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Family - A Seattle Advertising Agency

This is Why Marketers Create Disastrous Labor Day Commercials

Comedy Writing

Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise...

Adam Arkin was directing an episode of Northern Exposure, a television series that used to film in Redmond. A couple buddies of mine working on the show invited me down. I brought my girlfriend along, and Adam instantly took a liking to her – a little too much for my liking. He invited her to be an extra in the bar scene he was shooting that morning. I invited myself to join her.

The wardrobe department was bustling with blue-collar extras dreaming of being in the bar scene. A national television show at union rates would be a nice little pay bump for them. None of them were chosen. We were. Mr. Arkin’s orders. What followed was like the fight scene from Beyond Thunderdome.

The seething thespians lectured and threatened us. I could see it. They were simply trying to make a buck, and here we were, strolling into their workplace, stealing a job meant for them. It was the wrath of the workingman.

Labor Day, Past and Present


For over 120 years, we’ve observed Labor Day, a celebration of the workingman. The first Labor Day was actually on a Tuesday, September 5, 1882. It quickly moved to Monday and became a federal holiday in 1894. This is a long way of saying it’s been around for a long time.

Yet, today the three-day holiday is better known for desperate attempts to convince consumers to buy Back to School supplies. It's time to cook some burgers and buy some backpacks.


Every year marketers expect to hoover up consumer dollars with a blitz of media and mind-numbing advertising. It’s the final, relentless, hard sell to move those numbers. There’s no room here for fluffy awareness commercials. Labor Day weekend is the last chance to close the deal! But it’s becoming harder to do that.

Where We Focus Our Attention

Last year was the first year in a very long time that commercial-skipping on DVRs went down. Why? Modern consumers are turning to their phones during the commercial breaks. The two behaviors are connected. No one wants to suffer through bad advertising.

You Can’t Sell If You’re Invisible

Why Labor Day commercials can’t be better? I don’t know. The plight of the workingman (or woman) is fertile comedic ground: class conflict, strikes, “the man” versus the workingman, etc. But advertising seems to be binary to some marketers. If it’s entertaining it can’t be selling. The problem with the modern consumer is this: If you’re not entertaining, you’re not going to sell, because you’re not going to be seen.

After escaping a mob of furious extras in the wardrobe room, we hustled to the set. A set-dresser handed me a half-empty pitcher of beer and no glass. The pitcher was my glass. I was a natural. After eyeballing the blocking, I positioned my path through the bar so there was no way they could cut me out of the scene.

Wrong. We were later edited out completely. But I made it out alive, with my girlfriend and a lesson: Never cross the workingman.

Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike


Sometimes bad ideas turn into great commercials. Read all about it.

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