Have you ever wondered why virtually all the people in TV commercials seem to be over-the-top, deliriously happy, all the time?After junior has thrown his food and drink all over the kitchen, mum delivers a broad smile, then thanks to her Super-Absorbo-Miracle paper towel, within minutes, the place looks like Buckingham Palace.
Over at the Mall, teen queen Debbie can hardly restrain her mirth as she checks her $1,500 iPhone 265 for expensive bargains she will dispose of within a week.
The recently graduated PhD’s serving burgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage are all grinning like churls at their customers. Student loans be damned!
Well, it never used to be like that. There was a time when many TV campaigns featured spokespersons you would gladly cross the street to avoid. Anyone remember “Joe Isuzu,” the obnoxious car salesman? Or, “Mr. No,” the guy who never said yes in spots for Capitol One credit cards. How about the precursor to the “Aflac Duck”… “Toilet Duck.” An animatronic duck wearing a helmet, that floats in your toilet and greets you with, “Quack… Quaaack!”
For the purpose of this erudite discussion we shall ignore the likes of “The Marlboro Man” or “Joe Camel.” Because, in spite of the fact they actually killed off a large part of their target audience, they were introduced at a time when the medical profession was often featured in cigarette advertising, claiming that certain brands were beneficial for your throat!
However, the grand prize for the most annoying character in TV advertising can only go to the one and only, “Mr. Whipple.” Who not only wins from a finger nails on chalkboard point of view, but also holds the record for the length of the campaign, 1964 to 1990, and the amazing fact that the same actor, Dick Wilson, played the part in every single spot. For my sins, I actually worked on Procter & Gamble’s Charmin bathroom tissues at the beginning of my career at B&B.
Please note the descriptor, “bathroom tissues,” ‘cos P&G was adamant that you never, ever called them toilet rolls, or even got close to hinting what their sole purpose was. For advertising history buffs, the very first Charmin commercial was made in, appropriately enough, Flushing, New York. Dick starred in over 500 spots, half of them yelling at little old ladies to please stop squeezing the Charmin, the second half had Dick yelling at the little old ladies to please squeeze the Charmin. Apparently, some little old lady in a focus group in Boise, Idaho, said she thought it would be nice if Mr. Whipple encouraged them to squeeze the Charmin.
So the MBA’s at P&G did exactly that. Apart from making tons of money from the actual TV ads themselves, Dick also earned a small fortune cutting the ribbon at openings of new supermarkets. (rumour has it that on these occasions Dick was mobbed by twittering hordes of little old ladies anxious to have their Charmin squeezed!) What they didn’t realise, ‘cos Dick rarely talked about it, was that as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, Dick had served as a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain and been decorated several times for valor. Not a guy to be squeezed lightly! Sadly, Dick passed away at the age of 91 in 2007. Here’s a tribute spot.
It’s a sad reflection on the current state of the ad industry that when P&G finally decided to dip its toe in the Super Bowl advertising cesspit and blow a few million on a new TV commercial for the 2004 championship game, they passed on resurrecting reliable Mr. Whipple. Instead, they chose to do a pseudo-sports spot featuring a quarterback bending over to grab the snap from the centre, only to discover that instead of the expected towel hanging from the player’s belt, there was a long strand of toilet paper! The tag line for this awesomely obnoxious example of advertising art was: “Charmin Bathroom Tissues, softer and stronger for your end zone.” Yes folks… You can’t make this sh*t up.
George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, “Confessions of a Mad Man,” makes the TV show “Mad Men” look like “Sesame Street.”
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