Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mother's back

Throughout the 1970s, the heyday of TV advertising characters and mascots, "Mother Nature" starred in a long-running series of commercials for Chiffon margarine.  This was one of the first, launching as well as the catch-phrase, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," that had its own brief moment in '70s pop culture:

Of course, in modern advertising, everything old is new again, and everything square is cool again, and so it's probably no surprise that Mother Nature is once again shilling in commercials.  Still middle-aged, still a bit of a know-it-all, and apparently, still being easily misled:

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ernie, Meet Irv

"Is This the Best Ad Ever Written?" asks a 1990s self-promotional ad for Singapore's Ball Partnership ad agency.  A small torn-out classified ad reads:
MEN WANTED for Hazardous Journey.  Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in case of success. -- Earnest Shackleton.
Talk about painting a bleak picture.  But you may be surprised to discover that, when that ad ran in 1900, arctic explorer Shackleton found himself inundated with replies.  "Isn't the sheer strength of that advertisement, then, in its simplicity?  Isn't its sheer power in its honesty?" the copy further proposes (leading of course, to an endorsement of the agency's own advertising principles).

I thought back to Shackleton's ad this week when I read the New York Times obit for venerated comedy writer Irving Brecher.  His career began in the early 1930s, when, as a 19-year-old movie theatre usher, he learned from a critic for Variety that it was possible to make money writing jokes for comedians.
Knowing of Milton Berle’s reputation as joke-pilferer, he placed an ad in Variety, reading, in part: “Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them.”

Berle himself hired him.
Perhaps Brecher was more self-deprecating than honest, but, like Shackleton, he seemed to instinctively realize that how it wasn't hyperbole that would attract the people he wanted, but candor.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Which ad becomes a legend most?

"There are journeys that turn into legends" asserts this Louis Vuitton ad, presumably celebrating, albeit obliquely, Sean Connery's career.  

(click to enlarge)

Look closely and you may notice that the place/time copy following the headline seems to contain a little in-joke, Bahamas Islands, 10:07 -- 007, get it?  

Despite the weathered charm of Mr. Connery, the ad seems pretty generic and awfully weak on any real connection to the product being sold.  Not like this one from the beginnings of his journey, over four decades ago:

(Although, as noted here, this ad has its own drawback.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Who's alive now?

In  "A book about the classic Avis advertising campaign of the 60s," (yes, that's really the title), the author details not only the beginnings of the "When you're #2, you try harder" Avis philosophy (first presented in the ad at left),  but also its decline.

As a competitive strategy, it probably seemed bulletproof to some; after all, when you're not challenging the market leader for the #1 position, how much of a response should they really make?  Conventional marketing wisdom says that when you dominate the marketplace as Hertz did, acknowledging the competition only enhances their status.

And for over four years, Avis used their ads to both raise their image and indirectly undermine the perceptions of Hertz (never even mentioning Hertz by name), without a real counterattack.

That, however, changed in 1967, when Hertz switched agencies to Carl Alley, Inc., a shop as revered for its creative approach to advertising as Avis' agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach.  To stop Avis' slow erosion of its market share, Hertz began an aggressive campaign that turned its rival's #2 claim back on them, with ads like the one at right.  

When DDB head Bill Bernbach saw the first of these new Hertz newspaper ads, he reportedly threw down the New York Times in anger, saying, "As of today, they are alive and we are not.  They are alive and we just died."  And indeed, the Avis "We Try Harder" campaign was fatally wounded; it limped along for a while longer, but was replaced by more conventional messages in 1968.

I'm couldn't help thinking about all this in the context of the Apple-PC rivalry.  For several years now, Apple has taken shots at its much larger competitor with its popular "I'm an Apple/I'm a PC" series of TV commercials.  Though the spots highlight actual advantages of the Apple computers, its true appeal has always been in its depiction of the Apple as a young, creative individual as opposed to the PC avatar, a paunchy, middle-aged Organization Man (who also, not coincidentally I'm sure, brings to mind Microsoft's Bill Gates):

Much like Hertz, Microsoft had refused to directly engage the upstart Apple -- until recently, when they finally responded (after some amusing but quite pointless spots with Jerry Seinfeld) with a series of commercials that both reinforces the ubiquity of the PC, but more importantly, rehabilitates its image by forcefully rejecting the stereotype pushed by Apple:

Is it working? Apple seems to be continuing with their spots, but will Bill Bernbach's assertion -- "As of today, they are alive and we are dead." -- ultimately apply to Apple's campaign as well? 
(NOTE: With this entry, Deconstruction On Madison Avenue resumes publishing -- albeit on a bit more irregular schedule. Thanks for coming back.)

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