Pep Boys briefly rides the low road

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Advertiser: Pep Boys
Agency: Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York
Ad Review rating: 3 stars

Let's go over this one more time: Just because it's amusing doesn't mean you should put it on the air.

This comes to mind in viewing the otherwise solid new TV campaign for Pep Boys from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York. The very first spot on the reel is about a guy's car getting stripped when he pulls off to the side of the road to run behind a tree and urinate.

OK, not a big deal. But when the Ad Review staff finished with that reel and plucked the next one from the day's mail, it showed a guy stepping out in front of a Mack truck and being so terrified that ... well, it was an ad for a Maryland mall that has "21 places to buy underwear."

Next we listened to the radio campaign Bozell created for the Weather Channel. The first spot was about a tennis player getting struck by lightning. All of this on the heels of that terribly witty commercial for Rally's hamburgers, which is full of double entendres about a gigantic penis.

So, in the space of a very short time, we got to think about: urination, defecation, genitals and death.

And this is the stuff people send to us unsolicited to demonstrate how clever they are. It is at times like this the staff regrets not being part of the advertising industry, because you must all be so very, very proud.

So proud that, with a whole universe of comic possibilities, you still have the imagination to come back time after time after time with sex, bodily functions and untimely demise. So proud that, having been given license by society, you feel so compelled to use it. So proud that you have the courage to produce advertising that you know will annoy, upset or disgust large numbers of people, because nobody can stop you.

We hate to harp on this, and no doubt many readers think we have turned into some nightmarish school marm. The truth is that some of this stuff strikes the staff as quite funny. But how funny it strikes us is immaterial. It is wrong to do commercials on these subjects because--for starters--it's rude.

Would anyone at Gray Kirk/VanSant, Baltimore, stand at a microphone in the middle of the Towson Town Center mall and tell strangers jokes about a guy who soiled his trousers?


Advertisers have the responsibility to consider the entire audience, not just the segment that just can't get enough bodily function gags. They also have the responsibility of considering the entire advertising environment, which increasingly is being despoiled by crude humor. And they have the responsibility to think of their own brands--as in, where is the benefit?

Even to the crudely inclined, these jokes aren't all that funny. They are, however, lazy and obvious and usually juvenile. Why let your agency take the cheap way out? The creative team may be telling you how courageous you are, but that's exactly wrong. Vulgarity in broadcast advertising is just cowardice, usually from those with neither the talent nor the heart to find a better solution.

At least up until now, that has never been the case at Cliff Freeman, where the trademark is hilarious advertising that builds brand personality while conveying a concrete brand message. And, viewed alone, the tree spot hardly ruins an otherwise sound campaign.

But none of this stuff is ever viewed alone, is it? And it's high time this industry resume exercising some restraint.

Copyright March 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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