A month ago a few paragraphs appeared here in praise of Howard Gossage, a 1960s’ San Francisco advertising man whose work anticipated our current concern with teasing the public into participating with brands.
The purpose was to furnish a Gossage retrospective, but also to call for nominations of work that is as ahead of its time — right now, in this pulsing digital moment — as Gossage’s work was in his. The appeal was baited by the offer of a cheap cotton sweatshirt.
The nominations are in. And so, as the silk-screen machine begins to transfer the impressive Gossage head to fabric, it’s a pleasure to present the first selection of the “Howard Gossage Subversives’ List.”
“Whopper Sacrifice,” Burger King: Let’s get the most obvious — and possibly most subversive — nominee out of the way. “Sacrifice” succeeds because it knows you have too many friends on Facebook who aren’t your friends. It doesn’t “use” social media, it destroys it. The superstructure of Facebook is friends; this effort explodes the story of cohesive, passionate community Facebook wants to tell. You’d never sell out a friend — but you’d trade a few random acquaintances for 670 calories of badly needed fat anytime.
Omnia unboxing video, Samsung: Unboxing videos are documentaries of our own abjectness, our slavish obedience to hype. Technically, they represent the longest minutes ever committed to videotape: the moronic monotone commentary uttered over the roaring white noise of a studio apartment. The Samsung video for the Omnia phone takes dead aim at the target. There’s the production conceit of unboxing with one hand (the other hand films) and the genius of the laconic voiceover, which betrays no surprise in seeing three-inch cheerleaders, a marching band and prancing horses emerge from the box through puffs of smoke and miniature fireworks.
The 15-Below Project, by Taxi, Toronto: In the current age of expiation, we’re going to see a lot more civic high-mindedness from our peers. (We’re busy creating new awards to congratulate ourselves for it.) Much of this work is interesting. Not much of it is useful. The 15-Below Project is immediately, urgently useful. To protect homeless people on the streets on the coldest nights, Taxi developed a give-away jacket — cheap, simple, foldable — designed to be insulated with newspapers. This is targeted, rhetoric-free problem solving. It avoids one-step-away fundraising and steers clear of politics.
Zuji beans, Zuji.com.au: The whole story is on the back of the can: “We think that everyone should take more holidays. That’s why we’re selling Zuji Beans for just 10 cents. It means you can save more and get away sooner…” Zuji.com, a travel company, created an everyday product and sold it cheap in stores devoted to selling beans, and only beans. In one week, they sold 10,000 cans of beans. Beans are to be followed by Zuji toothpaste (20 cents) and Zuji toilet paper (30 cents). The premise is simple enough to describe in 20 words. But the larger thought is lovely: travel is as much a staple of life as anything in your grocery cart. All parties here have done something Gossage-worthy, but here’s a shout-out to the client: Think of the objections any client could use to kill the idea, e.g., we don’t have the staff or we’re in the travel business not the baked bean business. The only thing that wouldn’t be said is the truth: “It’s too much work for me, it’s too much risk for me, and I’m scared.” The Zuji client appears to be good and brave and not afraid of a bit of work.
Modern Drunkard Magazine: It’s worth quoting the nominating e-mail: “I recommend Frank Kelly Rich, the publisher and editor of Modern Drunkard Magazine, for inclusion. … While he’s known (if he’s known at all) as the author of some of the finest and funniest pro-drinking prose ever scribbled on a cocktail napkin, he is also the copywriter for most of the magazine’s promotional material and the actual client ads that appear in each sporadically published issue. Visit Drunkard.com for examples of his work.” Who can resist? There, for instance, you’ll see the ads for “Modern Drunkard Gear” with the slogan “Say it loud, say it plowed.” You will find in Features the topical column, “Boozing Through Bad Times,” personal finance tips for the tippler. The conceit of the whole is to be wrong, and to carry the conceit farther than anyone else would think worth the trouble. Modern Drunkard is a retrograde entertainment. It’s pointless. It’s oblivious. It’s fun. It’s funny. And nothing is as subversive as laughter.
Steve Simpson is copywriter, cd and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. He can be reached at email@example.com.