They say nothing is as stale as yesterday's news, but I recently came across a real competitor: yesteryear's ads. Looking at the front page of The Jerusalem Post from May 24, 1960, the news was, if not fresh, at least refreshing in these times of low morale: The headline blared: "Eichmann Found by Security Services; To Be Tried Here for Crimes Against Jews." What really caught my eye, however, was the Page 1 advertising, which included an announcement by the Poultry Board boasting:
"WE continue the slaughter of one million chickens. YOU are enjoying the low price of any quantity of soup chickens." At least the wording is honest. But somehow chicken soup doesn't sound so appetizing when you put it like that.
And here's another front-page ad which would have many of today's readers fuming: "It's smart to smoke Savyon, the right cigarette for all occasions."
But it's not smart to smoke. Any time.
In the words of the Virginia Slims cigarette ads that hit the market in the late 1960s as the feminist movement began to take off: "You've come a long way, baby!"
Advertising in Israel has progressed since those days, though many of the messages still lack subtlety. In recent weeks the Hebrew press has brought out into the open the subject of covert advertising (pirsum samui) - those embedded ads where you see a clearly identifiable brand in a program or movie. Locally a committee headed by ethicist Assa Kasher has been finalizing its recommendations to Channel 2 on the matter - giving new meaning to Marshall McLuhan's classic dictum: The medium is the message.
Periodically, too, the Knesset takes a commercial break to discuss ads and promos of a sexual or violent nature. Many Israeli advertisers unfortunately believe maximum market penetration depends on the use of sex.
Without mentioning names - why give them added publicity? - it can be noted that offensive ads have been used for products ranging from clothing to beer and turned some soft drinks into soft porn.
There is no simple answer to the question of how to sell ice to the Eskimos or at least humous to Israelis.
More and more advertisers are using English to try to promote their blue-and-white products. Many an "American kitchen" (mitbach Amerika'i) started out as a Zionist enterprise whose origins have been hidden, like a skeleton in one of the plentiful and accessible closets.
Hebrew also has its unfair share of "weasel" words, a popular trick of the advertising trade. They look innocent, like the words: help (ozer/mesaye'a), like (kmo/ke'ilu), almost/virtually (kim'at) and the current flavor of the month: "enriched" (me'ushar) - which can be a cover for a product that lacks something to begin with.
Some marketers believe the retro look will help their products move forward. Tnuva might recently have been privatized (is nothing sacred anymore?) but its ad campaigns still aim to take you back to the days all kindergarten kids sing about with the words: "Ha'auto shelanu gadol veyarok, ha'auto shelanu nose'a rahok" praising Tnuva's big green trucks carrying eggs and milk. The symbolism harks back to the days when kibbutz fields grew agricultural produce rather than housing projects. Elite's chocolate cow, too, has thankfully not yet been slaughtered, even though it's been milked for more than it's worth over the years.
At least one clothing company decided to look ahead - at a future too bright thanks to the hole in the ozone layer. The Israeli media have been treated to the alarmist and alarming Diesel ads featuring models dressed in not very much at all and marketed with the slogan: "Global Warming Ready."
Humor is not particularly our strong point, either, although the Milky shopping-cart races went down in local advertising history.
A few Hebrew advertising slogans have been so successful that they became part of every day speech, at least for a while. And "There ain't, ain't, ain't anything like Bamba," (or, as the Hebrew puts it: "Ain, ain, ain kmo Bamba") - a slogan that sticks in your head even longer than the peanut-flavored snacks stick to your teeth.
Self-styled entertainer No. 1 Dudu Topaz managed to turn the very announcement of the commercials into an art form with his catchphrase: "Pir-som-ot" (Com-mer-cials).
But Israel lacks the equivalent of a media event supreme such as the Superbowl, for which hyperexpensive commercials are specially created for just one evening - like an actress's dress at the Oscars. The nearest we get is the final episodes of popular series such as last week's Nolad Lirkod (Born to dance) finale or the shows conjured up by Uri Geller.
At their best, adverts can be entertaining, informative and work like magic for marketers. At their worst, we all end up paying the social costs. And along with weasels, I would beware of attributing anything positive to the word "branding."