An American In Advertising…

Yes, yes, I just spoofed the old Gene Kelly classic, “An American in Paris.”  But so did Toyota when it took the song “I’ve Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin (also featured in “An American in Paris”) and asked the car buying market, “Who could ask for anything more?”  To ad folks, nothing is sacred, and although Luke Sullivan does warn against potty humor, it didn’t stop Clorox from filling our television screens with toilets, did it?

Every day, I get up, take my levothyroxine, and sit down with my glass of apple juice and peruse the news of the day.  Every morning it’s a trip to CNN.com to hit the breaking news. From Atlanta, I go north to the New York Times, stopping at The Wall Street Journal, then round it out with a quick jaunt to the L.A. Times.

I do a trip around the globe via the internet every day because I have two classes that demand it.  First off, you can’t study globalization and get a broader view of Global Media without looking at the news.  Today, I rolled my eyes at the take-over of NBC Universal by Comcast.  I know many a Comcast subscriber who has to fight tooth and nail to have internet service because it cuts out like crazy, so on Facebook I linked the article and dared to ask my friends, “Does this mean that NBC Universal will now have service interruptions in their TV shows and movies too?”  Yes, my humor is bizarre, but you really do have to laugh at that one because it’s just so darned obvious.  

Then after my dismay at imagining a crappy internet service provider taking over more entertainment media, I saw a link to a story that we had discussed in Global Media on Wednesday, The Tiger Mother. The article I found was entitled, “Larry Summers vs. the Tiger Mom,” in which Larry Summers (the former Treasury secretary) went nose to nose with Amy Chua, who just happens to be the terrorist known as the Tiger Mom.  Yes, you may agree with how she rears children, but I’d prefer to punch her in the mouth. What is up with not giving your child food or water until they get the song they’re practicing on the piano right?  That’s not parenting, that’s cruelty, especially when those two girls have been forced to become high performers through torture.  I’m sorry, but if you put a child on a bed of hot coals, they’re going to dance because they’re in pain.  If you have a tyrannical parent, you perform for the sake of avoiding punishment, not because you enjoy it, but because you don’t want to be in pain.  When you’re raised like that, there’s a beyond good chance that your mind will become wrapped up in a constant, unhealthy and demeaning cascade of performance anxieties.  Oh yes, Tiger Mama is raising two mentally healthy children…riiiiiiiiight.

My dislike for Tiger Mama aside, the article on WSJ.com made me think when I read this:

“Some ethnic immigrant groups clearly perform better in certain academic and professional fields than others—why, for example, should more than 50% of Berkeley’s computer-science students be Asian-born?”


It made me ask the question of myself, “If I wasn’t American, would I be going into advertising?”  Odds are, probably not.

Consider this for a moment.  I, like many of you, was raised in the ’70’s and ’80’s, land of “Monday Night Football” to which my Dad and his Pearl Light beer were riveted to every Monday night, “M*A*S*H*” on Tuesdays, “Dallas” and “Dynasty” on Wednesdays, “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” on Saturday nights, yeah, the TV week was filled to the brim with great shows, plus the ABC Sunday Night Movie on Sundays.  Heck, I even remember Morgan Freeman on “The Electric Company.”  My point is, I was raised on the most American of institutions, television.  By the time 1983 had rolled along, there was MTV just waiting to welcome me to Generation X.  And EVERYWHERE were ads.

Ah yes, the great advertising of Generation X.  Michael Jackson’s hair being accidentally set aflame on the set of a Pepsi commercial, in which the King of Pop sold soda pop through accidental immolation on every 10 p.m. newscast plus repetitive screening on it’s target market, the young viewers of MTV.  Could that have been the first viral video?  Quite possibly.

Who can forget the Budweiser Clydesdales (who are still my Mother’s favorite during the holidays)?  The Pabst Blue-Ribbon Bull running through a wall?  E.F. Hutton talking and people listening? What about “Coke is it.” or “The Real Thing.” from Coca-Cola?  What about the old jingle from the Lite-Brite commercials? Or how about the age old classic, “Connect Four?”

Milton Bradley made millions during the ’70’s and ’80’s.  Remember the Charlie’s Angel’s Board Game?

