When Marketing Was Fun ?
By Denny Hatch
I hate to count the number of times I have nearly veered off the road trying to figure out what a wordy billboard is all about. Billboards today are serious and confusing.
Does anyone remember the old red-and-white Burma-Shave signs by the side of the road—one after the other—that touted the brushless shaving cream? There were several hundred versions of these—every one of them a hoot. Each sign had a little bit of copy; just enough so that you didn't take your eyes off the road for too long. This was followed by another and another, until you had the whole message. They kept you awake, kept you sober and kept you chuckling.
Babies kiss me
Since I've been using
Violets are blue
Roses are pink
Who drive and drink
This crazy campaign bit the dust (along with Burma-Shave) in 1963—before many of the people in this industry were born. The Burma-Shave copywriters had fun in those days. Where is the fun today?
I once worked for direct marketing legend Walter Weintz. We worked hard. We played hard. We laughed a lot. Every so often, on a hot summer day, Walter would storm out of his office and scream, "It's too nice a day to be working. Let's go fishing!" Whereupon we would pile into his Mercedes and head for Norwalk Cove Marina for a liquid lunch at Skipper's and an afternoon aboard Walter's 1953 Bristol trawler, onto which we'd haul in obscene quantities of bluefish and mackerel.
In the mellow, late summer afternoon on the way back into port, Walter's son (and business partner) Todd would clean and fillet our vast catch, chucking the leavings overboard. Etched in memory is the long trail of seagulls vanishing back to the horizon, bobbing on the water and so sated with fish heads and innards that they were unable to fly.
When was the last time your boss stormed out of his or her office, screamed that it was too nice a day to be working and ordered a mass exodus to the beach, the slopes or the local gin mill? He or she might slip away to play. But invite the office along? You gotta be kidding!
I think the last guy to have any real fun in direct marketing was John Peterman, Target Marketing's 1996 Direct Marketer of the Year. I remember asking Peterman if he had fun. "Fun?" He looked over the rimless spectacles resting low on his nose. "Hell, I travel anywhere in the world I want to go," Peterman growled. "I stay anywhere I want to stay, eat and drink anywhere I choose, meet anybody I want to meet, and buy anything I want to buy. It doesn't get any better than that." Peterman's catalog was (and is) a literary masterpiece, easily as literate as The New Yorker and infinitely more readable. His copy was fun because he had fun, and it was communicated to his customers.
Things are different now. Serious. It's all about spam and privacy. About all you dare order for lunch is S. Pellegrino along with your veggie salad and low-cal dressing as you engage in impassioned discussions about regression analysis or the do-not-call list. But occasionally I will run into a piece of copy that makes me believe the writer is one of those old-time guys with a twinkle in his eye who lives life the way we did in the grand old days. Like this lead from an ad I ran across in my travels that gave new meaning to Tilley Endurables:
Elephant Eats Tilley Hat 3 Times!
This is a true story. Michael Hackenburger, a zoo director in Ontario, used to train elephants. One of his "students" developed the habit of reaching up, snatching off and eating Michael's beloved Tilley hat. Time would pass, and the hat would too. Michael would retrieve it, wash it and carry on …
DENNY HATCH, contributing editor, consultant and freelance copywriter, is the author of the books "Method Marketing" and (with Don Jackson) "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." Visit him online at www.methodmarketing.com.