Advertising, “The Clown”, And Us

“At times, it becomes necessary
to restate the obvious.” George Orwell.

It was just about a year ago, when I first saw the commercial on the boob tube. It was late at night, and I was watching a special presentation” of the classic movie “Doctor Zhivago”, one of the few movies ever made which appeals to both men and women. It was getting pretty late, after eleven in fact. (Late for an aging nerd like myself). The commercial began with two young women I’ll describe as “Hauntingly Beautiful”, and they were playing a great piece of classical music on violins. The picture cut quickly to a third young woman, and then a fourth, also playing up a storm of music on violins. The sound quality of this TV commercial was stirring and rich, not just noisy like most of them. It was an ad for something called “Raymond Weil Watches”, and the women playing the violins were just incredible. I found myself wanting to see the ad again, not because I wanted to learn about Raymond Weil Watches, but because I wanted to see more of those violin-playing ladies. I was not disappointed. The ad ran again before the end of the movie.

Now, for Raymond Weil Watch Company, this is a “good news-bad news” scenario. I had no desire to spend any of my hard-earned cash on one of their rather pricey watches. (I do wear a stainless steel Hamilton, and for bike riding, a plastic cased, Timex does the dirty job of holding up to weather and my relentless perspiration. ) But what those ads did make me want to do, was learn about the young ladies with the musical talent. I was not alone. The ad came up in lunch table conversation. “Did you see those babes, with the violins?” Uh, yes, I did. My curiosity, mixed up with my “Y” chromosome, got the better of me, and I did a quick search for Raymond Weil. Yes, they have an international web site, and searching through it, I learned that the four young women are indeed a real string quartet, with the name of “bond”, and that they are very popular in Europe and Asia. Their style is classical violin, mixed with modern techno, for a sound that is terrific. (I do understand that “one man’s music, is another man’s noise”, so if you’re into “Black Sabbath”, or “The Butthole Surfers”, then bond is not for you. Fair enough?) So, a little more poking around the good old Internet, and I found bond’s own web site. It’s right here:

Now, I won’t dive into a review here. Suffice to say that bond’s first album,,,er,,CD, entitled “Born” if wonderful, and contains “Victory”, which I believe will become the groups signature title. Their second CD, “Shine”, is just as good, and maybe even better. ( Uh, don’t let the boss, or your wife/girlfriend, catch you staring at those pictures, gentlemen.) Thus, in an attempt to sell me a pricey watch, Raymond Weil instead made me a confirmed fan of “bond”. Now for the “guts” of what I want to write about in this column: Was that a good commercial, or a bad one? The point of the TV commercial was to get me, or someone close to me, interested in purchasing a watch, either for myself, or as a gift for someone. I suppose it could be possible that getting bond some exposure in America was a “secondary objective”, of whoever thought up the TV commercial. Possible, but unlikely, I think.

Students of marketing, are you paying attention? This is the good part.

What is Marketing and advertising? As we all know, it’s the “art” of selling us things. Advertising works. It works on us from the time we become self-aware. Just think about how you used to badger and nag mom and dad for some cool toy you saw advertised, while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. And guys, admit it, you buy certain brands of domestic beer, partially because of the thought that maybe, just maybe, bikini clad babes will magically appear when you pop open a bottle. (It never works. I’ve tried.) Anything, and everything, can, and is sold through advertising, and it runs from the excellent, to the stupid, to the just plain insulting. (“Hey Jan, what’s in the little pink flowery box”?) One cannot help but be amused by the ads for “Chilis”, which shows the employees smiling, dancing, and singing, so happy to be working at Chilis. I’ve eaten in one Chilis, and no, the employees did not look happy at all. The Grill guy looked as though he could have gone Postal any minute. The wait staff just looked tired and spent. I think it’s safe to assume the same about “Olive Garden”, and “Applebees”. I’ve never eaten at either of those establishments. They run the same type of “happy employee” ads. Draw your own conclusion.
Ditto for all of the ads for Wal-Mart. Who do they think they’re kidding? Multi-generation family members working at Wal-Mart, and smiling about it? I think not. And parents, do you really want a creepy old man hugging your kids like that? No, of course not.

