Not Just For Cattle Anymore
by Mad Dog
decided that if you recognize a name you’ll buy anything to which
it’s attached. That’s why you can fill your shopping cart with
Smucker’s jelly beans, Pez-flavored popcorn, and soon, Starkist
mouthwash in both chunk light and solid Albacore.
decade needs a raison d’etre, or a reason to be. Or to be more
exact, a reason to have been. The ‘50s were the Fonzie years, the
‘60s the Age of Aquarius, the ‘70s were the Years We Remember Fondly
But Can’t Figure Out Why, and the ‘80s were among the most famous,
the Me Decade. The ‘90s turned out to be the 15 Minutes of Fame
years and now, even though it’s early, the ‘00s are showing signs of
going down in history as the Branding Years. And that’s not a
reference to the burgeoning sado-masochistic movement.
Branding, for those who slept through Business
Buzz Words 101, is the idea that if you have a name—and who
doesn’t?—it’s important to make sure everyone knows it. It’s not
important that they know what you do, what you make, why they should
care, or whether you’re about to join K-Mart and Enron in bankruptcy,
just so long as they recognize the name. It’s the modern corollary to
the old saying, “Any publicity is good publicity.” Of course Arthur
Anderson, Osama bin Laden, and Cardinal Bernard Law might argue the
truth of that adage.
Branding is why Coca Cola, which has the most
recognized product name in the world, can cash in by putting out Diet
Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke, and Vanilla Coke. And hope no one
remembers New Coke. It’s why McDonald’s puts “Mc” in front of
everything they sell, including McChicken, McRibs, and Supersized McFat
Calories. And it works. According to Eric Schlosser in Fast Food
Nation, the Golden Arches are more widely known throughout the world
than the Christian cross. Except maybe by young Catholic boys who have
Then there’s the
subliminal clue it gives about the product. I don’t know about you,
but I’m sure that’s why every time I hear a Hyundai commercial I
think, “My, what a kind-hearted yet sexually promiscuous car that must
||Now companies have decided
that if you recognize a name you’ll buy anything to which it’s
attached. That’s why you can fill your shopping cart with Smucker’s
jelly beans, Pez-flavored popcorn, and soon, Starkist mouthwash in both
chunk light and solid Albacore. They’ve discovered that
recognizability trumps originality and quality, which also explains why
there are so many sequels. Why try to convince people to see a movie or
read a book they never heard of when you can attach a number to the end
of a title they know and people will say, “Hey, I didn’t fall sleep
during Friday the 13th Part IX, so why not go see Part X?” But
come on, it’s ridiculous to let a series go that long. I mean, it’s
very unsettling not to know whether to call it “Part X” or “Part
10.” Please folks, stop at nine from now on, will you?
Books aren’t exempt either. Gone With the
Wind begat Scarlet, Red Dragon begat The Silence of
the Lambs which begat Hannibal, and poor J.K. Rowling will
never be able to write a book without Harry Potter being in it, even if
it means turning out Harry Drops Out of College—The Sorcerer Gets
Now companies are using their brand names for
items far beyond the original product line because they believe a well
known name defines a profit—I mean, defines a lifestyle. Pepsi and
Mountain Dew both have lines of clothing, one with a retro look, the
other for Xtreme armchair surfer dude wannabes. Face it, nothing says
individual fashion statement like having a soft drink logo on your butt.
If they were creating them now Donald Duck would sound like
Eddie Murphy, Elmer Fudd would be Robin Williams, and Betty Rubble would
be Whoopi Goldberg.
||They’d better be careful
though. Familiarity breeds boredom. Years ago you could find the Lacoste
alligator on every article of clothing imaginable but not anymore. Now
it’s the Nike swoosh. And with celebrities popping up all over the
place the same thing can happen to them. It’s not enough that we see
them in movies and on TV shows where they belong, they’re also in
commercials, print ads, all over Entertainment Tonight, in our
dreams—uh, maybe we shouldn’t go there, and as voices in our head.
It’s true. Whereas radio and TV commercials used to be recorded by
specialized voice talent—except for the occasional celebrity
endorsement—now we get to hear Roz from
Frasier, Martin Sheen, and Bruce Dern on every second commercial.
Maybe it’s because they do a good job, but I suspect it’s actually
because someone thinks that if you hear Roz you’ll subliminally want
to tune in a rerun of Frasier. Then there’s the subliminal clue
it gives about the product. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure
that’s why every time I hear a Hyundai commercial
I think, “My, what a kind-hearted yet sexually promiscuous car that
Movie stars have taken over cartoons too. Where
specialized actors used to create fun, unique character voices, now we
get to watch feature-length cartoons in which everyone sounds like an
identifiable celebrity. If they were creating them now Donald Duck would
sound like Eddie Murphy, Elmer Fudd would be Robin Williams, and Betty
Rubble would be Whoopi Goldberg.
As if that’s not enough, now we can see
celebrities when we’re shopping too, and we don’t have to go to
Rodeo Drive to do it. In a case of life imitating art—okay, imitating
a TV show anyway—two New York City companies have come out with
celebrity mannequins. No, they’re not Elaine from Seinfeld,
they’re of supermodels Christy Turlington and Erin O’Connor. This
isn’t the first time they’ve done this. In the ‘60s they made
mannequins that looked like Twiggy but had to stop because people kept
asking why they were putting clothes on coat trees.
So don’t be surprised when you see a line of
Xtreme Mad Dog clothing, hear my voice each time Clutch Cargo opens his
mouth in the upcoming full-length feature, or come across a coupon for
Mad Dog Beef Jerky (slogan: “It takes a real jerk to make jerky this
good.”). Hey, if it’s good enough for Coke and Eddie Murphy, it’s
good enough for me.
©2002 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read the sequels too.