“The more I think and write about Mad Men, the more I take the show as a personal insult,” wrote George Lois, ad industry legend and original Mad Man (although he never wore a fedora) in a recent Playboy essay. The vaunted designer of many famous Esquire covers, Lois has never had trouble expressing himself directly, which is one of his charms. The essay continues: “So f*ck you, Mad Men, you phony gray-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, WASP, white-shirted, racist, anti-Semitic Republican SOBs!”
But among other good things that have resulted from the wild popularity of Matt Weiner’s AMC series that just completed its fourth season is the documentary film Art & Copy. A reexamination of the golden age of advertising featuring many of the original icons (and produced by The One Club), it’s now a popular rental — and it’s also been shown widely on college campuses. As such, A&C has reintroduced Lois to a new generation of students. Much of his work still resonates (“I want my MTV,” for instance), as does the man’s very contemporary propensity to peel off the F bombs.
Lois says that as a result of his (jump-off-the-screen) appearance in that film, several clients have approached him about handling their business. One was Dr. Stephen Kurtin, a California inventor who’d been working on a pair of self-adjusting glasses for more than 20 years. (They have a slider on the bridge that allows the wearer to adjust them manually in a way that mimics the lens of the human eyeball and changes focus.) As their eyesight worsens, oldsters know that they sometimes need up to three different kinds of glasses for reading, driving, computer work, etc. — bifocals, trifocals and progressives.
Kurtin had named his product Trufocals and was already selling them on a Web site. The first thing Lois did was change the dull-ish name to Superfocus, then design the logo with the block lettering of a Superman cartoon (which also suggests Supe’s beyond-human X-ray vision.) The logo comes flying through a hoop, or one of the large O-shaped lenses, or like the forward motion of light through the human eyeball.
As with the revved-up logo, the work is characteristic George Lois. If you got it, flaunt it.
The only thing better than having a good line, and a celebrity, is having many celebrities repeat the same line while the musical theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (actually Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss) plays in the background.
Watching the spots, it’s the shock of the old. Gray hair and jowls and turkey necks, oh my! But while the change of lighting is a bit stilted and the whole idea straddles the cheesy, it’s actually great — we don’t see lots of people this age speaking honestly about their glasses. Men this age are usually seen in ads for Viagra, and women tend to be shown canoeing in ads for incontinence or bone loss.
It’s good to see these incredibly accomplished people unapologetically face the camera, and say it loud and proud: “Now I see the world in Superfocus!”
The glasses do look a bit dorky, more Milhouse on The Simpsons than Harry Potter. They are perfect for famed architect Richard Meier. They also happen to look great on Rita Moreno. Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison is a nice choice — with her shaved head and the glasses, she truly looks like a woman from the future.
The problem with Joel Gray is that they are exactly the kind of arty, oldster glasses the tiny, wiry performer would typically be sporting. The best line comes from the 55-year-old baby of the group, magician and comedian Penn Jillette: “Whenever I hear those iconic words, ‘Oh say can you see?’ I say, ‘Not that good!'”
Ironically, while advertisers continue to kill themselves to speak to teenage boys, and most agency people think old people should just shrivel up and die, the 60-plusers might be the last demographic with money.
This is a mighty combo: an innovative product backed by a maniacally confident campaign. Take that, Don Draper!