Taxi turns cliché on its ear with Viagra

So the commercial comes on my tube, and because it's well produced, I resist the zapper and watch the spot.
It's got that catchy old tune, Good Morning, as a sound track. (Not the Beatles song, but the old musical-comedy chestnut that's not exactly hip-hop, more hippety-hop.)

‘The tallest hurdle…is overcoming the immature conviction that you need to do the extraordinary.’

– from a recent Sports Illustrated article (about how to win a pro golf tournament!)

So the commercial comes on my tube, and because it’s well produced, I resist the zapper and watch the spot.

It’s got that catchy old tune, Good Morning, as a sound track. (Not the Beatles song, but the old musical-comedy chestnut that’s not exactly hip-hop, more hippety-hop.)

It’s got this Fred W. Everyman type as a hero, beautifully cast, slightly overweight, the kind of guy who seems like he’d be glad to pick up the tab for the fourth round of beers.

It’s got Fred heading for work, and man, is he feelin’ good. He’s skippin’ along the sidewalk, he’s grabbin’ a basketball and slam-dunkin’ it, he’s bein’ nice to dogs and little old ladies, he’s got all his biorhythms in the locked-and-fully-upright position.

As I said above, the spot is well made, so I watch it to the end. But I’m having the nagging feeling that I’ve seen it before. I’ve got the punch line already figured out: the guy is having a wonderful morning because he drank the right coffee, or noshed the right frozen waffle. Or maybe it’s from some agency that never left the 1950s, and he’s on cloud nine because his wife did a hell of a job waxing the dining room table.

And then comes the closing super, and the spot that I’m rating at seven or eight suddenly becomes an instant 10.

The closing super simply says, VIAGRA. And then, a moment later, ‘Talk to your doctor.’ Very quiet, no starbursts, very un-hyped. The communication circle closes. The explanation is, the benefit is, the guy got laid.

The spot suddenly becomes believable. (Note to orange-juice marketers: Viagra does have a more meaningful product claim than ‘sunshine in a glass’.) The strategy comes clear: expand the market beyond the early adopters and the terminally horny. The smarts and class of the agency become apparent. (If you need help on that last one, just compare it to the U.S. Viagra commercial with the good-old-boy stock car driver.)

The tried-and-true structures work in advertising, as long as you use them with care. I remember having a raised-voice argument, years ago, with a client who accused me of using a mother-in-law character who was, he said, a cliché. I said, more or less, ‘You’re damn right it’s a cliché. We have to use clichés so the viewer gets the idea fast. We don’t have two hours like in movies, or months or years like in sitcoms, to build on. We have to take clichés, and twist them, to make them work for us.’ (We made the spot, and it was one of the most successful ever for the brand.)

When you have a dull old parity product, you should often go for the extraordinary, because you’ve got to get attention somehow. But when you’ve got a product that’s unique and exciting in its own right, like Viagra, it’s best to sit back and stay out of the way.

Taxi, the Viagra agency, has already proven that they can be sexy and attention-getting when the product is comfortable and familiar. (See ‘Marketing Awards,’ late 2001.) Now they’ve also shown me they can be comfortable and familiar when the product is sexy and attention-getting.

I’ve known for some time that Taxi could be spectacular. Now that I’ve seen them play it cool when cool is called for, I understand that they’re also very, very smart.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.