Topic: Advertising

Sweet and sour: Orwellian sugar ads of the 1960s

vintage sugar ad diet hint

This was a 1970 ad that appeared in National Geographic magazine. We have come a long since the days when the sugar industry could so blatantly advertise the lie of sugar’s “nutritional value,” yet most people still consume way too much of this stuff, often without even being aware of it.

Here’s another great vintage sugar ad, from 1966, where sugar is being marketed as legalized speed — Mary “needs energyless, artificially sweetened foods and beverages like a turtle needs a seat belt”:

vintage sugar ad - energy

The “Note to Mothers” in the box is especially disturbing, as it plays on a mother’s desire to protect her children from harm (the “bugs and ailments that are always lying in wait”) by suggesting they feed their tots a substance that could kill them in the long run:

Note to Mothers:
Exhaustion may be dangerous — especially to children who haven’t learned to avoid it by pacing themselves. Exhaustion opens the door a little wider to the bugs and ailments that are always lying in wait. Sugar puts back energy fast — offsets exhaustion. Synthetic sweetners put nothing back. Energy is the first requirement of life. Play safe with your young ones — make sure they get sugar every day.

Such is the legacy of the “Mad Men” celebrated today. Here are more vintage sugar ads, from which I’ve excerpted the following grains of pure, Orwellian gold:

  • Are you getting enough sugar to keep your weight down?
  • Sugar can be the willpower you need to undereat.
  • YOU NEED SUGAR
  • Lisa needs a sugarless, energy-less soft drink like a kangaroo needs a baby buggy.
  • SUGAR — a Builder of the West
  • Tommy needs a sugarless, powerless soft drink like a moose needs a hatrack.
  • Sugar puts the musclepower in sweetness.
  • Judy needs a sugarless, go-less soft drink like a kangaroo… [you already know the rest -- this copywriter got lazy]
  • How sugar helps the weight you lose stay lost
  • Why do they put sugar in the pickle jar? It’s not just to sweeten the pickles. Recent experiments show that sugar brings out the natural flavor. Pickles taste “picklier,” fruit tastes “fruitier,” even soup tastes brighter. Next time you make vegetable soup, add a little sugar and see for yourself.

I like that, “recent experiments show,” like something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. These ads, by the way, were “Published in the interest of better nutrition by SUGAR INFORMATION, INC. a non-profit organization.” The copywriting is priceless, and I find especially fascinating all the strange, mash-up word coinages: energyless (which is “energy-less” in another ad), undereat, musclepower, and the especially awkward hyphenate, “go-less.” The ads feel as though their creators were definitely hopped-up (“hoppedup”) on a superpowerful, energypacked magicalnectar — i.e. sugary soft drinks.

As a counter example, Sami Inkinen and Meredith Loring are currently rowing across the Pacific Ocean to raise money and awareness in the fight against sugar. They call their project, brilliantly, Fat Chance Row, which both mocks the hubris required to row all the way across the ocean, as well as being a forum for “chewing the fat” about obesity-causing sugar. Brilliant. It recalls for me another use of “fat chance” in a title, this time playing off the word “chance” and the indeterminacy of John Cage: Bruce Nauman’s installations, Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) and Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage), 2001.

A “Generic Brand Video” that tells the truth about the worst in branding and advertising

This brilliant parody of a blandly generic corporate brand video began life as a poem by Kendra Eash in McSweeneys, This Is A Generic Brand Video. When the folks at the video stock company Dissolve saw the poem, they knew exactly what to do:

The minute we saw Kendra Eash’s brilliant “This Is a Generic Brand Video” on McSweeney’s, we knew it was our moral imperative to make that generic brand video so. No surprise, we had all the footage. (Dissolve: This Is a Generic Brand Video)

Indeed they did. The video is a sarcastic, satirical parody, but it is dead on in tone and the blank vacuity of its “message.” It perfectly illustrates the kind of empty, employee-break-room-inspirational-poster “positivity” that all too may companies aim for in their advertising, their messaging (think “leading provider of business solutions“) and, ultimately, in the names they choose for their company and products. It is thus a very effective cautionary example of what not to do.

