Friday, August 28, 2009

Dead Spokesman Pitching

Probably seemed like a slam-dunk to the creative team. Resurrect a popular countercultural celebrity, put her in close proximity to the product and let the amused double-takes begin:

So how come so many people seemed a bit put-off by the faux-Gilda Radner ad in Armstrong's It Only Looks Like The Real Thing campaign.

It's not the clumsy wording, which seems to refer to a beloved entertainer as an "it;" there's something more going on here, a reaction unprovoked by their other ads which paired laminated flooring with celebrity impersonators like Lucille Ball and James Dean:

Then, probably because the client realized that they'd fallen into a rut using SpokesImpersonators stuck in the 1950s, at attempt was made the "freshen" the campaign with a more modern icon -- at least as modern as a late-1970s icon could be.

Gilda Radner (of Saturday Night Live's original cast, for those who don't know) probably came to mind as a complement to Lucy's anarchic spirit. (Interestingly, the men seem all chosen for their "cool"demeanor; the women for their screwball personnas.) And everyone loved Gilda, right?

Yet, if you Google "Armstrong ad, Gilda Radner," you'll see that this ad garnered reactions both strongly negative and vaguely uncomfortable; in fact, more than one woman I spoke to about the ad seemed a bit put-off by the use of someone who died so tragically from cancer.

But then, James Dean died in a near-head-on car crash, and Brando, though he lived to be 80, had a chaotic life marked by personal tragedies; yet nobody seems worked up about their inclusion in this campaign. So it's doubtful that it's just the circumstances of Gilda's death. (And it can't really be because her death is relatively recent. It's been more than 20 years since she passed away. )

So what is it then, really? What makes Gilda Radner so untouchable for commercial purposes? The reality is that everything -- every icon -- is for sale these days. If you doubt that, check the ad's fine print that states "Likeness and rights of Gilda Radner licensed through the Gilda Radner estate."

Here's what I think: Gilda is more of a "pure" Baby Boomer icon (being a Boomer herself) than Dean, Brando, et al, and despite even the Beatles now licensing their images for commercial purposes, deep down in our little narcissistic hearts, Boomers still want to believe that some of their seminal entertainers and cultural memories are still off-limits to advertising. The more jaded we become, the more desperately we want to believe that some beloved icons are just too cherished to be shoved into posthumous pseudo-endorsements.

Just like our parents probably believed...before we we shoved their beloved icons into posthumous pseudo-endorsement like, oh, Fred Astaire selling Dirt Devil vacuums:

(See spots #5 and #8 on this reel from 1997)

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Noted former ad copywriter passes

I join Ferris Bueller, Sloan Peterson and Cameron, along with Farmer Ted the Geek, Uncle Buck, Kevin McCallister and others in mourning the sudden passing of John Hughes yesterday.

Obviously best known as the writer and sometimes director of such hits as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Home Alone" and others, he began (as many Hollywood writers have) working in advertising. As a copywriter in a Chicago agency, Hughes is said to have created the memorable "credit card test" commercial for Edge shaving cream (i.e., the softer sound of credit card scraping the stubble on the side of your face shaved with Edge demonstrated a closer, smoother shave).

By all accounts, Hughes was a very fast and intuitive writer, and it tended to show in his work. He had an uncanny ability to connect with this teen/young adult audiences both emotionally and in their interests and vernacular -- but with the exceptions of "Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller" and "Home Alone," it was always obvious his drafts could use some additional work and structuring. (Apparently, he hated being rewritten, perhaps another remnant of his days in advertising.)

Yet despite (or maybe because of) this, he managed to crank out an amazingly strong, and enduring body of work in less than 10 years.*

In addition to the excellent movies above, I'd say the strengths of "Sixteen Candles" and "Uncle Buck" vastly outweigh their faults (and they do have faults). And I can wholeheartedly recommend his more "mature" (for him) films, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and his (at least somewhat autobiographical) "She's Having A Baby."

You've probably already read one of his obituaries by now. An interesting profile of Hughes, circa 1988 that ran in Premiere magazine is here.

*This in spite of his seemingly endless (and sometimes annoying) willingness to recycle plots and characters, i.e., "Sixteen Candles" = "Pretty In Pink" = "Some Kind of Wonderful"; "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" = "The Great Outdoors"; "Uncle Buck" = "Dutch,"; and all the movies he did featuring bumbling crooks and slapsticky violence, including "Home Alone" (and its sequels), "Dennis The Menace," "Baby's Day Out," and "101 Dalmatians"; and the movies too numerous to mention that turned on class warfare with snobby suburban teens and adults.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Monkey see, monkey do

I couldn't care less about this NY Times story on some rock festival or something, or what band this singer is from, but I did see an interesting if unintentional parallelism between that photo and this one:

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