Monday, September 26, 2011

Double Advertendres


Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

Go ahead – snicker. Because this campaign theme from the National Pork Board exemplifies an interesting characteristic I've observed in advertising's most memorable slogans: A lot of 'em seem to have a bit of sexual double entendre to them.

Freud probably would have something to say about that. But instead, let’s turn to David Ogilvy:

"The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible."*

Of course, he probably didn’t intend for a bunch of adolescent innuendo to end up in print. And to be fair, maybe nobody at the ad agencies in question saw a more…suggestive interpretation…in the following slogans. Still…

Well, maybe it’s just me.

Perhaps even more interesting is how you can categorize the different ways these slogans, um, titillate the consumer’s fancy.

Some seem a bit impatient:
Just Do It. (Nike)
Have it your way. (Burger King)


Some seem like pick-up lines at a bar:
Do you...Yahoo!? (Yahoo!)
Got Milk? (California Milk Processor Board)
What would you do for a Klondike bar? (Klondike bar)
Put a tiger in your tank. (Esso/Exxon)

Some are rather braggy:
Home of the Whopper. (Burger King)
Good to the last drop. (Maxwell House coffee)
A little dab'll do ya! (Brylcreem)


Some make a promise of endurance:
It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (Timex Corporation)
Melts in your mouth, not in your hands. (M&Ms)
It keeps going and going and going. (Energizer batteries)

Some are, well, more responsive than others:
I'm lovin' it. (McDonald's)
Oh, what a feeling! (Toyota)


Some are quite reassuring:
We do it all for you. (McDonald's again)
You're in good hands with Allstate. (Allstate)
We try harder. (Avis)

Some seem very process-driven:
Taking Care of Business. (Office Depot)
So easy a caveman can do it. (GEICO)


Some are a more straightforward statement of fact:
Connecting People. (Nokia)
Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. (State Farm Insurance)
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. (Almond Joy/Mounds candy bars)

And finally, there’s this one from Purdue Chicken. Viva la difference:


(*Admittedly, that's the most un-Ogilvy-like quote I've ever heard. But it's sourced to this biography, so I'll chalk it up to another of the surprising attitudes often found under his straight-laced personna.)

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Read the list! See the movie poster!

A few months back, I noticed there were lists making the way around the web that purported to be "The Greatest Movie Themelines Ever Written" -- actually, it seems to be more or less the same list everywhere. This list is pretty representative of the thinking.

I'm not going to go through the choices movie by movie. But if you do, you'll see that most of the themelines chosen are are, at best, just clever wordplays, and at worst, too-clever-by-half puns. They may bring a smile to your face and they might even give you some idea of the subject matter. But by and large, most of these evoke no real desire to see the movie. And shouldn't that be the real yardstick by which you should judge the "greatest" themeline?

It's not surprising that truly great themelines are few and far between. After all, it's not every day that someone comes up with "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water" or "In space, no one can hear you scream" (rightly revered as the Gold Standards of movie themelines).

That's why we remember those so well. But here's a very select few off that list that I think do a pretty good job of reaching that high standard:

"THE MONSTER DEMANDS A MATE!" It isn't just the creepy idea of what kind of woman would submit to Frankenstein's creation -- it's urgency of the wording itself. The creature doesn't just want a mate (with the suggestion of procreation that term implies) -- it DEMANDS one!

A perfect themeline for the movie that, perhaps, more than any other, exemplified the rule-breaking influence of the counterculture on "The New Hollywood" of the '70s. "THEY'RE YOUNG, THEY'RE IN LOVE" the line begins, promising us the kind of starry-eyed romances that Tinsel Town specialized in. "...AND THEY KILL PEOPLE" the line ends in a shocking deadpan, much like the image at top of a laughing Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, spidery bullet holes, moving across the windshield ever closer to them."


For everyone who remembers the chilling "They're here." spoken by little Carol-Ann after making contact with the vengeful spirits haunting their tract home, this simple themeline both references that quote and promises more of the same (whether it delivered on the promise is another matter). You can't read "THEY'RE BACK." without giving it the same ominous sing-song inflection of the original ("They'rrre baaa-aa-ck.").

