Monday, October 19, 2009

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

"Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute. Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that's in it."
"Pepsi-Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that's a lot."
"See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet."

It has been many years since any of these jingles have been broadcast, but I can still remember them...and the products they advertised. And there are plenty of other jingles and slogans rattling around in my memory, some for products and companies that are still around and others that have faded away.

Laurie and I are fans of Mad Men, which takes place at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960s. And while much of the show is typical TV soap drama, I find the portions that relate to creating advertising campaigns the most interesting. In last night's episode, for example, the agency had to come up with a way to sell Western Union telegrams in an age when telephone use was quickly outpacing their usefulness. (This was an interesting parallel to the present day, where electronic media are replacing print.) The solution that the copywriters came up with was not dissimilar to Laurie's comment when I asked, "Gee, how would you promote something that is becoming obsolete?"

"B-O-N-O-M-O! O-O-O it's Bonomo Turkish Taffy."
"Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is." (That one's for Alka-Seltzer, for those too young to remember it.)

In another part of last night's episode, the characters were discussing a commercial for hair spray. After hearing the proposal, the creative director tells them there was "too much story" and they come up with a quicker, cleaner way to get the point across.

That made me wonder what is going on in ad agencies today, where they seem to be coming up with campaigns that have me confused about what exactly they are trying to sell me.

Geico, for example, has gotten a lot of mileage out of the gecko, that little talking lizard with the British accent. Their "caveman" campaign, which I found tedious after awhile, has also been running a long time. Their most recent collection of ads, however, showing people being bothered by a singing wad of money with ping pong ball eyes, misses the mark. One, in which a woman keeps getting text messages from the wad of money, had me thinking it was a cellphone ad.
Allstate's commercials, with Dennis Haysbert as the spokesman, lack the creative gimmickry of Geico's, but at least I know what he's selling every time I see him.

Not so with others. There are a couple of commercials currently running that have a stern-voiced narrator reciting poetry over photos and footage that appear to be riots, war, and revolution. Only in the last seconds do you find out that it is an ad for Levi's jeans. Am I supposed to take away the idea that I need to be wearing jeans if I want to take over the world?

There's also a car commercial that shows a man skiing down the hills of San Francisco despite the fact that there is no snow. The computer-generated "stuff" he is skiing on is supposed to be gravel or ball-bearings or I don't know what. At the end of the ad, he turns into a car. (I don't recall -- or care -- what kind.) What is the message here? Buy this car and you'll feel like you're skiing? Speeding down a hill on snow and ice at risk of running into a tree?!

"Call Roto-Rotor, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain."
"Trust Sleepy's for the rest of your life."
"McDonald's is my kind of place. It's such a happy place."

Commercials for drugs are in a class by themselves. Does every man over the age of 35 suffer from erectile dysfunction? And an uncontrollable bladder? And high cholesterol? Based on the ads, all the women in the country seem to be suffering from depression, genital herpes, and restless leg syndrome.
One thing all these commercials have in common seems to be the lines, "Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you. And be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking medications for this, that, or the other thing." Shouldn't your doctor already know what medications you're taking? If not, who are you getting to write the prescriptions?!
Of course, the disclaimers that are recited in these commercials (and the pages of them that are appended to print ads) make me wonder why anyone would even consider taking these drugs, especially when I hear something like "possible side effects may include paralysis or death."

"And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
"From the valley of the = Ho Ho Ho = Green Giant."
"Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat."

There's a series of commercials for some alcoholic beverage in which a group of people do something outrageous like fill an empty swimming pool with foam rubber or stage a concert in an abandoned subway tunnel. It doesn't say much for the ads when I can't recall what alcoholic beverage they're promoting. I do remember that it advises me to "drink responsibly." Somehow, I don't think that if I was "drinking responsibly," I'd come up with the idea to fill a swimming pool with foam rubber and jump in!

There are a few ads that grab my attention and get the message across. One is the American Express commercial that shows "faces" in all sorts of everyday objects while recounting all the things that you can do with your card. It's clever and one that you watch more than once to see all the different ways they've depicted the frowns and smiles.
Commercials for Target are visually interesting. There is a subtle similarity to them all, utilizing colors and their target symbol, that makes them instantly recognizable.
And the Coor's commercials which mix beer drinkers asking questions with clips of football coaches apparently answering them are clever and amusing.

But will any of today's commercials make me run out and buy something I didn't know I needed or wanted? Because, after all, isn't that what they're supposed to do? Can't think of any that accomplish that...

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I think that commercials have the same presentation to normal folks the way they did in "Look Who's Talking" - when little Mikey is watching TV and the one commercial comes on with Snuggles the bear - some fabric softener or others (so there you see how well it worked on ME...) - and little Mikey sees it as a mini-program. "Yay! It's the Bear Show!"

    I think that a lot of advertising executives are promoting "Yay! It's the Phone Show!" "It's the Jeans Show!" "It's the Two Bathtubs show!"

    I always thought that the point of the commercial was to get the person to remember the product advertised. These days, it looks as if all commercials are either music videos or micro-documentaries.

    I'm not remembering their products either. I'm not even letting Monopoly drive me to eat at McDonalds more often...

    I remain,
    Eric L. Sofer
    The Silver Age Fogey