IT'S NEW!! IT'S IMPROVED!! AND THIS TIME AD WORKS

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Measles and platform shoes are back on the rise. The Federal Reserve is in a panic about inflation. Michael Milken, the biggest thief in history, has returned to the scene, recast, Nixonlike, as a prostatesman. Any number of scourges of the past, long thought to be safely behind us, threaten to return with a vengeance.

And now add to the list two old soap-selling standbys: the user testimonial and the "new and improved" claim. As much as anything, they epitomized the bad old days of 1960s-and-'70s package-goods advertising, when puffery and overstatement pulled down big Burke scores and also the industry's esteem in the eyes of the consumer.

But, like tuberculosis and bellbottoms, they were never completely eradicated. Thanks to Procter & Gamble Co. and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, the business of product restaging has drawn on the formulaic past.

Fortunately, in the first of three testimonial spots for Tide detergent, the formula itself is new and improved.

"Our customers really expect our clothes to last longer than anyone else's," says a clear-eyed woman identified by the voice-over announcer as Jennie Gwilym, VP at L.L. Bean, discussing "a better way to clean your clothes."

"We've got people in the outdoors, getting dirty, and hiking, camping, fishing," Gwilym testifies, over glancing lifestyle shots of rugged Bean clothing being worn by rugged Bean customers in rugged Bean venues filled with logs and mud and other messy nature.

"Clothes look old from washing, not just wearing," she continues, brandishing a faded-looking Bean shirt. "Look at this shirt. Really, there's nothing wrong with the garment. It just looks older than it should. We did extensive testing and what we found is that new Tide really kept the clothes looking newer longer."

This is a P&G spot, after all, so Saatchi doesn't rely only on testimonial and lifestyle sells. Here it hedges (Oops. Sorry, Mr. Artzt. Didn't mean it that way.) with a demo sequence, displaying the faded shirt next to an identical one washed in Tide. "This new garment looks old after 30 washings," says the voice-over, "but new Tide cleans better than ever, with less fuzzing and fading. So clothes keep that new look longer."

Etc., etc., etc. Blah, blah, blah. You get the point. And if you reason, as most viewers will-notwithstanding any cross-marketing agreement between the retailer and P&G-that Bean wouldn't risk its good name unless this carezyme detergent technology were real, you've got to think the point is legitimate. Unlike previous soapbox hyperbole, this "new Tide" claim has the ring of truth, because L.L. Bean is not just a well-respected name from which to borrow interest, but an endorser with a credible stake in the claimed improvement.

Certainly this would be no time to return to the bad old days. With archrival Unilever already rolling out a manganese detergent additive in Europe with reportedly astonishing stain-removing efficacy, P&G's carezyme (used in Cheer brand for the past year) had better produce noticeable results.

Though it's not easy to tell. The only unbelievable aspect of the spot is that the derivative (Oops. Did it again.) cinematic style, in addition to be annoyingly unfixed on its subjects, itself seems a bit washed out. Maybe it's the lighting, maybe the muted clothing colors.

In any event, it's none too bright.

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