They came today to bury advertising but in the end, concluded that it’s actually alive and well.
JWT’s memorial service for the business—an atypical event on opening day of Advertising Week—had the makings of a somber affair: eulogists dressed in black, a casket, a gospel choir. But in an amusing case of bait and switch, eulogists and ironically, some dead ad legends like Bill Bernbach, asserted that reports of advertising’s death are, as Mark Twain would say, greatly exaggerated.
The legends, which also included David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson, appeared toward the end on a giant screen, as old headshots with moving mouths. Sort of a cross between Monty Python and an old Conan O’Brien sketch.
“Bernbach” interrupted JWT’s Ryan Kutscher mid-sentence, rejecting the notion that advertising was a goner and challenging Kutscher to open the casket, with a suggestion that nothing was inside. When that turned out to be true, the choir broke into a chorus of “Oh, happy day . . . It’s a new day,” complete with handclaps and tambourines.
Earlier, the choir delivered somber renditions of classic ad jingles, starting with Meow Mix’s “Meow” and including “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Weiner,” “I’m a Pepper,” “I Am Stuck on Band-Aid” and “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz.” The straight, heartfelt delivery of such kitschy lyrics generated the most laughs from the audience of about 250 at New York's Times Center. A close second, though, was Gerry Graf’s eulogy, which amounted to a screed about public hatred for TV and, of course, TV ads.
Speaking quickly and loudly, Graf, founder of Barton F. Graf 9000, laid out the case against the “boob tube” and the even dumber ads that appear on it. Mixed in, though, were key points about how ads pay for TV and that even when technology exists to zap ads, marketers of that technology use TV ads to sell it—a sly reference to this spot from the Disk Network, a Barton F. Graf 9000 account.
“We wanted TV dead because it was going to literally burn our eyes out of our skulls. If we sat too close our eyes were going to literally burn,” said Graf, pounding the lectern like a feverish politician on the campaign trail. “And TV said, ‘Jesus Christ, chill out. I’m just playing Love Boat and Charles in Charge, for God’s sake. Here, I’ll give you some PBS and Sesame Street if you just leave me the fuck alone, OK? Christ, shut up and watch Elmo and leave me be.’ And we said, ‘No, TV, boo TV, kill TV.' ”
“And TV said, ‘I’m fucking free. Isn’t that enough for you people? TV is free. All I ask you to do is watch a few seconds of a rabbit who wants some cereal,’ ” Graf continued. “But that’s not good enough for you, is it? No. You don’t want to watch TV commercials. Commercials suck. We hate TV commercials more than we hate TV. But all ads do is give you free stuff to watch. Free. Just watch Jamie Lee Curtis talk about yogurt that makes you take a dump and you can watch all the shows you want.”
Even so, the naysayers continued to rail against commercials, calling them stupid or evil, Graf charged. And if that didn’t work, they pilloried those who still watch TV as old and irrelevant in the Internet age. Then, convinced they had won, naysayers danced on the grave of television and its insipid commercials. Yet, Graf said in a suddenly quiet voice, they were wrong. And now they must face the consequences of a “pissed-off TV zombie” rising from the dead.
“And it’s not happy enough to just rot your brains and melt your eyes. The walking TV dead is going to eat your brains and your kidney and your intestines and the joke is on all of us,” Graf warned, now winding down.
Graf ended his manic soliloquy with a simple, “Thank you,” before exiting through a side door. After all, he had more ads to make back at his shop.