MGD 64's Simple Poster Catches the Eye, Doesn't Let It Go

Central Message Is Simple, yet Ad Keeps Your Attention

By Published on .

You represent a client. There's a lot of money on the line. And prestige. And personal pride. Not to mention the agency trophy case. And your book. All of that has a way of focusing your thinking.

Whether your brand is a disposable diaper or a fabric softener or a state lottery or a savory food, you are going to lovingly (or at least obsessively) sweat over every detail of copy, layout, production, whatever. Whatever brand X is, you're going to have it on the brain. And so is the boss and the boss' boss and the suits and the CMO.

Title: The 64 Calorie Collection
Marketer: MGD 64
Agency: Y&R, Chicago
MGD 64 ad

The only full container is a bottle of MGD. But is that all?
And then the ad shows up somewhere in the real world, at which point the lavishing of attention comes to an abrupt halt. You may as well have stapled your senior thesis into People or Men's Health. Sorry, nobody cares.

Oh, sure, people will see it, but they're most likely to pass right by. It may register; it probably won't. No matter what medium you are working in, as far as the audience is concerned, your craftsmanship amounts to just so much spam.

That's why conventional wisdom dictates that you try to achieve instantaneous clarity of message. You only have the audience for a second; make it count. That's also why there is no print anymore -- just magazine-size outdoor. Simple image, simple headline, simple idea. Boom. Or, at least, boom.

There is, of course, a second option: to forsake that tiny bit of communications combustion and go for the big score, to craft an ad so intriguing, so involving, so ambiguous that you dare readers or passersby to stop flat-footed and try to take it completely in. About 20 years ago, Benson & Hedges and the late, lamented Wells, Rich, Greene did just that in a campaign of print ads depicting scenes of confounding significance. Something was happening among those characters, and it looked vaguely untoward, but just exactly how was impossible to say. This tactic pretty much defines Diesel ads as far back as we can remember.

And then there is the rare miracle: an ad that scans in an instant, delivering the message to all but the most militantly indifferent, but then keeps you looking because there appears to be more going on. It's a Kinder Egg, candy on the outside with a prize in the middle. It's the Zapruder film, after the president is shot. It's a swimsuit model conversant about Pushkin.

And it's a poster, from Y&R, Chicago, for MGD 64.

The central joke is simple. Sixteen alcoholic drinks are seen in four rows of four. But 15 of them -- from pomegranate martinis to lager to white wine -- are seen as glasses only fractionally filled. Not nearly empty, but Photoshopped to have jigsaw-shaped holes where the fluid should be. The only full container is a bottle of MGD.

The headline: "The 64 Calorie Collection."

Yes, if you're watching your calories, you can have a whole MGD 64 or a fragment of a martini. Got it.

But wait. There's more. We have no earthly idea whether this was intentional, but the weirdly fragmented images of the 15 other drinks look something like letters of the alphabet. Look, there's an L, there's a J... is that an F? So to see this poster is to stand there trying to figure out what the other message is. L-Y-E-... wait, I-Y-F.... um...

After a while, it becomes obvious that, no, there is no code, no secret message, no sneaky dis of lard-assed pomegranate-martini drinkers. But the time invested in deciphering the undecipherable does spell one thing. For Sonya Grewal and Todd Taber, the creative team who did the aforementioned sweating, it spells success.

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