PRINT March 1995



DURACELL’S BRACING BATCH of current commercials earns points for having the chutzpah to tell us that the American family is propelled by the company’s products, and at the same time for showing us what a creepy bunch they are. Even the most erudite among us are discussing batteries now, in a way we haven’t since Eveready’s Energizer Bunny captivated the intelligentsia with its own surreal relentlessness. This time around we’re being engaged by the Puttermans—a cellular family, as it were, played by actors in prosthetic faces and sculptured clothing who go about banal everyday pursuits with sunny smiles, thanks to Duracell batteries visibly lodged in their backs. Looking like dementedly possessed windup dolls, the Puttermans doggedly enact quintessential American pastimes—watching TV, playing miniature golf, visiting art museums, pulling up to fast-food drive-in joints, and aggressively avoiding harsh realities. A ’90s family stuck in ’50s suburban fantasies, they come off loud, garish, weird, and kind of lovable.

But when the Puttermans are out of Duracells, their hidden dysfunctions become apparent, and we learn how easy it is for even such a tightly knit unit to unravel. Grandma falls into the macaroni and cheese while screaming an interminable anecdote (someone put the wrong battery in her—on purpose, perhaps?). A family friend named Larry gets his minigolf club caught on a giant rotating display lobster and is sent twirling around the hole. And there are other horrors lurking at the end of these colorful cautionary tales, all stemming from the idiocy of making the wrong consumerist choices. The message: with Duracell, your foolishness will be fully accepted by your loved ones. With another battery, it will just seem foolish.

The campaign—by Ogilvy & Mather—seems to be a response to television’s overreliance on sexual ads, a field recently depleted by the likes of Diet Coke (with shirtless hunk Lucky Vanous) and Calvin Klein (who’s wisely moved on to androgyny, his CK1-perfume campaign promoting multigender platonic interaction over orgasmic chic). Suddenly it’s more popular to seize on the sense of the ickiness of our bodies, which Duracell mixes with a tacit understanding of the aberrations lurking under the shiny veneer of the prototypical household, a reality made evident virtually every minute of the day by one confrontational talk show or another. The ads hawk distaste with refreshing matter-of-factness—asked to embrace the family’s abrasiveness, we obediently do so, meanwhile insisting, “That’s not me!”

Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment has already taken note of the Puttermans’ yuckiness. But while the mention was intended to put the family’s impact down, the fact that the ads made it onto the show at all tells us that Duracell has a high-voltage hit on its hands.

Michael Musto’s column “La Dolce Musto” appears in The Village Voice, New York. He also contributes regularly to Vanity Fair and is a contributing editor of Spin.