When an advert changes a genre

Sometimes an advert changes a genre forever, and this certainly goes for Mercedes-Benz use of the classic Janis Joplin track: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a . . .”

The song was the last that she recorded, the session being just three days before she died in 1970. It became something of a classic for her fans, not least because of the rather prophetic “that’s it” she says at the end. So it was quite a risk as a choice for an advertising campaign, even if it was some 25 years after here death. However, it proved inspired.

It was used in the 2011 Super Bowl mid match advertising slot, a minute long no less. Now that’s not cheap. And it appeared again, slightly modified, in the 2012 Super Bowl, this time to celebrate the 125th anniversary of M-B. The advert has run, on and off, for 20 years, about the run of a Mercedes-Benz model.

Graphic art in advertising had been transformed in the 50s and 60s. There was a series of now famous adverts for VW. ‘Think Small’, just one of a brilliant series, and many feel not even the best, has gone down in history and is recognisable as an advertising slogan the world over still. It was revolutionary.

I was at art college from 1961 and when a new VW ad came out we students would phone one another. We had lessons on the campaign. For me it was a revelation. It was a wonderful time to be in advertising.

It must be difficult to accept how revolutionary the Krone series of adverts was, see above. They proved to me that I was untalented when it came to graphic art. So much was different: before then cars were drawn so just the photograph was unusual. The text was ironic and instead of hype, we got something to read. And instead of the car dominating the page by its size, there it was, barely discernible, in the top left quadrant. We would have conversations about a new advert. Inspirational doesn’t do the series justice.

Mercedes still use Oh Lord in advertising, most notably for the Superbowl half time slot, reputably one of the most expensive minutes in the world. But repetition can become, well, repetitious and Mercedes-Benz have recently moved from singers to animals, and not sleek and endangered big cats that some agencies favour but in one a little domestic moggie. With a certain irony, in another they use its prey, a chicken.

The former is meant to highlight the aerodynamic nature of the CLA. It is one of those adverts that make you wonder how it is done. M-B spoilt it – although I won’t – by producing a video showing their method.

As for the chickens, anyone who has ever owned such birds will know how the way they hold their head and there can be few children who, if their parents had chickens for their eggs, hasn’t put a few off laying for a while by playing with them. But even for us, the advert is addictive.

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