How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Truthiness in Advertising

As hard as it is for consumers to believe, there are laws against lying in advertising.

But sometimes, you can't tell the truth in an ad, because the law won't let you do that, either.

I ran afoul of such a law in the 1980's, trying to create an ad for a small Puerto Rican brand of rum.

Here's the story.

Kenyon & Eckhardt had been running a successful campaign for Rums of Puerto Rico for several years, and I was happy to be on the account. Not because I got any free samples, because I didn't. No, I was happy to write the ads because they were good products, well made, and, not incidentally, I got to see my ads in Playbill every time I went to see a Broadway show.

The ads weren't just puffery, either. We had sales results to crow about: rum sales had been steadily increasing, while other liquors sales were either flat or declining. And, we could honestly claim that Puerto Rican rums were smoother, because by law, they had to be aged a full year, whereas other rums from other Caribbean islands had no such minimum.

So, I could unleash my punning nature, and write ads with headlines like “RUM AT THE TOP” that scored well in readership among our upscale, target audience.

We heard from our client that a small brand of white rum, Boca Chica, was enjoying increased popularity at New England ski resorts, and wanted some advertising support in the northeast.

I got the assignment, and, together with one of the group's very clever art directors, devised a teaser campaign, being inspired by the name, which sounded to us like the name of a tropical island.

The campaign consisted of three small ads, like the one on the left, each featuring a hand-written note on a slip of paper – calendar page, back of a business card or cocktail napkin – along with a drink-filled glass.

The notes all said “I'm moving to Boca Chica!” and each was followed with one of three reasons – it's really dry, light or smooth.

The payoff came with the full ad, revealing the product with the line “I've moved to Boca Chica – for good!” and copy describing its attributes. But when I wrote “Boca Chica rum is aged a full year,” the lawyers told me I couldn't say it.

“But it's true,” I pleaded. “All Puerto Rican rums are. It's the law, after all.” The lawyers knew that. But, they also knew that product claims like that could only be made if the label said so, and nowhere on the Boca Chica label did it say that it was aged a full year.

I told the lawyer that I would make the point in the rewritten copy, and that she would approve it. She bet me that I couldn't. I love a challenge. Here's how I won.

The copy, which breezed through legal, now read this way:

All over New England, people are moving to Boca Chica white rum from Puerto Rico, for a smoothness you just can't get with gin or vodka.

By law, all Puerto Rican rum must be aged at least one full year. And when it comes to smoothness, aging is the name of the game.

Try light, dry, smooth Boca Chica on the rocks or with your favorite mixer.

When you move to Boca Chica, you'll stay for good.

The solution was to use a syllogism that led the reader to the conclusion.

  1. Aging makes rum smooth.

  2. All Puerto Rican rum is aged by law for one full year.

  3. Boca Chica is a Puerto Rican rum.

  4. Boca Chica is smooth.

Truthfully, it doesn't say Boca Chica is aged for a full year. Or does it?

Next time: Breaking another rule.

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