Know Them by Their Marketing

Jul. 22 - Someone once observed that people can be judged "by their fruits." I don't want to take up the question of whether fruit is destiny. I'm sure the fruit drawer of the average refrigerator communicates volumes about its owner's character. I do think, however, that in appraising an entire culture, you could do better than checking out the produce aisles of their grocery stores.

You shall know them by their marketing.

Two ads in particular have caught my eye as emblematic of the fun-loving, slightly racy Danish culture. One is for a newspaper, the other for ice-cream. Because the markets for these products represent an especially inclusive swathe of the Danish population (only lactose-intolerant illiterates are excluded), I think it's fair to hold them up as representative, although I don't mean to suggest that all their commercials are anywhere near as clever or entertaining.

The first ad begins in the corporate board-room of a major distillery. We've got a bunch of suits around a conference table. The Chairman is asking his board for ways to expand their market.

One of the board members holds up a little nip of vodka with a screw-on top in the shape of a clown's head. The clown's head is made of sugar, like any lollipop, but also vodka.

"The eight-to-twelve market seems to like the little vodka clown," he says.

"A vodka clown is very interesting!" exclaims the Chairman. Then, working himself into the opening bar of a melody, the Chairman half-sings, "Let's hear what the market says!"

A little eight-year-old girl on a closed-circuit television monitor says she likes the little vodka clown and wants to take him home.

Back in the board room, there are smiles and cheers as the board breaks into song. I don't know the lyrics with any accuracy, but I can paraphrase them well enough:

   A little vodka clown, so sugary
   how sweet a product it will be!
   A little vodka clown, shelved way down low,
   Where kids can reach it—they'll love it so!
   A little vodka clown, so sugarish
   Will make us all so very rich!

Of course the suits are dancing all over headquarters as they sing, accompanied at one point by a couple of human "vodka clowns" that high-five them as they walk by.

As the number reaches its climax on "...so very rich!" the picture zooms in on the Chairman, freezes, then plasters the image onto the front page of Ekstra Bladet.

A legend is simultaneously splashed over the image on the newspaper and ominously intoned by a narrator:

"Velkommen på forsiden."

Which means, "Welcome to the front page."

The intended message is probably that Ekstra Bladet is keeping a sharp eye on the corporate sharks, but the ad is so well done I don't give a damn about the message. The effect of the ad on me is simply, "Ekstra Bladet is cool." Which is probably enough, since I'm still too illiterate to have much use for their product.

The ad would no doubt be spiked in America, where treacly schoolmarms, with their incapacitated sense of irony, would rise up in protest against the notion of marketing liquor to children: "There's nothing funny about that!"


(You might be able to access the ad from this website, but I couldn't get the video to launch.)

The second ad is easier to translate, because there are very few words involved. I should also note that, being for a Frisko/Unilever product, it's probably enjoying distribution in most of Europe.

We open on what appears to be an upscale restaurant. A well-dressed, handsome young man is at table with an equally well-dressed, lovely young woman. We're looking straight across the table at him and can only see his date in profile.

A sinewy brunette slinks up behind the man, says "hi" a little coolly, and bends down to kiss his cheek. The blonde woman—the man's date—tenses her neck and shoulders a little—enough to let us know that her date's going to have a little explaining to do.

At this point the brunette straightens up and the man turns back to face his date. But the brunette, behind him, still has the date's attention. She holds up her right hand and uses her thumb and index finger to indicate a two-inch length, then rolls her eyes, raises her eyebrows, and slinks away. The blonde turns her face away from the man—she's clearly troubled.

Then we get the logo for Hævn.

That's Danish for Revenge.

It's a new ice-cream product from Frisko (Unilever).

Both of these ads run about fifteen-hundred times a day on all the Danish channels, and have been doing so for a couple of weeks, to the extent that I often find myself singing the lille vodka klovn song to myself, even though I only understand about half of what I'm singing.

I can't even imagine how the American schoolmarms would react to the Hævn ad. But I can imagine how I'd defend it:

"Why, such an interpretation never occured to us! The brunette is merely indicating the tiny amount of affection she still retains for the gentleman. The idea that she might be trying to communicate the physical dimensions of any biological appendage—well! You'd have to have a pretty filthy mind to make such an assumption!"

The prosecution would then have to make the case that Americans had filthy minds. This could probably be done pretty easily, since experience suggests to me that everyone has a filthy mind. Which suggests that maybe we shouldn't call it "filthy." Maybe we could just call it "a mind."

Anyway, it's nice to see the Danes respect for the average person's ability to appreciate biological humor and to separate comedy from pedagogy. I only wish American advertising respected us enough to make fun of us more.


Today is King Sobhuza II's Birthday in Swaziland.

At the time of his death in 1982, King Sobhuza II was the longest-reigning monarch in the world. His death established him as the most recently-deceased monarch in the world. Today he is simply dead.

Sobhuza began his career as Paramount Chief of the Swazi in 1921, but was not recognized as king by Great Britain, which ran the nation as a protectorate, until 1967. (The forgetful Brits have a long history of failing to recognize kings, perhaps owing to the difficulty of seeing clearly in the London fog.)

The Brits wrote a Constitution before they left, but Sobhuza did not discover it until 1973, at which point he discarded it on the grounds of its being British. Five years later he implemented a better Constitution that, surprisingly enough, left all political power in his own hands.

He died in 1982. The Constitution declared that he should be succeeded by one of his children, which seemed simple at first but was complicated by the revelation of his having had over 600 children. It took four years to find the right son, and King Mswati III has reigned ever since.

Sharing the king's birthday are Albert Brooks (1947), Danny Glover (1947), Alex Trebek (1940), Louise Fletcher (1934), Orson Bean (1928), Bob Dole (1923), and Rose Kennedy (1890).

It's National Liberation Day in Poland.

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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