Louis Vuitton’s June 2010 magazine ad featuring soccer greats Pelé, Zidane and Maradona, photographed by Annie Leibovitz.
In 2010, continuing a long line of contemporary advertising using famous celebrities, luxury bag maker Louis Vuitton had photographer Annie Leibo- vitz do a photo shoot of three of the world’s most famous soccer stars: Pelé of Brazil, Diego Maradona of Argentina, and Zinedine Zidane of France. The setting for the photo shoot and the ad, shown at right, was the Café Maravillas, a typical bar in Madrid, Spain, where the three famous footballers are engaged in a spirited game of table-top foosball.
In the background of the ad are Louis Vuitton bags, one monogrammed with the initials “Z.Z.” for Zinedine Zidane. The tagline for the ad reads: “Three great journeys, one historic game.” Antoine Arnault, Vuitton’s media person at the time of the ad’s release, explained: “What true football fan has not dreamt of seeing these three living legends – Pelé, Maradona and Zidane – play each other?”
A series of the Vuitton ads with the famous soccer greats appeared in magazines and also online in the months leading up to the World Cup matches in June 2010, heading into the championship games in South Africa.
Vuitton’s “soccer legends” ad appear- ed on the back cover of Time’s June 2010 World Cup edition.
Time magazine featured the World Cup games on the cover of a special June 2010 edition, which also included the above ad on the magazine’s back cover. Earlier copies of Time had run the same ad in the early front pages of the magazine. Other magazines all over the world also gave the Vuitton ad similar play at about the same time.
Louis Vuitton, for those who may not know, is a venerable fashion brand that began in 1894. Today it is a $2 billion company with 9,000 plus employees worldwide. The Vuitton label is well known for its “LV” monogram found on most of its products, which include luxury trunks and leather goods, shoes, watches, jewelry, accessories, sunglasses, and books. Vuitton is one of the world’s leading international fashion houses – and its ads in recent years have become well known for their celebrity and superstar subjects — Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Gisele Bundchen, Bono, Sean Connery, and Mikhail Gorbachev among them. Other athletes, such as tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, have also appeared in Vuitton ads, but with the soccer stars, Vuitton was reaching for a broader and perhaps, more “everyman” audience.
Horizontal version of the Louis Vuitton “soccer greats” ad, also used for a related Louis Vuitton website campaign.
Getting the three soccer legends to appear in the same ad was something of coup, which Vuitton’s Antoine Arnault acknowledged, saying the company was honored to have them participate in its advertising campaign. In addition to the magazine ads, Vuitton also had a dedicated website — louisvuittonjour- neys.com — where a featured conver- sation between the three players was included, in which they discussed their careers, recalled great matches they had played, and exchanged views on the world of soccer. Part of the story line at the website had Pelé and Zidane challenging each other to a match of table foosball. The ad, in any case, was likely a hit with soccer fans. What follows below are three brief profiles of each of the famous soccer legends.
French soccer star Zinedine Zidane is regarded as one of the best to have played World Cup soccer.
French soccer star Zinedine Zidane was born in 1972 to Algerian parents. He grew up in the modest suburbs of Marseilles after his parents left Algeria. Zidane played his first junior championship soccer at the age 14. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of World Cup soccer and has played for club teams in France, Italy and Spain. France won the World Cup in 1998 with a team full of immigrant players, with Zidane becoming an icon, especially among the poor. But French fans and players generally love him, not only for the 1998 World Cup but also the 2000 European Championship. He retired briefly thereafter, but soon returned to the French national team in 2005. He was captain of the French team in 2006, leading them in the World Cup Final where he won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s most outstanding player. Alongside Brazil’s soccer star, Ronaldo, Zidane is the only other three-time FIFA World Player of the Year winner. Zidane, however, had a bit of controversy toward the end of his career in a famous incident in which he head-butted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in chest during the 2006 World Cup Final in Berlin, and was thrown out of the game. Zidane maintained he was goaded by Materazzi, who had made a slur on Zidane’s sister, provoking Zidane’s action, which he later said was to defend “the honor of a Muslim woman.” Zidane, who had retired with that game, performed three days of community service to meet his penalty, while Materazzi later apologized publicly to Zidane for his slur. Although Zidane retired from professional football after the 2006 World Cup, he continued to play for the Real Madrid veterans team.
In 2004, Forbes magazine named Zidane the 42nd-highest paid athlete in the world, with earnings of $15.8 million a year. He has had endorsement deals with a number of prominent companies, including: Adidas, Lego, France Telecom, Orange, Audi, Volvic mineral water and Christian Dior. Zidane’s endorsement deals have continued beyond his playing days, remaining a sought-after icon, especially in France, appearing in advertising for Danone, France Telecom, Generali insurance, and Grand Optical eyewear, among others.
In retirement, Zidane has also participated in charity soccer events in various countries around the world. In 2010 he was appointed as an ambassador for Qatar’s attempt to host the 2022 World Cup, a bid they won in December 2010. Zidane was also appointed as a special adviser to Real Madrid’s first team in 2010.
Diego Maradona as a young “juniors” player in 1980.
Diego Maradona, born in 1960, rose from the slums of Buenos Aires to become one of Argentina’s most famous and controversial soccer stars. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time. Over the course of his professional career Maradona set world-record contract fees for his soccer-playing abilities. Playing for Argentina he earned 91 caps and scored 34 goals. He played in four FIFA World Cup tournaments, including the 1986 tournament, in which he captained Argentina’s team and led them to their victory over West Germany in the final. He also won the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. In that tournament’s quarterfinal round, he scored two remarkable goals in a 2–1 victory over England, one of which has been described as a “spectacular 60-metre weave through six England players.” In Maradona lore this feat is also known by many as “The Goal of the Century”.
Diego Maradona bringing championship to Argentina.
Maradona’s stardom in his Argentina homeland has risen at times to the “super-celebrity” level, something beyond mere sports heroism approaching idolatry, with some calling him “God,” the star having a near religious following in some areas. The Houston Chronicle wrote of him in June 2010:
“To understand the gargantuan shadow Maradona casts over his soccer-mad homeland, one has to conjure up the athleticism of Michael Jordan, the power of Babe Ruth — and the human fallibility of Mike Tyson. Lump them together in a single barrel-chested man with shaggy black hair and you have El Diego, idol to the millions who call him D10S, a mashup of his playing number and the Spanish word for God.”
Maradona as photographed in recent years.
Maradona has also had stadiums named for him and he has hosted his own TV talk show. His playing career, however, had it share of controversies. He was suspended for 15 months in 1991 after failing a doping test for cocaine in Italy, and was sent home from the 1994 World Cup in the USA for using ephedrine.
