Monday, September 07, 2009

Mad Men Patio Ad:: Art v. Commerce v.2.0

Image:: Kelsey Sanders as "Ann-Margret" in Patio ad & Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie
I've done several posts about the use of music in advertising.  This week's episode of MadMen depicted an ad for Pepsi's diet soda, Patio, coöpt the opening scene from Bye Bye Birdie, which I've blogged about here {clip is available there}.

Before I go on, I think the coöpting of visuals for ads is different from inserting songs into commercials.  Taking something iconic, something that has resonated with an audience before, and projecting it onto another context to sell needs to be done with a deft hand.  In 1990, I wasn't a huge Van Halen fan, but I do remember the video for "Right Now," text-heavy and full of pithy deadpan statements that attempt to put Gen-X life into context::

It wasn't high art, but I think what resonated was a certain cleverness of early "anti-marketing marketing."  So, in 1992, our friend Pepsi used not just the song, but the video concept for its new Crystal Pepsi::

This blatant coöpting provided fertile ground for parody, which is exactly what SNL did with its "Crystal Gravy" spoof::

Did Pepsi {at the time, the Pepsi Generation & its youth marketing were working} cross a line? I think they did. Adapting the visual rhetoric of the ad, but not the underlying song, for the selling function did violence to its iconography. It's not just about being a Van Halen fan or not, it's about that subtle line between art and commerce and being "on code" with the message.

So, back to Mad Men. Sal becomes the director for the Pepsi Patio spot and he and his wife discuss what "not right," with their relationship, which foreshadows the ad he cut being "not right" for Pepsi or the Mad Men audience, beyond Peggy's quip a few episodes ago that it was "phony."

It took a while, but I was able to capture, edit, and render the ad::

Roger Sterling said it was off because it didn't have Ann-Margret. Blogs and articles have tried to speculate what's wrong, ranging from::
  1. Sal's direction was off because he doesn't quite have the "straight man's" gaze
  2. Peggy was right in that you need to sell a bona-fide woman's fantasy to women
  3. Sal's ad is a "pale imitation," lacking the "it" factor that's a theme in the show
  4. The lyrics sucked
Within a cultural context, some cultural products {art, books, film, even other ads, etc.} are transformed into myths. One could read these myths in terms of a visual rhetoric, subject to the boundaries of cultural logics à la Roland Barthes. Coöpting these cultural products can be viewed as a crass attempt to commercialize on an established mythology, an "original" referent, even though there may not be a legitimizing vetting of authenticity. What makes some "borrowings" OK and others not? What is the basis for legitimacy? When can advertisers steal? How are mash-ups, like the Vote Different video on YouTube against Hilary Clinton using Apple's 1984 ad, different from Pepsi using Van Halen?
Content and context matter.  The referent creates a doxa for "reading" the ad.  Subsequent usages of a visual icon may construct new mythologies, but ones that are congruent with that doxa.  So, when "ParkRidge47" coöpted Apple's 1984 ad symbolizing rebellion from a perceived "big brother" figure {IBM}, he tapped into those same themes in his anti-Hilary video.  It was "on-code."  

I'm not sure if the writers of Mad Men will explain their reasons for what was "off" about the ad.  In my mind, the concept was "off code" and the execution {the copy, blocking, choreography, etc.} wasn't fresh enough for the audience to overlook that.
Twitterversion:: On #MadMen {S03E04}, why did Sal's Patio ad for Pepsi fail? Does coöpting visual iconography do violence to it? Always? @Prof_K
Song:: Thick As Thieves - The Jam


Anonymous said...

They modeled the patio ad after the opening song from mad men. They should have used the reprise when Ann Margret is over Birdie and sings and acts like she's older and sexier. The 1st version portrays her as a little girl. You can see both versions on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

After this episode I had to watch "Bye Bye Birdie" and this song stuck in my head for days.
The remake is a total fail and the lyric really sucks.