Green River Ad
I was stopped in my tracks yesterday, flipping through the newspaper. I saw this ad. Zero art direction. Zero copy. But…but…it had a secret ingredient. It was…TRUE!
Green River. Lo-fi? This defines lo-fidelity. But there was something about its innocence, its tonality, and its presence that I couldn’t deny. I read every word. Even the stores that carried it. And they were good, cool stores. And that further amplified my belief in the brand. It broke every rule. It used exclamation marks! It mixed fonts. It had snipes, call outs, even the freaking flag of the Great City of Chicaga! It had a million logos.
Try to read the copy. Here are a couple of my favorite lines — and I promise you, I am not being ironic here, I’ll explain more soon, but first: “The soda was poured into old beer bottles and sold in the market.” Love it. Or, how about this: “Today, we celebrate Green River’s history!”
If you think I’m just joshing with you, I am not. Tito’s Vodka, a brand that has taken the very difficult to penetrate premium vodka market by storm, used a very similar approach. Flatfooted honesty. I think Howard Gossage would be smiling at this lo-fi ad. And to lean back on Chairman Bill again, he would agree, I think, at least in as much as he said, “I’ve got a great gimmick – let’s tell the
Oh, and I for one, am going to be on the look out for Green River. Heck, Al Jolson even recorded a song written about it!!!!!!
Based on what I’ve seen lately, during the Super Bowl and the Oscars (not to mention Good Morning America and the Today Show), my humble suggestion would have to be — bring it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I worked in the biz in the 80’s. And let me go on the record as saying blowing your mind, ending up in the hospital, destroying your life and family is not what I would call performance enhancing. But…
Showing a guy being blown away by speakers for a magnetic tape is an ad that was performance enhanced. Having a really fast talking man sell you on the virtues of overnight package delivery is also p. e’d. Even coming up with a line, whether you believe it or not, as good as “it’s morning again in America,” that is performance. A stain in the shape of Joe Montana — good.
And think about it. Coffee — definitely a drug — that’s pounded by yours truly to the tune of four to five cups a day, including my trusty afternoon Turkish (or Greek or Armenian depending on where you hail from) — with my trusty Ibrik. Martinis? Well, let’s see, three martini lunches, though a cliche, and we had prosperity, happiness, and new Buffalo Springfield albums. Three herbal tea lunches and we’ve got recession, depression, and Beyonce mouthing lyrics to songs she didn’t even write. Nothing against her great talent, don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying.
As for steroids? Well, I’m not so sure. How much muscle tone does it take to move a mouse anyway? Other substances? Well, it is not the purpose or place of this blog to suggest. But something must be done. Put it this way, if there was a Barry Bonds of big ideas (and there are several) I would say, the hell with it, put ’em in the Hall of Fame — art directors, copywriters, whatevers. Otherwise, the vignette tsunami will wash us all away.
Bill Bernbach once said, “Times change — people don’t.” As we chase our tails and our portals, mobile apps, apps, Vines, etc, let’s not forget about that. Metrics are powerful things, they can put you in front of the ‘store,’ and pick out individuals who have a high likelihood of liking what you’re peddling, but they still won’t TOUCH people in a way that actually takes AN ANONYMOUS THIRD PARTY SHILL (which, alas, is what we are selling) and make it MOVE people. And if you don’t move people, they won’t ACT. In fact, you could add to Chairman Bill’s words the codicil, “products never change.” Think about it. They are always the same. Coke v. Pepsi. Chevy v. Ford. Yankess v. Diamondbacks. The fricking same. It’s a combination of skill and art (with a lot of good old fashioned guts) that makes people connect. Media come and go. Actually, come to think about it, they never really go, they just get added to, but more about that another time. But people still: want to be liked, want to be healthy, want to take care of their families, want good tasting food etc. etc. etc. Ignore the Chairman at your own risk. You have been warned.