After retiring at age 37 in 1997, he increasingly suffered ill health, gained weight, and battled cocaine addiction. A 2005 stomach stapling operation helped control his weight and he overcame his cocaine addiction, becoming a popular TV host in Argentina. Although he had little previous managerial experience, he became head coach of the Argentina national soccer team in November 2008, remaining there through July 2010. In late October 2010, Puma, the athletic shoe and sports gear manufacturer, put on a major celebration for Maradona’s 50th birthday, also then introducing a new line of athletic wares in his name.
Pelé shown in action in 1958 World Cup soccer match.
Few athletes in any sport have reached the pinnacle of stardom and global recognition as that of Brazil’s Pelé, the singular name this world soccer star came to be known by during his playing years and for decades thereafter. Pelé came to represent in soccer what Muhammad Ali was to boxing: an international icon who transcended his sport and his country. Born in 1940 as Edison “Edson” Arantes do Nascimento, a child of Brazilian Portuguese decent, Pelé grew up in poverty in São Paulo. He earned extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Taught to play by his coach, he could not afford a proper football, playing sometimes with a newspaper-stuffed sock tied with string, a grapefruit, or some other improvised “ball.” Today, according to polls taken among football experts, fans, and former players, Pelé is consistently ranked as one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
Pelé, Brazil’s soccer legend, shown in some “Pelé Soccer” garb.
In 1956, Pelé joined Brazil’s Santos Football Club and stayed with the club through his retirement in 1974, helping them to nine championships in 18 years. Pelé also played on four Brazilian World Cup teams, including the country’s three World Cup Champions in 1958, 1962 and 1970. The 1958 final was perhaps his most famous match, when Pelé stunned the world scoring six goals, including two in the championship game to help Brazil win its first World Cup 5-2 over Sweden. He was only 17 years-old at the time. In his native Brazil, Pelé is hailed as a national hero, known for his soccer accomplishments and also for his vocal support of public policies to improve the social conditions of the poor. When he scored his 1,000th goal he dedicated it to the poor children of Brazil.
In his career, Pelé scored 760 official goals, 541 in league championships, making him the top scorer of all time. In total during his career, he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games – 12 in World Cup final tournaments. During his playing years, he was known variously as “The King of Football,” “The King Pelé” or simply, “The King.” Pelé retired in 1974. However, in 1975, he came our of retirement to play in America for the New York Cosmos team of the new North American Soccer League (NASL). Pelé was paid a $1 million per year when he played for the Cosmos, and some attribute his playing there with helping generate interest in America to make the NASL a going concern. However, Pelé retired in 1977 after leading the Cosmos to the NASL championship.
Pelé shown making his famous “bicycle kick” in competition.
Given his world soccer notoriety, Pelé became one the world’s most formidable marketing forces and something of an international brand. Prime Licensing, a company established by Pele’s friend and businessman, Jose Alves de Araujo, was set up to manage Pele’s various market- ing deals. Prime Licensing managed a number of Pelé product endorsements and contracts, including those with Puma AG, Pelestation, QVC, and Fremantle Media, as well as Pelé brands Pelé L’uomo and Pelé Arena coffee houses. In recent years Pelé has earned an estimated $30 million a year from his businesses and endorsements. He has endorsed products from soccer balls, clothing, and equipment, to aPelé soccer video game. Even though he has been retired for more than three decades, the name Pelé is still synonymous with world-class soccer to millions around the world. And so, his appeal in advertising, especially running up to World Cup games in recent years, has made him one of the world’s top advertising personalities. During the 1994 World Cup, he was featured in a Master Card ad with an orchestra performing the song “America.” During the 2002 World Cup he earned millions doing ads for MasterCard, Pfizer, Petrobas, and Nokia. According to one account, leading up to that event, Pelé appeared in 20 million mailings, 100 World Cup promotions, and at least a dozen TV ads. Among other companies and brands he has represented around the world are: Time Warner, Procter & Gamble, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, and others. But Pelé has also given a part of himself to good causes, including ambassadorial work for various bodies. In the early 1990s, he was appointed a United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment, and has continued working for good causes since then.
Pelé and Zidane at the photo shoot in Spain for the Louis Vuitton June 2010 ad.
Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, was generally praised for its “soccer legends” ad, some suggesting that bringing the three “soccer gods” together in one frame was enough by itself. Others saw it as a statement for the cooperative spirit of World Cup games as much as it was one for hyping World Cup competition and singing the praises of three soccer greats. Yet Zidane, Maradona, and Pelé have had their differences about the game – all in the spirit of good competition, of course. But in the Vuitton ads at least, it’s only camaraderie and friendly competition that are projected.
A monogrammed Louis Vuitton canvas bag from the ad showing initials “Z.Z.”
Louis Vuitton, of course, is in the business of promoting its “mongrammed luxury lifestyle,” as one observer described the company’s mission. And using the World Cup and three big-name soccer celebrities to help do that – each offering an “everyman” appeal, given their respective roots – was certainly one way to help spread the Vuitton style, or at least the thought of it, to the far corners of the globe. World Cup soccer, in any case, is big business these days. As to which one of the three soccer greats – Zidane, Maradona, or Pelé – is truly the greatest of all time? Well, that debate surely goes on, with national partisans in France, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil all having their favorite, no doubt – as do many throughout the world.
Other stories at this website on advertising or sports can be found at those respective directory pages, or go to the Home page or Archive for additional choices. Thanks for visiting. - Jack Doyle
Famous 1920s’ singer & film star, Al Jolson, in Lucky Strike cigarette ad. Literary Digest, December 22, 1928.
In 1927, Al Jolson became famous as one of the first actors and singers to star in a talking motion picture – The Jazz Singer. But Jolson was already a big star by this time. In fact, by 1920, he was America’s highest paid entertainer, well known for his singing. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had more than 80 hit records and had performed on more than a dozen national and international tours. He often performed in blackface makeup – a theatrical style of that era – singing jazz, blues, and ragtime. He also liked to have stage runways extend out into the audience, where he would roam at will, sometimes teasing and cajoling his fans, or stopping to sing a song to one person in particular. Audiences loved his perfor- mances.
But Jolson’s appearance in the first feature-length motion picture with synchro- nized sound and dialogue sent him to another level of stardom. In The Jazz Singer, Jolson performed six songs produced by Warner Brothers with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system. The film’s release — quite the event in its day – heralded the rise of the “talkies” and the end of the silent film era. Being the first popular singer to make a big event out of singing a song in film with sound, Jolson became the equal of a today’s “rock star.” In fact, some would later dub him an Elvis Presley equivalent in the popular jazz and blues styles of that era. In any case, The Jazz Singer boosted Jolson’s career, sending him into more prosperous roles, starring in a series of successful musical films throughout the 1930s. With his celebrity at its peak, the economic powers that be soon came after Jolson to endorse and promote their products. And none of those who came calling was a bigger power than the American Tobacco Co., then one of the world’s largest companies and maker of numerous tobacco products, including Lucky Strike cigarettes.
