Do Clownish Ads Work?
What in the hell was Roger Berkowitz thinking when he shelled out $150,000 for ads on the sides of Boston’s trolley system touting his chain of very fine Legal Sea Foods restaurants? Here are big illustrations of fish with cartoon balloons coming out of their mouths and one-line captions that include:
“This conductor has a face like a halibut.”
“This trolley gets around more than your sister.”
“Hey, lady, I’ve seen smaller noses on a swordfish.”
These sassy lines show fish that are saying fresh things.
My brother-in-law lives in Boston, and one of his favorite haunts is Legal Sea Foods. Julia Child, a Cambridge resident, gave the fledgling restaurant a testimonial in its early years. And last month, when Sen. Ted Kennedy was in Massachusetts General Hospital for diagnosis, it was reported that he was watching a Red Sox game on television and dining on Legal Sea Foods takeout.
The first establishment was opened in 1950 by George Berkowitz as a fish market at Inman Square, in Cambridge, next to his father’s grocery store, Legal Cash Market. It was named for the so-called “Legal Stamps” given to customers as purchase rewards—much like Sperry & Hutchinson’s famous S&H Green Stamps that seemed to be everywhere in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1960, Berkowitz opened his first fish restaurant next to his fish store, where he served fresh broiled and fried fish on paper plates to customers who dined family style on picnic tables.
Today, nine Legal Sea Foods restaurants are in the Boston area with 24 more up and down the East Coast from Florida to Massachusetts. Whenever I’m in Boston, I make it point to hit a Legal Sea Foods at least once for a very special eating experience—oysters or cherrystone clams, chowder, salad, fresh fish beautifully prepared, and cold beer.
Advertising 101—a private seminar for Brad Emmett, Sal DeVito, Ellis Verdi and other perpetrators at Legal Sea Foods’ New York Agency
NEW YORK, June 11 , PR Newswire — Brad Emmett, a former art director at DeVito/Verdi who has become one of the most acclaimed creative talents in advertising, has returned to the New York-based ad agency as creative director, it was announced by Sal DeVito, executive creative director of DeVito/Verdi.
“We Search for Truth,” crows the DeVito/Verdi Web site. “Our philosophy is based on a view that our job is to capture a truth either about the product or the consumer that will resonate. What works, and we have proven it time and time again with all of our clients, is the need to find and hit a consumer nerve that resonates as valuable, truthful and unforgettable.”
“Valuable?” “Truthful?” “Unforgettable?”
Advertising is aimed at two groups of people: existing customers and prospects.
“This trolley gets around more than your sister,” in a balloon coming out of a fish’s mouth is not going to remind regular patrons that a memorable dining experience awaits them at Legal Sea Foods.
This kind of clowning by the DeVito/Verdi agency is what you find in London, where smartypants creatives practice what I call non-sequitur advertising. Copywriters are hoping to force the reader/viewer to connect puzzling dots, which means the product or service is lost in a blizzard of cleverness.
“This conductor has a face like a halibut,” will emphatically not introduce strangers to the joys of Legal Sea Foods.
“They’re cute ads,” Legal Sea Foods owner Roger Berkowitz told Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe. “It’s hard to conceive of anyone being insulted by them, truly insulted by them, because it’s coming out of the mouth of a fish and it’s really tongue-in-cheek. For anyone to take it personally, I’d have to sit there scratching my head.”
“But the MBTA is not laughing,” Levenson wrote in The Globe. “Neither are the hundreds of employees who work on the Green line. This week, after the trolley conductors union complained to T management, the agency’s top brass ordered the immediate removal of the ‘this conductor’ ads, deeming them in poor taste.”
Why Clowns Can’t Sell
Advertising is tough. Some copywriters spend days on a single headline, let alone body copy. Those not willing to put the time and effort into making a product or service come alive in the mind of the reader or viewer, who instead grasp at whatever unrelated bit of cleverness is ratlting around their numb skulls at the time, are taking the easy way out.
Legal Sea Foods—and indeed, all of us in the advertising community—deserves better.