Rather Than Getting Your Freak On, May I Suggest Getting Your Gruel On?

By Thaddeus Van Haltren
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Thaddeus Van HaltrenIf you’re an astute observer of the advertising industry, you may have noticed a recent trend. From sneaker manufacturers to churches to Pilates studios, everyone seems to be urging us to “Get Your [something] On.” For example:

  • Get Your Boogie On
  • Get Your Cheer On
  • Get Your Snooki On (note: I do not know what a Snooki is)

You get the idea. Last week, I dispatched my great-great grandson to research this phenomenon. And after consulting with several sources accessible via the World Wide Web, he had our answer.

In 2001 a young lady named Missy Elliot had a popular tune called “Get Ur Freak On.” (Apparently, her record label did have a proofreader in its employ.) Around the same time, a gentleman who calls himself Big Tymer also had a hit with the similarly titled, though correctly spelled, “Get Your Roll On.”

Since then, “Get Your …” has appeared in countless advertisements across all major industries. But did you know this tagline has roots that stretch back over 90 years? And the pioneer was none other than yours truly.

One of my first clients as a young, unproven copywriter was the now defunct Whig Party. After reaching its peak in the mid-1800s, the party had shrunken to a small band of loyalists largely confined to several counties in northeastern Alabama. In 1926 they hired my firm to create a recruitment campaign.

Of the several dozen taglines I crafted, one clearly stood out from the rest: “Get Your Whig On.” Sadly, the campaign was a flop. But I knew I had the kernel of a brilliant idea.

The next year, I came up with “Get Your Clam On” for Aunt Mildred’s Clam Juice Cocktail. (The ad, incidentally, featured a young and ravishing Ethel Merman sipping clam juice while posing seductively in a giant clam shell. Ahh … sex will always sell.) Suddenly, my name was known up and down Madison Avenue.

In the years that followed, I enjoyed amazing success with campaigns like these:

  • 1928: “Get Your Gruel On,” Quaker’s Instant Gruel
  • 1929: “Get Your Asbestos On,” National Association of Asbestos Producers
  • 1932: “Get Your Turnip On,” Turnip Farmers of America (encouraging turnip consumption to ward off scurvy)
  • 1934: “Get Your Lock On,” Sears chastity belts
  • 1937: “Get Your Smell On,” Nurse Shirley’s Smelling Salts (to address fainting, which was common among high-society women in the 1930s)
  • 1939: “Get Your Hair Shirt On,” U.S. Catholic Church

Perhaps my crowning achievement was the 1960 campaign for Grandma’s Lye Soap, a great product for treating head lice (“Hey Kids, Get Your Lye On!”) The series of print ads took home a record-setting three Clio Awards.

But in 1969 my good fortune came to an abrupt end when Illinois Bell hired my firm for a campaign touting its new three-way calling feature. Unbeknownst to the client and me, “Get Your Three-Way On” had certain, shall we say, sexual connotations. Days after our ad appeared on Chicago-area television stations, angry mobs rioted, burning the Illinois Bell headquarters to the ground. I was effectively blacklisted on Madison Avenue for 22 years.

I’ve watched from afar as “Get Your …” has once again crept its way into the American consciousness. And I must say, I can’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia and pride for an idea that truly has stood the test of time. Thank you, Missy Elliot and Big Tymer — you’ve brought a little joy into the life of this old copywriter.

Thaddeus Van Haltren founded The Hired Pens in 1931 and now serves as our senior copywriter emeritus. His current accounts include Moxie soda and Heinz Mince Meat.

If you’re an astute observer of the advertising industry, you may have noticed a recent trend. From sneaker manufacturers to churches to Pilates studios, everyone seems to be urging us to “Get Your [something] On.” For example:

  • Get Your Boogie On
  • Get Your Cheer On
  • Get Your Snooki On (note: I do not know what a Snooki is)

You get the idea. Last week, I dispatched my great-great grandson to research this phenomenon. And after consulting with several sources accessible via the World Wide Web, he had our answer.

In 2001 a young lady named Missy Elliot had a popular tune called “Get Ur Freak On.” (Apparently, her record label did have a proofreader in its employ.) Around the same time, a gentleman who calls himself Big Tymer also had a hit with the similarly titled, though correctly spelled, “Get Your Roll On.”

