Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Al Capp may have been the greatest cartoonist-pitchman in the history of print media. You read his ads and you actually want to buy the product! How often does that happen? Just looking at these two pages (above and below, be sure to click to enlarge) makes me salivate for Cream of Wheat and Fruit of the Loom! How did he do it?

Well, right off the bat you can see that his ads used arresting fields of saturated color. I imagine that most of the rest of the pictures in the magazine, including the ads, were photos and would have used diluted, greyed-down color. Capp's stuff must have really popped out.

Capp wasn't above using stark primaries to get attention. That and thick, black lines certainly made the images jump from the page. Here (above) he fearlessly attempts to sell rutabagas (yellow turnips), surely the most difficult item of all to make ads for.

Notice the astonishingly bland and generic typeface on the Arrow Canning Company logo. That's obviously not Capp's work. You can tell that the client was a simple man who went along with the cartoon idea, but insisted that it be integrated with what he believed was the magical, charismatic quality of the original Arrowhead logo, so beloved by his aging grandmother. With clients like this Capp still managed to make art.

You have to enlarge this (above). Here Capp goes wild with expressionist graphics. It sells the product, though.

It helps to have a genius like Capp doing your ads, but even comic ads drawn by fairly normal artists (above) are effective. You have to wonder why magazines don't carry more of them. People like them so much that they'll even endure the tedious copy underneath the strip.

Well, maybe not in every case. I had no desire to read the boring copy below the Midol comic (above). Even so, I willingly read the drawn part of the ad and it succeeded in stamping the brand name on my brain.

Maybe this (above) is what killed comic strip ads.

Thanks to Mike Fontanelli who wrote the terrific article these Capp ads were swiped from. If you haven't read Mike's piece yet, then run don't walk to ASIFA-Hollywood's archive site and take a look. Steve Worth, who for my money is one of the best web designers in the business, did a great job of formatting it all.


I.D.R.C. said...

"Maybe this (above) is what killed comic strip ads."

I dunno, but it's killing me. Maybe the death of comic strips killed comic strip ads.

Ardy said...

Cartoons are pretty much the best way to sell any product. Partly because the logic of telling people to eat diced yellow turnips would be embarrassing through other mediums that take themselves too seriously, but mostly because you can associate something as bland as underpants with the pure joy of cartoons (and cartoon characters you already love).

As for the dismal state of advertising today (dismal state of cartooning aside), I think it has to do with artists feeling that they are above the "crass commercialism" of advertising and that they can't be taken seriously if they're made to sell a product. I'd argue that advertisements can be some of the best (and most fun) forms of art around when done right.

James said...

Wow that last comic is horrible, it made no sense. I'm still confused about the last frame, Eat-Drink-Live Football, and it shows a picture of a Baseball player?

pappy d said...

Today's ads are all about satisfying consumers' needs that have nothing to do with the product. It's about symbolic meanings & associations with "choices of life style" or images of well-being, i.e., exploiting our common weaknesses & anxieties. Sometimes the ads you see today have nothing to do with the product, though in the case of feminine hygiene products, that can be a blessing. I mean, why are they telling ME all this?

Back in a more economically democratic age, juvenile delinquents & bank presidents all used Wildroot & were satisfied with their underwear. Men considered vanity of any sort to be unmanly, so the best way to reach them was to put entertainment in the ads.

When I was dating, I used to keep a couple of pairs of Calvin Kleins in good condition for date night. It's not that I wanted to be like Marky Mark Wahlberg. (On me, the effect was parodic, anyway.) No, I was unsure what meaning would be conveyed by my weekday underwear. My Mervyn's store-brand boxers purchased in bulk for pennies on the dollar were in no way underpants. They just lacked a clear meaning & were too open to interpretation.

As a kid, I hated rutabagas but in my naivete, I would have pestered my mom to buy that can.

Anonymous said...

It's astounding that a product named "Wildroot" had nothing whatsoever to do with underwear.

david gemmill said...

hahah oh jeez that pete rose thing is so bad.

Chip Butty said...

I've seen modern cartoon ads where they literally didn't know where to place the word balloon. (Verizon NY Yellow Pages)

Not that you need speech bubbles when you got one eyebrow cocked for 'TUDE

Those little Abner ones are great. RUTABEGAS? Wow, suddenly I want some!