Embracing the Cheese

This commercial is so full of win, I can hardly stand it. Let’s talk about why.

Locally-produced commercials are infamously cheesy. Low-quality video sources, inadequate audio equipment, tasteless subtitles, and tragically unhip jingles mark the genre. Unfortunately, it takes cash to do a whiz-bang, slick ad–and cash is exactly what a small local business lacks. So… what to do? Claw and scratch your way out of mediocrity? Blow the budget on some marketing firm? Stick with old fashioned word of mouth?

Cullman Liquidation has a better idea: don’t hate the cheese; embrace it. This north-central Alabaman business doesn’t hide its low budget or amateur star power. And yet the ad works.

For example, the commercial’s cornball sound effects fit, somehow. The whip-crack tightens up the hard cut to the business’ dilapidated billboard. The cougar roar ensures that we don’t take the seductive, smoking salesgirl too seriously. The eagle scream? Well… it’s just bad-ass.

The antagonistic tone is spot on, too. Robert Lee doesn’t give a damn about getting your business. He doesn’t care whether you like his commercial or not. He and his crew even Braveheart-charge the camera near the ad’s end, as if to say, “Either buy a trailer, get out, or prepare to be liquidated, Cullman-style.”

Then there’s the closing shot, the odd mix of unrelated elements so common in local ads. We get both the American and the Alabaman flags (in case we forget where Cullman Liquidation is located?). We see the Cullman sign again, though it’s been oddly cropped into an off-angled sign shape–gloriously amateurish. And the screaming eagle makes an appearance–not as a sound effect but as a poorly-positioned piece of clip art, complete with unsightly transparency artifacts (click the image to zoom in). This shot is so bad, it’s good. It’s almost as if someone wanted to dump as many local ad clichés on the screen as he could.

And, for all the ad’s corniness and simplicity, there are other signs that this is well-crafted work. Desaturating the video and washing it in sepia fits the mock-serious tone. Creative angles and juicy close-ups mark the shots. Slow-mo and hard cuts are carefully selected and effectively used.

So what’s the deal? Is someone at Cullman Liquidation a closet filmmaker? Are they connoisseurs of the local ad genre? Not quite. Did you notice that two of Lee’s workmen seem somewhat out of place? The hipsters standing in the back row don’t work for Cullman. They’re internet entertainers (“Intertainers,” to use their term), who specialize in producing stereotypically cheesy (but self-consciously hip) commercials for real local businesses.

Does knowing this make the Cullman Liquidation spot less awesome? Yeah, a little. But I have to admit: I wish I could do what these “intertainers” do for a living.