Sunday, November 14, 2010

Advertising...What, Exactly?

The column "Q. and A. with Stuart Elliott" in the New York Times this week featured a question from a reader who wondered what the theme music from Magnum, P.I. was doing in a make-up commercial--specifically, a spot for Maybelline's oddly named Falsies mascara.

Elliott quotes a spokeswoman for Maybelline's ad agency saying that the spot features three "women on a mission" a la Charlie's Angels, but the theme from that show didn't "feel right with the flow of the spot," so they went with the Magnum, P.I. theme instead. (The column is online here.)

That's all well and good, I guess, but I know that back in my ad-agency days I'd have never taken such an idea to a client, and if the client came up with it on his own I'd've strongly argued against it. Why? Because iconic music such as the Magnum, P.I. theme or (even more inexplicably) the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, which has been used in a recent minivan commercial, or the theme from Bewitched, used in commercials for a brand of kitchen appliances, has the effect of distracting the viewer from the product being advertised and pulling his or her attention to the familiar music and the TV series with which it's associated. All of a sudden I'm thinking about Darrin and Samantha Stevens, Endora, Dr. Bombay, and the Kravitzes--notthe fabulous kitchen appliances I'm supposed to be thinking about.

No doubt advertising has changed a great deal these past 20-odd years (we were shocked back then when a rival agency put together a spot for a local video-store chain titled--on screen, no less!--"Video Junkies," since any reference to addiction in such contexts was considered taboo; now it's commonplace, to the point where the local cable company built a whole campaign around urging people to "Get Hooked"), but I can hardly believe that its central objective is no longer to sell product.

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