The premiere of “The Jazz Singer” in New York at the Warners Theater, October 6, 1927, the first talking motion picture and quite the event in its day.
The American Tobacco Co. knew full well what it was doing with celebrity endorsers such as Al Jolson in the rising film industry. The company, in fact, would become famous, in part, for its role in using all manner of the persuasive arts and beyond — including the hiring of advertising psychologists — in crafting its advertising and promotional strategies. American Tobacco in the 1920s was run by George Washington Hill, the man who would lead the tobacco industry into the era of mass advertising. Hill hired some of the leading lights of his day in advertising and public relations to help advance his plans – among them, A.D. Lasker, Edward Bernays, and Ivy Lee. American Tobacco’s advertising and PR campaigns, for example, were among the first to target women as potential smokers. “Together, Hill and Lasker are credited with starting more people on the smoking habit than anyone in history,” writes Milt Moskowitz in his 1980 book, Everybody’s Business. “They also helped break the taboo against women smoking in public.” But the film-star and Hollywood connection would become especially important to American Tobacco in all of its campaigns, and later, for other tobacco companies as well. “The links between Hollywood and tobacco go back to the beginning of talking pictures,” says Stanton Glantz, co-author of the 2008 study, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951. “It was a way to thoroughly embed tobacco use in the social fabric.”
“The Tobacco Celebrities”
This is one in a series of occasional articles that will focus on the history of popular celebrities from film, tele- vision, sports and other fields who have lent their names or voice, offered endorsing statements, or made person- al appearances in various forms of tobacco advertising and promotion. Famous actors, sports stars and other notable personalities have been endors- ing tobacco products since the late 1800s. One recent report published in the journal Tobacco Control, for example, notes that nearly 200 Hollywood stars from the 1930s and 1940s were contracted to tobacco companies for advertising. And while the stigma associated with smoking and using other tobacco products has increased in recent years as medical research evidence linking disease to tobacco has become more widely understood, the promotion of tobacco products, while not as blatant and pervasive as it once was, continues to this day in a number of countries. Not all celebrities, of course, have been involved in such endorsements, and some have worked for, or lent their names to, programs and organizations that help to prevent cigarette smoking or other tobacco-related public health problems.
Beginning in the late ’20s, American Tobacco began a campaign to link smoking with sophistication, slimness, and “sonorous voices.” Part of this campaign in 1927 was dubbed the “Precious Voice” campaign, which dovetailed nicely with the arrival of the both the talking motion picture and the rise of radio and its commercialization. American Tobacco, in fact, spent tens of millions of dollars on radio programs that ran between 1928 and the mid-1950s; shows which also used the company’s celebrity tobacco ads. But in the late 1920s, following the release of The Jazz Singer, as “talking pictures” became all the rage, American Tobacco sought actor endorsements for its cigarettes. It also began actor and singer cigarette advertising that claimed Lucky Strike spared their throats and protected their voices. And American Tobacco ads also used another tack in 1928 – this time featuring Lucky Strike cigarettes as an alternative to fattening sweets. “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” was the slogan that ran with this campaign in 1928-1929. Al Jolson appeared in at least one of these ads — as shown in the December 1928 ad at the top of this story. That ad ran in popular magazines of the day. Jolson is quoted in the ad’s headline saying: “I light up a Lucky and go light on the sweets. That’s how I keep in good shape and always feel peppy.” Part of the arrangement in such ads was also to have a tie-in with the film studio – in this case, for Jolson’s latest new film. Near the Lucky Strike pack in the above ad, the text reads: “Al Jolson, as he appears in Warner Bros Vitaphone success, The Singing Fool.”
Feds Take Note
In 1929, however, the federal government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began to scrutinize cigarette ads and their testimonials by the famous personalities. One of the campaigns the FTC went after was American Tobacco’s “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” campaign, and the use of that slogan. Not surprisingly, the U.S. candy industry had lobbied federal regulators to restrict American Tobacco’s use of this phrase and would also bring legal action against American Tobacco to change its ads. But the FTC also looked at the testimonials used by celebrities in the American Tobacco ads, calling them misleading. The FTC would specifically cite Jolson’s words in one endorsement where he is making several claims about the supposed benefits of smoking Luckies – similar to those used in first ad above. In the advertising, Jolson is quoted as saying, in part:
“Talking pictures demand a very clear voice… Toasting kills off all the irritants, so my voice is as clear as a bell in every scene. Folks, let me tell you, the good old flavor of Luckies is as sweet and soothing as the best “Mammy” song ever written… There’s one great thing about the toasted flavor…it surely satisfies the craving for sweets. That’s how I always keep in good shape and always feel peppy.”
The FTC also found that Jolson did not write the attributed lines himself or review it before its use, specifically citing a 1928 Lucky Strike Radio Hour broadcast of the message. Instead, Warner Brothers’ advertising manager A. P. Waxman, signed a release on Warner Brothers letterhead for text similar to what was used on air, stating that he acted on Jolson’s behalf. In November 1929, the FTC issued a cease and desist order against American Tobacco, prohibiting the use of testimonials unless written by the endorser, whose opinions were “genuine, authorised and unbiased”. In addition, American Tobacco did not acknowledge publicly in its print ads or radio broadcasts that its advertising testimonials were bought or that an advertising agency drafted them.
By the late 1930s, American Tobacco was regularly using movie-star celebrities in its ads, such as Claudette Colbert, shown here, also noting her co-staring role in the upcoming film, “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife,” by Paramount.
American Tobacco revised the contractual language for its 1931 endorsement campaign to ensure control over the language and messaging of the testimonials, while still conforming to the FTC’s 1929 stipulations that endorsers supply the testimonial. While actors offered their opinions and declared the number of years they smoked Lucky cigarettes, they permitted Lord & Thomas, the ad agency, to write the actual testimonial — “phrased in such form as to make an effective message from the standpoint of truthfulness and advertising value.” Actors also signed revised release statements that read: “No monetary or other consideration of any kind or character has been paid me or promised me for the above statement, by [American Tobacco's agent], or by the manufacturers of Lucky Strike Cigarettes or otherwise.” But the money was flowing to the studios, not the actors directly, a practice that would only grow in the decades ahead, as other tobacco companies began their campaigns. The studios would soon see big gains from the cross promotion in these ads, as their stars and latest movies were being touted, so they were generally happy to deal with the tobacco companies. According to the study, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951, the studios also negotiated the content of testimonials, insisted that the timing of the ads and radio appearances be coordinated with movie releases, and sometimes denied permission for deals that did not serve their interest. But all in all, it was a good deal for the studios and the tobacco companies.
