Often, the things we sell are not sexy.
The words we use to sell them need not be sexy, either.
But what those words do require is the ring of truth and trust.
Nobody knew this better than a plumber’s kid from the South Bronx. He had a big problem. He had dealt with this problem most of his adult life. Many other people had, too.
And when he came up with a solution, he sold it to a waiting nation with a message that rang with truth and trust.
IMPORTANT NOTE: He never once used the words “truth” or “trust.”
He used plain, simple English.
But, not at first.
His first effort flopped.
His first effort at selling his not-sexy service was done with what many advertising professionals would approve as an aspirational lifestyle message.
His first TV commercial featured a tall, handsome, athletic man. This man is shown jogging, playing tennis, riding a horse, and looking very much like nobody you’ve ever known.
The athletic man’s hair, in every shot, seems to be blowing in the breeze and looking amazing.
While the cameras and crew were shooting this TV commercial, something else happened.
It was something inexcusable and frightening.
This thing was done by the ad man in charge of the jogging, tennis-playing, horseback-riding message.
The ad man came to speak with the plumber’s kid from the South Bronx.
This ad man whom the plumber’s kid had entrusted with his message said something like this:
“In case this ad doesn’t work, I’d like to shoot footage of you just talking about this.”
No handsome man with great hair?
Just the business owner?
So not sexy.
Anyway, the message with the sexy, aspirational lifestyle message ran.
It was a flop.
So they ran the not-so-sexy backup commercial.
That was the message with the plumber’s kid and his South Bronx accent talking about his business.
That message did something different.
It generated over 10,000 calls.
This regular Joe looked right at the camera and said a line that became the much-loved punchline to so many jokes on late-night TV.
“I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.”
The nation lost many notable people in 2020. Sy Sperling’s death did not have the highest profile.
But the man whose catch phrase is lodged into the gray matter of several generations serves as an enduring example of advertising at its unvarnished best.
On so many levels, the Hair Club For Men advertising is considered bad.
And no, it doesn’t rise to the level of art.
But what it does do is rise to the level of effective craft.
That’s the level where it conveys truth and instills trust.
It resonates for a core customer who has a significant problem.
It stands as a shining example of how a focused and effective marketing message brings truth and trust.
The sexy, aspirational message failed.
The plain-spoken, truthful message was explosive.
That message helped Mr. Sperling build a business that began in a defunct beauty salon.
Mr. Sperling eventually sold that business for $45 million.
So the next time the ad isn't working and someone says it isn’t sexy enough...
Or if someone says it needs to be funny...
Or if someone says it needs to sound more like a commercial...
Or if someone says anything that clanks instead of rings, that’s a good time to ask one question…
Is it bringing the truth and trust?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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YES, THOSE DAMN JINGLES STARTED ALL OF THIS
That's right. Jingles.
The advertising jingle is ostensibly experiencing a resurgence.
Take, for example, the new Oreo jingle.
Or, maybe we should say, the new Oreo song.
Because, with many, many different versions out there, and lengths up to three minutes, it is arguably not really a jingle.
There is an 11-second official version that Oreo serves up: "I wonder if we/followed a rainbow/to the end/would we find/new Golden Oreos?"
Despite all the praise being heaped upon it, and all the social-media sharing and fan-creating going on, it's hard to look at all this, and say, "Whoa, yeah! Just like Roto-Rooter!"
IT'S CUTE AND IT'S GOT A HOOK
But it's arguably not a jingle in the classic sense.
Not in the sense that you're going to walk around with that hook embedded in your gray matter for all of eternity.
But that's not a debate we're really interested in having.
This is about something bigger.
And it began to percolate to the surface after reading about how State Farm Auto Insurance has done such a grand job with its jingle, delivering it to a Millennial audience.
The apex of this effort is the three-minute version of the State Farm jingle performed by Weezer in an artfully produced YouTube video.
NOTHING SAYS "MILLENNIAL" LIKE WEEZER
Granted, I'm no expert on Weezer's audience.
But a bunch of guys pushing 50 singing for three minutes about the glories of State Farm Auto Insurance doesn't strike your relentless scribe as much more than silly.
Yes, they're talented men. They've come up with an engaging arrangement.
But the anthemic, swelling crescendo of grungy guitar and drums to the emotionally potent refrain of, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!" is, well, absurd. (Remember that word. "Absurd." More on that later.)
IT CAN'T BE JUST ME
Generation Millennial is supposed to have a finely tuned BS detector.
And if GM is even listening to Weezer (your guess is as good as mine), how are they looking at this video and not laughing it off as BS?
This is like the anti-Hillside Singers, the fake group assembled for the landmark Coca-Cola commercial, "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing."
A fake group, yes.
But a song born of a real-life experience.
The writer of the song was inspired in Ireland's Shannon Airport. After a long, forced layover, he was watching stranded, weary, short-tempered travelers from around the world bonding over shared bottles of Coke.
