BY: LUC RINALDI
Earlier this month, I was at my parents’ place watching TV when the Trivago ad came on. The spokesperson started doing his thing—talking about hotels, dodging onscreen text, and interacting with virtual graphics—before my dad chimed in with something along the lines of, “I read an article about this guy in the paper the other day. Apparently, people have a problem with him.”
A problem? I’d seen the commercial a half-dozen times and never really registered what the guy even looked like or what he was trying to sell. More than a few people had, though. And they took notice of—offence to, even—his wrinkled, unbuttoned shirt, five o’clock shadow, unkempt hair, and, most of all, lack of belt. Though it had all been carefully selected by a wardrobe team to make him seem casual and approachable, the result was the look, some said, of a tired, divorced, partied-out, chain-smoking alcoholic.
Watching the ad again, I guess I saw it. Between his coarse voice and slightly slick mannerisms, he was a bit of an unusual spokesman. I still didn’t understand why someone like him might warrant a newspaper article, but I was fascinated by the attention he’d been given. And, when I decided to see if anyone else got a weird vibe from Trivago Guy (as he’s now been dubbed), I found the writer of that article wasn’t alone.
The commercial has spawned endless news coverage, a slew of memes, parody videos, and fake Twitter feeds, as well as thinkpieces on public reaction, gender equality, and company branding. The German-based Trivago (they’re a hotel search website, by the way) is capitalizing on the unexpected phenomena by launching a Trivago Guy makeover contest; just post of a photo of an outfit better than his and you could win a trip to Germany for the filming of his next commercial, featuring a new and improved Trivago Guy.
I, for one, hope the spiffed-up version looks exactly like the old one. (I know he won’t, but I can dream.) Why? Because I am the Trivago Guy. Not literally, of course. What I mean is that he is the quintessential Average Joe. He could be me, or he could be you. If we were to see him walking down the street, we wouldn’t think twice. (Or if we did, it might be for a different reason; as some observers have pointed, he’s actually kind of good-looking.) Put him on the tube, though, and there’s a global outcry. The reason his presence on TV—as a salesperson, no less—is so alarmingly refreshing is that he is insufferably average, blatantly uninteresting, and remarkably realistic. Just like us.
We’re so taken aback by Trivago Guy because we’re constantly inundated with perfect, plastic pitch people and young, smooth-skinned brand ambassadors. We expect celebrities to sell us shaving cream, models to market mascara, and sexy voices to tell us that a hot date is just one phone call away.
Trivago Guy doesn’t fit into this universe. Our uncomfortable reaction to him tells us that we’re comfortable with that unattainable world. After all, if buying that product won’t make us famous, beautiful, or just a little less lonely, what exactly is its selling power? If not the glamorous, fictional realm of television commercials, what do we have to strive for?
Trivago Guy dispels the illusion. We should be thankful, but we’re disgusted. Because we are Trivago Guy, that distaste is really for ourselves. The one time someone on TV doesn’t inherently make us feel self-conscious or inadequate, we take it upon ourselves to fill the self-loathing void. The TV’s told us we’re not good enough for so long that we’ve started to believe it. Trivago Guy is relief from that sadistic mindset, whether we choose to accept it or not.
So, Trivago Guy, please don’t ever wear a belt.