Report speaks goldenly of his profit

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I keep catching the IKEA ad for beds. You know the one – Helen Mirren recites Prospero’s famous “Our revels now are ended” speech as a woman falls through clouds. It is, I think, surprisingly lovely (I still remember an early IKEA ad with an insanely catchy song urging us all to “Chuck out that chintz”, not to mention the one correlating furniture and sexual habits*) so this is a definite step up… In case you haven’t seen it, you can catch it in all its glory here.

Because this is now the way my brain works, I’ve been wondering how long the Mad Men have been using Shakespeare to sell products (and yes, the *actual* Mad Men have done – see below). The answer is older than Penicillin (probably).

Peggy uses Julius Caesar to sell earphones

Peggy uses Julius Caesar to sell earphones

In 1928 Coca-Cola ran a campaign in Life magazine on “what Shakespeare says about Coca-Cola” using lines from Julius Caesar, Hamlet and other plays. Apparently there were ten in all – I’d love to see them all but I could only find copies of three below (and only two of them are legible – sorry!). The adverts seem gloriously old-fashioned to me in the way it references Shakespeare and talks about the product – especially when contrasted with the very modern, minimalist, IKEA ad.

Julius Caesar - again

Julius Caesar – again

Hamlet

Hamlet

Twelfth Night (maybe?)

Twelfth Night (maybe?)

In a similar vein, in the novel Murder Must Advertise, a campaign for Nutrax (some sort of horrific nerve tonic) uses quotes from poetry. The hero (an aristocratic detective who is working undercover as a copy-writer)** suggests “Bassanio and Antonio: “I know not Why I am so sad.” Carry the quote on into the copy. Causeless depression, like Antonio’s, wearies both the sufferer and his friends.” The quote “Like Niobe, all tears” is rejected for the same campaign because “he didn’t know who Niobe was and he didn’t suppose anybody else did either”, which shows that ignorance is nothing new…

There’s a whole series of ads which just use quotes to make their point. Flow Radio uses Twelfth Night and one of my favourite quotes of all time. One of Levi’s distinctive grainy, dark ads uses lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to place their 501s as ground-breaking, though the video itself has a more West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet feel. And Grammarly uses the power of Shakespeare to boost the image of their writing tools – I don’t know if the program actually can include apposite Shakespearean quotes in your essays, but it certainly make them sounds brainy! By contrast, Epson printers goes further and implies the printer is more important than the words – even when they come from Shakespeare***.

Flow Radio

Flow Radio

Grammarly

Grammarly

Epson

Epson

And then lots of ad men like to do their own spin on famous quotes – “To be or not to be” probably tops the list…

Cough Medicine

Cough Medicine

Stella Artois

Stella Artois

Apple Computers

Apple Computers

There’s also the recent Jacob’s crackers ad which calls for “Friends, snackers, countrymen”, and Eurostar gave us a very cunning role reversal when they moved stations…

Eurostar

Eurostar

If in doubt, of course, the other thing to remember is that Shakespeare always wins the argument – here’s Jeremy Sheffield proving it.

Are there any Shakespearean adverts that stick with you? And do you think it’s a fair use of literature?


* Apparently people with padded headboards were more adventurous in bed. I will probably remember this when I can’t remember my own name.

** And if you haven’t read Dorothy L Sayers’ novels, you really should.

*** They mightn’t be far wrong. I took AGES to pick my blog scheme…

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One thought on “Report speaks goldenly of his profit

  1. This is great. I hadn’t realised the Bard was used so often in advertising. As you say, I suppose referencing him brings a touch of class to pushing ‘stuff’ on us all. Some quotes are just so universal, so ingrained in us. Can’t think of any other ads at the moment. I’ll think on it

    Like

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