Fast Company posted a nice article about this video (This Generic Brand Video Is The Greatest Thing About The Absolute Worst In Advertising), which also includes four real corporate brand videos from the likes of Acura, Mazda, Suncor and Cisco for comparison. The Suncor video is so “good” — in that it’s so tonally similar to the Dissolve/Eash video that it too seems like a parody — I’m compelled to include it here:

Where does this all lead? Hopefully not to the dark place that is the near future depicted in the great Alfonso Cuarón film Children of Men. Here is a compilation of clips from the movie that show some of the products that get their own “Generic Brand Video” treatments, such as Bliss, a happy pill, and Quietus, the legal suicide pill for when your depression is just too great to bear any longer:

The word quietus means an end to something unpleasant, such as tinnitus or a horrible life in a dystopian future, and is also a euphemism for death. It is the perfect smugly pseudo-comforting name for a suicide pill in a dystopian society, but what’s shocking is that it has shown up in a late-night infomercial as an apparently real “homeopathic medication” — Quietus — to combat tinnitus, or extreme ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears:

This disturbing video is an unwittingly perfect commentary on the ubiquitous, persistent noise created by most brand messaging in our culture. Perhaps a little Quietus for the ear will help tune out such blandly “inspiring” advertising before the other Quietus becomes a pressing need.


Listen to the best naming project parody ever: Amtrak renaming project, by Harry Shearer

Mac vs. PC

Here for the first time and not available in stores at any price is the complete works of Mac vs. PC. Truly inspired work by John Hodgman. A lovely effort and worth another look or two. Adweek posted all 66 ads directed by Phil Morrison of Epoch Films for TBWA Media Arts Lab.

From Adweek April 13, 2011

Steve Jobs could sell. He did it in person, he did it on stage, and he did it on television—in the form of advertising campaigns that were often the envy of the business. Among the most beloved was the long-running “Get a Mac” series with John Hodgman and Justin Long as the bumbling PC and the hip, unflappable Mac—an odd couple who would entertain viewers for years with their quips, barbs, sight gags, and one-liners. In 2010, Adweek declared “Get a Mac” to be the best advertising campaign of the first decade of the new century. Below are all 66 TV spots (plus the long version of 2008’s “Sad Song”) that aired during the campaign’s run, from May 2006 to October 2009

What Was I Scared Of? Yugodrom pants!

Yugodrom - Novo pants ad

Another beauty from Yugodrom.

Dr. Seuss - What Was I Scared Of

What Was I Scared Of?
by Dr. Seuss

Well…

I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.

Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside them!

I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped
What could those pants be there for?
What could a pair of pants at night
Be standing in the air for?

And then they moved? Those empty pants!
They kind of started jumping.
And then my heart, I must admit,
It kind of started thumping.

So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn’t scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.

After that a week went by.
Then one dark night in Grin-itch
(I had to do an errand there
And fetch some Grin-itch spinach)…

Well, I had fetched the spinach.
I was starting back through town
When those pants raced around a corner
And they almost knocked me down!

I lost my Grin-itch spinach
But I didn’t even care.
I ran for home! Believe me,
I had really had a scare!

Now, bicycles were never made
For pale green pants to ride ‘em,
Especially spooky pale green pants
With nobody inside ‘em!

And the NEXT night, I was fishing
For Doubt-trout on Roover River
When those pants came rowing toward me!
Well, I started in to shiver.

And by now I was SO frightened
That, I’ll tell you, but I hate to….

I screamed and rowed away and lost
my hook and line and bait, too!
I ran and found a Brickle bush
I hid myself away.

I got brickles in my britches
But I stayed there anyway.
I stayed all night. The next night, too
I’d be there still, no doubt,
But I had to do an errand

So, the next night, I went out.
I had to do an errand,
Had to pick a peck of Snide
In a dark and gloomy Snide-field
That was almost nine miles wide.

I said, “I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.

Then I reached inside a Snide bush
And the next thing that I knew,
I felt my hand touch someone!
And I’ll bet that you know who.

And there I was! Caught in the Snide!
And in that dreadful place
Those spooky, empty pants and I
were standing face to face!

I yelled for help. I screamed. I shrieked.
I howled. I yowled. I cried,
“OH, SAVE ME FROM THESE PALE
GREEN PANTS WITH NOBODY INSIDE!”

But then a strange thing happened.
Why, those pants began to cry!
Those pants began to tremble.
They were just as scared as I!

I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me!

So…

I put my arm around their waist
And sat right down beside them.
I calmed them down.
Poor empty pants
With nobody inside them.

