Mad Men, Crazy People And Invented Lies

When I’m put in mind of advertising – which this week’s return of Mad Men for the final time has done – I think about two great gags in two terrible movies. The first is the direly offensive mental illness comedy Crazy People in which an advertising executive played by Dudley Moore is sent to an institution after writing honest campaigns for clients’ products. These include ‘Buy Volvos. They’re boxy but they’re good’, ‘Jaguar: For men who’d like hand jobs from women they hardly know’ and ‘United: Most of our passengers get there alive’. The second is Ricky Gervais’ tedious The Invention of Lying about a parallel reality where everyone tells the truth. So the TV spots for Coke have spokespeople saying ‘it’s basically brown sugar water’ and bus ads for Pepsi read ‘When there’s no Coke’. The use of real brands suggests this is as much a creative solution to product placement as a satire of it (and The Invention of Lying has plenty of unchallenged advertising throughout). On one level the joke is simple irony; ads tend to be dishonest so inverting this is subversively funny. But on another, the gag rests on the fact that these are legitimate alternatives to deceptive advertising. The twist in Crazy People is that the public prefer this style of advertising, and Dudley Moore is quickly hauled back from the institution. Depicting the products self-critically doesn’t make them off-putting in any way or at all harm the brands, and real advertising executives know this.

...except Dudley Moore

…except Dudley Moore

The delivery chain Domino’s Pizza based an entire campaign around apologizing for the poor quality of their product, even including negative comments from social media in their ads. Dated electronics store Radio Shack launched a series of ads called ‘The ‘80s want their store back’ in which various celebrities from the spandex decade, such as ALF, Hulk Hogan and Cliff from Cheers tear the antiquated shop floor apart. Where these campaigns differ from the ones in Crazy People and The Invention of Lying is that the former insist things are going to change, while the drawbacks of the products advertised in the latter are inherent, tolerable and even desirable. The notion that ad executives can pull off this complex interplay of tone and address is at the heart of Mad Men’s somewhat utopian vision of the advertising industry. Yes, only a handful of creatives who work at an agency containing the names ‘Sterling Cooper’ seem to get it, but from the beginning Matthew Weiner always insisted that the art of advertising was to turn disadvantage into a unique selling point. In the pilot, Don Draper tells the Lucky Strike owners that federal rulings on the dangers of smoking put them on a level playing field with their competitors since no-one can brand their cigarettes as safe anymore.

In honour of Mad Men and its comic forbearers, here are a few of my own campaign slogans telling the truth about a brand in a way that makes you admire their forthrightness:

Peroni: Disgusting with anything but pizza.

Taco Bell: We do to Mexican food what Robocop did to Officer Murphy.

Wells Fargo: With ATM charges like this, you know your money’s safe.

McDonald’s: There’s too many reasons to hate us, so save yourself the trouble.

Cox: The alternative is just as bad.

Little Caesar’s: Working around the craft of pizza-making since 1959.

Amazon: We’re going to send you a package anyway, so you might as well order it.

Disneyland: Once upon a time…when infant mortality was higher.

Carl’s Jr.: Women lose rights in every bite.

Uncle Ben’s: For when convenience beats out white guilt.

Nescafe: What’s the use of ethics if you’re not awake to have them?

Amtrak: Inconvenient and expensive but what else would we do with the tracks?

Stella Artois: For the continental wife-beater in you [this is only marginally more honest than the brand’s real slogan ‘Reassuringly expensive’]

Chik Filet: You have homophobes in your family whose chicken you eat!

Google: The thing you type because it’s the thing you type.

San Pellegrino: Brine never tasted so good.

Apple: You buy it, you break it.

Starbuck’s: Hatred for us distracts you from worse inequalities.

PayPal: We won’t tell you how we make money if you don’t.

Bud Light: It works better as a light than a beer.

Esurance: We stopped John Krasinski from making more shitty movies…you’re welcome!

Yahoo: You have an email with us to get an extra Twitter account.

Twitter: Keeping Yahoo in business since 2008

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