How to win at advertising

Duluth Trading Company

When the TV pitchman screams “Gold, Gold, Gold!” advertising a pawn shop, I press mute. When a hideous life-size bedbug appears onscreen promoting the services of a pest-control company, I change the channel.

Why oh why are so many television commercials offensive?

Why don’t advertisers create more fun spots, like the health insurance company’s “dancing man” that aired a few years ago?

While seated in a doctor’s waiting room, this very ordinary-looking guy gets up and starts dancing slinky, “get down” style, his eyes closed as though sirened by the piped-in music. There he is, chunky, yet graceful, boogying all by himself across the waiting room floor. An older patient views him quizzically, while the office receptionist — wearing Minnesota winter attire of long-sleeved Cuddle Duds under a short sleeved uniform — snaps her fingers and smiles.

I found this commercial so funny that, ironically, I didn’t catch which insurance company sponsored it.

Another priceless gem featured a regal black cat riding in the back seat of a shiny late-model sedan. The window is open, and a dog on the street is barking and leaping at the car. Cat glances at Dog with disdain, closes window, leaving frustrated Dog going ballistic as car glides away.

Again, I don’t know what make of car was being advertised.

Maybe that’s the answer: These commercials are so clever in and of themselves, you miss the advertiser.

Meanwhile, I can’t get enough of print advertising. I read every catalog that hits my mailbox. There’s something about brightly colored cover artwork that draws me in. I especially like the versatile Mills Fleet Farm photos of candies and nuts — even those of chainsaws and ice houses.

A clothing favorite is Duluth Trading Company. Their wacky sketches of men’s underwear and outrageous descriptions of same are pure entertainment — poking fun at the product.

By contrast, a catalog ad that I saved from the 1940s of the then-popular Lifebuoy Soap explains very seriously (using four paragraphs of text, a diagram of the human body and several photos): “Science now tells you what causes Nervous B.O. (nervous body odor) and no one is free from the workings of his nerves.”

Really! It was the times!

But as for television, I well remember the singular Reserve Mining commercial from the 1950s for the Saturday night late show. Back in those early black-and-white days, a full-length vintage movie from the 1940s aired at 11 p.m., uninterrupted. The sponsor’s message came prior to the movie as a five-minute infomercial. It was delivered by a stern, serious-looking man who covered every aspect of the mining industry in North America!

Brilliant! Bring it back!

Speaking of infomercials: Brace yourself for a slew of them this month, just in time for Christmas shopping. The versatile K-Tel Veg-O-Matic and Ronco Pocket Fisherman are but a memory. But Chia Pet — for the gardener on your list — is still out there! The Clapper, too!

Happy shopping, dear readers, and Merry Christmas!

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].