Footnotes: Seeing Through the Fog

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Published August 17, 2009

Ad legend Leo Burnett, the real life granddaddy from which the skinny-suited leads of Mad Men are derived, popularized the advertising practice of attaching compelling imagery to a product. Before Burnett’s time, advertising largely consisted of lengthy text descriptions of the product paired with arguments detailing its superiority to the competition. Burnett stressed that a good advertisement needed to somehow capture and reflect what he called the “inherent drama” of the company’s wares.

There was a lot of said inherent drama on the premiere of Mad Men‘s third season. The pinnacle, the confrontation between Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and art director Sal Romano (Bryan Batt) over some revealing conduct in a hotel bedroom, came swaddled in the scotch-guarded cloak of London Fog.

In last night’s episode, London Fog, the outerwear company that still exists somewhere on a fashion wrung below Burberry and above Patagonia, is trying to stay relevant by diversifying their selection of products: not just to raincoats but hats, umbrellas, and gloves. Don persuades them to keep the focus on the raincoat in their ads (the raincoat, of course, being the quintessential fashion accessory for subterfuge). And in that indelible Draper style, he describes an ad rife with subtle sexual tension and drama it would have made Burnett proud.

A similar ad from the early 1960’s (BELOW)  that reflects Burnett’s philosophy of combining an imposing image with dramatic undertones. Don’s propsed tagline from the episode, “Limit your exposure,” fits the ad’s intimate, melancholy couple.

 

In a rallying speech to his ad company, Leo Burnett Worldwide (the prototype for Sterling Cooper), Burnett instructed his future colleagues to abandon his brand of advertising and take his name off the doors when they decided to “Show the slightest sign of crudeness, inappropriateness or smart-aleckness and you lose that subtle sense of the fitness of things.”

London Fog’s recent ad campaign (RIGHT) goes in the opposite direction of Burnett’s and Draper’s vision for a quiet, evocative image. The ads feature the ubiquitous and mysteriously un-pregnant Giselle Bundchen, naked, her pelvic bone thrust forward. London Fog’s navy blue logo obscures her peeking crotch. Put to this kind of image, Don’s tagline of “Limit your exposure” could work, but for all the wrong reasons. If it were produced by the Leo Burnett company, he would insist to have his name taken off the door.