Sometimes, advertising is just laughable, and you find yourself asking “What nitwit thought that up”? And sometimes, advertising is nothing short of brilliant. The best example is, of course, Apples’ famous “1984” ad. Without so much as a brief image of the computer itself, Apple fired up the desires of computer users all over the world, and everyone wanted to know what the thing looked like. And the rest is history, as we all know so well.

Compare “1984” with the “Switch” ad campaign of today. Sorry Steve, it’s a noble effort, but I don’t think it’s working. (And that background music is just annoying) Some people are even questioning whether or not the people depicted in the commercials are “real people”, as opposed to actors.(Anyone know for certain?) The “Think Different” campaign worked great, I felt. Apple should consider bringing it back in some form, maybe as a background to another ad campaign. It did make people think about Apple Computer, and the Mac platform, people who might have written the company and the Mac off otherwise. But, maybe Apple felt the campaign had run its course, so it ended, as all advertising campaigns ultimately must.

Some print ads are amusing. The so-called “Men’s magazines” are the places for some real laughs. Playboy probably has more liquor ads than any other magazine I took a course in advertising while in college, way back in the 70’s. (You know kids, when there were dinosaurs around, and we lived in caves ) The instructor for that course told us that Playboy gets fifty grand for a full page, full color ad, more if it was near the centerfold. I’m not certain what they get today. It may not be as much as you might think, given that Playboy’s circulation figure has decreased steadily for years. Some of these liquor ads are a hoot though, often depicting beautiful women in evening gowns, eyeing alpha males in Armani suits, or the latest designer leather jacket.(Hmm, I doubt that would work either). Oh yes, I have heard about the subliminal sexual images hidden in the ice cubes, but I’ll be darned if I can spot them. I suspect that could be an urban myth that just won’t die. A gorgeous babe in an evening gown, holding a cue stick in a suggestive position, and giving the eye to an alpha male in an Armani suit is certainly eye catching. However, I don’t know if it sells any more bottles of Johnnie Walker, and for all the money spent on printed liquor advertising, I have yet to experience any desire to buy a bottle of fifty year old scotch, or to quit my job and go live in the Yukon, where apparently people spend their days standing around campfires, looking intense, and drinking something called “Yukon Jack”. (Which tastes “a little like lighter fluid” I’m told. I chose not to ask the person who told me that how he acquired the information.)

Cigarette ads are in a class all their own. For those who may not know it, network television used to be full of commercials for cigarettes. Gene Roddenberry even got into some trouble, when he refused to have anyone on the starship Enterprise smoke, a bold move for 60’s television. Some of the cigarette ads were great, and are well remembered by us boomers. Arguably, the best were for “Benson and Hedges 100s”. People depicted in these ads pulled all kinds of stunts, to accommodate their chosen brand of coffin nail, including getting holes cut in their cars’ windshields, and carefully sitting far away from dining companions, just so as not to poke them in the face with the unusually long cigarette. All of this was done to a catchy, 60’s musical tune. (If anyone knows where I can grab that tune in WAV format, drop me a line. Thanks.)

Cigarette ads on TV were banned years ago, in an effort to curb teen smoking. It didn’t work, as a trip past any high school will prove. Tobacco companies are a smart bunch, and they quickly adapted. They know that teens and preteens are driven by the need to “be like everyone else”, and to fit in. They know that it is peer pressure, not logical thought, which is the most powerful force in the life of a typical American teenager. They work this, and they work it with great precision. Printed reading material for teens, both male and female, is crawling with ads for Marlboro and Winston. Magazines for young women always have ads for Virginia Slims, which are always being smoked by beautiful, albeit too thin, models. (The idea is to link smoking with thinness, a no-brainer.) Magazines for young men, such as car mags, and various “adventure” mags, feature tough looking guys with bulging biceps, numerous tattoos, and intense, “nobody tells ME what to do” eyes. Well, guess what brainiac? Someone told you to smoke, and by golly, you’re doing it. My favorite cigarette ad in a magazine, was one for Winston. It showed a rather “tough looking-but-gorgeous” woman, wearing a denim vest, and taking a deep drag from a smoke.
Standing off to one side, is a man of average looks, and he seems to be very depressed. Apparently, this woman has just rejected him. The caption reads “Until I can find a real man, I’ll settle for a real smoke!”. Well lady, You’ll meet your real man soon enough, lots of them, in fact. They’ll be doctors.
Another good series, were the magazine ads for Newports. These depicted young, healthy adults, engaging in fun, invigorating, outdoor-type activities. Am I to understand that I’ll enjoy sledding in a winter wonderland more, if I smoke Newports? And do perfect, white teeth go with the deal? How does this work?

