01. Advertising in the Global Village

A caveman ties a stick to the leg of a Pterodactyl with an enormous wingspan.This must be the 747 of Pterodactyls. As the Pterodactyl soars off, the caveman caws with gratification until a Tyrannosaurus Rex seizes the Pterodactyl in its mouth and

shakes it violently and the stick falls to the ground. Now dejected, the caveman enters a cave and reports to another caveman, apparently his boss. As the boss gnaws on a joint of meat, their dialog is translated from grunt into subtitles.

CAVEMAN: Package didn’t make it.

BOSS: Did you use FedEx?


BOSS: Then you’re fired.

CAVEMAN: But FedEx doesn’t exist yet!

BOSS: Not my problem.

The dejected Neanderthal drags himself outside the cave making a couple of grunting sounds that are not (and don’t need to be) translated. As he vents his frustration by kicking a small dinosaur, he in turn is stomped under the foot of a giant Mastodon.

Among overnight delivery services, FedEx has an advantage. It possesses all the characteristics of an iconic brand. 1. Authenticity: wasn’t it the first overnight delivery service, an innovator that changed package delivery and business communication? 2. It stands for something: reliability. 3. It is one of a kind. 4. Charisma: a special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires allegiance and devotion.

The commercial doesn’t have to make the claim that FedEx is reliable, everyone knows that. People commonly use the name FedEx as a verb: to FedEx it. What the commercial does is to raise what almost everyone already believes to a higher level. It implies that FedEx isn’t just a delivery service, it is one of mankind’s great inventions – somewhere between fire and suitcases with wheels.

In the silly logic of the joke, it was famous for reliability before it even existed. To get the joke the viewer’s brain has to churn its hard drive for past experiences and information about FedEx, unreasonable bosses, Dilbert and Darwin.

In a matter of milliseconds, millions of people processed what they were seeing, cross referenced it with what they already knew, and subconsciously uncovered the truth that the joke conceals – that, yes, FedEx changed overnight delivery, but human nature has remained the same. The greater truth is not the modern behavior of primitive man, but the primitive behavior of modern man. The medium that carries this message, the Super Bowl is an annual event that draws everyone together like a mid-winter pagan ritual. The game itself is tribal warfare with rules. The teams are named after lions, bears, Bengal tigers, eagles and panthers. The coaches are revered like tribal chiefs, the players as heroic warriors defending the tribe; and up in the stands, one beer short of being thrown out of the stadium, are fans who have painted their faces in the colors of their team. In every day life, people of different religions, races, occupations and political opinions, all wear gear that display symbolic designs that identify themselves as members of the same tribe. They wouldn’t do so unless it fulfilled some needs so basic that they seem almost hardwired in the human brain.

During the 2008 Super Bowl, FedEx ran a commercial that did what all Super Bowl commercials try to do: entertain and get attention. In this commercial, an office worker uses giant carrier pigeons to carry packages, which in fact is a throwback to an early form of message delivery. However, like many recent Super Bowl commercials it is an example of someone absurdly doing things the wrong, the hard,or downright stupid way. It gets attention, it is funny, but not surprisingly funny. What happens in the commercial is what you would expect to happen. The commercial entertains but it isn’t intellectually stimulating and involving. Unlike the caveman commercial, it lacks an emotional core about human needs and human nature to which people can relate.



© 2011 – Stanley Herbert Schulman

4 Responses to “01. Advertising in the Global Village”

  1. Michael Says:

    Insightful and wonderfully written.
    Five gemoos.

  2. Isn’t it Iconic is now an eBook available for $7.95, where ever eBooks are sold.

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