Who are the Ad Wizards?

Tooth in Advertising

March 4, 2010

In Sean Hall’s This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics, intertextuality is defined as how works of various kinds make reference – often in clever ways – to other works.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the poster for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest movie, The Tooth Fairy. The use of intertextuality is in the headline: “You can’t handle the tooth.” This is a reference to the “You can’t handle the truth” line from A Few Good Men. The odd thing about this reference is that A Few Good Men was released in 1992, and was given an R-rating. The Tooth Fairy, with a PG-rating, is a meant for tweens. Which means the movie’s target audience wasn’t even born the time Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson were debating each other’s truth handling abilities.

So why would the ad men at Fox Studios decide to make a reference their audiences probably have little to no affinity towards and even less familiarity? Granted, “you can’t handle the truth” has become part of the mainstream vernacular. But my best guess is that they know it’s not the movie audience who will actually be doing the ticket-buying. Instead it’s more likely their parents who will be shelling out the $10-$12. These are the same people who packed the theaters in ’92 to watch the cat-and-mouse game revolving around Private Santiago’s murder. So while the movie has an intended audience, its advertising has a completely different one.

Another example of intertextuality is the expression on Dwayne Johnson’s face. For those of us who were WWF fans in the mid to late 90s, we recognize it as the People’s Eyebrow. It’s the same express Johnson made famous as the professional wrestler, The Rock. And while this could go unseen or unrecognized by the young movie-goers, their parents who watched The Rock take on Stone Cold Steve Austin in WrestleMania XIX know it all to well.