And now, we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble,
We both smile and we say…”Hi!”

“You’re too good for us.”

One day while I was composing,           the telephone
 rang.                A  lady's  voice  said,
   "Is  this  John  Cage,            the  percussion
 composer?"      I  said,  "Yes."      She  said,
         "This  is  the  J.  Walter  Thompson  
Company."      I  didn't  know  what  that  was,
        but  she  explained  that  their  business
 was  advertising.                She  said,
   "Hold  on.                One  of  our  directors
 wants  to  speak  to  you."      During  a  pause
my  mind  went  back  to  my  composition.
       Then  suddenly  a  man's  voice  said,
     "Mr.  Cage,            are  you  willing  to  
prostitute  your  art?"      I  said,  "Yes."      He
 said,  "Well,            bring  us  some  samples
Friday  at  two."      I  did.                After
hearing  a  few  recordings,            one  of  the
 directors  said  to  me,            "Wait  a  minute."
     Then  seven  directors  formed  what  looked
like  a  football  huddle.                 From  this
     one  of  them  finally  emerged,             came
 over  to  me,              and  said,              
"You're  too  good  for  us.                    We're
 going  to   save   you   for   Robinson   Crusoe."

~John Cage, Indeterminacy No. 53

The 30,000 Treasures of Tony Schwartz

Tony_Schwartz

From On The Media comes The Listening Life the incredible story of ad executive and a pioneering folklorist Tony Schwartz. This is one of the Kitchen Sisters’ best efforts and certainly worth a listen, or two. Here is OTM’s synopsis:

THE LISTENING LIFE In his 84 years Tony Schwartz produced over 30,000 recordings, thousands of groundbreaking political ads, media theory books and Broadway sound design, invented the portable recorder, elivered hundreds of lectures and had full careers as an ad executive and a pioneering folklorist. And he did it all without leaving his zip code. In a piece that originally aired in 2008, the Kitchen Sisters, look back at his life spent listening.

Additional Resources

On The Media:
The Listening Life: Transcript
Friday, June 27, 2008

Radio Open Source:
Tony Schwartz — for the Next Generation (2008)

WNYC:
Adventures in Sound (2007) 

Tony Schwartz:
www.tonyschwartz.org

In praise of vintage advertising from mad ad poets

Alcoa / Ford Falcon ad - 1960

This Alcoa ad, which appeared in April 2, 1960 edition of The New Yorker, proves the point that they don’t write ‘em like they used to. Not a value judgement, just an observation. Our age is too cynical for such flights of poetic fancy. We obsess over the Mad Men depiction of that era, but this is the real deal, the kind of ads those mad, closet-poet ad men were actually churning out way back then. Take a closer look at this inspired ad copy:

Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale…(Falcon’s grille is aluminum)

Let it rain, let it snow, let salted streets splash and briny breezes blow! Corrosion’s passé with the aluminum grille and brightwork of your new Ford Falcon. Anodizing is the reason–an Alcoa process that makes aluminum sapphire-hard and sapphire bright. To preserve this royal sparkle year after shining year, merely wash down occasionally with plebeian soap and water.

Elsewhere in the Falcon–in engine and transmission, to be precise–strong Alcoa Aluminum alloys trim off the pounds while adding speed and mileage. Look for aluminum in your next car. Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh 19, Pa.

Alcoa Aluminum…for lasting Gleam and Go!

Obviously, whoever wrote this was a poet, trying to make ends meet as an adman by day. It’s also likely that this anonymous scribe (or, likely, team of scribes) never set foot in a South LA sweatshop that actually anodized aluminum (I have), or his metaphors might have tended more toward Dante than Tiffany. And in case you were wondering, doughtily is the adverb form of doughty, pronounced “dou-tee,” meaning brave, bold, intrepid, fearless, dauntless. Not a common word today, and perhaps no more common in 1960, but what a great rhetorical flourish to combine it with “drive,” “salty,” and “Fort Lauderdale”–to create this poetic gem of a headline: Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale… Now that’s copywriting with lasting Gleam and Go!

Saving face, or Downton Abbey-normal

For U.K. charity Changing Faces, that advertising agency DDB and director Jim Wheedon produced this public service commercial about “Leo,” a facially disfigured man sitting alone in his car, in the rain, listening to opera no less, who voyeuristically watches a beautiful woman (Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame) come home laden with groceries. In typical horror-movie style, the sinister-looking man walks up to the house and knocks on the door with a Gothic door-knocker.

