Great Moments in Advertising
April 5, 2004
About 250 years ago, Josiah Wedwood invented the concept of the celebrity endorsement. A scant two and a half centuries later, his clever marketing strategy has reached its ominous and terrifying nadir. If I understand correctly, the worst idea in the entire history of advertising was recently unveiled: Bob Dylan selling lingerie. Bob Dylan and lacy underthings, together at last.
Let's pause for a moment to appreciate that image.
Now, I'm not a fan of Dylan, but I'm not his harshest critic either. I don't know a lot of his work, but crazy musical geniuses from Minnesota who change their names and tend to alienate their fans are generally okay with me. So I'm not biased against the man himself.
Nor do I have an issue with "selling out". I think it's a false concept to begin with, and certainly there's no harm in someone deciding to endorse a product for money after 40 years of never having done so. It's about time, I say. Go make some money.
But no, the problem here is his choice of product. The company he's endorsed has, I kid you not, a trademark on the phrase "very sexy". That is to say: Very Sexy™
The problem is, Bob Dylan is not very sexy, let alone Very Sexy™. He's not the least bit sexy. He's not even the opposite of sexy, like the late Strom Thurmond was. Bob Dylan lives in a world without sexy. It's a happy place, don't get me wrong, full of poetry and old hippies and the sort of people who still argue about things like acoustic-versus-electric. But friends, where there is Bob Dylan, there is no sexy.
Of course now I'll get email from people who've seen Dylan's son and think his son is sexy. And that clears up a big point for scientists; We have definitive proof that someone who occupies a vacuum of sexiness can help create a human who is arguably sexy. That's good to know, and it's not like Jane Goodall was going to be able to dig up that answer in a jungle in Gabon.
So this is all good news for those diehard Wallflowers fans, I suppose. But it's BAD NEWS FOR CAPITALISM. There is nowhere left to go now; The well of incredibly horrible advertising ideas is running dry.
I mean, you could wait until there's the inevitable "Running Man" show where execution becomes a reality TV series, and you could place ads for sneakers during the broadcast. But that would just be in bad taste, and bad taste's been done.
No, the worst thing you could do is have the people from Planet Unsexy come and start spreading their word to the rest of us. We'll not be able to look at a saucy merrywidow or a flirty pair of stockings without fearing their zombie invasion. The thong meme will stop spreading. Then, the earnest folk-rockers will come for the rest of us, whether we're frolicking in sliky underthings or not.
Unfortunately, the ad was created in-house by Limited Brands' own team, so I can't publicly shame an outside company for suggesting the idea and merely blame the retailer for giving approval. Indeed it becomes a bit clearer, with some research, that perhaps some inside the company were leery of unleashing this powerful force of anti-sexiness. You see, nearly every story about the unfortunate promotion mentions that the idea to draft Dylan came Limited Brands CEO Leslie Wexner himself. Nobody's that anxious to give their CEO credit for an idea unless it's a horrendously bad one.
Despite the potential misgivings of some people involved in the worst campaign in advertising history, somehow this travesty has been inflicted upon the world. It's a grim day for the advertising industry, my friends. And it's a grim day for sexy supermodels.
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