Friday, May 24, 2013

More Misadventures in Marketing: Now that You Unmention It…

Acting advertising creative director Mr. X was having a mid-afternoon creative session with his newly-hired American expatriate copywriter (who just happens to be the “Ginger-haired Man” mentioned in a previous blog entry). They are working on a pitch for a television advertisement to promote a line of male undergarments that have a European style but are fashioned to suit the more petite Asian male body type. The assignment was vexing enough — given the advertising restrictions in the select Asian countries the client wanted to target — without the client also wanting the duo to create a catchy jingle to help make the ad more memorable. (This was at a time before jingles started their slow decline in popularity in favor of synchronisation – at least in that part of the world.)

Now, creating jingles was not as easy as it may appear, as both the Ginger-haired Man and myse— Mr. X, I mean… would continue to attest. However, this jingle was a very rare exception, though Mr. X would attribute that more to dumb luck and quick-thinking diplomacy than creative skill. Well, okay, there was some creative skill involved, but not intentionally.

(I am getting ahead of myself [or is Mr. X getting ahead of… oh, nevermind].)

The duo’s discussion of the product benefits outlined in the advertising creative brief prompted the Ginger-haired Man to share with Mr. X his past attempts to purchase an intimate gift for her Malaysian-born wife in an American Victoria’s Secret. After several returns and repurchases and a final return, the Ginger-haired Man discovered that he could not find any lingerie that would fit his shapely spouse properly, and thus comfortably. He later learned that buying “unmentionables” for his wife was completely out of the question since the only underclothes in the U.S. that provided the best fit for her are those in American teenage girl sizes.

“So her underpants were loose,” Mr. X summarized cheekily.

The Ginger-haired Man smiled, eyes sparkling with inspiration that at the time had nothing to do with the pitch, as he repeated Mr. X’s statement to the tune of “the Thundercats are loose.” This quickly led to a mutual impromptu rewrite of the entire 1980s “Thundercats” cartoon theme:

The Underpants are on the move,
The Underpants are loose!
Elastic band’s not holding tight,
The Underpants are loose!
Under, under, under, Underpants!
Under, under, under, Underpants!

As immature as it was, the duo couldn’t help glowing with pride at their comical creation — and they sang the song again with added fervor.

“That is a really catchy tune,” began a voice from the open doorway. Unbeknownst to the creative duo, the owner of the undergarment company was visiting the ad agency, and the account director had chosen that moment to introduce him to the “creative geniuses” that were handling the advertisement pitch. “However,” the voice, now icy, continued, “I believe that jingle does not describe our products, only the opposite.”

The creative duo looked up at the new arrival in astonishment, and saw the unpleasant glint in the elder eyes that were fixed intently upon them. The owner of the undergarment company folded his arms, clearing awaiting an explanation.

Mr. X shifted uncomfortably in his seat while a thought flashed through the Ginger-haired Man’s mind. The American took a deep breath, choosing his words carefully as he responded in a respectful, scholarly manner (which Mr. X would later refer to as the man’s “professor voice”). “You are correct, sir. We were considering using the ‘Brand-X’ concept whereby we would feature a man who was not using your product and being noticeably uncomfortable as he tries to go through his daily routine. Then he would run into his business colleague, who is wearing your brand of undergarment and appears more comfortable and confident. The voice over would then tell the first man what he should be wearing.”

The elder eyes narrowed. “So the jingle is about what happens when you don’t use our product?”

“Exactly,” the Ginger-haired Man said. “We understand that it is pretty radi… uh, different, than what jingles usually do, but that is just one of the concepts we were considering for…”

“No,” the elder man interrupted, his voice softening a little. “Let’s use this idea, and this jingle. Please repeat it again.”

And that was how the Thundercats helped save the duo’s ad business (at least that day). Of course, legally they couldn’t use the exact tune, or even those jokily reworded lyrics. They were essentially changed to: “Your underpants are moving down; your underpants are loose…” translated into Mandarin and Korean. It was sung by children’s choirs in a very taunting manner toward the “Brand X” gentleman, a brilliant talent with uncanny physical comedy prowess that would rival that of Dick Van Dyke or Rowan Atkinson (I believe someone in the agency made a very accurate assessment of him as a “Korean Mr. Bean”).

Of course, it was a challenge trying to meet the advertising regulations of various Asian regions with a single version of the advertisement (for example, some places forbade the ad from showing the actual product [even in the package]). Further, other restrictions regarding the time of day and airing frequency for such a “taboo” ad also worked against our intrepid advertisers. Despite this, business was booming enough for the company that dealt with “unmentionables” to be something to talk about.