Ah yes, Nan and I had that one…and everyone wanted to be Farrah Fawcett with the hair-do.  I remember a friend of ours, Buddy, with that darned Farrah Fawcett poster on his wall.  But, sufficed to say, between Bozo the Clown and the Mickey Mouse Club in the morning, then after school for Sesame Street and the Electric Company in the afternoons, followed quickly in the ‘tweens by The Transformers and other merchandise selling cartoons, then on to the evening shows where we were extolled the virtues of “Gee your hair smells terrific” and “And I told two friends, and they told two friends, and they told two friends” of VO5 shampoo and hot oil treatments between views of the perfectly coiffed and made up Joan Collins and Linda Evans on Dynasty, I was bombarded with ads.

Now, as the old story goes in our house, I would run around like crazy during the actual TV shows.  They couldn’t get me to sit down for all the tea in China.  BUT as soon as the commercials would come on, my parents had a well-behaved child.  According to my parents and Nan, (in which Nan can go ahead and laugh because she witnessed it first hand), I would literally sit in front of the television and sing along (word for word) with the ads and I would recite them perfectly with the same inflections.  I was, at the wee age of four, a student of advertising.  Instead of your average normal person who gets up during the ads to go to the bathroom and get a drink, I would do the opposite.  I’d get my drink and go to the bathroom during the shows so I could see the ads.  I’m so backwards it hurts.

Let’s get to the point though.  Sweden does not allow any sort of marketing towards children, they actually have laws on the books that prohibit companies from using children as a target audience.  Now, if I would have grown up there, do you think I’d be so gung-ho about having a career where everyone goes out of their way to AVOID my work like the plague?  Probably not.  I’d probably be some sort of engineer trying to come up with the latest IKEA sofa design or be something far removed from an ad-crazed American.

Think about advertising all over the world.  It’s rather thin and flimsy when you look at the ’70’s and ’80’s.  But as the American economy grew and globalization took root, what happened?  The ads started getting better, hence Helmut Krone, Bill Bernbach and my beloved “Lemon” that revolutionized a German car company’s ads.  Now, a VW ad is always something we stop and look at, besides, it doesn’t matter what language it is in or what country you just happen to be standing in, when you see a VW ad, you know it.  McDonalds are now all over the world.  (It was wonderful safety food in London in 1985, lemme tell ya.  We saw those golden arches and booked it.)  The Hard Rock Cafe in London was also a nice bit of Americana during our tour of Europe as well, but besides the amazing amount of cars driving around on our streets, where is the international flavor in American advertising?  There isn’t.  Come on, think about it.  We don’t view Toyota as a Japanese car maker, we just remember we can drive them into the ground and put 200,000 miles on them before they show signs of wear.  We don’t remember that Sony and Nintendo are Asian companies either, we don’t feel the slightest bit of their culture when we buy their products; but Sony flat-screen televisions, Playstations and Wii’s roll off the shelves in droves.

This brings me back to my original point.  If I wasn’t American, would I be so fascinated with advertising?  Is it the reason I’m so centric on trying to hit a target audience instead of creating a product or being an innovator or inventor of a new technology?  It’s a tough question and it really hits home when you think of all of the foreign products we buy (oh and if you think you don’t, what do you think you just picked up at your local Wal-Mart?  Look closely, it says, “Made in China.”  It becomes ironic when you consider that we buy their goods but know next to nothing about them as a people).

And some doodah like me is going to probably end up at some multi-national ad house trying to market goods to foreign markets…oh yeah, I’m really going to go over like a rock on that one.

So, ok, I’ve stretched all of our brains enough today.  I’ve chastised us for being so self-centered but I’ve brought up an interesting point…so question to all of you…if you weren’t American, what would you be doing with your life?  For those of you in other countries, if you didn’t live where you live now, how would your life be different?  What job do you think you would have had, had you not grown up where you did?

Interesting, huh?

But, it all goes back to the simplest facts.  I’m an American aspiring to be in Advertising.  (Like this is some sort of shock…)

So, for your dose of music for the day, I give you a clip from “An American In Paris,” Gene Kelly speaking French to some school kids…but please, while you’re listening, try to not think about the Toyota ad…and remember, back then, if you went to a foreign country, you had to speak THEIR language.  Who could ask for anything more?

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