How a Ridiculous, Boomer-Trolling 1 (888) Ad Became a Covid Success Story

Alex Frecon's adventures in local advertising

In a time of social isolation, Alex Frecon stumbled upon a great way to connect with people around the world. He created a homemade TV commercial, pretending to be a punk kid and pleading with people to call and give him advice, and aired it on the local Fox affiliate in Minneapolis.

It all began when Frecon, a freelance copywriter who's worked at agencies including Fallon and Solve—and who made this humorous ode to aging last year—was channel-surfing on his couch during the pandemic and found some obscure TV stations running ads clearly targeted at old people.

"So I had this idea: If I had to make a commercial for an older audience, what would it be?" he tells Muse. "Old people and punk kids just don't get along. Maybe I can bridge the gap a little bit."

So, he and some friends made the commercial below, urging older people to call in and give advice to a punk kid—someone who listens to loud rock music, smokes cigarettes, all those nasty punk habits. The 1-888-IMAPUNK spot was inspired by Miss Cleo and all the other local ads from Frecon's youth; plus, he's also a fan of Rick and Morty, whose interdimensional cable was also a reference point.

The process of getting the spot on the air in Minneapolis was its own complicated saga, which is captured amusingly in the video below. (Frecon captured video of a lot of his interactions with people at the TV stations.) About halfway through the spot's two-week flight—it aired 23 times on TV in total—Frecon also posted it to Reddit, where it quickly got popular.

Frecon initially worried he might not get any calls, but that proved to be unfounded in the extreme—the hotline got more than 2,000 calls just in the first 24 hours. The phone would start ringing within 10 second of the ad airing each time, and then once the commercial was posted to Reddit, it became a pretty regular thing—as people called in from all over the world. 

See the full story here:

Frecon tells Muse that almost everyone who called in got the joke. "But with that said, I would say about half of them still wanted to give the punk kid some advice," he says. "I'd say 90 percent of those were playful and joking, but 10 percent were actually serious. I got a lot of financial advice. A lot of advice about being yourself—like, who are you and what you stand for? A lot of people told me about the value of education. Some really profound stuff. And that was always something I had wondered: How cool would it be if we did something totally weird and random and something meaningful came from it?"

The most popular advice for the punk kid? "Get a haircut and get a job," says Frecon. "Or get off my damn lawn. I heard that hundreds of times."

Along with the ingenuity and creativity of the project, it's just a welcome reprieve from all the doom and gloom of Covid. Yes, we should be able to laugh, even in dark times—perhaps especially in dark times—which is surely part of why the commercial got such engagement.

"I thought it would be great to provide a moment of levity and a quick smile," Frecon says. "As serious as the situation is, at the end of the day we're all human. We can only absorb so much seriousness. We still need those outlets—or those inlets, rather—that bring us joy and make us laugh. I think it helps us persevere, so to speak. Not to get like super lofty about it."

The project also connected people—something else that's a struggle these days.

"I got calls from every single state and Puerto Rico. I got calls from Australia. I got calls from Austria," says Frecon. "Just talking to these people, I would be like, hey, where you from? What are you up to? Connecting with complete and utter strangers who were genuinely happy to be talking to me—it was really cool. We talk about human nature, and we tend to think we're divided into camps or groups. But so often I found that just if you give someone an excuse to connect, or you come to the table without any preconceived notions, people will always meet you there. They're just as eager to smile and laugh and get to know you. You just have to disarm them with a laugh or a joke or something you have in common."

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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