Truth or Hair
What you are about to read is a memo from someone who is insane. It's a fax, actually. Spit from some overworked and diseased little machine that has undoubtedly injected similar venom into the nation's phone wires on occasions previous. This fax, a complaint about an advertisment, was sent to a client of ours, a little hotel in L.A.; one that caters to the entertainment industry. The ad featured a stock photo of some long-haired rock musicians above the headline, "Free shampoo." That's all. It was no big deal; it was just an ad.
Here is the fax the client received after the ad appeared in American Photographer:
"Attn President/manager/owner Sunset Marquis. Dear shithead: Are you people idiots? Are you fucking insane? Do not, I repeat, do not ever put your extremely stupid pathetic ads in this magazine again. You people are extremely stupid. Are you sleeping with these people? Are these friends of yours? Stay away from the powder. It makes your mind take a hike without you. Do you know how many hotels you sold with this ad? 35,000. Please remove yourself from this planet. You have not earned the right to live here or breathe the air on this planet. American Photo magazine made a mistake accepting your money. You people are idiots. Do not advertise in this magazine again. American Photo is also being sent a wake-up call. Stupid fucking idiots. Joe S., Dallas, Texas."
I cite this memo to make a point about something I call advertising by terrorism.
Many clients live in fear that one day they, too, will receive a fax like this. They worry that one of the ads they run will offend somebody, somewhere. And so they begin yanking commercials off the air after they get a couple of angry phone calls. Or telling their ad agencies to write everything in such a way that not a single person in a country of 250 million souls will find a scintilla of impropriety.
This is advertising by terrorism, pure and simple. The marketing plan to the many, overruled by the pious sensibilities of the few. It is a form of political correctness that is itself a politically correct word for fascism. Make no mistake about it. It's burning books, only we're burning them one adjective, one headline, and one script at a time.
Well, baloney, is what I say.
There is an old Yugoslavian proverb that goes, "Tell the truth and run." So, in the next ad you craft, say what you think is the right thing to say. Remember, your job is to sell the client's wares to as many people as you can. To appeal to the masses, not the minority. So tell the truth and run. And let the chronically offended pen their lugubrious letters. Let them whine. (It's been said that whining is simply anger coming through a very small hole.)
The trick will be to get your client to see what a quark-sized minority these Kleenex-dabbing career whiners are. The way I put it: "The letter flooded in." Hey, it's a letter, not Omaha Beach.
But to a client, that letter is too often seen as a red flag. And like the Blue Letter in "The Hudsucker Proxy," the mail-room boy will schlep it up to marketing, and marketing will schlep it into the CEO and, boom, it's on my desk at the agency with some account executive's Def-Con 5 message scrawled on a Post-It note: "Call me right after lunch at 3:30!!!!"
I say: B-F-D. The letter flooded in. Fine. Even if it's a hundred letters, big deal. Smart clients know they'll get angry letters just for hanging out their shingle. You build a factory, you get a letter. Sell a product, get a letter. I'll wager you could publish the cure for cancer in tomorrow's paper and by Friday you'll get a missive scribbled in crayon on the back of a Burger King place mat from someone snivelling,"Why didn't you cure AIDS first?"
Advise your client, run the ad. The world, amazingly, will not stop. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people who see the ad will somehow manage to get on with their lives. The other .1 percent will turn down the volume of "The Jerry Springer Show" and reach for the nearest #10 envelope. Fine. Let them mewl.
To do anything else, to soften the ad in advance, or to pull the ad once it's run, is to surrender your company's marketing to a consumer group you could fit in a phone booth; an angry clutch of stamp-licking busybodies with nothing better to do than peruse Redbook for imagined slights to their piety. Ask your client: do you want your company being run out of a church basement? Do you want to give every pursed-lipped, pen-wielding moral policeman with a spare roll of stamps free rein to sit on your board of directors and dictate marketing plans?
They are the minority, folks. The minority. The fraction with the 1 above the line and the really big number on the bottom. And this, my friends, is America. Where the Constitution says in so many big, fancy words: "Hey, Chuck! What the majority says, goes."
You don't like it? Then put on a furry hat and take a hike to Russia, my little postage-moisteners. Stand in line for your weekly ration of potato vodka. And if the comrade in front of you mumbles anything that diverges from your psyhco-sclerotic menu of right and wrong, drop a quarter on him. Call the Thought Police. Burn his books. And bayonet his dog.
But don't cheer too loudly when they take him away, Boris, because next time they'll be coming for you. And when your fascist tundra-of-a-country starts crumbling around your ears and splits into 15 little civil wars and 400 labor camps, don't come whining to me.
Get out your Fred Flinstone pad and dash off another one of those famous letters. Tell Yelstin that your dainty sensibilities take great offense at being compelled by armed cretins to pound rocks for four cents a decade. Stick a stamp on it, address it to your colon and put it as far up that tiny mail slot as you