I loathe commercials and ads. They pollute my perceptual field. The other day at Boston’s South Station, I and a crowd of commuters had to hear (if not listen to) an insurance commercial again and again and again. The good people at the station had mounted a gigantic TV screen above the smaller screen for the train schedule, thus creating a captive audience. Commuters have to look at the schedule screen because South Station does not announce the platform for a train until minutes before departure. The insurance commercial was the worst the ad men can produce: simplistic, paternalistic, arrogant. Turning on the TV (which I hardly do anymore unless I want to watch Jon Stewart) reproduces the experience. Obnoxious non- or ex-celebrities screaming (often in a fake orgiastic register) about the wonders of an “all new” wood floor cleaner or a reverse mortgage. It’s the end of times. Why do we have a sophisticated science of consumer behavior when ad people strenuously ignore it? Who do they think they are? Don Draper? To say that advertising is an art and not a science is a cop-out.
But there’s hope. Some ad campaigns are good, and a few are genius. I offer two examples: Jägermeister (now, alas, defunct) and Dos Equis (ongoing). Jägermeister (the master hunter, or, as you might know it, Jäger) is an herbal schnapps so bitter it would delight your rabbi at Passover. The traditional (ante 1973) image of the Jägermeister drinker was a portly elderly German gentleman needing aid for his ailing stomach after enjoying a Jägerschnitzel mit Pommes.
Then Jägermeister started the “Einer für alle” campaign. The slogan (“One for all”) appeared at the bottom of each ad as it appeared in magazines. The slogan was the constant; it communicated collective unity and the idea that Jägermeister is not for a minority of the corpulent. Each ad showed the image of a regular person (male, female, old, young, usually unknown), mostly smiling, and offering a justification for drinking Jägermeister. The first part of the justification was the stem “Ich trinke Jägermeister, weil . . . “ (I drink Jägermeister because . . .). This was another constant, endlessly repeated. It was followed by the presumed justification itself, which was invariably a hilarious non sequitur. For contemporary U.S. American sensibilities, many of the slogans were non-pc and perhaps offensive, which says more about contemporary U.S. American sensibilities than about the genius of the admeister.
The psychological principle the admeister mastered is that a combination of the old with the new, the constant with the variable, releases creativity, stimulates elaborative thinking, entertains, and consolidates memory. A good poem or song has a refrain and a constant underlying rhythm with a layer of playful variation and improvisation superimposed. So does a good ad campaign. Repetition without variation dulls the mind and breeds contempt (recall my response to the South Station insurance hucksters). Variation without a constant core is hard (impossible) to consolidate as a memory (see here for more). A great ad campaign stimulates the audience to come up with their own variations on the theme (as I have and as I have seen examples of on the net).
The Cauhtemoc-Moctezuma brewery has been running a terrific campaign for Dos Equis based on the same principle. Jonathan Goldman, a latter-day Ricardo Montalbán, is (they say) “the most interesting man in the world.” They have said it so often (constancy) and in so many ways (variability) that I am ready to believe it. He does not drink beer often – he says, thereby deftly assuaging U.S. American alcohol phobias – but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis (constant). He concludes with the simple advice “Stay thirsty, my friends” (constant). This is ingenious because it expresses a subtle self-defeating irony. Just think how you would react if he said “Keep drinking, my friends.” Now, Goldman-Montalbán-Moctezuma does not offer a justification for preferring Dos Equis. He does not even need to speak for himself. The voice-over assures that he is the most interesting man in the world because . . . In other words, the justification is his, not the drink’s. The rest is Pavlovian. A collection of the top 100 reasons can be found here (variability). Number 1 gives the spirit. “He is the most interesting man in the world because he gave his father ‘the talk.’” This is better than parricide. Freud would be proud. Indeed, this man is so interesting, the police keep questioning him just because he is so interesting.
Ads can be clever, creative, and stimulating. They may also boost sales, as they have for Jägermeister and Dos Equis. Isn’t this a win-win-win?
Incidentally, Jägermeister’s “I drink” campaign was but one example of their marketeers’ innovative savvy. In 1974, they were the first to put their logo on professional soccer players’ jerseys. World champion Paul Breitner, playing for Eintracht Braunschweig at the time, probably found another reason to drink Jägermeister in that.
There may be lesson here for other organizations. I work for a financially strapped not-for-profit organization. We seek and accept donations from wealthy donors and some of them get their vanity stroked by having their name placed on a building or wing. Some companies have a lock on selling their products on campus, which eliminates choice for our intelligent, high paying customers – er – students. Since all this is happening, why don’t we open campus to free-market advertising? I’ll see you in the Procter-and-Gamble seminar room right after the faculty meeting in the Google lounge. I am quite willing to put on a brown shirt with the Goldman Sachs logo if the price is right. Of course, I have principles. I am not a whore. I will not let Microsoft dictate what I teach in class. I mean, come on!
My Jägermeister toast
Ich trinke Jägermeister, weil ich nach der Konjunktion 'weil' das Verb immer noch an das Ende des Satzes stelle.
German syntax requires that the verb be moved to the end of the sentence after the conjunction 'weil' (because). The Jägermeister sloganeers of the 70s and 80s were still sensitive to this rule, but during the past generation, this beautiful inversion has been all but lost.