Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A lesson to be learned.

There's a scene from Frank Capra's classic 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," in which George Bailey (who's never been born) and Clarence, his guardian angel stumble into a bar, Nick's Place to warm up after their falls into a freezing river.

The great tough guy, Sheldon Leonard plays Nick and when Clarence orders something fancy, he gives the two men an earful.

Nick: "Hey look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint "atmosphere". Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?"

What's interesting to me is that Nick knew more about his business than most marketers know about theirs. He could define it in half a sentence while defining his target audience in the second half.

Today we have car companies that want to be about joy. Coffee companies that want to save the rain forests they are ripping down, soda companies that want to be about doing good while they are obesifying large swaths of the world. Agencies are probably the worst offenders. They might have the world's largest ad spenders as accounts but they lavish more time and attention on pro-bono accounts or their efforts to raise money for Japan. None are sure what business they are in.

It all gets a little tiring.


dave trott said...

Hi George,
I forget who said "Those who do not learn from history are condemened to repeat it."
I think that's what we're doing now.
Repeating (pre Bernbach) advertising history.
Read this (from a great documentary maker) and see if you agree:

george tannenbaum said...

I think it was George Santanaya, Dave. I'll check out the link.

Sell! Sell! said...

So true Dave.

george tannenbaum said...

Dave, I used to have a book that I think was called "Autorama." It was a celebration of auto ads in the 50s. When I taught advertising at SVA, I'd bring the book into class along with another book, "Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads." We'd then spend most of our 15 week class stripping bullshit and decoration out of ads.

I've heard people say USPs don't matter. That no one reads anymore. And that every decision is an emotional one.

I can't be the only person in the world who wants to know that a $40K Mercedes is made with different steel than a $20K Ford. That rationalizes my purchase. I need things like that.

But people like me, for the last 20 years or so, have been shoved to the corners of advertising. Instead we've gone for quick gag or a jingle.

We've copped out. And built an ecosystem of bullshit to "legitimize" our failure.

One thing I've observed is that if you ask someone to top of mind recite a tagline, they almost always go back to lines that are 20, 30, or even 50 years old.

These taglines were often lines that defined companies and their ethos. People need definition in their life. They need reasons to make choices.

For a short while, I supervised the advertising for Revlon. I couldn't really make an impact because the client had decided that they could "out pretty and out celebrity" other beauty companies. Of course you can't.

You need an idea.

dave trott said...

As regards the rational purchase of a $40K car.
Naturally I'm a big fan of rational advertising.
What happened was that in the 90s, marketing noticed rational advertising didn't work for everything.
Like perfumes, beer, cigarettes, or other right brain products.
These often needed an emotional appeal.
Fair enough.
The trouble was marketing people then made that a rule for all advertising.
So now even a $40K car purchase (which should be rational) has to have an emotional appeal instead.
Haven't we got the brains to tell the difference?
That's how we've ended up in the fifties again.

Sell! Sell! said...

Dave, I thought the same...

This idea of 'one rule for everything' in advertising drives me nuts.

dave trott said...

Hi Sell! Sell!
I agree with your post, Advertising got lost in the 90s.
What kills me is these dopes think what they're doing is new.
Just because they can't remember the 1950s.
The truth is this non-thinking isn't new, it's old (pre-Bernbach).
It's the sort of twaddle that good agencies were rebelling against in the 60s, 70s, & 80s.