brilliant reader David brings up an even better point about the uniqueness -- the narrator says: "It's unique safety guard prevents it from going too deep ... like an eart thermometer." So they're saying RIGHT THERE that it's not unique at all, it's just like an ear thermometer.
Scene 5: Narrator: "You just empty it out when you're done!"
Yep -- let's not forget one of the staples of any info-commercial product: It has to be "easy to clean."
And so, while the narrator talks, the camera focuses on a hand slowly dumping out some earwax juice into a sink. This is a brief scene, barely two seconds long, and yet it will haunt my dreams for weeks. It makes the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty look like square dancing. "You just empty it out when … " um, OK, fine, just, just, let's move on.
Scene 6: Time for the doctor! His name is Kenneth Ackerman, and he's obviously a doctor because he is wearing a lab coat AND a stethoscope. In fact, with a little Internet research, you find that he IS a doctor. This is Dr, Kenneth Ackerman who is a primary care physician in Lake Success, N.Y. -- if you happen to live in the area -- and he's a Dartmouth Grad.
Narrator: "Doctors everywhere warn against using cotton swabs to clean your ears."
Dr. Ackerman: "Don't use a cotton swab in your ear because it can cause significant damage."
Here's what I like about Dr. Ackerman -- at no point in the infoco does he return to recommend actually using the WaxVac. He's just saying don't use cotton swabs (like doctors everywhere). I wonder how they approached him.
WaxVac Producer: "Look, doctor, we are looking for someone to say that sticking a cotton stick in your ear could be dangerous."
Dr. Ackerman: "Well, this is true."
WaxVac: "So you would be willing to say that? On camera?"
Dr. Ackerman: "Of course. That's obviously. What is the product you're selling again?"
WaxVac: "Never mind that. Just say that cotton swabs are bad, we'll handle the rest."
Scene 7: A compilation of different people using the WaxVac and facing their own personal ear demons.
Issue 1: Water in the ear. Young girl hits herself in the head to get water out. Narrator tells her to stop doing that.
Issue 2: Older woman knows she shouldn't use cotton swabs to clean her ears. She says so: "I know I shouldn't use cotton swabs to clean my ears. … WaxVac seems like the perfect solution."
OK, one more time, I realize I'm nitpicking: But why the word "seems?" Is she not entirely convinced? Is she leaving open the possibility that it's not the perfect solution? Is she still unsure about the WaxVac and, yes, while it "seems" the perfect solution, well, she needs to analyze the situation from a few different angles?
Issue 3: Cotton swab pain -- especially in the ears of children. Infoco Hot Woman is back, now in a red hoodie of some sort, and the little boy returns too. And, here's the Sixth Sense moment of this commercial: That boy is apparently her son! Or she's baby-sitting! Or they're actors that just met! But I think it's her son! He's totally digging the WaxVac and, as she says, "If they like it, I love it."
And finally, the guy who shouted "Ow!" at the beginning has made his conclusion: "What a great idea," he says. "WaxVac just makes sense."
Of course, it still makes no sense at all, none, it remains a cheap plastic power drill vacuum you stick your ear.
Big finish: Narrator says: "Stop using other ear cleaners that don't work," and camera shows Infoco Hot Woman and Ow Guy doing what appears to be some sort of weird cult ritual with a giant candle in his ear.
Narrator says: "And stop using cotton swabs that can damage your ears," and they show a replay of Ow Guy's triumphant performance as someone who shouts "OW!" and it will scare you again.
And now, to close the deal, here's what you get: The WaxVac, eight color-coded soft silicone tips, a hand cleaning brush which, well, I have no idea what that's supposed to do. The WaxVac, we find out here at the end, also has a powerful examining light, which is super exciting.
But WAIT, there's MORE ...
Oh, I love the "But wait there's more" part of the infoco. It's like the prize in the box of cereal. What is the bonus? Is it a reading light? A can of Flex Seal? A cheese grater?
"Call right now and we'll double the offer."
Yeah, you know, I hate those double-the-offer things. Worst trend in info-commercial history. I think I'm going to start a petition. No, really, here, I've started a petition.
There is one final bonus in the WaxVac commercial. After they show that you can get TWO WaxVacs for $10, they cut back to Infoco Hot Woman and her "son." She holds out her hand for a high-five, which he reluctantly gives. And then she hugs him, and you really need to go to it (At 1:39 on above video) just to see the way the kid glances to the camera with this priceless, "Do I really have to hug this complete stranger," look. The only way it could be better is if suddenly, out of nowhere, he just blurted out: "OW!"