The FTC, meanwhile, in its earlier investigation of the film-star tobacco ads, had also ordered American Tobacco to disclose payments made for actor testimonials used in its advertising. However, by 1934, American Tobacco successfully removed this disclosure requirement, presumably through its lobbying of the agency. From the late 1930s through the 1940s, two thirds of the top 50 box office stars in Hollywood would endorse tobacco products in advertising. Soon, the FTC’s attempt to clamp down on the relationship between big tobacco and its Hollywood helpers was largely circumvented. Some internal film industry prohibitions on actor endorsements — briefly in effect in 1931 – would be bypassed as well. By 1937 and 1938, American Tobacco was paying to have a long list of Hollywood stars to appear in its ads, including: Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Bob Hope, Carole Lombard, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery, Richard Powell, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Swanson, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, and Jane Wyatt. The payments to stars ranged in value, in 2008 dollars, generally from $40,000 to $140,000 for each endorsement. In all, American Tobacco payed out the 2008 equivalent of some $3.2 million for actor endorsements of Lucky Strike cigarettes in print ads and radio spots in 1937-38. In fact, from the late 1930s through the 1940s, two thirds of the top 50 box office stars in Hollywood would endorse tobacco products in advertising.
By the late 1940s, Chesterfield cigarettes were the dominant brand being pitched by Hollywood celebs, here by Gary Cooper in 1948, also plugging his film, “Unconquered” by Parmount.
Nearly a decade later, in the early- and mid-1940s, the FTC once again turned its attention to investigating the advertising methods of American Tobacco and R. J. Reynolds for their Lucky and Camel film-star testimonials. As it did, another cigarette maker, Liggett & Myers, maker of the Chesterfield brand, took advantage of the FTC’s focus on those companies to launch its own Hollywood-celebrity ad campaign. Liggett & Myers began a multi-year Hollywood campaign in print and on radio, spending the 2008 equivalent of $50.9 million in 1946 alone. As a result, the Chesterfield cigarette brand gained endorsements from Hollywood stars who had formerly endorsed Lucky Strikes. Among these new “Chesterfield celebrities” were: Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Bob Hope and Ray Milland from Paramount; Clark Gable at MGM; Fred MacMurray from Universal; and Joan Crawford at Warner Bros. On the radio too, with its Chesterfield Supper Club, Liggett & Myers had testimonials from stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward, Fred MacMurray, and Rosalind Russell. And of course, the practice of celebrities endorsing tobacco products — celebrities from Hollywood, the sports world, and other fields — did not end in the 1940s, and in fact would expand in the decades ahead with the rise of the new medium, television.
Stay tuned to the this website for more stories on the history of tobacco advertising by celebrities, and generally for stories on the history of advertising and its impact on modern culture. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Al Jolson & Luckies, 1928-1940s,” PopHistoryDig.com, January 31, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Lucky Strike Radio 1928-1950s
Between the late 1920s and mid-1950s, the American Tobacco Co. spent tens of millions of dollars on radio programs that ran between 1928 and the mid-1950s; shows which also used the company’s celebrity tobacco ads. Among these programs were: The Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra, also known as the Lucky Strike Dance Hour, which aired on NBC radio from 1928 to 1931; Your Hit Parade, which ran on NBC and CBS from 1935 to 1955; Your Hollywood Parade, an hour long weekly program broadcast from the Warner Brothers studio Hollywood lot; and The Jack Benny Program, which ran from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. Of the program Your Holly- wood Parade, broadcast from the Warner Brothers studio lot, the authors of Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951, would write: “The radio show re- inforced the impression, also encour- aged by the print campaign, that everyone in Hollywood smoked Lucky Strike…” In fact, on that radio program in the early 1940s, Lucky Strike “impressions” – phrases, jingles or brand name mentions of one kind or another – were being heard by listeners nearly every 30 seconds.
Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz and Robert Levering, “Cigarette Makers,” Everybody’s Business: The Irreverent Guide to Corporate America, Harper & Row, 1980, pp. 765-769.
John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, “The Art of the Hustle…,” and “Smokers’ Hacks,” in Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and The Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1995, pp. 17-32.
Close-up portion of full-page 1953 ad for a ‘torture tested’ Timex watch taped to Mickey Mantle’s baseball bat.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Timex, a brand-named wristwatch, became some- thing of an iconic American product through a long-running advertising campaign that used celebrities to pitch the product. Print ads, such as the one at right with New York Yankee baseball star, Mickey Mantle, were featured in the major magazines of the day. They showed Timex watches being subject to various kinds of “torture tests” to demonstrate their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproof- ing. In the ad at right, the watch was taped to Mantle’s bat as he took batting practice.
The Timex “torture test” advertising was also used in TV ads, a series made popular by celebrity newscaster John Cameron Swayze who hosted the spots. A number of these ads also featured sports celebrities who doled out the tough treatment to the watches and/or supplied an endorsing statement. Swayze also hosted non-celebrity Timex ads in which the watch would be subject to other trials — whether placed in a washing machine or attached to the bow of a speed boat. Swayze had made a name for himself as a broadcaster and became a trusted national personality and a believable pitchman for Timex. For over 20 years – well into the 1970s – Swayze appeared in the advertising series with one kind of Timex watch or another being subject to various physical challenges to prove their durability, shock resistance, and/or superior waterproofing.
Full page layout of Mickey Mantle ad.
In the Mickey Mantle print ad, for example, the full-page version, shown at left, starts off with the following headline:
“AMAZING TEST BY MICKEY MANTLE PROVES TIMEX WATCHES ARE REALLY RUGGED…”
Two photographic panels then show Mantle in action swinging his bat, with one close-up of the barrel of the bat with the Timex watch taped to it. Then the ad’s text and a smaller headline run below the photos:
“Unusual Verified Shock Test Proves Timex Can Take a Beating Yet Keep on Ticking”
“At Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle, one of the great power hitters of modern baseball stepped to the plate. To the back of his bat was strapped a Timex Marlin watch. 50 times a ball was pitched to the Yankee slugger. 50 times, he sent scorching drives to all corners of the park. Then, in the presence of witnesses, Mickey examined the Timex watch. It was still running – and still on time! Here is dramatic proof of the amazing sturdiness, accuracy and dependability which has made Timex the watch choice of millions.”
Full-page Timex ad touting its watches in the ‘Saturday Evening Post,’ 1953.
Timex is an American watch company with roots that date to 1854 and the Waterbury Clock Company that began in Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley. Waterbury became known as the “Switzerland of America” during the 19th century. Its sister company, Waterbury Watch, manufactured the first inexpensive pocket watch in 1880. By World War I, Waterbury began making wristwatches, which were just then becoming popular. In the 1930s, Waterbury became known for creating the first Mickey Mouse clock with Mickey’s hands pointing to the time.
