Driving Excitement

Ididn’t know how to celebrate Advertising Week, so I had to use borrowed interest from the Christmas brand.

I snuck onto the golf course across the street, cut down a big palm tree, dragged it home, put it up in my living room next to the flashing Tiki Lounge lights, and hung a Coke can, a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box, a 50-SPF tube of Coppertone sunscreen and a California raisin from the branches.

At the top, where a Yule angel would normally go, I gently placed an Aflac duck.

Then my son, the cat and I sat around the Ad Tree, drinking hot toddies and singing jingles while we waited for jolly old Oprah Claus to slide down the chimney with a Pontiac.

I conjoin last week’s General Motors boob-tube brand integration coup with this week’s industry icon-fest for good reason: As Omar Sharif said to Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia, “They are master and man.”

When Winfrey gave each of 276 auto-needy audience members a Pontiac G6 sports sedan, she provided the perfect corollary to the five-day inaugural celebration in Manhattan. By all means, let’s adulate the icons. But let us also, as Rishad Tobaccowala so ably argues on page 20, give due to the new touchstones of modern advertising. And, brothers and sisters, a more perfect example than Pontiac’s date with product-placement destiny you will not find.

Because this thing was brilliant. We’ve heard some naysayers (not the majority) say it was nothing more than a gimmick, that it wasn’t worth $7 million, that it’s no substitute for strong brand imagery and smart advertising and yada yada.

The hell it isn’t.

How can one not give props to an idea so smartly attuned to the zeitgeist that it prompts Jon Stewart to show the footage and then say, “What’s really sad is that I have never been able to bring a woman to that level of excitement—and don’t think I haven’t given away a car or two.”

There are 276 drivers out there right now who will be GM loyalists for life. Pontiac tells us there’s anecdotal evidence of people coming in to dealerships to look at the G6 because of the Oprah show, but they have only a few hundred on the ground right now, so some “ups,” as they say in carspeak, ended up driving out with Grand Prixs instead.

Oh yeah, hundreds of thousands of hits on the Web site as well, in only a couple days.

And this gift under the Ad Tree will keep on giving: Oprah plans to follow up with programs about some of the women who got the cars, many of whom were lower-income, and talk to them about how the event changed their lives financially.

Let’s see: Create brand loyalty. Generate leads and goodwill. Create a halo effect that helps other products in the line. And provide continuity of message. Sure smells like advertising to me. Advertising the way it’s going to be, not the way it was.

You can’t ghettoize brand integration any more than you could ghettoize TV spots 50 years ago, is what I’m saying. The Force is too strong. Integration is integral to the industry’s present and essential to its future, not just a fun way to hype your smart thinking in a pitch.

Big ideas today come in (relatively) small packages. Web films. Men in chicken suits. One publicity stunt on a talk show. This is why clients’ agency rosters, once so neat, tidy and (fairly) durable, now all look like rugby scrums. And why shops are constantly summoned to places like Oak Brook, Ill., and Atlanta to be peppered with requests for stuff nobody ever thought of before.

Hey, I love Tony the Tiger. I even like that little Coppertone kid. But put them in a red G6 and have Oprah drive them down Broadway, and let’s really celebrate the business.