No old products for us

If, as King Solomon maintained, there is no new thing under the sun, please don’t tell the advertising boys and girls. They’re convinced that new things are advancing over the horizon in an unending cascade, filling the marketplace with, well, new things. And that people (or “consumers,” as the adfolk like to position them) are enthralled with all things new, and greet each day eager to discover what’s next.

If consumers are in love with newness, the adfolk are obsessed with it. Any copywriter worth his or her hourly billable rate knows that “new,” spotlighted in a headline, will attract throngs of readers, whether the advertised product is appealing or not. As a readership word, “new” is right up there with “free.”


But crafty writers long ago discovered they needn’t come right out and say “new” to make the point. Newness is easily implied. “Now,” as in “Now! Instant relief from itchy eyelids with Rub-No-More,” implies that the promised relief was unavailable until, well, now. Indeed, Rub-No-More is the very best kind of new there is: a breakthrough.

There are yet other creative ploys to communicate newness. Today’s television copywriters dearly love to “introduce” products. All day and all night, commercials boldly introduce cars, cosmetics, nostrums, hygiene products and goods of every description to a breathless world. It’s the rare commercial that doesn’t introduce something.

The rules of this game can get murky, however. Consider:  a product needn’t be totally new to be new. And it can be still be touted as new when it is, in fact, not truly new any longer.

How it really works.

Confused? Perhaps eavesdropping on a recent strategy session in the boardroom of Harbinger & Chilblains Advertising will explain these apparent contradictions. As we tiptoe into the teak-lined sanctorum, we hear Harvey Harbinger, respected chairman of the agency, conferring with S.P. “Punch” Quagmire, COO of Pflugel Industries, makers and marketers of Mello-Yello Toothpaste. The product appeared on the market a year ago, created for consumers who had had their teeth whitened, only to discover that their newly brightened choppers clashed with their eyes and natural skin coloring. Mello-Yello reversed the effects of the whitening process, returning the teeth to their comfortable, dingy hue.

HARBINGER:  I respect your judgment, Punch, but why would you want to change a commercial that’s built a huge share of the market for you?

QUAGMIRE:  Well, the commercial still says we’re introducing the product, but it’s been around for a year. It’s not truthful any more.

HARBINGER:  Of course it is. What’s a year in the context of all of human history? Was Mello-Yello around when Hannibal crossed the Alps? Did Mozart brush his teeth with Mello-Yello? Had Mello-Yello been invented when Krakatoa exploded? Of course not. Because Mello-Yello is a new product.

QUAGMIRE:  You make a good case. But I’m still edgy about our truthfulness. How long can we continue to say it’s new?

HARBINGER:  What is this morbid fascination you have with truth? Mello-Yello will continue to be new as long as you say it is. Ten years and counting, would be my call.

QUAGMIRE:  I could never do that.

HARBINGER:  Oh, all right. Then rejuvenate the stuff, if you must. Put in a new ingredient, change the designs of the box and the tube, and we’ll brainstorm a campaign for New Improved Mello-Yello. Satisfied?

QUAGMIRE:  But there’s no reason to improve it. People like it just the way it is. It tastes good. And it yellows teeth even faster than smoking.

HARBINGER:  You’re missing the big picture. People don’t want tired old products. They want stuff that’s new, new, new! Would you want to be the only marketer on the planet running commercials for a product that was actually old?

QUAGMIRE:  I suppose not, Harvey.

HARBINGER:  It’s settled, then. New, Improved Mello-Yello it is. Tell me the new ingredient, and I’ll get the creative troops started on it right away.

QUAGMIRE:  How about oregano? People like it on pizza.

HARBINGER:  Splendid. Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Miss Claxon, please go ring for the elevator. They’re holding our table at Le Bernardin.

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