Special to the Sun
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Sandwiched between ads for beer and pizza during this weekend’s football broadcasts, local television viewers may have encountered a commercial that surprised — not because of its content but because of the government agency behind the message.
Titled “The Neighbor,” the spot features an elderly woman, cane in hand, as she rings the doorbell of a neighbor who is running the sprinklers at full blast at his stereotypical suburban home. A middle-aged man, balding and in a polo, emerges, only to be felled with a swift kick to the groin and a disdainful smirk from the woman.
The commercial ends with the tagline “Don’t make us ask you again.” It is one of several Southern Nevada Water Authority commercials airing to remind residents to set their sprinkler systems to water only three days a week during the fall months.
The other ads feature similar middle-aged male antagonists, in different instances being attacked by a small dog or rapped across the knuckles by a nun for running their sprinklers too much.
The crass humor may seem more at home in a Vince Vaughn movie than a commercial for a normally stodgy government agency, but SNWA spokesman J.C. Davis said the groin kick, although unsubtle, gets the point across and is based on careful market research.
“We did this kind of analysis years ago and what we found is the person responsible for changing the sprinkler clock in the typical household is a guy. He tends to be your typical ESPN-watching guy,” Davis said. “You have to find a way to compete with the beer commercials and the other stuff he’s being exposed to. Comedy a little on the edgy side has proven to be the right way to get that guy’s attention.”
Although tongue-in-cheek, the ads carry a serious conservation message at a time when extended drought has led to steep drops in the surface levels at Lake Mead, the region’s main water source. Davis said the switch to watering only three days per week will save at least 350 millions of gallon per week across the valley.
Although the SNWA won’t send any attack dogs to punish water wasters, its informal team of “water cops” can write citations to homes that consistently water too much or on the wrong days. A citation carries a fine of $80.
R&R Partners, the same agency behind the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s succefsful “What happens here, stays here” campaign, created the ads, which have been airing sporadically the past six years. They only appear in the fall, when the number of days residents are allowed to water their lawns cuts from seven to three (starting Sept. 1). Watering days are further decreased, to once a week, beginning in November.
This year, the SNWA will spend $148,350 to run 280 spots over the first two weeks of September, with another round of commercials airing in November. The commercials are being spread across local ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates, as well as ESPN, ESPN2, the NFL Network, AMC and FX, with a heavy focus on football and male-oriented shows.
The commercials’ crude humor has generated a smattering of complaints through the years — Davis counted two so far this month — and the objections of least one elected official, County Commissioner Susan Brager. In the past, Brager, who also sits on the SNWA board, in the past has asked that the agency stop running the ads.
“I thought I had a good sense of humor but I don’t find it funny at all. I just don’t,” she said. “I detest them.”
The issue hasn’t generated enough complaints to warrant further inquiry by the board.
“I haven’t received any complaints nor has it been brought to my attention, so it hasn’t been a concern,” said Henderson City Councilman Sam Bateman, another board member. “I haven’t seen any that I thought were a problem.”