“Um, does anybody know whose phone this is?”

Cathlene Centeno

In 2005, Deutsche Postbank advertised its financial services through “Funny Money,” a commercial produced by BBDO Proximity. The commercial opens to a furnished men’s dressing room, presumably that of a country club, where a man is buttoning the cuffs of his crisp white dress shirt. A phone beside him begins to chime. He takes a quick glance behind him before picking up. In his opening remarks, he greets the woman on the other end and confirms that he is at a club. As the man proceeds to adjust his red tie, fasten his lustrous watch, and slip into his tailored jacket, he conducts a critical financial conversation. He gives his consent to the woman to spend $1,000 on a luxury leather jacket, $500,000 on a new Mercedes Benz, and $1.4 million on a house. After concluding the exchange with mutual, satisfied “I love you’s” the man hangs up and turns to his peers to ask: “Um, does anybody know whose phone this is?”

The screen reads, “Unexpected financial problems? Call the Professionals.”

Through the portrayal of this financially ruinous and comedic situation, the dynamics of finance and budget between a “couple” are conveyed through the conversation of an apparently affluent middle-aged man, and a misled, coy wife who solicits his permission to purchase goods. The nature of their exchange, given each speaker’s tone and the man’s demeanor, hints at the role and financial domination of the man. The content of their dialogue reveals modern society’s fixation with materialism and consumerism. Holistically considered, it is the man’s final line that changes the appeal of this commercial, for it provides the commercial’s humorous nature. This humor, however, is at the expense of the woman and her actual husband, essentially victimized by one aware from the beginning that the phone he answered was not his. While this commercial’s use of humor may be entertaining and attract a large audience, it also serves to overshadow the more sober implications concerning marriage roles and materialism, as well as hint at society’s inclination to be amused at the misfortune of others.

The playful approach of the wife in asking her husband for financial authority indicates that it is the husband who is the “breadwinner” and keeper of the purse. The affluence of the couple is hinted at by the dress of the man, as he wears a dark, sleek suit jacket, large red tie, and dress shirt. Supporting this is the conversation between the two, in which the woman refers to the purchasing of a leather jacket, Mercedes, and home, casually and all condensed in one day. When she reveals the price of the home to be 1.5 million dollars, the man confidently replies that they should aim to pay “only” 1.4 million dollars, as he considers this price, which to the common person is still a staggering amount of money, a bargain. This wealth is credited to the man, implying he must be consulted before any purchase. In a 2007 study of budgeting and marriage titled, “Managing Money in Marriage: Multilevel and Cross-National Effects of the Breadwinner Role,” Yodanis and Lauer state, “Male management systems are also associated with male dominance in the relationship” (Yodanis 1309). The husband is portrayed at an exclusively men’s club, which, given his attire, suggests a correlation to his job. In contrast, the wife is described to have been leisurely spending time at the mall, instead of holding a job herself. This imbalance in leisure time favoring the woman is actually contradicted by the trend, from 1965 to 2003, that men’s leisure time had increased 6.2 hours a week, more than the women’s 4.9 hour increase (Aguiar 970). It is implied that the man is accustomed to this kind of behavior from the wife, as he abruptly cuts her off with “How much?” The woman expresses her contentedness with this system of budgeting by her giddy reactions to her husband’s approval.

The woman’s ecstatic reactions, characterized by her excited, shaking laughter, as well as the man’s satisfaction at having pleased his “wife,” brings into perspective the role of materialism. The woman rationalizes requests for financial action by relating to her husband just how much such objects mean to her, as demonstrated when she calls the jacket “beautiful,” mentions the “new model” of the Mercedes, and expresses how she’d wanted the house for a year. One 2008 business study published in Journal of International Business Studies notes the role of consumerism as vehicle for satisfaction (Speck 1199). This point is demonstrated by how the man relents to his wife’s demands, and is best exemplified by the exchange that ends the phone call: the woman, only after the transaction is completed, happily says, “I love you, baby!” to which the man replies “I love you, too.”