Since then, “Get Your …” has appeared in countless advertisements across all major industries. But did you know this tagline has roots that stretch back over 90 years? And the pioneer was none other than yours truly.

One of my first clients as a young, unproven copywriter was the now defunct Whig Party. After reaching its peak in the mid-1800s, the party had shrunken to a small band of loyalists largely confined to several counties in northeastern Alabama. In 1926 they hired my firm to create a recruitment campaign.

Of the several dozen taglines I crafted, one clearly stood out from the rest: “Get Your Whig On.” Sadly, the campaign was a flop. But I knew I had the kernel of a brilliant idea.

The next year, I came up with “Get Your Clam On” for Aunt Mildred’s Clam Juice Cocktail. (The ad, incidentally, featured a young and ravishing Ethel Merman sipping clam juice while posing seductively in a giant clam shell. Ahh … sex will always sell.) Suddenly, my name was known up and down Madison Avenue.

In the years that followed, I enjoyed amazing success with campaigns like these:

  • 1928: “Get Your Gruel On,” Quaker’s Instant Gruel
  • 1929: “Get Your Asbestos On,” National Association of Asbestos Producers
  • 1932: “Get Your Turnip On,” Turnip Farmers of America (encouraging turnip consumption to ward off scurvy)
  • 1934: “Get Your Lock On,” Sears chastity belts
  • 1937: “Get Your Smell On,” Nurse Shirley’s Smelling Salts (to address fainting, which was common among high-society women in the 1930s)
  • 1939: “Get Your Hair Shirt On,” U.S. Catholic Church

Perhaps my crowning achievement was the 1960 campaign for Grandma’s Lye Soap, a great product for treating head lice (“Hey Kids, Get Your Lye On!”) The series of print ads took home a record-setting three Clio Awards.

But in 1969 my good fortune came to an abrupt end when Illinois Bell hired my firm for a campaign touting its new three-way calling feature. Unbeknownst to the client and me, “Get Your Three-Way On” had certain, shall we say, sexual connotations. Days after our ad appeared on Chicago-area television stations, angry mobs rioted, burnin

If you’re an astute observer of the advertising industry, you may have noticed a recent trend. From sneaker manufacturers to churches to Pilates studios, everyone seems to be urging us to “Get Your [something] On.” For example:

  • Get Your Boogie On
  • Get Your Cheer On
  • Get Your Snooki On (note: I do not know what a Snooki is)

You get the idea. Last week, I dispatched my great-great grandson to research this phenomenon. And after consulting with several sources accessible via the World Wide Web, he had our answer.

In 2001 a young lady named Missy Elliot had a popular tune called “Get Ur Freak On.” (Apparently, her record label did have a proofreader in its employ.) Around the same time, a gentleman who calls himself Big Tymer also had a hit with the similarly titled, though correctly spelled, “Get Your Roll On.”

Since then, “Get Your …” has appeared in countless advertisements across all major industries. But did you know this tagline has roots that stretch back over 90 years? And the pioneer was none other than yours truly.

One of my first clients as a young, unproven copywriter was the now defunct Whig Party. After reaching its peak in the mid-1800s, the party had shrunken to a small band of loyalists largely confined to several counties in northeastern Alabama. In 1926 they hired my firm to create a recruitment campaign.

Of the several dozen taglines I crafted, one clearly stood out from the rest: “Get Your Whig On.” Sadly, the campaign was a flop. But I knew I had the kernel of a brilliant idea.

The next year, I came up with “Get Your Clam On” for Aunt Mildred’s Clam Juice Cocktail. (The ad, incidentally, featured a young and ravishing Ethel Merman sipping clam juice while posing seductively in a giant clam shell. Ahh … sex will always sell.) Suddenly, my name was known up and down Madison Avenue.

In the years that followed, I enjoyed amazing success with campaigns like these:

  • 1928: “Get Your Gruel On,” Quaker’s Instant Gruel
  • 1929: “Get Your Asbestos On,” National Association of Asbestos Producers
  • 1932: “Get Your Turnip On,” Turnip Farmers of America (encouraging turnip consumption to ward off scurvy)
  • 1934: “Get Your Lock On,” Sears chastity belts
  • 1937: “Get Your Smell On,” Nurse Shirley’s Smelling Salts (to address fainting, which was common among high-society women in the 1930s)
  • 1939: “Get Your Hair Shirt On,” U.S. Catholic Church

Perhaps my crowning achievement was the 1960 campaign for Grandma’s Lye Soap, a great product for treating head lice (“Hey Kids, Get Your Lye On!”) The series of print ads took home a record-setting three Clio Awards.

