Out of the golden age of advertising came a number of fantastic TV commercials that are forever stuck in the heads of people who grew up in the 70s. Many of these commercials featured ongoing characters. Well before the bears — Leonard, Dylan, Amy, Bill, and Molly — Charmin had Mr. Whipple, who was obliged to stop housewives from their odd compulsion to squeeze the Charmin. “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” he would repeatedly say.
John Chervokas, a junior copywriter at Benton & Bowles, came up with the line in 1964, and by 1969 Charmin was the best-selling toilet tissue in the country. While very different in style, Mr. Whipple and the bears sell pretty much the same thing, softness. Have a look at how culture has changed, but the message stayed the same.
Don’t show your underwear.
It’s important to note that neither of Charmin’s commercials featured someone saying something like, “I buy Charmin because it’s the softest toilet tissue there is.” Yes, they wanted to convey that sentiment, but they didn’t come right out and say it. An old boss once told me not to show our underwear in our ads, and I think this is what he meant. One does not demonstrate that he or she is interesting by wearing a tee shirt that says, “I’m interesting.” One demonstrates his or her interestingness by actually doing or saying interesting things. Likewise, a toilet paper company builds interest in very much the same way, by being entertaining and not just spouting selling points. You can’t bore people into buying your product.
Snarky Madge and Palmolive.
One of the first times I witnessed a real-life Jedi mind trick was on the Palmolive commercials. The commercials always featured a manicurist named Madge, and she was a piece of work. She would humorously insult the condition of her clients’ hands and then tell them about how Palmolive “softens your hands while you do the dishes.” Somehow during all that, the clients invariably were caught unawares when Madge informed them, “you’re soaking in it.” Cut to a shot of said hand soaking in a small cup of the product. It was pure sorcery.
Breaking the ad down to its elements.
This is pretty easy. Madge provides humor and vital information. The line “softens your hands while you do the dishes” is the value proposition, and “you’re soaking in it” is a visual demonstration that your fingers won’t dry up and fall off if it touches the detergent. Would this all have been easier to just have an announcer say, “Are you suffering from dry, red dish hands? If so, try Palmolive. It softens your hands.” Sure, I guess it would be easier, but the delivery would be dry as dish hands and ads should have appeal. Even today.
It’s not nice or safe to fool Mother Nature.
Chiffon was a margarine brand back when people thought margarine was a healthier alternative to butter. It also featured a brand line kids would make fun of because of how it sounded. “If you think it’s butter, but it’s not. It’s Chiffon” quickly turned into “If you think it’s butter, but it’s snot. It’s Chiffon.” Anyway, they could’ve had a spokesperson talking about how even the most discerning of palates couldn’t tell the difference between this particular margarine and sweet creamery butter. But where’s the fun in that? Isn’t it better to have sweet Mother Nature being fooled and then throwing some lightning and thunder around? Certainly, it makes it more memorable, no? You be the judge.
A closing thought.
Advertising HOF’er and filmmaker Joe Sedelmaier — the man responsible for many classic spots, including Wendy’s Where’s the Beef and FedEx’s Fast Talker, among many others — once said, “A commercial is something you watch when you sit down to watch something else — you should at least be entertained.” This sentiment perfectly sums up the problem with today’s advertising. It’s mostly boring, which is probably why ad blockers are so popular. So what we’re saying is, don’t be the reason someone downloads an ad blocker. Entertain people. Make them smile or reminisce or go aww or wow. Not just for TV spots but any ad. Just don’t be boring, darling.