Notes Off the Napkin: Creepy Kings & Cop Outs

Notes-Off-the-Napkin-logo1By Andrew Frame

It’s 12:30 in the morning, I can’t sleep, and it’s all Brandi’s fault.

I think the pork roll and black-eyes peas for supper may have something to do with it, too.

The Brandi part that’s keeping me awake is from when we were departing for pork roll and black-eyed peas and I heard a ripping “WTF?” come from the bedroom.

“Why the (expletive deleted) can’t these (expletive) ad agencies come up with something (expletive) original anymore? Do you have any idea what I just saw? (expletive) ‘I Am Woman’ to a (expletive) Burger King spot! What the (expletive) is with that?”

She certainly isn’t one for subtlety when she’s in Full Rant Mode. But, she was accurate. A rewritten version of Helen Reddy’s Grammy-winning 1972 tune marching defiance and equality for her gender was being sung by uppity men who felt entitled to have a double burger.

“How many cocktails did it take for the (expletive) intern to come up with that, and who was the (expletive) moron was that actually paid for it?!”

My Beloved is just as cynical as I am about advertising in general, but goes a step further by not letting silly things like decent script, nice cinematography, or Really Good Production get in the way of what she feels is utterly moronic work. Good idea has to make babies with good execution or the marriage is off. It’s an all-or-nothing deal with her.

I know that products have been riding the coat-tails of popular songs as long as there have been popular songs with coat-tails to be ridden. I have a tendency to feel my epiphany was when I saw steel and chrome pirouette to Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” many moons ago. Long before their ad agency touted Chevy as “The American Revolution” (whatever the hell that means), Chevrolet trucks were “Like A Rock.”

I’m sure Mr. Seger and Company were laughing all the way to the bank on that one – but at least there was a level of relevancy to the campaign.

But, “I Am Woman”... for a Whopper? Asking “WTF?” is bang-on right.

Although I’m not one to get a catch in my breath and tingling in my testicles when I see a pick-up truck gracefully leaping through fender-deep mud or sliding to a dramatic stop at a job site cluttered with large machines and human beings poring over blueprints and lugging two-by-fours, I still feel using “Like A Rock” was a cop out – but at least there was a level of relevancy.

Maybe it’s the two of us, but over the last few years, we’ve seemed to notice usage of pop songs in national commercials at a level we can only describe as gratuitous. Usage to the point we’re playing Name That Tune a couple times an hour when we do watch television. We know using a pop song is a shortcut to otherwise using a musical image or jingle; it creates instant attention to the commercial, and as we saw from a recent business data vendor that used the “Teenage Wasteland” riff from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” as a soundtrack, doesn’t have to be lyrically relevant to the product or service being pitched. I guess the name of the trick is “instant recognition.”

I don’t blame the Burger Kings of the world because ad agencies bring lame pieces of crap disguised as an advertising campaign. I blame the Burger Kings of the world for accepting, paying for, and running those lame pieces of crap, though – which do nothing more than encourage ad agencies to develop more. I blame the ad people for not having the integrity to create.

Think about it... in the 1970’s, Burger King’s ad agency pumped the famous “Have It Your Way” slogan that Burger King still uses to a limited amount today. Thirty years later they still have brand recognition with it... and the median target BK customer wasn’t even born at the time of inception!

Some of their collateral ad stuff printed on bags and cups is a hoot, though, as good as their television advertising is bad. I can’t think of the last BK radio spot I’ve heard. And there’s even the masquerade-faced “Creepy King,” the Stephen King-esque one-man freak show that’s going to be used to keep my progeny in line when misbehavior rears. “You better be good or the Creepy King will come out from under your bed and get you tonight....”

But “I Am Woman”?

Believe it or not, Adweek listed the BK spot as one of the Best Of 2006. The credits for the spot are a list longer than many indie films. Makes me wonder what the budget was.

Hundreds of very good writers and producers work in local radio and television every day under copyright limitations developing excellent advertising campaigns for local and regional businesses without having to fall back on the soft cushions of mining a pop nugget for shiny metal. Some of these are folks that hope to one day bring some real skills to the majors — majors that can render a fabulous campaign moot with the stroke of a pen in a checkbook to be able to buy the rights to use a pop song.

Dozens of major corporations are using pop songs right now. Some of the campaigns use a relevant song to the theme or product. Others are true WTF? moments. Most advertising seems to be aimed at the lowest-common denominator of the targeted demographic. And this method isn’t likely to change.

True, this was just one commercial of many. But that one commercial could influence my clients looking for the next “great thing,” and I have to spend my – and their – time to bring them over from the ooooh-zone and back into the reality of how to effectively and honorably promote and purvey their product.

Sometimes the client wins and we make the spot “their way.” We’ve also walked away from accounts and their deep pockets that wanted us to do something that was stupid. It continues to be up to those of us in the figurative grass roots of advertising writers and producers to continue to fight the fine fight for quality in advertising.

Ours is not a despicable vocation, no matter how some may make it look so.

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