Life’s not fair for the marketers at Procter 6 Gamble; they have to leap Jar higher hurdles than many in advertising’s lot. While hawking an already sexy car or stylish pair of leather loafers requires creative energy aplenty, it can’t be as tough as establishing the cool factor for toilet tissue, dandruff shampoo or … a mop. Since its introduction in 1998, Swiffer’s been out to convince consumers that the old mop in the hall closet has a date with the dump. And dating, oddly enough, is the theme in a new series of ads from Kaplan Thaler, helped along mightily by a forgotten 1970s rock anthem. In view of the central role that music plays in these spots, we asked Brian Rupp, creative director for Portland, Ore.-based sonic-branding practice Rumblefish to take a look–and a listen.
IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT my floors are generally filthy, I’m pretty sure the good folks at Procter & Gamble’s marketing department didn’t have me (average 40-year old guy) in mind when it came time to create “Jilted Tools,” the new ad campaign for Swifter. (Note to fellow average guys: Swifter is a brand of mop.) Nonetheless, these three TV spots, produced by Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, work quite well for the most part. Each spot showcases a different Swifter product, but the message is consistent: Use Swifter and you’ll never use old-school cleaning tools again. Another consistent element is the cheesy 1970s love anthem used to explain the gag. More on that in a little bit.
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First, the gag. All three installments (“Flower Man,” “Hot Tub,” and “Grocery Store”) work off the same story line: Three svelte, successful women have tossed out their old mops after taking up with Swifter, and the poor, rejected mops try various ruses to win her back. The humor is cheeky and stupid–but appealingly so–and the hot-tub sequence vaults the theme to the most satisfyingly ridiculous level as a woman follows a trail of rose petals to her patio where, waiting in the candle-lit outdoor Jacuzzi, is her old broom. She is not amused.
The “Flower Man” spot (involving an attempted delivery of “please-forgive-me” flowers from a Mr. Mop) also is funny. But the stoner delivery dude is a bit puzzling: is the rankled woman slamming the door on the mop’s pathetic attempt to win her back, or has delivery dude himself creeped her out? The grocery-store spot, with its slapstick spin mop bucket and broom stalking a woman through the produce aisles, is the weakest, lacking the clever absurdity of the hot-tub sequence.
Flaws aside, what comes through in all three spots is a clear value proposition: Swifter products work better than your old-school mop and broom–or your money back. That clarity, fortunately, supports an underlying metaphor: tossing your loser cleaning tools is akin to dumping your unreliable, good-for-nothing boyfriend. Why is there a need for an underlying metaphor at all? Because none of these spots would be as funny as they are without the help of “Baby Come Back,” the 1978 chart-topper from the short-lived band, Player.
As everyone in marketing knows, raiding the old FM-radio mothball catalog is not a new trick. Cadillac turned heads (and rankled more than a few music fans) with its use of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in a 2004 campaign, and the trick’s been oft repeated. The difference in Swiffer’s case is that the music’s not just a contextual enhancer; it’s integral to getting the joke. Indeed, the song’s chorus itself provides the spots’ punch line, making microfiber mop head and broom all the more lovelorn.
For the sake of overanalysis, then, “Baby Come Back” does three things. First, it helps tell the story in a humorous way by giving the loser products a voice. Second, it gives the spots a widely recognized cultural touchstone that adds instant familiarity (that song was everywhere for way too long). Third, it gives the campaign a nice sonic identifier and continuity from spot to spot.
Like any pop song that spent too much time on the charts, “Baby Come Back” enjoys broad recognition (and recognition primarily by thirty and forty somethings, which could be why this is a TV and not a Web campaign). More importantly, I’d guess that it’s perceived the same way by most people: as a cheesy, permed-hair-wearing, Trans Am-driving, transistor-radio pop song. When the star of your show is a loser mop, you can’t do better for a theme. There are probably a couple other songs that could have worked for this campaign. But they couldn’t have delivered the “pathetically outmoded” message as efficiently as this tune, with its high cheese-factor baggage.
Plus, although I’m loath to admit it, the song is an excellent ear worm. I’ve been humming it since I viewed the spots this morning.
Maybe I am the target audience after all.