A question: Does anyone know if R.J. Reynolds went ahead with his or her planned cigarette brand, “Dakota”? It was targeted toward young women, non-college educated, who work assembly-line type jobs. These cigarettes were supposed to be packaged in a light blue pack, with the name “Dakota” spelled out in a nice, feminine typeface. I’ve never seen them for sale here in the Northeast, but I’m not up on my cigarette stuff.

I’ll close up shop by talking about what has got to be the very best example of mind-controlling marketing ever devised, and it comes from Americas’ favorite restaurant. Of course, I’m talking about McDonalds. McDonalds has pulled off what I can only describe as a “marketer’s dream”. They have succeeded in making their food and restaurants into what is almost a lifestyle.
McDonalds, under the leadership of Ray Croc, was the first major company to target the nation’s children with their marketing, at the earliest age possible. Tell me, all you parents out there, are they successful?

There are very few places left in this country where you won’t spot the familiar golden arches. If you pull off any exit ramp, from any interstate highway, fast food restaurants, usually McDonalds, are the first things you see. It is impossible to miss them. Any child, from kindergarten age on up, will recognize Ronald McDonald, far quicker than they will recognize any historical figures, or any American president, past or present.
Often, grade school children cannot name their home states’ capitol, but they know exactly where the nearest McDonalds is located. The amount of control McDonalds has over some people, both kids and adults, is downright scary. Everything about their restaurants, the bright color schemes, the happy meal toys, the cartoon characters, the McDonald Land Playgrounds, are designed to attract children, and indoctrinate them. (When I pick up the Sunday circulars, and the toy stores are advertising the “McDonalds Play set”, complete with little child-size McDonalds uniforms, well, I’m sorry, but that smacks of an indoctrination, which would make Joseph Stalin smile. Remember, whoever controls youth, controls the future.)

Now, I must admit guilt. I have eaten my share of McDonalds food in my life. I am pleased to say I have not had any for two years. I have tried to encourage others to think about it, but all too frequently, the response is “well, I know it’s not really good for you, but I have kids, so I have to go there”. Yes indeed, advertising works. Oh sure, McDonalds has had a few failures, (The “Arch DeLuxe”, which was supposed to attract adult customers.) and sometimes, a nice scandal (The deep fried chicken head, which turned up in a customer’s order of wings. But things such as that just bounce right off Ronald McDonald. Any bad news involving any fast food chain, is quickly “spun” by company officials, and the customers are back, usually the next day. Nope, Ronald can do no wrong, almost as though he was the leader of a religious cult.

If you want some real insight into just how fast food outfits have successfully messed with the minds of so many people, then read “Fast Food Nation”, by journalist Eric Schlosser. After reading this work, Your attitude toward Ronald and the Hamburglar may change. This book is not for the faint of heart, and I’m not talking about Schlosser’s description of what happens inside a commercial slaughterhouse. Consider yourself warned.

So, let’s see, a new ad for Apple: I know, how about bond, playing “Victory”, in some sort of futuristic city, on a hazy, eerie night? The picture is intense, powerful, and the sound is full and rich, not boomy. The camera slowly zooms backward to reveal that it’s a QuickTime movie playing on a new iMac, with a rich, powerful sound system. And the person operating the iMac is…..Ellen Feiss? Anyone have Ridley Scotts’ phone number?

Bruce Black

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