During World War II, Waterbury Clock became U.S. Time Company and following the war, in 1950, it introduced the Timex wristwatch. At first, jewelers resisted carrying the watch because of its low 50 percent mark-up, as other brands offered 100 percent mark-ups. U.S. Time Co. then went elsewhere with its watches, setting up displays in drugstores, department stores, and cigar stands – mechanical displays that dunked a ticking watch into water and banged it with a hammer. Then the company began its magazine advertising, stressing its product’s durability, shock resistance, and waterproofing. Consumers soon began buying the watches. By 1951, the company had produced almost 2 million, gaining an 18 percent share of the low-priced U.S. wristwatch market.
1950s’ print ad showing turtles ‘testing’ Timex watches – ‘banged around all day on ten turtles underwater. They all kept running right on time...They all lived up to the waterproof, shock-resistant guarantee...’
Then in 1952-54, the company began a more focused advertising campaign, first with print ads using the torture tests – a la Mickey Mantle, race horses, swimming turtles, and more. Shortly thereafter, in 1956, it teamed up with spokesman John Cameron Swayze to do TV advertising, and sales took off. The company later became the Timex Corporation, then the Timex Group. To date, Timex has sold over one billion watches. But it was in the 1950s that the brand established itself, and in no small part due to its celebrity-assisted, “torture test” advertising, using the famous line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
What made Timex watches so durable was their design and inner workings. Technically, the watch employed a special escapement which had a cone-shaped balance staff that rotated in bearings made of a very hard alloy called “Armalloy.” The balance staff is the most delicate component in a watch, the part most likely to be displaced by a jolt. Timex made theirs sturdier, which greatly enhanced the watch’s shock-resistance. In addition, the Timex movement had fewer parts than other watches, making it even more durable. The Timex watch was also priced right – with 1950s prices ranging initially from $6.75 to $7.95, then $9.95 to $12.95. And the watches kept reasonably good time, off only by a minute or two a day, according to one 1950s’ estimate. Consumers loved them, and they snapped them up in the millions.
Timex magazine ad of 1954 showing four sports stars who tested and/or endorsed Timex watches.
One round of ads in the print series appearing in 1954 featured sports stars in addition to Mickey Mantle. Ben Hogan, a top professional golfer in the 1950s, was also featured in some Timex ads during this period (see below, later), as was professional boxer Rocky Marciano, shown below in a separate ad. The Timex print ads also included female athletes putting the watch through its paces.
In the ad copy at right – with a headline billing Timex as “The Action Watch for Active People” — four panels show a selection of athletes who tested the watches. In ad’s top half, skater Barbara Ann Scott is shown in the left photograph, and golf star, Babe Didrikson at right. Scott won North American, World and Olympic figure skating honors between 1945 and 1948 and was the first female to land a double lutz when she was 13. Didrikson, a phenomenal Olympic track star in the 1930s, later turned to a successful career in professional golf. Scott and Didrikson, like Mantle and Marciano who are also shown here, were also featured in separate magazine ads as well as this composite.
Saturday Evening Post ad, June 1954, featuring Rocky Marciano.
One version of the Rocky Marciano ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of June 1954. Marciano was then the World Heavyweight Boxing Champ. In the ad, the headline and text ran as follows:
The Watch ‘The Rock’ Couldn’t Stop!
“The Timex Waterproof Marlin rides Rocky Marciano’s smashing, jolting punches on the body bag, the rapid, bouncing blows in the light bag, then a hot and cold shower. At the end of this workout, Rocky checked and said: ‘Still running, and right on time. It’s true that Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking – a true champion’.”
Then in 1956, Timex moved its torture-test advertising campaign to television, teaming up with John Cameron Swayze.
John Cameron Swayze The News & Timex
John Cameron Swayze, NBC Radio.
In the person of John Cameron Swayze, Timex found a perfect pitchman – a much-liked and confident newsman with a “crisp but folksy voice,” as one New York Times writer would later describe him. Swayze, working with Timex, received about twenty years’ worth of national TV exposure in the ad series and he became a familiar celebrity and something of a household name as a result.
Swayze was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1904. He aspired first to the Broadway stage and had attended drama school in New York, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the dismal economy foreclosed acting possi- bilities. He threw in his lot as a newspaper reporter, working in Kansas City, shortly becoming a radio broadcaster there. He then moved to Hollywood in 1944 landing a desk job with NBC’s Western News Division. In 1947 the network moved him to New York, where Swayze proposed a radio quiz program, Who Said That, in which a panel tried to identify people behind a famous quote. NBC liked the idea and so did his listeners. NBC later appointed Swayze to moderate their televised coverage of the 1948 Republican and Democratic national conventions – the first ever such coverage. The following year he became one of the first “news anchormen,” hosting the Camel News Caravan, a 15-minute news program sponsored by Camel cigarettes that was broadcast five times a week on NBC ( later sponsored on alternating nights by Plymouth automobiles, called the Plymouth News Caravan).
John Cameron Swayze in TV news studio, 1949.
At the time, newspapers and newsreels were the primary sources of news. The News Caravan shows replaced the old newsreel format, becoming the forerunners of the modern TV newscast. The show included live news events, interviews with entertainers and government officials, and roundups by commen- tators from different cities. Swayze would later be described by New York Times writer Randy Kennedy as bringing ” a light, jaunty touch to the news.” He would also be accused by some as being more interested in pictures and personalities than hard news. Swayze would later say that part of his role was “making people feel good.” In any case, the news show became quite popular, and Swayze with it, becoming one of TV’s first “news celebrities.” In addition to the News Caravan, Swayze appeared on other programs during the early ’50s including as a permanent panelist on the NBC quiz show Who Said That? where he impressed viewers and colleagues with his encyclopedic knowledge of current events. He also hosted a show for kids called Watch the World.
Swayze at torture test with outboard motor.
On the evening news show, Swayze built up huge ratings as an energetic and confident newscaster. He wrote most of the scripts and memorized them so he could look directly as his audience. Those who worked with him said he had a terrific memory. However, by 1956 as his rating slipped, Swayze had fallen out of favor and was dismissed as NBC brought on a new anchor team Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Swayze then moved over to Timex, essentially bringing his newscasting style to “reporting” the gospel according to Timex, becoming known for the trade-marked ‘keeps on ticking’ catch-phrase at the end of each spot. Swayze did the Timex TV ads for about two decades. He appeared in advertising for other products as well, including Camel cigarettes and Studebaker cars. Swayze also made a few movie cameos during his career, but he is most remembered for his Timex spots. John Cameron Swayze died in August 1995 at his summer home in Sarasota, Florida, having moved there from Connecticut after falling into ill health. He was 89.