So the statues are passed out, as are many of the stars. The deals are done, only to be undone when people wake up and check their messages. Oscar 2013 is in the can. And what did we learn, Dorothy? Well, back in the day before digital distribution ruled, the Oscars used to be referred to as “The Super Bowl for Women.” If that’s the case, the women got a raw deal. (Surprise, surprise.) Lots of rehashed spots. The Samsung iPhone competitor (was that it? I can’t even be sure) got a Sopranos length series of ads, a running sitcom(?) that showed a really cool, really edgy, really desirable dot com start up complete with naff casting (see your British lingo dictionary) and clumsy dialogue about unicorns. Capped off by an equally facetious Tim Burton (he needs the money???). But that escapade wasn’t the worst of it — and I’m including the pre-game, er-Red Carpet show with that wailing, screeching Chenoweth creature standing in for the much more angry and amusing Joan Rivers, I’m talking about J. C. Penney. Now, these guys are so expert at squandering money as to be a Harvard Case History Collection. But in a great leap forward, they banished their EDLP (every day low pricing) strategy, and the incomprehensible but amusing Ellen for — ta da — vignettes!!! Models prancing around to indie tracks culled from college radio stations, walking advertisements for eating a few carbs trying to make various ugly polyester get-ups look wearable. Again, there is no ad execution or strategy more lame, more invisible, or more annoying then the vile vignette commercial. Let me describe — shots of happy people, coffee shots, dogs splashing in bathtubs, maybe some sparkly fireworks, dad’s getting shaving cream on their noses, repeat dogs — to indie music. But boardrooms love them some vignettes. As do production companies. (They are Expen$ive!) And Penney’s wasn’t the only one to fall into the trap. I also counted Chobani Yogurt and Century 21 I think, though, again, and this is part of the Vignette Syndrome (VS) that one cannot distinguish one from another. Which, at last, brings me to the only idea in the show — with the possible exception of the clips of the animated short film nominees. Grey Poupon. Yes, Grey Poupon. Can I borrow a jar of Gray Poupon? Gray Poupon. How good was it? Well, I’ve been running on a bit too long this morning (and I haven’t even touched on how D. O. Russell and P. T. Anderson and J. Phoenix was robbed) so I’ll tell you how great Poupon was. My kids, who weren’t even alive when the original ad ran, stopped all their cackling and followed every frame of it and got it and wanted to know about it. A 20 year later sequel to a campaign they’d never seen that totally captivated them, enlightened them, created brand preference, and they don’t even like mustard! Now, let’s take a deep breath, another sip of coffee, and get ready for March Madness….
“Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Thus spake Santayana, the philosopher, not the awesome electric guitarist. Had he not passed away about 50 years ago, I suspect he might have been a “Maker’s Mark” bourbon fan too. I’ll tell you why. In two simple words. New Coke. Yes, in a marketing debacle for the ages, the Coca-Cola company, in trying to match the super sugary syrupy sweet flavor of its arch competitor Pepsi (of the Pepsi Challenge) changed Coke, renamed it, the whole kit ‘n kaboodle. And almost lost the farm in the processes. Loyal users, users who had deep MEANING bonds with the black sugar water in the red can that Santa drinks, lost faith. FAITH. (Btw — this happened almost 20 years ago now I believe.) So, the makers of “Maker’s Mark,” obliviously do the same thing to their BELOVED brand — “we’re going to water it down” they literally said to their fanatical followers. Cue the debacle. Who is running the show up there in Deerfield? Well, they quickly rejiggered the stills and MM is back to its full proof. And I’m sure the spin-meisters are working overtime saying it’s just what they wanted. But I’m also equally sure some resumes are on the street. How could this have been prevented? How could the future have been predicted? You do the math. (And check out both Santayana and Santana while you’re at it.)
It’s only fitting that the greatest, scariest Hollywood high-concept movie was directed by the adman (yes, adman) Ridley Scott. I am talking about “Alien.” But more about that in a moment. As this is the season for internship interviews, and as it is always the season for job interviews and business pitches, it is time to reflect on that horrible, but useful term, Elevator Pitch. You know what that is: You’re in an elevator riding up the the 40th floor standing next to the head of Leo Burnett or Ogilvy and you only have that amount of time to pitch yourself. Whatcha gonna say? We hone it, we edit it, we think. Well, a merely tight elevator pitch is not enough to cut it today. Today, your elevator pitch better not only be unique, it better be undeniable. Enter “Alien.” Word is, when the script of Alien was going around Hollywood, its “high-concept” strapline was as brilliant as any line written by Bill Bernbach and his troops.
“Jaws in space.”
There. You have it. Read it and weep. And rework your elevator pitch until it’s that lethal.
When I started as a junior copywriter at Ogilvy in New York, and I got my first assignment, I was paired up with a senior art director who had just arrived at the agency from one of Madison Avenue’s hottest agencies. We were given some completely lame assignment — I think it was to sell insulation for Owens-Corning, and I worked all night, banging away almost a hundred, brilliant, witty, punny, funny, CREATIVE, headlines. First thing the next morning I was waiting outside his office, an eager puppy dog. He dragged himself in around 10:15. I proudly unveiled all my brilliance. Sipping his coffee and checking messages, he perused them. Then he looked at me, ignoring them all, and said, “OK, let’s get to work. We need an idea.” I thought I gave him ideas. 100 of them! But was I ever wrong. An idea is everything — all those headlines perished (thank goodness) and thus began my real education. The funny thing is, today, with all the stuff, blogs, outreach, hoo ha and apps and ha ha, it’s still the same. Without an idea you have nothing. Nothing. (Oh, and for extra credit — that is what we get paid for.)