Despite not being explicitly said, it is implied, especially by that final exchange of affection, that the man and woman are husband and wife. However, this assumption is rejected by the twist at the end. The man admits in his final question that throughout the entire call, despite his satisfaction at his responses and his closing “I love you,” he was aware the woman was not his wife. The man’s pausing to look behind him before picking up the phone hints, even before the conversation’s start, of an intent to deceive. He never informs the woman that he is not her partner and plays along, leading the woman to make decisions which, as implied by the final captions on the screen, lead to “unexpected financial problems.” Though it portrays the woman and her true husband as a victim of the fraud, the abrupt tossing of the audience’s assumption is the source of the commercial’s humor. Thus, fundamentally, the audience is laughing at the woman’s troubles. This feeling of gladness at another’s suffering is defined by the German word schadenfreude. One explanation of schadenfreude reasons that it reflects people’s desire for superiority (Smith 2). When applied to the commercial, one may interpret the man to have been motivated by trying to deal a financial blow to one of his contemporaries, the actual husband of the woman. This competition fits with the social class of the man and woman, one associated with business and the valuing of luxury goods. Thus, those of this class may be in competition for money and social capital as marked by possession.

Though such themes may be found to be sobering or offensive, humor is used to placate the audience. Humor shifts the audience’s attention towards the purpose of the ad, and away from the underlying themes indirectly supporting the ad. In this commercial, the product or service being advertised was unclear until the closing shock that served to orient the audiences to Postbank’s service. Furthermore, research from a 2007 study published in the Journal of Advertising has shown that commercials with humor better sustain the attention of audiences, compared to commercials without (Cline 55). This increased attention paid to humor may have the effect of distracting the audience from an ad’s other implications. The effectiveness of the use of humor also plays a factor in how the ad is received. This commercial might not have had the effect of turning off the female audience, as it used more “nonsensical” humor, which is well received by women, rather than sexual humor, which is better received by men (Weinberger 52).

Commercials appeal to the audience by creating a familiarity between the audience and the characters portrayed in the advertisement. Thus, this commercial’s choice to assert the financially subordinate role of women, along with the role of desire and materialism, reflects those characteristics of modern society. It is the delivery of the surprise at the end that generates shock and interest in what is actually being advertised. Without this and its comedic effect, the depiction of the roles of women and men in marriage, society’s rampant consumerism, and entertainment from others’ mishappenings, may have been viewed as more disturbing and brought into greater scrutiny.

Works Cited

Aguiar, Mark, and Erik Hurst. “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122.3 (2007): 969- 1006. JSTOR. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.

Cline, Thomas, and James Kellaris. “The Influence of Humor Strength and Humor— Message Relatedness on Ad Memorability: A Dual Process Model.” Journal of Advertising 36.1 (2007): 55-67. JSTOR. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.

“Eurobest by The Eurobest Awards 2006 Award Winners: Deutsche Postbank – ‘Funny Money’ BBDO Proximity – AdForum: Award Winning Ads.” Eurobest by The Eurobest Awards 2006 Award Winners: Deutsche Postbank – “Funny Money” – BBDO Proximity – AdForum: Award Winning Ads. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.

Smith, Richard H. The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature. Cary, NC: Oxford UP, USA, 2013. Print.

Smith Speck, Sandra K., and Abhijit Roy. “The Interrelationships between Television Viewing, Values and Perceived Well-being: A Global Perspective.” Journal of International Business Studies 39.7 (2008): 1197-219. JSTOR. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

Weinberger, Marc G., and Charles S. Gulas. “The Impact of Humor in Advertising: A Review.” Journal of Advertising 21.4 (1992): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.

Yodanis, Carrie, and Sean Lauer. “Managing Money in Marriage: Multilevel and Cross- National Effects of the Breadwinner Role.” Journal of Marriage and Family 69.5 (2007): 1307-325. JSTOR. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.