Old Horse, New Stripes

M ike and Eddie Moskovitz had a small business in a strip mall on South Euclid in Cleveland. Mike was the brains; Eddie, the slow one.

The place made money like Eddie ate potato knishes, which trust me, was considerable. The brothers, you probably have guessed, were Orthodox.

On one side of their store was a kosher candy shop. On the other was a pizza place. The fabulously successful Moskovitz store?

It sold adult videos.

The point? Doing something unexpected in a familiar place is more effective than doing something completely new. I’ve never seen a purple horse, but I’d sure stop and stare if I did. That’s a novel twist on a traditional beast of burden. But creating a new kind of horse? That’s just an ass.

This is one of the least acknowledged but most powerful persuasive forces in nature, but hardly anybody seems to acknowledge it. Those that do, though, enjoy Moskovitz-sized success.

The technique works in the herd, it works in strip malls in Cleveland, and it sure as hell works in advertising.

For proof, look no further than Miami, where Crispin Porter + Bogusky has won attention, fame and the right to act as proud of themselves as TBWA\Chiat\Day does (on both coasts, now) for inventive new twists on old tricks.

But the industry’s oft-declared adoration of CP+B’s genius in using media isn’t about inventing something new, but doing something old deliciously differently. I mean, its mix for Mini has included supermarket tabloids (mutant bat boy in Mini), Playboy (back cover wrap rips off to create “convertible” Mini) and Auto Trader (“counterfeit” Minis for sale). And in Tokyo a couple years ago, TBWA\C\D scored big time with real soccer players hanging from billboards kicking around a real ball. (In fact, TBWA\C\D’s use of the force goes back 20 years to when it painted track stars on buildings lining the 1984 Olympics marathon route.)

Even that damned Internet chicken is a riff on one of the earliest uses of the Web—make things do stupid stuff. Back in the dot-com era, my son and I—both approximately at the same level of maturation—spent hours on a site where you could make celebrities you didn’t like blow up. Okay, the chicken just wags its finger when you ask it to do something, um, untoward, but it’s the same principal, just used in a fun new way.

Let’s face it, anything that sticks these days has to do two things: get our attention, and keep us intrigued. What better way than something old to hook us in, something new to keep us there? After all, what’s a tie but a scarf tied up all weird? Suits haven’t changed much in a couple centuries. Skirts are skirts, they just go up and down, endlessly. (I like the up periods better.) George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have become icons by essentially making Saturday matinee serials, only with gazillion-dollar budgets. Quentin Tarantino is a classic film noir director, only with a lot more cursing.

There’s a reason the AFLAC duck was named one of the most popular ad characters of all time at Ad Week (the event, not the spellbinding newsweekly of the same name), and it isn’t Gilbert Gottfried’s voice.

Forget about breakthrough, edgy, out- of-the-box and all that disruption nonsense. Just take an old, comfortable idea or image, and give it a little something extra.

Eddie and Mike would be so proud.