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Opinion Pieces
January 20, 2007
The Sorry State Of Sponsorspeak On TV

By Joe Klock, Sr.

Back in my Philadelphia daze in the middle of the last century, television ads were in their infancy; and, like all baby things, they gave no hint of the annoyances into which some of them might morph.

Through the mist of memory, I recall none that were even marginally offensive, mostly because certain terms and conditions were barred from the tube.

Their effectiveness, though, was undeniable. To this day, I seldom pass a Texaco station without mentally seeing four guys in work uniforms and hearing them sing that "We're the merry Texaco men, tonight we may be showmen, tomorrow we'll be servicing your car!" (Even more seldom do I visit a service station where that quaint old custom is still observed, but that's another column for another day.)

Also fresh in reverie are those gorgeous gams dancing under packages of Old Golds, making me forget for a few moments of fantasy that the slogan, "Not a cough in a carload," was about as credible as "Of course I'll still respect you in the morning!"

I'm a big fan of advertising when it can be effective, non-abrasive and in good taste. If it can also be entertaining, so much the better (kudos to most Budweiser commercials in that regard, although make mein eine Heineken in the next round).

Again rolling back the Klock (BADABING!) to Philly, there was an ad agency there that won my admiration for a tiny display ad reading, "We don't have a perfume client, and maybe that's a good thing. If we did have one, we'd probably just say that it smells good."

That was in the same era when, in a film entitled "The Hucksters," Sydney Greenstreet portrayed a corporate mogul narrowly mirroring the real-life George Washington Hill, colorfully crude president of the American Tobacco Company.

In a memorable, perhaps preferably forgettable, scene, Greenstreet hawked up a mouthful of phlegm and spat it on the highly-polished table of a posh executive meeting room. After doing so, he growled to the shocked attendees, "Gentlemen, you've just seen me do a disgusting thing, but you will always remember it."

That was, probably, right about the time that soft-sell was being both hardened and stripped of couth.

Aside: How come I can remember stuff like that, but not the name of someone I met a scant fifteen minutes earlier?

Anyway, surviving ad execs from the "olden days" must look aghast at some of the effluvium now so pervasive in television commercials.

For poor taste, I'll hand the rusty trophy to Capital One, hoping for their sake that those 30-second excursions to the garbage pail of marketing are worth the ugly smear that's left on their corporate image.

Also in the Hall Of Shame are the products and services openly huckstered on the tube - too often during "family time" - which used to be confined to the back pages of pulp magazines and/or medical journals.

I wonder, for example, how they justify the necessity for viewers to explain erectile dysfunction, prostate disorders, and a stunning array of female plumbing problems to their young 'uns, who have little-to-no urgent need for such information.

Far less offensive, but no less pointless, are the institutional blurbs ultimately paid for by us of the unwashed masses, but initially bought by corporations that exist in the mysterious mist of super-big business.

One example is a behemoth outfit that wishes us to know that it doesn't make a huge variety of products, but makes them bigger, better and, implicitly, more expensive. (Like I cared a rat's nose OR had any reason to remember its name.)

I enjoy a really funny commercial, maybe for the first fifty times or so, after which it tends to go the way of fresh fish and old flames. Also, I'm hard put to recall when my chuckles made a cash register ring somewhere.

Then there are those magical potions, the potential side effects of which are more frightening than the maladies they claim to cure.

Finally (although a lot more remains unwritten here), I question commercials that are long on class and cleverness, but short on product identity and practical consumer benefits.


Excellent examples of this genre are automobile ads, apparently aimed at drivers who are aroused by fondling the controls of a 500-herdpower missile-on-wheels or fantasizing reality in the antics of a professional driver on a closed course. (Wow-ee-WOW!)

Hey, gimme them old-time sales pitches that smelled good!

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