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Slate's Ad Report Card: The End of 'Priceless'

ALEX CHADWICK, Host:

Basic membership at some NPR stations.

MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

Forty dollars.

CHADWICK: The information and entertainment you get from listening to this program every day.

BRAND: Priceless.

CHADWICK: Few recent ad campaigns have penetrated the culture as has the Priceless spots for MasterCard. But Seth Stevenson, ad critic for the online magazine Slate, thinks the ads are finally too much.

SETH STEVENSON: Unidentified Announcer: Blank. Nine dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASTERCARD COMMERCIAL)

STEPHENSON: Unidentified Announcer: Blank. Sixty dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASTERCARD COMMERCIAL)

STEPHENSON: Unidentified Announcer: Blank. One hundred ten dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASTERCARD COMMERCIAL)

STEPHENSON: Unidentified Announcer: Blank. Priceless.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASTERCARD COMMERCIAL)

STEPHENSON: Unidentified Announcer: Blank. Fifty-two dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASTERCARD COMMERCIAL)

STEPHENSON: You have until May 28 to enter, and one winning entry will be broadcast later this year. These now-familiar Priceless ads obviously lend themselves to a contest like this. With those three setup beats and a punch line you can see coming for miles, the campaign is a classic bit of joke scaffolding akin to the old Priest/Pastor/Rabbi formula. But MasterCard's a little late to the party. Pranksters have been repurposing the Priceless shtick for years now.

BRAND: By the way, the contest site allows you to enter your own text in the blanks and will then plug those words into a new rough cut of the ad. That offers juvenile profane possibilities, of course, but I also noticed that the motorcycle ad was directed by Stephen Gaghan of Traffic and Syriana fame, so I'm imagining a sort of left-leaning, wide-sweeping social statement; a mind-blowing realization that our daily lives will intertwine with and enable a shuttle world built on oil, elicit drugs and clandestine diplomacy by violence? We'll see if that one wins.

BRAND: Opinion from Seth Stevenson, who writes the Ad Report Card column for the online magazine Slate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Seth Stevenson