Swayze & Timex
The Timex TV ads – with Swayze setting up the action and reporting on the results – showed Timex watches being strapped to the propeller of an outboard motor, taped to a lobster claw in an underwater tank, or being held fist-first by a famous Acapulco cliff diver going head first into the sea from high cliffs. In these action spots, Swayze would retrieve the watch after the test and show it close up, or the camera would otherwise zoom in on the watch in its attached position so viewers could see the sweep hand moving over the watch face. Swayze at that point would typically add something like: “Incredibly, the watch is still working after taking that pounding – Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Americans loved the ads, and many wrote in by the thousands, suggesting new ways to torture the Timex pieces. One Air Force sergeant even offered to crash a plane while wearing a Timex watch. But the torture tests were selling those watches. By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex.
1950s Timex ad with pro golfer, Ben Hogan.
Among other tortures that Timex watches endured and survived in these demonstrations were the following: being placed in a paint mixer, frozen in an ice cube tray, spun in a vacuum cleaner, placed on the leg of a race horse, attached to ice skater’s boot above the blade (see video above ), tossed over the Grand Coulee Dam, attached to an archer’s arrow tip that was shot through a pane of glass, attached to the blade of an outboard motor, strapped to a tackle line and cast off a deep-sea fishing boat, attached to the pontoon of a plane that landed on water in Hawaii, and swallowed by a farmer’s cow in Texas. However, there was one reported incident of an elephant crushing a Timex — a board with a Timex affixed to its underside, then stood upon by the elephant in a one-leg pose.
In most of the tests — some done live — Swayze was always his buoyant self and rarely at a loss for words, filling in with appropriate banter when need be – as he did when one Mexican cliff diver was being banged around in rough surf after completing his dive with a Timex. In another live commercial, broadcast in 1958 during The Steve Allen Show, a watch that had been fastened to the blade of outboard motor being run in a stage tank, came off during the test and Swayze could not retrieve it. “Without missing a beat,” explains New York Times writer, Randy Kennedy, Swayze reported that the watch was probably “still ticking” at the bottom of the tank.
Timex ads in more recent years have sought a hipper image, with various plays on one’s use of time, here for the Ironman triathlete type (2009).
In May 1960, Swayze and Timex received some special exposure when three Timex TV ads ran on the much-watched Frank Sinatra Timex Show – Welcome Home Elvis. That show starred Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” group of friends and entertainers who were welcoming Elvis Presley back from his stint in the U.S. Army. In one of the ads during that show, Swayze stood by as the dolphin “Nellie” tested the watch in a series of jumps at Marine World in Florida. Timex, meanwhile, continued to do well in sales, and was soon at the top of the U.S. and world markets. By 1963, nearly half the watches sold in the U.S. were from Timex. By 1967, it was the world’s best-selling watch brand.
In the 1970s, the American watch and clock industry was devastated by the arrival of cheap mechanical watches from the Far East, as well as the development of digital quartz watches pioneered by the Japanese. Timex survived the 1970s and 1980s and began a comeback. It phased out mechanical watch production in favor of digital watches and also introduced new lines. In 1986, its “Ironman Triathlon” watch, jointly devised by athletes and industrial designers, became America’s best-selling watch, later adding a full line for men and women to become the world’s largest selling sports watch well into the1990s. Timex remains profitable and competitive today, although its primary market remains the U.S. and Canada. The company sells a number of other brands such as Guess, Nautica, Ecko, Opex and is also in the luxury watch market with Versace. It also manufactures the Timex Datalink series of PDA-type watches, GPS-enabled watches, heart rate monitor exercise watches, and other high-tech devices.
1991 Timex ad touting survival abilities of its wearer and also the ‘keeps-on-ticking’ slogan in red lettering that encircles description, below.
1991 Timex watch ad description of Helen Thayer.
“Ticking” in 1990s
John Cameron Swayze and his Timex ads, meanwhile, remained a staple of the company’s TV advertising through the mid- to-late-1970s, then being phased out. However, in 1989, about a decade after the ads had ceased, Timex decided to bring back the famous slogan – and also Swayze’s recorded voice – to use in some newer TV ads. Swayze at the time was then in his 80s. Timex desperately wanted to modernize its image at the time and not return to the past. However, research convinced Timex otherwise, showing that baby boomers who grew up with the ads had a fondness for them and remembered Swayze and the lines. Timex asked 2,000 consumers what they remem- bered most about the watch maker. “Just about everyone said, ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking’,” said Timex advertising manager Ron Sok in1989. “Keep in mind, we hadn’t used that slogan in our ads for 10 years.”
So Timex dusted off its old slogan, added some funny plot lines, and launched their new TV ads for 1989-1990. One featured Timex watches strapped to the bellies of Sumo wrestlers – with the watches surviving. Another showed a psychic with mind power that could bend a fork, but couldn’t stop a Timex watch. A third had an opera singer’s shrill voice shattering every object in the opera hall – except the Timex watch. And at the end of each of these ads came Swayze’s voice assuring the viewers that, indeed, Timex watches “keep on ticking.” In print ads too, Timex featured individuals who endured /survived rugged physical challenges — i.e., took a licking, but kept on ticking – as shown in the 1991 sample ad at right. But in these ads, Timex also found a way to keep using its venerable slogan, ”it takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” printed in red to encircle the descriptive ad copy.
Timex has since revamped its advertising strategy a few times, using newer and hipper themes – though departing from its classic slogan with some trepidation. In 2003 or so, it tried “Timex: Life is Ticking” and more recently it has used, “Timex: Be There Now,” as in the ad sample for the Ironman watch shown above earlier. Still, in the pantheon of memorable advertising, the “keeps on ticking” line remains one of the top rated ad campaigns — ranked No. 40 by Advertising Age on its list of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century. The classic Timex campaign of the 1950s and 1960s is also a good example of the use of novelty action and celebrity association in advertising.
To see additional stories on advertising and marketing at this website, go to the “Madison Avenue” categories page which lists thumbnails and more story choices.
Rocky Marciano, in full-page advertisement for Timex Watches at training camp, Saturday Evening Post, June 1954.
Isadore Barmash, “The Mainspring of Timex; Lehmkuhl Pins Hope On Quartz Watches,” New York Times, Sunday, December 5, 1971, Business & Finance, p. F-7.
Randall Rothenberg, The Media Business: Advertising, “Some of Those Slogans Just Keep On Ticking,” New York Times, Friday, December 9, 1988.
Bruce Horovitz, “It’s Commercial ‘Deja Vu’ As Old Ad Slogans Become the Latest Thing,”Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1989.
John Cameron Swayze also did advertisements for Camel cigarettes in the 1950s, as Camel sponsored his news show. In that day, however, celebrities of all stripes -- actors, TV personalities, even sports stars -- did tobacco ads.
Brian Jenkins, “John Cameron Swayze Dead at 89,”CNN, August 16, 1995.
Randy Kennedy, John Cameron Swayze, 89, Journalist and TV Pitchman,” New York Times, August 17, 1995.
