An essay I wrote in art school. I got an A. I hope you find it as amusing as my teacher did.

Double Meanings in Advertising Phrases

I cannot be the only person who read the requirement of this assignment, and then immediately began making dirty jokes about almost every advertising line I have ever heard in my life. Rendered completely incapable of thinking of anything not filthy, I decided to run off to the grocery and see if I could find something to break my train of thought. Everything I saw looked like a dirty joke, and I am not sure they will ever allow me back in that Food Lion store.

The first thing I saw, right there in the pharmacy aisle, was a tube of toothpaste labeled “Cinnsational!”, I realize this is an attempt to meld the word “cinnamon” and the word “sensational”, but I would not be marketing anything that is supposed to clean my mouth that also sounds like an amalgum of “sin” and “sensational”. I would certainly not market it to kids. As an adult, I can’t get the neuro-association of mouthy sin out of my mind. But my nephew would likely not get the reference and would probably love it. Would I buy it for him? Heck, no.

There are a lot of jokes I could make right now, but I won’t because I am afraid I will be expelled.

Now, there are two advertising slogans from Burger King that are rather telling; “You’re the boss!” and “Have it your way!”

Both of these slogans give a sense of power to the kind of person who would be likely to be dining at Burger King, no one’s first choice for breaking one’s fast. However, at Burger King, even if you’re a shlub who has to eat there, you’re the boss! You’re the king! You rule! You can even request no pickle if you want! Wow! You’re a man! You will order a big, manly, massive burger that will shore up your self esteem with big, manly advertising slogans of massive powerfulness! By the time you get out of Burger King, you will be as massive a world leader as Kim Jung Il!

In fact, I was kind of amazed how many fast food restaurants have slogans that imply power, size, and scope. Even Burger King’s mascot is the King himself. What kind of king, I don’t know, but for some inexplicable reason, their recent advertising campaign showed a man in bed so he could “Wake up with the King”. Then we see this dude in pajamas in bed sleeping next to a guy wearing a big plasticene Burger King head. Do I have to go there? You not only get to feel like a king at Burger King, you get to wake up with one. Oh, boy! They may have been going for the gay audience. I notice they pulled that campaign. This was supposed to advertise the glories of breakfast at Burger King. “Wake up with the king!”…Um, no.

At Wendy’s, we are asked “Where’s the Beef?” because at Wendy’s you get big fat beef. What you get between your buns is big, manly beefyness. Only someone who’s spent a few years on Freud’s couch could have come up with this many obvious references. Everybody who writes advertising copy is in therapy…or should be.

“Where’s the beef?”, queries a little old lady with a face full of character, and how everyone laughs at her cranky honesty! We get a triple meaning here: the direct reference to the beefyness between the buns, the “beef” that is the argument between Wendy’s beefy product goodness and its competitors, and, of course, the laugh we get out of a triple entendre dirty joke coming from someone who looks like Old Aunt Camellia. Everybody can glom this commercial, as little kids pick up the phrase in all innocence and adults adopt it also, no innocence taken.

McDonald’s tries a happier, smiley-er, less double-entendre oriented approach. Therefore, it is not nearly as much fun to write about, but I am examining the double meaning between the pickles and lettuce, because “You deserve a break today” from my naughty thoughts. By giving you a “break” McDonald’s is giving you a veritable vacation from your humdrum life. You’re not just going to a fast food restaurant to get gristle in your burger (OK, I used to really love their fries), you’re getting a “break!” and the people behind the counter will sing and dance a show tune while you do. You’ll feel so rested after your break, you’ll sing and dance, too! Dining at McDonald’s isn’t just getting a burger, it’s a break from your worthless, colorless, middle class existence.

However, that wasn’t much of a break from my naughty thoughts, because we can add “I’m lovin’ it” and “It’s the things that make you go Mmmmmmm” to Mc Donald’s advertising campaign slogans. We are supposed to love the food, but surrounded by pretty girls and hip-hop songsters, that’s not all we’re supposed to love. It’s amazing how much implied nooky is going on in the subtext of these commercials because if you eat too much of that fast food, no one is going to be looking at you and uttering the words “I’m lovin’ it”. These slogans are supposed to attract young, hip kids to fast food joints, like they need further incentive. The jargon gets adopted into the everyday lexicon of teens. I have actually heard young men utter, “I’m lovin’ it!” while ogling girls.

Over at Nintendo, they decided to declare “Touching is good”. No wonder so many of their products sell to teenaged boys.

One of my favorite phrases of all times comes from an old Corona ad: “Every bubble’s passed its fizzical”. Is that not cute? As if there could ever be anything healthy about Corona, we get a clever little twist on the words “fizz” and “physical”. This implies that the product is wholesome, as well as that it has passed stringent quality tests. Wholesome booze is an oxymoron, but I am wondering how many men tried to justify this reasoning to their wives when they asked for another beer. This is a very old slogan, so maybe this even appealed to women. If I drank (and after reading half of what I write you are probably shocked to learn I don’t) I’d buy a beer with a cute slogan like this. So, some goofball like me may very well be the target audience: someone whose loyalty can be bought with nothing more than a cute turn of phrase.

Oh, pity me my shallowness.

Over at the Asti Spumante ad campaign, someone has decided, “Aldo knows what women like”. This is the kind of campaign entirely directed at men who actually think drinking the right hooch will get you chicks. All men think they can get chicks after drinking hooch. But, just like the dudes writing the copy over at Burger King, men gaining power – in this case power over women – is the purpose of the language. We have absolutely no idea whatsoever what this product tastes like. Who cares? Women like what Aldo says they do. Women like the Asti Spumante, and Aldo knows it. Drinketh the Asti Spumante and women will flocketh to you like the birds flocketh south for the winter. Aldo has spoken. Again, the product tag line is tied to double entendres about power and sex.

But for more wholesome fare, drink Sunny Delight and “Unleash the power of the sun!” Holy Mary, mother of God! No kidding! If I drink this orange juice, I will go nuclear! Talk about power! Drinking Sunny Delight – so says this tag line – is not only wholesome and natural, it is fusion energy in liquid form. And we thought Burger King was megalomaniacal. You get power, you get world domination, and you get health. Well, who the heck doesn’t want that? After drinking this, the only being on the planet who has ever existed who was more golden and powerful than you was Alexander the Great.

But Nestle’s Aberfoyle Natural Spring Water goes one step further, as if that’s possible! It’s “Pure Life”. Then it must be God itself. It is the water of life! It is purity! It is the absolute necessity of all necessities! You don’t have life without Nestle Aberfoyle Natural Spring Water! You could just drop dead in a second without this vital element. Any middle aged, new age type will be likely to buy this, because anyone who will pay $2 for a bottle of water has money to burn and a lot invested in thinking their being is one with nature and requires very high priced items – like water packaged in plastic – to prove it. Either the target audience is middle aged overpaid people, or very young people with their parent’s money to burn who like to be seen carrying very expensive disposable items that also imply natural health and vitality in a convenient plastic tote.

I had better cut this short -or long, depending on your point of view. I could write this for a month. I was very interested to see just how much advertising revolves around sex and power, having nothing to do with the product.

Works for me!

(UPDATE: snarky expose on art school HERE.)