September 21, 2023

Digital Marketing Education

Latest news and events

Tony Bennett dies at 96, what we can learn from a masterful musician and creative powerhouse. Adland®

Tony Bennett died today at the age of 96, in New York – not San Francisco. Effortlessly cool, Bennett managed to transcend time, singing with the likes of Frank Sinatra, jazz great Bill Evans, Amy Winehouse, and Lady Gaga in the span of an eight-decade career, cut short only by Alzheimer’s. Indeed, his family said the day before he passed he was still at the piano singing. He was creative until the very end.

Not only an accomplished singer (and bloody proficient with 70 albums under his belt), Bennett was also an accomplished painter, a pursuit he said he took up to keep the creative juices flowing when he got burnt out at his “day job.” This is something every creative should take to heart.

Tony Bennett appeared in scores of movies, shows, and commercials throughout his life, and this VISA ad is just one of them, but it was the first thing I thought of when I read the news of his passing. I come from an advertising family; I watched commercials more than cartoons as a kid. And I distinctly remember seeing this one back in the day. It was part of a larger campaign, all stuffed with celebrities.

This is a great example of advertising being a part of cultural anthropology, (even if it’s pop culture we’re talking about) and I really wish more people in the industry understood this and went back and studied it. We’re not just creators, we’re cultural anthropologists. This commercial is a great example not only of how a successful campaign was made, but how different our lives were just twenty-five years ago.

This VISA campaign offered a benefit we now take for granted but at the time was new. Imagine having to convince people to ditch their checkbooks for a debit card. If you were a newborn when this ad came out in 1998, or were born even later then it’s almost unfathomable to think that there was a time when we didn’t pay for everything with plastic, or through a QR code for that matter. When was the last time you wrote a check? There was also a time when record stores (or CDs in this case) were ubiquitous. Now they are reserved for the hipster part of town or in a small section at Whole Foods or Urban Outfitters.

Look back through advertising over the years and it shows us how much society has changed (socially, culturally, in therms of modernization) but at the same time, it reminds us that the fundamentals of advertising still exist for a reason. Or at least they should.

Up until very recently, advertising was often great at doing three things: Persuading you to buy something. Borrowing from culture — and this is key here–in a relevant way. And if the stars aligned, you actually created culture. Think Old Spice, The Most Interesting Man In The World, and Budweiser immortal Whassup, which will never not be funny despite the landline phone relics.

But if you can’t create culture, at least borrow from it in a relevant way. At that point, Tony Bennett is mega-famous, like all the celebrities in the campaign. He had sung all over the world for regular folks and royalty. Which means at that point people all over the world heard him sing his signature song, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” Even the people behind the counter acknowledge they know who he is. But it doesn’t matter. Still need an ID.

And that’s where the logic of why Tony Bennett would use a checkbook becomes irrelevant because everyone needs an ID for their checks. Famous or not. And that’s a hassle. But with a VISA check card, you don’t. One less thing to worry about. Clear cut and simple. Got it.

We can argue the merits of borrowed interest all day long, and I’m happy to do so as there is almost never a good reason why one needs a celebrity for their campaign. I do think this one merits it. But usually, there’s not a good reason but a cheap reason which is likes and clicks. And the campaign is often plug-and-play. You have a list of celebrity backups in case yours doesn’t want to participate, so you go down the list. Elton passed on it, so let’s get Harry Styles. That’s a sign it’s probably not a great campaign.

We’ve been led to believe that in order to be relevant you need to “be a part of culture.” It’s a tidy justification for inserting ourselves into a conversation. What is more likely is that advertisers are so afraid of doing something new and creating culture, that they’re taking fewer risks in creating something new.

But if, like Tony Bennett, we’d like to have a long and storied career, we should get back to doing something unique and memorable.

We should stop inserting ourselves into the cultural conversation and go back to creating culture.

Let’s build our own worlds.


About The Author

x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security