You hear that, friends?
IT WAS BASED ON AN AUTHENTIC, REAL-LIFE MOMENT!
And the song (arguably a jingle) resonated with the tenor of the times.
The war in Vietnam, President Richard M. Nixon, the Kent State massacre, rampant inflation, the Pentagon Papers--the zeitgeist was a mess.
It felt like the national pastime for young adults was wearing bell bottoms and picketing.
The time was ripe for a message that said, "I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love/Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves."
This idyllic, idealistic sentiment was an antidote to zeitgeist zaniness and oh, by the way, Coke was merely a product placement within a song about a salve for the times.
THIS IS NOT WEEZER
But much has been made of State Farm's allegedly Millennial-seducing, cross-platform jingle genius.
There is, of course, much discussion about how one must "engage" and use social media and continue the conversation.
I had to go see what the heck this conversation was all about.
So, from one article about State Farm's effort at Millennial magnetism, I clicked the link to Facebook.
" I truly hate this company and will never go back to it."
"To anyone who has state farm,,,thay r the worst ins ever." [sic]
"They have treated me like a second rate person....stay away from state farm."
PROBABLY NOT THE KIND OF ENGAGEMENT THEY WERE HOPING FOR
It looks like State Farm has been making a half-hearted attempt to speak to some people with problem cases.
But it seems that in the main, these kinds of complaints are met with silence.
Granted, you're much more likely to hear from the angry people than those who are content. There could be legions of happy customers out there.
But still, rampant complaints on Facebook hardly seem like a successful component of marketing to young adults.
But this all begs a bigger question.
DO MILLENNIALS EVEN EXIST?
At least, do they exist in the context which has been framed for us?
There are hundreds of articles out there about marketing to Millennials and the coming war between Boomers and Millennials and the how Millennials can smell BS a mile away and how Millennials are authenticity-demanding nitwits and blah blah blah Millennial blah.
Here now, my BS-detector analysis: it's all BS.
There are no Millennials.
There's a generation of twenty-somethings who are experiencing radical shifts in technology, the economy, life, the universe and everything.
Some of them are morons and make good press.
Many, many more of them are probably just out there, doing the best they can.
EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE BUYING AND LIVING IN TINY HOUSES
If there ever was a growth industry, it's producing tiny house reality TV shows.
But many more alleged Millennials are probably doing smart things like living at home rent-free while trying to make the best of the "new economy."
One of the most interesting reads about this is from an AARP article entitled, "A War Between the Old and the Young?"
The subtitle is, "Generational battle over taxpayer dollars, jobs, the future could be all media smoke and no fire."
All smoke and no fire, indeed.
And reading this article, there's an entirely different picture of Millennials than the one that is so frequently trotted around in the mainstream.
And it's easy to walk away with the impression that the people we're calling Millennials really don't give a flying rat's ass about the whole idea of Millennials.
You've heard us repeatedly bang the drum for authenticity. Without authenticity, your brand falls apart.
Here's something you may not know about authenticity: it is a central tenet of Existentialism, the philosophy that you and i are all free agents responsible for our own lives.
Now, in the main, we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress don't care for -isms of any kind. They can be problematic and dogmatic and enigmatic and manianic and all other kinds of unpleasant -ics.
But just for grins, just for the moment, let's go around the problem of -isms and consider Existentialism and authenticity.
Authenticity is everything. And being authentic in life requires acknowledgment one of life's overarching realities: absurdity.
Life is absurd.
And living authentically means rebelling against the inauthentic.
So here now, a proposal: even if you're an anti-Existentialist, let's recognize the absurdity of lumping millions of customers into one, easily generalized group and pretend we can market to them by being this way or that way.
LET'S AUTHENTICALLY REBEL AGAINST CATEGORIZATION
Instead, let's embrace the singular customer.
Let's identify and honor the one person to whom we wish to speak.
Let's recognize our customer and how she lives each day.
Leslie is 27 and married with a baby. She and her husband have just bought a house with her parents. They've split the down payment and the mortgage 50/50. There's plenty of room for everyone to live comfortably and for the young family to grow. At dinner, three generations of the same family get to sit down at the table together. They have a rich and vibrant existence. Leslie drives a 15-year-old Subaru she bought second-hand. In the trunk is a gym bag filled with her workout clothes. She tries to squeeze in an hour at the gym before going to work. It helps that she doesn't have to take the child to day care. Her mother is retired and is happy to look after the little one. Leslie works at a non-profit dedicated to making sure all people around the world have access to potable water. Her husband is an artisan. He designs and builds furniture made from reclaimed wood. He has a promising future. On the weekends, Leslie and her husband like to go mountain biking or cross-country skiing.
How do we talk to Leslie about what we're selling?
Probably not with a 3-minute jingle by Weezer.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.