April 22, 2011

Women With Their Shirts Off

I had a feeling that headline would get your attention.

A short while ago Adweek asked me to comment on something for them. The premise was this: They would take two ads in the same category -- one contemporary and one from a million years ago -- and have an expert (that's me) evaluate the ads to see which was better.

They wanted the piece to be provocative, so they chose the bra category. Now, honestly, I'm not really a professional on the subject of bras. But I do like to think of myself as a talented amateur.

The article, by Adweek staff writer Robert Klara, appears as a spread in the print edition this week. These people have been unaccountably solicitous and tolerant of me, so please be sure to buy their magazine or at least read the article here.

Since they had to edit my comments to fit the article, I thought I'd reprint my complete comments because there were a few good gags they had to kill.

These are the two ads. My full comments to Adweek are below.
Maidenform vs. Victoria’s Secret

I know why you selected me to comment about womens’ underwear. It’s those rumors again, isn’t it? Well, I just want to say for the record that they’re mostly not true.

Okay, now on to the ads.

Despite the fact that the woman in the Maidenform ad…
a) has a Mouseketeer hairdo
b) is holding the pool cue like a cigar
c) has cups so alarmingly pointy they could cause permanent damage to a guy just trying to cop a little feel
…the Maidenform ad is about a thousand times better than the Victoria’s Secret ad.

You see, back in the 1960’s when the Maidenform ad ran, advertising had a secret ingredient. That secret ingredient was called a “concept.” A concept was an idea about a product that was at the core of every ad.

The concept for the Maidenform campaign was expressed in this line of copy: “I dreamed I (DID SOMETHING) in my Maidenform bra.”

Now let’s be honest here. It was a silly concept. Silly and mildly scandalous.

The silliness was forgiven by the “dream” contrivance. The scandalousness was a little more subtle. It wasn’t the first time America saw a model in a bra. But it may have been the first time we saw a model in a bra in a social situation.

What made the campaign so powerful was exactly this juxtaposition of incongruities.

The campaign, I believe, was enormously successful. In today’s dreadful parlance it had great “cultural currency” and became part of “the conversation” (God forgive me.) I can almost hear Johnny Carson cracking wise about it.

The Victoria’s Secret ad, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing going for it. It is a generic ad, featuring a model --she’s probably some super-famous super-model I’ve never heard of -- in a coquettish pose that looks like a zillion other super-models in coquettish poses. The typography is virtually unreadable. And it lacks the one thing that differentiates an ad from a catalog page – that quaint old thing called a concept.

The Maidenform ad was unmistakable. The Victoria’s Secret ad is unrecognizable.

And that, my friend, is the difference between great advertising and advertising.

By the way...
... I learned something from this exercise. When I was growing up in NYC, there was a girl in our neighborhood we used to call "pencil tits." She looked like she had two pencils standing up in her sweater. I finally know how she got that look.

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