Friday, July 3, 2015

Two not-so-great moments in advertising

One day, possibly in the late 1960s, I heard a catchy tune coming from my brother Michael’s bedroom.

My brother liked, among others, The Doors, the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker.

But this tune wasn’t from any of them. It had a marchlike beat and arrangement (“Sweet cream ladies, forward march…”), like a faux Salvation Army anthem, and I liked it.

When I expressed interest in the song, Michael told me it was called “Sweet Cream Ladies” (surprise!) and was sung by the Box Tops.

He also told me that the song was about prostitutes.

Oh.

Um, OK.

Then again, if I’d listened more closely to the lyrics, maybe little old naïve me would have figured this out from lyrics like “Let them satisfy the ego of the male / Let them fabricate success to those who fail.”

So imagine my surprise when, some time later, while watching some prime-time network TV, I came upon a new commercial from a food company. The product was some kind of whipped cream – Cool Whip, Dream Whip, Dreamy Cool Whip, whatever – and as I recall (I have to rely on memory because you won’t find this ad on YouTube, and you’ll soon realize why), it featured a montage of smiling Stepfordian wives strutting from their kitchens to their dining rooms while carrying a bowl of the sponsor’s ambrosia.

The lyrics (so help me, Don Draper) began: “Cream pie ladies, forward march….” And yep, that same tune – same arrangement, even.

It was comforting to know that someone on Madison Avenue was at least as naïve as I was.

And I suspect that all the Box Tops had to buy new sneakers because when they ran to the bank in record time to cash their checks before the food company got wise, the friction from the pavement annihilated their Adidases.

I’m sure that someone did tip off the company -- after I saw the ad maybe one more time a week or two later, it disappeared forever.

I would love to have been a fly on the conference room wall during the next agency-client meeting.

Then again, perhaps there was no such meeting. Perhaps the president of the food company merely sneaked into the ad agency president’s home late one evening, walked into the agency chief’s bedroom, placed a $20 bill on the dresser and skulked out.

Surely that would have gotten the food company’s message across. And surely any shame and dread the agency president felt about becoming the laughingstock of the entire industry would have been at least partially offset by relief at the thought that there was now no need to go through the hassle of reserving a conference room.

And I also wonder whether the ad might have so impressed the denizens of the local “sporting house” that they figured that maybe they, too, should advertise, or at least set up some exploratory meetings with the agency.

If those meetings ever took place, I would love to see the expense sheets – you never know just how creative a creative director can be.

The other ad I referred to in the headline involved a brand of dishwashing liquid.

Actually it was one of a number of ads from the same campaign, each of them conveying the same message.

Each ad featured identical twins. And this being the 1960s, you won’t be surprised to learn that the twins were female, young and attractive, but in a homespun way – the type of young woman that Ricky and David Nelson would have been proud to take home to Harriet.

The point of each ad was that the twins – in this particular ad, let’s call them Jan and Jane – looked so much alike that you couldn’t tell them apart.

Unless – and it was a big, 72-point Unless – you looked at their hands.

Because Jan, who used the sponsor’s product, had a perfect pair of hands, each of them a thing of beauty and a joy forever, or at least for the next minute of air time.

But Jane? Tsk tsk tsk. Her hands were raw, rough, not good looking at all. I won’t go into the details – for all I know, you might be reading this during dinner – but let’s just say that Jane’s hands were supposedly in such bad shape that you were sure – you just knew – that the local health officials were only moments away from breaking down the door and placing a bell around her neck.

And of course I don’t have to tell you that Jane used – gasp – a competitor’s dishwashing liquid.

All of which prompts (NOT begs) a few questions:

Why would the same household have TWO brands of dishwashing liquid?

Or was Jane a masochist who wanted her hands to look bad? Was it her way of distancing herself from people? Was she so afraid of reaching out to people that she sabotaged herself to keep anyone else from hurting her?

The commercial never even began to probe these questions – you can do only so much in a minute, especially when you have so much soap to peddle.

But my main reason for mentioning the ad is the way it began:

A two-shot of Jan and Jane.

“Hi, I’m Jan.”

“And I’m Jane.”

Then, the two of them together:

“WE’RE OFTEN CONFUSED!”

Swear to God, that’s what they said. I was only maybe 15 years old – not exactly an idiot, but neither was I what Jimmy Durante would call “duh toast of the intellectuals” – but even I knew how ridiculous and unintentionally funny this phrasing was, as if 60 seconds of sexism weren’t bad enough.

Next time, to be fair, I’ll tell you about an old commercial that’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen but which, alas, is also apparently not on YouTube.

5 comments:

Gary Henry said...

At last - someone else who remembers the "Sweet Pie Ladies" commercial!! It had to have been around for a few weeks at least, because I have the lyrics embossed into my memory cells: "think of what you're givin'", " your family's really livin'", "'cause they're tired of vanilla every day". I recalled it as a Jello brand commercial, buy maybe not...

Matt Real said...

Me too! I totally remember this commercial. At this time I did not understand the meaning of the original song. I just thought it was a catchy tune, like you. I had not heard the song for years but I remember it although I did not remember ALL the lyrics. Imagine my RECENT surprise when I figured out that it was about prostitutes... and I remember the very short-lived commercial, which now has me shaking my head with disbelief. The only reason that I found your blog post is because I was actually looking for some record of that commercial. For the record my current age is 60 so figure me for about 13 at the time.

Mark Murphy said...

Gary and Matt: Thanks for your comments. I too am glad to know that someone else remembers the ad, which I think ran during "I've Got a Secret." (I'm a couple of years older than you are, Matt.) If you ever find the ad, please send me the link. I worked at an agency for three years, and I'm sure my ex-bosses would love to see it.

And thanks for visiting the blog. I hope you'll stop by again.

jeffm12012 said...

I remember the "Cream Pie Ladies" commercial too! General Foods (Jell-O products) sponsored a lot of TV shows then; in particular Andy Griffith and Gomer Pyle, and I'm pretty sure the commercial ran on all of them. I hope someone finds an old 16mm print somewhere and uploads it to You Tube,
Another commercial I remember with a twist on a pop tune was for Pepsodent toothpaste; they took The American Breed's "Bend Me, Shape Me" and turned it into "Bright teeth, white teeth, really outa-sight teeth..."
I remember the "often confused" twins too. I want to say it was a long-gone product called Dermassage, but am not sure.

Mark Murphy said...

Jeffm: Thanks very much for your comment.

It's nice to know I wasn't imagining these ads.

The "often confused" ads were, I think, for Ivory dishwashing liquid. I seem to remember seeing them on the old, original version of "Match Game," though I would guess that they also ran with other shows. There seemed to be so many versions of this ad that I'm surprised that not one of them has shown up on YouTube.