Who are the Ad Wizards?

Showtime Has Found Jesus

April 8, 2010

As I was walking through the New York City subway corridors a few weeks ago, I noticed these posters for Showtime’s shows. There were about 20 posters hung up. Each poster alternated between promoting The United States of Tara and Nurse Jackie. As I was walking by, I couldn’t help but notice something about the Nurse Jackie posters. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something seemed very recognizable. Since I have never seen the show, my first assumption was by recollection stemmed from my recognition of Eddie Falco. But there was something more. ¬†Why was she holding that Rx bottle like that? Why do those pills, syringes and other medical supplies encircle her head? What does “Holy Shift” have to do with it, besides the allusion to a cuss?

Then it hit me…

How could I have missed that? If any of my religion teachers from my 16 years of Catholic schooling saw me struggling to recognize the classic Sacred Heart of Jesus pose, they probably would have given me a demerit or told me to write a paper on why Jesus died for our sins.

I started to think, this is what we advertisers strive for. For an unassuming potential customer to be intrigued by an ad, but not be exactly sure why. Now, I’m not about to argue the morality of using an obvious allegory of a religious figure to promote a dark comedy about a flawed emergency nurse. The fact of the matter is that it worked. I remembered the poster, and more importantly, I remembered what it was advertising. Showtime’s ad men did a great job of employing intertexuality, and got me to interact with their work.

Since the show is a dark comedy, the ad men were probably hoping for some backlash. The thinking being, maybe this sacrilegious act will get certain church groups up in arms, and then become a source of conversation. The conversation then will pique some people’s interest, and ratings will go up. This type of advertising obviously runs the risk of putting the topic in such a bad light, it cannot emerge from the ¬†controversy. But it also runs the risk of not causing a big enough stir to see a boost in ratings. As of right now, I couldn’t find any group or individual on the Internet that found offense with the poster.

So Showtime, you get an A+ from me on intertextuality, and apparently apathy from the religious watchdog groups.


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.