“Top 100 Advertising Campaigns: The Advertising Century,” AdAge.com, (Advertising Age maga- zine), viewed, August 16, 2009.
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1950s), “Extreme Cliff Diving,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze featuring Champion Cliff Diver, Raoul Garcia at the La Perla Cliffs, Aculpulco, Mexico, on You Tube. (2:23 minutes).
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1960), “Nellie The Dolphin,” Timex TV Ad with John Cameron Swayze at Marine World, Florida, on You Tube (2:05 minutes)
Timex Torture Test TV Ad (1971), “Champion Skater,” at Sun Valley, Idaho with John Cameron Swayze,on You Tube. (1:30 minutes)
Barbara Matusow, The Evening Stars, New York: Houghton-Mifflin Co.,1983.
Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News , 2003, 426pp.
More recent Timex ad: ‘Before you yell ‘Surf’s Up!’ make sure you know what you’re talking about. The Timex E-Instruments E-Tide & Temp provides tidal trend and air or water temperature readings all with the push of a button.’
Stuart Elliott, The Media Business, “Advertising: ‘Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking’ Is On The Way Out at Timex. Now, it’s ‘Life is ticking’,” New York Times, August 26, 2003.
1955 TV Newscast With John Cameron Swayze (Sample 1), Plymouth News Caravan of April 18, 1955, You Tube ( 8:42 minutes). Note: This early TV newscast bears little resemblance to today’s more sophisticated product, but it does show the early origins of TV news and format. Stories covered in this example include the death of Albert Einstein and some earlier statements by Einstein on camera. Also includes commercials.
1955 TV Newscast with John Cameron Swayze, (Sample 2), Plymouth News Caravan of April 21, 1955 (14+ minutes). Plymouth News Caravan alternated with Camel News Caravan on Tuesday and Thursday nights, 7:45-8pm, Eastern Time.
By 1987, Nike had passed 1 billion dollars in sales.
In 1987, sneaker manufacturer Nike had passed the $1 billion mark in corporate sales. However, its chief competitor at the time, Reebok, was the world’s No. 1 sneaker company. Nike was then in the process of revamping its advertising and marketing strategies and had already hooked up with a rising NBA basketball star named Michael Jordan. The company had also come up with a tag line for promoting a new group of Nike Air athletic shoes — “Revolution in Motion.” But this campaign needed some catchy music to use in its TV advertising to help launch the shoe. That’s when Nike and its advertising agency, Weiden & Kennedy, got the idea of using the Beatles’ classic 1960s’ song, “Revolution” to help sell the shoes.
However, Beatles’ music — at least in its original form as sung by the Beatles themselves – had never been used in a TV commercial before. In one case in 1985 the Beatles’ song “Help!” was used in a Lincoln-Mercury car ad, but the song was performed in that case by a sound-alike group. Nike’s ad agency, Weiden & Kennedy, wanted the real thing. “We never considered sound-alikes,” said the agency’s Kelley Stoutt, explaining Nike’s intentions for its “revolution” ad to Time magazine in May 1987. “In our minds,” said Stoutt, emphasizing the plan to use the original song, “it was the Beatles or no one.”
The Beatles, from left: John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr.
In mid-1987, Nike made a deal to use the Beatles song in their ad campaign shelling out $500,000 to do so. However, Nike didn’t make the deal with the Beatles, but rather, with pop star Michael Jackson and EMI-Capitol Records. According to Time, Nike paid $250,000 to the record companies and a similar amount to Jackson to use the song for one year. Jackson had acquired “Revolution” and 200 other Beatles tunes in 1985 when he paid $47.5 million to an Australian group for a catalog of some 4,000 songs, including the Beatles’ songs. The Beatles, however, along with their record label, Apple, had decided after the earlier use of “Help!” in the 1985 Ford Lincoln-Mercury ad, that there would be no more use of Beatles music in advertising. Yet the Beatles didn’t own the rights to “Revolution” any longer; and Nike had paid its fee to Jackson and Capitol Records for the right to use the song. How the Beatles lost control of “Revolution” and many of their other songs, and how Michael Jackson acquired them, is covered in part in another story at this website — see “Michael & McCartney.” Music publishing rights in the early 1960s were valued somewhat differently, and many performers didn’t always realize the full economic value of their songs. The Beatles, for their part, had also made a few management mistakes along the way, and were not well served by some of their business partners and managers. With the right advice at the time, the Beatles might well have retained full and clear control of “Revolution” and their other early songs. Still, there is much more to this story than space permits here.
Record sleeve cover for the 1968 Beatles’ singles ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’.
In any case, by early 1987, Nike believed it had the legal rights to use “Revolution,” and proceeded to make the ad with the original Beatles music. The ad began running on television in mid-March 1987. Then, in the summer of 1987, the three surviving Beatles along with their record label, Apple, filed a lawsuit objecting to Nike’s use of the song. The suit was aimed at Nike, its ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, and Capitol-EMI Records. The TV ad with the music – and there were at least four versions – continued to run as the litigation proceeded.
“Revolution” was written by John Lennon in the spring of 1968, then a tumultuous time in the U.S. and Europe. Vietnam War protests and other civil unrest had occurred. In Paris that May, about the time Lennon wrote the song, student demonstrations had reached a fevered pitch. A massive strike there and resulting riots led to the collapse of the government of Charles DeGaulle. Lennon aimed his song at the world’s young revolutionaries, agreeing with their basic beliefs but advocating non-violence. The song, which became the Beatles first venture into political territory, was recorded in Jully 1968 at Abbey Road studios in London. It was released on B-side of the “Hey Jude” single in August that year. The single reached No. 12 on the U.S. music charts. The song was a product of the recording sessions for the Beatle’s White Album, and in fact, the original slower version of “Revolution,” sometimes called “Revolution 1,” appears on that album.
The popular and more electric version of “Revolution,” and the one that became the subject of Nike’s advertising interest, was a hard-driving tune for the Beatles, one of the group’s loudest and most aggressive then to date. It was a good bit different than a lot of their prior material. In fact, for some, it presaged what would be called “heavy metal” music to come later. “The Beatles position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or anything else. …They wrote and recorded these songs as artists and not as pitch- men for any product.” – Apple, July 18, 1987. Still, it was basic rock ‘n roll, opening with a loud electric guitar, followed by Beatle vocals: “You say you want a revolution…,” then more guitars, electric piano, Beatle vocals with some screaming by John Lennon at one point. But by the mid-1980s, nearly twenty years after the first recording of the song, John Lennon was dead, and Michael Jackson had acquired the song’s rights. Nevertheless, in court, the surviving Beatles moved to protect their music.