What happens next? Let’s just say the typical viewer’s prejudicial expectations are nicely thwarted. It’s a great PSA, but I’m a sucker for anything that turns stereotypes and expectations upside-down. Or upside-Downton, in this case.

(Sources: Creativity-Online.com and Advertising Age)

Verisimilitude: Furniture Guy vs. Mattress Man

Just who is Vinnie “T” Testeroni, the would-be daredevil spokesperson for “The Furniture Guy”? And why doesn’t “The Furniture Guy” appear in his own commercial? Whoever Vinnie “T” is, director Paul Thomas Anderson went to great lengths to recreate his character in the 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love. In fact, the main antagonist in the film, Dean “The Mattress Man” Trumbell, played here by Philip Seymour Hoffman, was based on the above commercial blooper for “The Furniture Guy.” Interestingly, this re-enacted scene, which inspired Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in the first place, was deleted from the final film. Fortunately, this lovely re-enactment was found on the cutting room floor. Either way it served its purpose as muse to director Anderson.

The original “The Furniture Guy” commercial poses more questions, however. Does Vinnie’s middle initial “T” stand for Testosterone? Is he a real life honest-to-goodness guitarist or a stunt man? Or perhaps a stunt guitarist? Who knows? I searched high and low, but I couldn’t find any information about Vinnie “T” online. What we do know is that Mr. Anderson has an acute eye for the sincere detail, or “truthlikeness,” in every scene. To illustrate this, here is a list of details for this scene, showing their appearance in the original “The Furniture Guy” (FG) commercial and in “The Mattress Man” (MM) re-enactment:

Scene Description FG MM
Ambient white freeway noise X X
Unamplified perfunctory guitar strumming X X
Black leather jacket with flames on the sleeves X
Mop of hair/wig resembling a condemned rodent’s nest X
Mop of hair/wig secured in place by a Karate Kid black head band X
Phone number is 351-3900 X
Awkward hesitation before opening line of dialog X X
Sad parrot infested “Southland” palm trees in background X
Red racing trailer parked oddly across 6 parking spaces X X
5 mattresses piled on roof of early 1980s Stretched Lincoln Town Car X X
Awkward walking and talking tracking shot X X
“…got queen mattresses sets for 99 dollars” X X
“…and king sets for 129″ X X
Sack of potatoes ‘Foley’ thump when body hits mattress X
Account Executive with gray pants and compulsory “power” suspenders X
Stretched gold Lincoln Town Car adorned with red flames along the front fender to driver’s door X
Short cast shadows suggest mid-morning or mid-afternoon video shoot X X
Full name is obscured on the side of racing trailer X X
Production Assistant in mandatory black polo shirt holding note pad X
Videographer with obligatory “correspondent’s” vest and requisite mullet hairstyle X
Account Executive’s first response is to pick up the guitar cord X
Videographer’s first response is to steady the guitar X
Production Assistant’s first response is to adjust/reposition the mattress X
Videographer: “Try your arm and stuff” X X
Production Assistant: “He’s wearing leather” X X
Fallen Protagonist: “Did you get it on film?” X X
Videographer: “Yea” X X
Fallen Protagonist: “Alright” X X
Total running time in seconds 40 50

Better Living Through Chemistry: Vintage Pharmaceutical Ads

Thorazine vintage drug ads - senility and stress

With so many people lately consumed by the TV show Mad Men, it’s worth taking a look back to what the real mad genius ad men of the 1950s and ’60s were cooking up in their ginsoaked three-martini lunch and evening highball pickled cerebral cortexes: insane pharmaceutical ads that took DuPont’s famous Better Living Through Chemistry slogan to heart, and went from there off the deep end with the belief that we can control the uncontrollable with the proper chemical flavor.

More vintage pharmaceutical ads: Psychiatric Drugs: A History in Ads; Japanese Pharmaceutical Ad Gallery; Truly Marvelous Mental Medicine: Thorazine shuffle.)

Demonstrate, don’t explain

From the Naming & Branding Manifesto, number 10: Great names demonstrate your brand positioning. Weak names force you to explain your brand positioning, and that’s called advertising.