So simple, even a columnist can understand it

Column by Jim Bishop

If, when a guy meets a gal, he tells her how classy she looks and how much he likes her, that’s sales promotion.
If, instead, he impresses her with how wonderful he is, that’s advertising.
But if the lady seeks him out because she’s heard from others how great he is, that’s public relations.
I’m tempted to say – oh, why not – so now abide all three, but the greatest of these is … ?

Your response will likely depend on the line of work you’re in as to which of these three endeavors you identify with most closely.

What I can’t figure out is what makes a certain advertising message stick in my cobwebbed cranium like epoxy while others quickly dissolve.

The first commercial I still remember was a series of animated spots for Welch’s Grape Juice, sponsor of a 1950s kid’s show I watched regularly on television. I don’t recall the overall thrust, but the main character was a fox in pursuit of fast food – similar to Wile E. Coyote – but who settles for the fruity beverage. A repetitive line was, “Woo-woo-woo-woo-Welchs!”

I know I implored Mom to buy Welch’s, not some generic substitute, because of those mesmerizing commercials.

The same era offered Bucky Beaver, the snaggle-toothed spokesrodent for “Brusha, brusha, brusha, here’s the new Ipana” (toothpaste). Yep, that was the only brand I used.

The early 1960s gave us the bouncy jingle for Mr. Clean all-purpose cleaning solution: “Mr. Clean gets rid of grime and dirt and grease in just a minute. Mr. Clean can clean your whole house and everything that’s in it. Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean …”

An ad copywriter’s dream, I suspect, was having a commercial jingle morph into a popular song. That’s what happened with “Percolator (Twist),” Billy Joe and the Checkmates (Maxwell House Coffee, 1962); “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In”), The T-Bones, lifted from an instantly-recognizable Alka-Seltzer jingle (it went to #3 in 1965); and “The Disadvantages of You,” The Brass Ring (Benson & Hedges cigarettes, 1967).

For many years, print ads for the Volkswagen Beetle were as simple and direct as the product itself. One that I clipped and still have on file depicted basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain about to enter the miniature motorcar with the unchanging design. The tag line: “They said it couldn’t be done. It couldn’t.”

I find so many commercials today lack the panache, the humor, the subtle understatement of the memorable messages I grew up with.

Certain irritating ones I currently hear on radio while preparing for work include a dialog between two guys, one trying to explain to the other what he does for a living and really can’t explain it (he must work for the federal government). Actually, it turns out to be a bank commercial, but you wouldn’t know it.

Another recurring spot features a smart-aleck kid who takes everything his teacher says and turns it, almost obsessively, into a promotion for Ovaltine milk sweetener. I’d like to make him drink the stuff until he cries out for a swig of castor oil. I say, bring back “Everybody loves Bosco.”

What really twists my shorts are those “disclaimer statements” that sometimes take up a third of a 60-second commercial, fired machine-gun style and virtually impossible to discern (call it electronic fine print).

Can anything be successfully marketed today by just the right commercial message? Insurance is a rather dull subject, but the folks at Geico have managed to capture many people’s attention with their “I’ve got some good news” series, the dapper gecko with the cockney accent and the “so easy, even a caveman can do it” spots.

The latter reminds me of the slightly absurd approach that parody artist Stan Freberg used so effectively years ago for Chung King Chow Mein (“nine out of ten doctors recommend Chung King”), Contadina Tomato Paste (“who put eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can”) and even the catchy jingle for the Presbyterian Church (“where’d you get the idea you can make it all by yourself …”).

So, what makes us pause and actually pay attention to advertising messages? For myself, it happens when a message stirs my imagination with the turn of a catchy phrase, looks at the commonplace in slightly-askew fashion and implies that a business or company doesn’t take itself too seriously.

It worked in my childhood days, and it still does, on occasion, today, even with so many more messages competing, loudly, for our notice.

This brief reflection on corporate advertising begs the question: What message do we convey, by our appearance, attitudes, our body language and verbal declarations? Do others buy it – with no disclaimers necessary – or are they apt to do their shopping elsewhere?

Stay tuned for a word from everyone’s sponsor …

   

Jim “Post No Bills” Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.



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