Editorial: Some lessons from Bob Hope

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It's not our intent to deflate the new experts in "branded entertainment" but much of it's been done. Bob Hope did it. His work for countless advertisers takes a back seat to Bob Hope the movie star, TV star, and wisecracking comic for a nation. Yet his Madison + Vine accomplishments are remarkable, too. So what's for marketers to learn from a vaudeville dancer from Cleveland? Plenty.

Have some courage. Bob Hope "edgy"? Yes, he was. Starting in 1938, he made radio's "The Pepsodent Show" ("This is Bob `Glad to be with Pepsodent' Hope") NBC's No. 1 hit. But he quickly got in trouble for his wisecracks about politics and national political figures, and his use of double-entendre about sex. NBC documents, part of a Hope history at the Library of Congress, showed network executives in 1942 plotted how to ditch the show "because nobody wants his stuff on the air." NBC went on to build-and prosper from-a 60-year relationship with Mr. Hope.

Look for the "likeable." Bob Hope had fun with commercial "intrusion," and his audiences welcomed it as part of his act.

Skill makes a big difference. A 1954 Ad Age story reported Mr. Hope had set "some sort of a record" for plugs in a TV telecast (13 product mentions in 45 minutes before the camera). The story added: "In due fairness to Mr. Hope and his writers ... most of the product mentions added to the sense of the script."

Pick an entertainment partner who understands business: his or hers-and yours. Mr. Hope combined a tremendous capacity for work on his career and commitment to his craft with being a very smart and successful businessperson is his own right.

That makes for partnership at Madison + Vine, not hit-or-miss. Then add a little commercial "artistry." Mr. Hope, we wrote in 1958, tossed product mentions into his routines "like vegetables into a ragout but [his] airy delivery made them sound like laugh-getters." That's how it ought to be.

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