Never mind the overheated hyperbole of "It explodes like twelve sticks of dynamite!" The main two phrases -- "LIFE IS IN THEIR HANDS - DEATH IS ON THEIR MINDS!" -- doesn't just set up the stakes, it creates a dramatic tension between life and death, mind and body, compassion and retribution.

Back in 1978, "YOU'LL BELIEVE A MAN CAN FLY" wasn't just promising a new achievement in special effects (though, at the time, it was leaps and bounds ahead of any "flying" previously visualized), it tapped into the yearning in our collective hearts for a hero we could believe in, in this post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, economically depressed era.

The sun-baked, hazy color palette has an appropriately post-apocalyptic feel, but really, post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen these days. No, it's the inherent contradiction of the themeline which intrigues us: "THE LAST MAN ON EARTH IS NOT ALONE." A wonderful way of making the protagonist seem tough and resourceful, but isolated and vulnerable to...WHAT?

"Rocky" wasn't a boxing movie, it was a character movie about a loser who turned his life around while (ironically) losing. This poster worked beautifully to broaden the audience beyond sports fans, by picturing him not throwing a punch, not raising his gloves in triumph, but by walking away from us, humbly, hand in hand with a woman. For anyone who likes an underdog story, the come-on was irresistible: "HIS WHOLE LIFE WAS A MILLION-TO-ONE SHOT."

"Close Encounters" may have directed by Steven Spielberg coming off his "Jaws" success, but the movie had a couple strikes against it right off the bat. Few people knew what the title meant (necessitating all the exposition at top); and though the cast included such recognizable faces as Richard Dreyfus and Teri Garr, the only stars pictured were in the night sky, above a desolate highway and a mysterious flash beyond the horizon. "WE ARE NOT ALONE." was on the surface, a simple, declarative statement, but in an era when speculation about "little green men" was running rampant through popular culture, the themeline promised you that the matter would be settled here.

When violent crime was all the talk in the media, Stallone was there to tap into the (exaggerated) fears of urbanites. "CRIME IS A DISEASE. MEET THE CURE."

"AND REMEMBER, THE NEXT SCREAM YOU HEAR MAY BE YOUR OWN." Working the same side of the street as the "Alien" themeline ("In space, no one can hear you scream.") and just as cleverly understated, Hitchcock's quote leaves you with the sense that, even if you're not screaming, everyone around you will be.

With its unsettling implications of...something...some thing...having invaded your body (and calling to mind the gestating creature of "Alien"), "MAN IS THE WARMEST PLACE TO HIDE." makes you feel the tension and dread that suffused this movie throughout.

This last one is less a themeline than a precis, and its worth reading in its entirety, below. But the last sentence does stand on its own to draw you into a story of one man's fall from grace:
"THIS IS J.J.'s STORY...BUT NOT THE WAY HE WOULD HAVE LIKED IT TOLD."


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Man In The Chair


A deceptively simple layout -- minimalist, really -- is one of the things that gives this 1958 ad it's power. Even stripping away the desk that this skeptical business would normally be sitting behind was brilliant. Instead of making seem more vulnerable, it closes the distance between him and viewer, and adds to the reader's feeling of discomfort.

And the litany of clipped statements, one after the other, gives us a first-person experience of the stern dressing-down an unprepared salesman would receive from this man...
I don't know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
And then comes the final knife, set in an italic font that makes his summation seem even more intimidating.
Now--what was it you wanted to sell me?
I'm guessing "The Man In The Chair" helped sell a lot of advertising in McGraw Hill publications.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Embracing (but not squeezing) Mr. Whipple

"It was that easy.
In an hour and a half,
America's most universally
despised advertising
campaign was created."

That's how Benton & Bowles writer John Chervokas described the process of creating Mr. Whipple and the "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin!" ad campaign in 1964. Mr. Chervokas died not too long ago, leaving as his legacy an ad campaign that was rated by Advertising Age as the 51st best campaign of the last century.

By 1978, Mr. Whipple was named the third-best-known American—just behind former President Nixon and Billy Graham. “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” became one of most recognizable advertising slogans ever, identified by eight out of 10 people that same year.


