Classic Ad Review: For all Gibson's mistakes, you can't blame its advertising

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Gibson, the storied American guitar-maker, could be headed for Chapter 11. Some $500 million in debt, according to multiple reports, the company has been hit with a double punch: an unsuccessful diversification effort by Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, who wanted to turn Gibson into a "lifestyle" brand, and the realities of the marketplace.

While the rock gods who played Gibsons include heavenly axemen like Eric Clapton, Dickey Betts, Jimmy Page and B.B. King, these days a kid with a Mac can pretty much synthesize and sample anything without an instrument. But for all the mistakes that Gibson has made, you can't blame its advertising.

Credit: Gibson

A quick tour of its greatest print ad hits from the 1960s and 1970s shows a venerated brand, now over a century old, in touch with the culture and musical talent. A vibrant trippy-looking ad from 1967 features a psychedelic fish playing a Gibson Epiphone Riviera.

The headline could have been "Are You Experienced" since the ad made its debut around the same time as the Jimi Hendrix album, but the words, meant to reduce the stigma of a less expensive model, were more direct: "Is there something fishy about Epiphone guitars?"

A black-and-white ad from 1973 features a smart, timeless design and message. It's a photo of B.B. King, a beautiful white shirt cuff peeking out of his jacket, playing his signature Gibson B.B. King Lucille. The personal and emotional is enhanced by the use of King's own handwriting: "You see Lucille is like a part of me. She's a Gibson, brother."

Credit: Gibson

Certainly, a mystique still surrounds Gibson guitars, both acoustic and electric. Maybe the answer is to go back to core competencies—and then the ads just write themselves, brother.

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