Advertising in America


Films of the late 80s ad early 90s were often wryly critical of advertising and the infernal powers that mobilized the talents of Madison Avenue’s warlocks. One of the best films to take aim at the industry was 1990’s Crazy People.

It’s about an advertising executive, played by Dudley  Moore, who has a nervous breakdown and starts cranking out “truthful” ads like: like: “Jaguar— For men who’d like hand-jobs from beautiful women they hardly know.” and “Volvo— they’re boxy but they’re good.” (These are examples from the Wikipedia page, but they’re also the funniest).

This is better than anything in my portfolio.

While he’s in treatment for his mental problems, the ads get printed by mistake. The weird ads actually work well because they’re funny and completely transparent. They’re also very straightforward with the customer benefit. If I drive a Jaguar, I do want a hand job from a beautiful woman. Hell, I ride a bicycle and I want one right now.

You could run these ads today and no one would blink. Dollar Shave Club’s ad is a great example of a real world ad with this absurd approach. It’s funny and actually tells you a few reasons to buy their blades. They work. They’re cheap.

This is basically a perfect ad.

Other companies have tried this approach less successfully. Organic Valley’s Buy One Bro One campaign is kind of funny, but it doesn’t quite work as well because it doesn’t communicate a good reason to buy the product. If I’m a bro (and I sort of am) the only compelling piece of information conveyed is the protein count on the bottle, and compared to other products, it’s pretty average. The ad also show bros already successfully doing bro things. Bros really don’t care about weird chemicals. They care about gains. And according to the ad’s copy, those gains are going to be pretty weak.

If you’re not a bro, all this commercial does is let you think you’re superior to the bros in the commercial. But they clearly have shredded physiques and are shown having a good time. Would you rather be shredded and tapping ass in Vegas or thinking about a bucolic farm and how righteous you are for being skinny fat? No need to virtue signal here, this is a safe space.

If chemicals let you be this shredded at 66, I’ll happily take a smoothie with one of everything on he periodic table.

People want to look hot and be rich. This is why ads that position a product against either of those goals will never work. It’s why it’s easy to sell workout supplements and Porsches. Just be honest with your ads. It’s what works. Just make sure your product promises six pack abs and you’re golden.


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