And yet, far from celebrating Mr. Whipple, the advertising community frequently derided Mr. Chervokas' brainchild as emblematic of the crass, lowest-common denominator pandering for which the industry was often denounced. (And judging by the title of a popular manual on copywriting, that animosity has yet to dissipate.)

(Never mind that the Mr. Whipple commercials first started running in an era when programming they would interrupt included such high-brow fare as "My Favorite Martian," "The Munsters," and "Gilligan's Island.")

Yes, Mr. Whipple (no first name ever given) was a bizarre character, even among company that included a nosy Mrs. Olson who kept showing up uninvited at people houses, coffee crystals in hand, and a too-chummy fellow who live on the other side of the bathroom cabinet and always wanted to share deodorant. Still, there was something...repressed...about Mr. Whipple, who, after scolding shoppers for squeezing the Charmin...


...would inevitably be caught compressing the toilet tissue himself; guiltily, compulsively, like a pervert caught in the act.


Still, he sold a lot of toilet tissue.

In a 1972 essay in Advertising Age, Mr. Chervokas gave his account of the birth (and subsequent vilification) of Mr. Whipple. It's fascinating, both as look into the creative process that goes on everyday in advertising, along with the maneuvering to define a selling proposition based on the slimmest of attributes.

Charmin bathroom tissue had been around since 1928 (named by an employee of the original manufacturer who described the product as "charming") and during the intervening 36 years, had found success with ad campaigns that were based on an elegant, feminine appeal ("Lady Charmin") and later, with baby imagery to symbolize the products gentleness (“Charmin Babies Your Skin”).


However, a "new and improved" Charmin tissue, introduced in the mid-60s, demanded a "new and improved" selling proposition. As Mr. Chervokas explained,
People who looked at the commercials made a snap judgement in the first five seconds that yes, it's a Charmin commercial, but tune out. They wouldn't pay any more attention to the rest of the commercial, which looked like every Charmin commercial they had ever seen."
So, gentleness was out. Softness was in.

Here, Mr. Chervokas gives us a takes us into their brainstorming:
...how about a funny demonstration of softness? Just what are the standards of softness?

Soft as a feather? No, it makes you think of tickling.

Soft as a baby's behind? Not bad, but too restrictive.

Soft as silk. Overpromise.
Then comes the quite-logical question that leads to new imagery:
Now how do you go about measuring something like softness?

Fall on a pillow.

Hug a pillow.

Squeeze a...

Squeeze a what?
That question leads to the germ of the big idea:
...what does mom do in the supermarket?

She squeezes the melons. And the tomatoes. And the bread.

To see if they're soft.

Then... Then... Why not use the same test for Charmin?
Boom! Squeeze the Charmin. Sheer genius. Or is it?
Supermarket managers will flip their corks.
An obvious problem. You can't be encouraging consumers to damage the merchandise. Which leads to the true brilliance of the concept, the insight that got around the issue and more importantly, gave the campaign a stickiness that lasted for the next 20 years and beyond:
Okay, then, let's tell them not to squeeze the Charmin.
Rest in peace, Mr. Chervokas. And Mr. Whipple as well (though the character was retired in 1985, the actor who played him -- Dick Wilson -- passed on in 2007).

What a friend we have who squeezes

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

I've seen this movie [poster] before...

Yes, every summer now brings us a spate of formula movies that we all feel like we've already seen at least one time before. But now it seem that even the movie posters themselves are interchangeable.

I've covered one of the more common motifs before here and here. But here are some of the more current poster layouts:

The main action-hero character in front of an exploding fireball...


The big X...

The fragmented, David Hockneyesque photo collage...


The mysterious movie-title-only-on-a-dramatic-black-background...

The big intriguing closeup with the title stamped over it...


The weird two-half-faces joined to make a single face...


The action-hero looking battered but unbowed, weapon in hand...

A guy slouching in a chair, legs splayed...


The shoulder-to-shoulder heroes, with the bigger star out front...

The sideways poster with black silhouette and steely blue sky...


And finally, the whole gang, striding purposefully at camera...

And that's just from a couple recent internet searches. Chances are, there's already some additional entries for each.

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