Thomasville Furniture Casts Bogart for New Line

Thomasville Furniture is banking on Humphrey Bogart’s timeless appeal in a campaign from McCarthy Mambro Bertino that introduces the furniture chain’s Bogart Collection.

A 30-second TV spot that breaks today envisions a fashionable party in the 1940s. As a woman descends a staircase, a voiceover says, “Style: Between Bel Air and Beverly Hills, you could feel it everywhere, for this was the era of glamor, elegance and romance. An era personified by one man—Humphrey Bogart.”

A Bogart look-alike moves through the crowd. The voiceover concludes that the collection was “designed with the style and elegance of one of Hollywood’s most romantic legends.”

The execution ends with shots of the new collection as flashbulbs pop. No footage of Bogart is used, though his photo appears at the spot’s close and in print ads. He died in 1957.

“The thing he was able to do was become a living icon for the ’40s and ’50s. … Style and elegance were what those decades were about, and those are nice things to bring to a furniture collection,” said Mitch Scott, vp of advertising and brand licensing at the Thomasville, N.C.-based client.

Campaigns evoking the memory of dead celebrities are neither rare nor risk-free. Footage from John Wayne films has been used for Coors spots, and Fred Astaire danced with a vacuum cleaner for Dirt Devil.

“Dead classics never age or change, and they never get arrested for drugs, shoot their wives or star in a flop movie,” said Sue Parenio, associate professor of advertising at Boston University. “They always enjoy the exact same relationship to the brand.”

On the downside, spots featuring deceased celebrities have been criticized by some as craven exploitation of the dead. The criticism went further in 2001 when Havas’ Arnold used doctored footage of Martin Luther King Jr. for telecommunications giant Alcatel. Critics such as Julian Bond, then NAACP chairman, accused Alcatel of cheapening King’s memory.

MMB and Thomasville execs took great care to deflect criticism by focusing more on Bogart’s era than the man himself, said president and co-cd Fred Bertino. “Our approach was to focus on the romantic, glamorous part of the Bogart mystique,” he said.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Ralph Nader’s Commercial Alert, said using Bogart is not the same as evoking King. Even so, reviving dead celebs in ads “is part of how advertisers are trying to lay claim to everything to hawk products,” he said.

Bogart’s son Stephen Bogart endorses the Thomasville campaign, and approached the company a few years ago about using his father’s name after seeing the furniture maker’s Hemingway Collection, Scott said.

Ads retain the tagline, “Where style lives.” Print, which shows Bogart golfing and lounging by a pool, is running in magazines that include Vanity Fair, Oprah and Real Simple. TV will air on network morning shows and cable.

Thomasville spent an estimated $20 million on ads in 2001 and $25 million from January to October 2002, according to CMR.