By Trent Rentsch
If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, it’s hard not to get caught up in the “Gee Whiz” of it all. I know I’ve mentioned before that my wife took me there for the first time in my late 30’s, and spent the first couple of hours in the Magic Kingdom reminding me not to fall off curbs. We’ve been back several times since then, and while I’m no longer so wide-eyed that I trip every few feet, there’s still a 10 year-old inside me who’s pretty damned giddy for the entire stay.
For some reason, that 10 year-old really gets excited when he sees any of the characters running around the park. It’s silly… I know it’s some kid sweating under pounds of fiberglass and fur, but I still get this stupid grin on my face as Pluto or Donald or any of the Disney characters parades by. This past fall at Disney/MGM, the kid got a smile that didn’t go away for days. We saw a sign that said, “Pictures with Mickey here!” Expecting another line, we slipped inside anyway. And there he was, the Mouse himself! Not just the Mouse, but the Mouse dressed as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (my personal favorite). AND, no line. I made my wife go up first (playing it cool, you understand), then sauntered up, pumped his hand… and was almost speechless. I know, fiberglass and fur, fiberglass and fur… and yet, it was more, at least to that 10 year-old boy inside.
Let’s zip ahead a few months. I’m driving home from work, in a driving rain. I had noticed him (or someone dressed just like him) in passing before, but waiting for the light I got a good look. Skinny, looked like he hadn’t shaved in weeks, in fact, this might have been his first shower in weeks, standing in the downpour. Oh, and he was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. You read that right, green robe, green crown, green tennis shoes (something told me those weren’t part of the costume). In one hand, a wilting cardboard flame of Liberty, in the other a sign beckoning all Americans to turn right now and get their taxes done. My 10 year-old wasn’t out to play as I drove home that day, but I have a sense that he would’ve felt the same way I did… rather sad.
Two mascots, two completely different reactions. How could that be? After all, both are marketing tools for their respective companies, and depending on how you feel about such things, it could be argued that both companies are exploiting people who really need money by paying them a pittance to stand around in costume. So what’s the difference? I suppose it could be argued that location is a factor, the condition of the costumes might enter into it as well. For me it was the impression each one left me of their company. Mickey, even up close, was exactly what I expected, and that’s more than the costume. Whoever was inside was very engaging… you could feel it, even through the costume, and offered the enthusiastic handshake I would’ve imagined from the Mouse. Honestly, on some level, I left feeling like I really had finally met him, that Disney wanted their fans to have that experience. On the other hand, “Lady Liberty” left me feeling like his company was making a mockery of one of our symbols of Democracy. As you might imagine, I’ve gone elsewhere to have my taxes done.
After all these years, clients can still surprise me. In the same breath they’ll say, “Image is everything,” and, “I have to PAY for voice talent?” If you work at a station, the money issue might not come up, but you get the idea. Clients want to sound professional and credible, yet many are quick to try to entice potential customers with a shabby music image or bad voice-over to save a few bucks.
Not long ago I was working with a potential client who had just bought out a retail outlet with a less than stellar reputation. In our initial meeting, he spent nearly an hour stressing that he wanted to change the image of the place, and clearly admitted that, for all the work he had done internally with the store and his employees, the re-marketing to the public was going to be key. As we went on, it became clear that he wanted a jingle, and I explained that it was going to run him anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. “Hold on,” he said, “I don’t know about that! Can’t you just sing it? Or we could get some kids from the high school chorus?” As gently as I could, I explained all the reasons that a professional jingle was an investment, not a luxury. Still, he wasn’t convinced. “There’s this salesperson at the store… why don’t I bring her in..?” I agreed to try it, but I also called a friend of mine who was willing to spec a real jingle. After I recorded the young lady, I played both, back to back, for the client. He paid for the “real jingle.”
Image is everything, now more than ever. As Advertising Creatives, our job is to be the advocate of our client’s image, even to the point of telling them that their baby is ugly. It’s not an easy thing to do, but is it any harder than cringing every time their bad commercial plays on your station, or being thrown under the bus when the station loses the account because, “The spot didn’t work”?
Whether it’s a jingle in need of up-dating, or a voice the client has “always used” that is boring and/or dial turning, don’t be afraid to suggest alternatives. Sometimes a shave and a clean costume can mean the difference between an institution and bankruptcy.