The hottie.

The hottie.

The hottie.

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 28 2005 11:26 AM

What's With That Ad?

So low-budget it's … mesmerizing.


The spot: It's a world of white—white floors, white walls, white furnishings … and a stunning, middle-aged babe dressed all in white. She's smiling at us. "It's all about the O," she purrs. Whoa! That's hot! After six or seven costume changes, she explains what the O really stands for:, a Web site that sells liquidated merchandise. (Click here to see the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Admit it: You can't take your eyes off this commercial. I know that you can't, because I've read your blogs. The Web is overflowing with your rants: This ad is so annoying! This woman is so freaking hot! I can't stand this woman! What is going on with this ad? I am deeply confused! Please help me!


Relax, people. Ad Report Card is here to explain this commercial's oddly powerful hold on us. Let me tell you what it's really all about:

1) It's all about the double entendre. The obvious starting point for any analysis. The "O," sliding from the lips of this luscious babe, brings "orgasm" to mind. It's a simple formula: a hot chick + the suggestion of climax = an attention-getting ad. Or, more simply: Sex sells.

2) It's all about the accent. There's something just a little bit off. It's hard to place. Is she Canadian, maybe? She seems to say, "It's all about the codes," when she clearly means "clothes." Also, "gold" somehow gains a diphthong, becoming "gou-oald."

Turns out this actress is German, and came to the States about 20 years ago. She never quite shed that last hint of accent. (Which has cost her some big roles in the past, when casting agents deemed her foreign lilt a bit too distracting.)


Personally, I find her speech hypnotic. The slow, even delivery. The sudden and thrilling surprise of a wavy euro-vowel. Of course, others disagree. This guy thinks she's being held at gunpoint and is trying to deliver an encoded message.

3) It's all about the music. This simply can't be the theme song for a retail store. Where's the up-tempo power-pop? The jangling Stratocasters? The pounding beat? This piece sounds more like an elegy for a long-departed lover.

I suppose there is something wistful about a liquidation sale, but does the music need to reflect that? It's weird. So weird, in fact, that it's captivating. I hear this gentle serenade and my eyes are pulled screenward. Kudos, jingle composer.

4) It's all about the cheesy white background. Ring ring. The 1980s called. They want their radically monochrome interiors back. Seriously, what is going on here? According to Stormy Simon,'s vice president of branding (and the woman who dreamed up and wrote this whole ad), the white is meant to suggest the virtual, non-physical space of the Internet, because Overstock is emphatically not a brick-and-mortar operation.


Fair enough. I'm not sure any viewers will pick up on that. Still, it's another offbeat choice that sets the commercial apart. Overstock produced this ad entirely in-house (to save money, according to Simon), and it shows. I don't think any ad agency would release a spot that looks like this (they would no doubt find it absurdly cheesy and low budget). Yet that's precisely its draw: This ad looks like nothing else on television, so we notice it. 

5) It's all about the mesmerizing babe. The moment you've been waiting for—the lowdown on the Overstock hottie. I talked to her by phone last week. (Jealous much, gentlemen? Ad Report Card talks to all the fine ladies.)

The lovely Sabine Ehrenfeld (pronounced "Sa-BEAN-uh") was driving back from a snowboarding trip with her children, on her way to casting calls the following day. Still, she found time to chat in a delightful and disarming manner. I learned the following:

In addition to German and English, Sabine speaks French and Italian. She is proficient in basic tactical pistol skills, because she thought it would be a fun thing to learn. She also has a private pilot's license and 350 hours in the air. After reading the Richard Bach book Biplane, she was inspired to fly solo—in an old-style, aerobatic tailwheel plane—from California to Montana. With camping gear in the back so she could land along the route to sleep and refuel. I am not making this up.'s Simon was looking for "a 38 year-old brunette" to play the part (that's Overstock's demographic—about two-thirds of their bargain-hunting customers are women) when she saw Sabine (who is in fact 41) on television (in a Kotex ad). It was love at first sight. Sabine is gorgeous, but in a non-threatening way. Men find her approachable, women think she's friendly. "We didn't want someone that the gal in rural Minnesota couldn't relate to," says Simon. I guess she means the Minnesotan gal who flies aerobatic planes and speaks four languages.

Grade: A. I'm not saying this is a work of art. At base, this is a classic spokesperson spot, with an actor who looks at the camera and touts the product. My grade here is about brand awareness. Before Sabine's spots launched in October 2003, had a measly 12 percent brand recognition. By November 2004, recognition was at 46 percent. I know I remember the brand. And I know why. Love her or hate her, in the end it's all about Sabine.