“The Beatles position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or anything else,”said Apple’s attorney in a statement of July 18, 1987. “Their position is that they wrote and recorded these songs as artists and not as pitchmen for any product.” The Beatles charged that Nike “wrongfully traded on the good will and popularity of the Beatles” by using the song. Capitol-EMI countered by saying the lawsuit was “groundless” because Capitol had licensed the use of “Revolution” with the “active support and encouragement of Yoko Ono Lennon, a shareholder and director of Apple.” In addition to the legal action, there was also a backlash from Beatles fans to Nike’s use of the song, many saying that John Lennon would have objected.
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can
count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
all right, all right
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
all right, all right
ah, ah, ah, ah, ah…
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of
You ain’t going to make it with
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
“If it’s allowed to happen,” said former Beatle George Harrison of the Nike deal in November 1987, “every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. It’s one thing when you’re dead, but we’re still around! They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.” By February 1988, as Nike continued to use the ad and its music while the court fight proceeded, Paul McCartney said: “[T]he most difficult question is whether you should use songs for commercials. I haven’t made up my mind. Generally, I don’t like it, particularly with the Beatles stuff. When twenty years have passed maybe we’ll move into the realm where it’s okay to do it.”
Upbeat & Energetic
The Nike ads that ran using the “Revolution” music, however, were well received by many who saw them. One of the ads — showing a collage of quick-cut sports scenes that fit well with the music – was generally upbeat and energetic. It was purposely crafted by the producers to have the look of a grainy black-and- white home movie. They wanted the ad to come across as “a kind of radical sports documentary,” and in 1987-88, it likely had that effect. It showed a few quick clips of professional, well-known athletes — including very brief appearances of John McEnroe and Michael Jordan. But there were also lots of shots of amateurs doing their own sports things – from joggers and tennis players, to toddlers, rope skippers, and air guitarists. Some Madison Avenue managers at the time thought it was a coup for Nike to have used original Beatles’ music in the spot, calling the music “a very, very powerful tool.” Others weren’t so sure, pointing to the anti-war demonstrations of the Vietnam War era when the song was first aired, suggesting that association might be the more powerful one.
Meanwhile, as the litigation over the use of the music dragged on, Nike continued to air the ad. At least four versions of the TV spot were produced and run, including one version with women joggers. But finally, in March 1988, although the case was still in court, Nike decided to discontinue airing the ads using the “Revolution” song. More than a year later, in November 1989 the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the “tangle of lawsuits between the Beatles and their American and British record companies has been settled.” One condition of the out-of-court settlement was that terms of the agreement would be kept secret. The settlement was reached among the three groups of interests involved: the former surviving Beatles – George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr — John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono; and the music businesses, Apple, EMI, and Capitol Records. A spokesman for Yoko Ono noted of the lawsuit and settlement, however, “It’s such a confusing myriad of issues that even people who have been close to the principals have a difficult time grasping it. Attorneys on both sides of the Atlantic have probably put their children through college on this.”
Sells Music, Too
Cover sleeve used in South Africa for Beatles' single recordings, "Revolution" and "Hey Jude."
Turns out that the Nike “Revolution” ad not only helped to sell lots of Nike athletic shoes, but also helped to sell, re-energize, and introduce the Beatles’ music to a whole new generation of listeners. In fact, according to one blogger who was in high school at that time, Nike’s ad helped introduce him and his peers to the Beatles’ music. “As a kid entering high school and discovering music, hearing “Revolution” every night on TV opened my eyes and ears to the whole world of Beatles music,” he writes at his blog, dsicle.com. “Suddenly, the Beatles weren’t just dusty records on my parent’s shelf, they were current, popular musicians.” He adds that in 1987 there were certain songs guaranteed to be played at every high school party, including: “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys, “It’s Tricky” by RUN-DMC, “Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau – and also “Revolution” by the Beatles. “As amazing as it sounds,” he writes, “a 20 year-old Beatles song was popular with high school kids–no doubt spurred by the Nike Air Max ‘Revolution’ commercial.”
During the summer of 1987, the Beatles’ White Album, which contained a version of “Revolution,” was released on CD for the first time, reaching No. 18 on the Billboard albums chart nearly 20 years after its original release.
John McEnroe in Nike ad.
In the advertising world, meanwhile, the Nike “Revolution” ad was given high marks, seen as an excellent example of how advertising and iconic music can help with “branding” a product, elevating it in the minds of consumers, and distinguishing it from its competitors. Some advertising wags even say the 60-second ad played an important role in creating the Nike brand. The ad’s mixture of famous athletes like Michael Jordan and John McEnroe with everyday, average-person joggers and weekend athletes also had a pointed effect, as author John Katz observes in his 1994 book on Nike, Just Do It:
The message seemed designed to diminish the distance between the greatest athletes and people who play and exercise for fun. Though Nike dogma would have previously precluded the potential muddying of a great athlete’s image, the carefully contrived commercial ennobled every kid, pro athlete, and duffer who appeared. With the Beatles in the background, the commercial was like a sixty second celebration. And the shoes moved out of the stores.
Indeed, the Beatles’ music, mixed with the powerful sports images, helped give this ad an emotional tone and power, as marketing consultant Tim Glowa observed in 2004: “This commercial illustrates how television advertising can become the ultimate emotion builder….and demonstrates that a brand can be emotional and thought provoking.”
Key Business Event
Some years later, TheStreet.com, a business-oriented website, ran a piece commemorating the top 100 business events that shaped the 20th century. Nike’s Revolution ad made the cut at No. 97. The Street.com claimed the ad worthy of joining the 100 key events since it helped “commodify dissent,” as the editors put it, creating a new genre of advertising. The Street.com named Nike’s ad to its 100 key business events of the century, saying it helped “commodify dissent”. “It’s not the first time the ideals of the 1960s – freedom, individuality, anti-materialism, dissent – are called upon to push product,” said the editors. “But it may stand as the biggest co-optation. …Now it’s almost impossible to escape ads that sell not just products, but breaking the rules, dude.”
True, like the use of other rock tunes in advertising, Nike’s “Revolution” ad and the litigation that followed, further pushed the envelope on the use of popular music in advertising. “The Nike ‘Revolution’ use was monumental in many ways,” explained Josh Rabinowitz, director of music at the Grey Group in a 2009 Ad Week piece. Not only did the ad “resonate with the visuals and concept,” said Rabinowitz, it also “really opened the door to high-concept ads utilizing great – and expensive – music.” Nike’s Revolution ad also broke ground for “a cottage industry of commercial music-licensing experts and internal commercial-licensing resources,” according to Rabinowitz. In fact, entire departments in those specializations were created at record labels and music publishers, “because nobody wanted to get embroiled in that type of legal nuisance again.” Still, there would be more legal battles to come. Yet by the 1990s, what was once a valiant effort by artists to keep their music out of the commercial advertising arena appeared to be wearing down as more and more songs would be incorporated into advertising. Stay tuned to this site for those stories and others related to the “music-and-advertising” issue.