September 10, 2015
Do you know where you’re going to?
That’s the signature line from the Theme from Mahogany by Diana Ross. A lovely number, back in the day it was a sensation. But that line. Well, as tuneful at it is it also happens to be wrong. As a sentence it’s grammatically incorrect. Ask any 7th grader. it ends in –or should I say ends with- a preposition. Spell check will tell you the same thing. That “to” is tacked on. Technically, the line should be, “Do you know where you’re going?”
However, the correct line would also be the wrong line. Without that tiny,”incorrect” word the song may very well have failed. Theme from Mahogany might not have even happened.
Which got me to thinking about copywriting. How many times have we also used poor writing (grammatically speaking) to deliver stunning creative results?
“Think Different” anyone?
It’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Good copy takes poetic license with the written word. And sometimes that means ending a sentence with a preposition. Or starting one with one. Or repeating words like “one” to make a point. To stand out. To shine. That’s the same reason I just used two phrases as complete sentences, even though spell check implored me not to. And look at that. There’s “to” at the end of another sentence. For that matter there’s “that.”
I realize all this may seem quaint in the age of social media and texting. Never before has the written word taken so much abuse by such a mass audience. Brutal spelling, abbreviations and the like have manhandled the world’s languages into grotesque shorthand.
But that is how people choose to communicate. We like it. And for the most part, any and all marketing communications must adjust accordingly or risk dying off like big words and good manners.
In wake of Jared Fogel’s epic and ugly fail, what other celebrity spokespeople have crashed and burned?
August 20, 2015
Not the image Subway was looking for…
By now, everyone is familiar with the lurid story of Subway’s ex-pitchman, Jared Fogel. By his own admission, he is guilty of crimes involving sex with underage girls and distributing pornography celebrating the same. I am not here to pass judgment on the guy. Nor to make jokes. Plenty of that going on already.
However, the incident made me curious about other disgraced pitchmen. Who were they? What happened? Where are they now? Oddly, I couldn’t think of any pure-play spokespeople guilty of malfeasances. Of course, I’m aware of countless actors, athletes and musicians who also happened to be pitchmen getting into trouble. That happens all the time.
But Jared the public figure was purely a Subway phenomenon. He had no public persona prior to his affiliation with Subway. You know the tale. An obese college student in Indiana loses a bunch of weight, in part, by only consuming Subway sandwiches. He gets featured in a regional ad pitching Subway as a healthy alternative to fast food. The campaign resonates with the public and Subway takes the message and Jared national. The rest is history. Jared and Subway enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for over 15 years. Until it all came crashing down a few weeks ago.
Who else? Even the inevitable (and creepy) online lists of disgraced celebrities disclose few pure play pitch people. Madonna, Bruce Willis and Kate Moss all lost advertising gigs due to scandals. But these were very big stars without the advertising. And stayed stars after.
In the early 2000’s a young man named Ben Curtis became the “Dell Dude” for the giant computer company. Even though Ben came off as a young stoner on TV, Dell shit-canned him for allegedly selling weed in Manhattan. The ShamWow infomercial guy fell from his decidedly chintzy pedestal for allegedly battering a prostitute.
During my time at Leo Burnett, I wrote several commercials for Maytag, featuring their iconic “Lonely Repairman.” At the time Gordon Jump played the character. Jump was a complete gentleman. And while I’d heard tales of the original Maytag Repairman (Jesse white) having had serious problems with alcohol they weren’t substantiated, it wasn’t illegal, and his job was never in jeopardy.
Lonely men but never guilty…
Back in the day, when pitchmen were far more common, I’m sure a great many of them had episodes of regretful and illegal behavior. But short of murder, these “mishaps” were covered up to preserve the status quo. Good luck doing that nowadays. And while much of the world has become tolerant of numerous previously scandalous topics (infidelity, alcoholism, homosexuality), pedophilia remains understandably exceptional. In addition, I find that a vast majority of brands have zero tolerance when it comes to scandal.