But in 1969 my good fortune came to an abrupt end when Illinois Bell hired my firm for a campaign touting its new three-way calling feature. Unbeknownst to the client and me, “Get Your Three-Way On” had certain, shall we say, sexual connotations. Days after our ad appeared on Chicago-area television stations, angry mobs rioted, burning the Illinois Bell headquarters the ground. I was effectively blacklisted on Madison Avenue for 22 years.

I’ve watched from afar as “Get Your …” has once again crept its way into the American consciousness. And I must say, I can’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia and pride for an idea that truly has stood the test of time. Thank you, Missy Elliot and Big Tymer — you’ve brought a little joy into the life of this old copywriter.

g the Illinois Bell headquarters the ground. I was effectively blacklisted on Madison Avenue for 22 years.

I’ve watched from afar as “Get Your …” has once again crept its way into the American consciousness. And I must say, I can’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia and pride for an idea that truly has stood the test of time. Thank you, Missy Elliot and Big Tymer — you’ve brought a little joy into the life of this old copywriter.

So What Do You Guys Do All Day, Anyway?

By Anna Goldsmith
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Well, usually Anna makes at least two trips across the street to Diesel Café, where she orders coffee and writes pithy Facebook status updates while she waits. And in a typical day, Dan spends at least 20 minutes complaining that his wife won’t let them buy the “really good apples” from New Zealand anymore on account of global warming.

Oh, wait, you mean when we’re actually working? We get this question a lot, so we thought we’d create a regular column where we tell you about the cool projects we’re working on. Kind of like case studies, but way less boring.

Anna will go first.

What I’m Working On

By Anna Goldsmith

Well, I was supposed to go to a meeting with a condom company to discuss new packaging copy. But the meeting got rescheduled, so you’ll have to stay tuned on that one. Instead I’ll tell you about another project I worked on that I really loved, written as a Q&A with myself because it’s more fun than writing Challenge, Solution, Results.

So, Anna, what was the project?

It was to come up with a way to get low-income teens from Vermont excited about their future. Now the kids who were our target audience weren’t getting flooded with college brochures. And even if they were, they probably would have been chucked. We saw some pretty heavy distain for “the college bound.”

The thing is, these kids had a lot of impressive skills and talents. They just didn’t see it. So basically, our goal was to show them they could do something besides operate a Slurpee machine. You know, unless that really was their dream.

What do you have against Slurpees?

Nothing. I love a good Slurpee.

So how did you reach these kids without seeming like another well-meaning grown-up who doesn’t get them at all?

Let me begin by saying, I wasn’t working on this alone. I was working with the creative team at Kelliher Samets Volk, including the amazingly talented Rich Nadworny, who now has his own gig, Digalicious.

When we took a step back, it was pretty clear that to get these kids excited about their future, we needed to help them get to know themselves. We also knew we needed to meet them on their turf: online.

Sounds like a fun, interactive website might be good for this audience.

OMG, you are totally right! Central to this campaign was a fun, interactive website that used inventive video “snacks,” blogs and a thought-provoking personality quiz. Here, kids discovered passions, interests and skills they never knew they had. Then they found the support they needed to use what they learned to pave their own path forward.

What was your biggest challenge as the writer?

Making sure the copy wasn’t lame! God, talk about a critical audience. Kids have a pretty sharp BS detector. The personality quiz and supporting copy had to be thought-provoking, yet entertaining enough so it didn’t feel like work to complete. We wanted them to feel like it was worth their time — that they actually learned something new about themselves. Part of what made this project a success was realizing that whether kids are high or low achievers, their favorite subject is always the same: themselves.

Teenagers are very self-absorbed.

Yeah, but I think the same is true for adults.

So how did you come up with the questions?

I actually spent a lot of time studying online personality quizzes to see which ones were the best. I also hung out on cool teen-centric blogs so, you know, I’d seem cool and young instead of uncool and old.

I think you’re really cool and you look great for your age!

Oh, thanks. That makes me feel really good. But let’s get back to the real questions.

Can you tell me what I want to be when I grow up?

Well, if you go to the site and lie about your age, you can take the quiz yourself.

So I heard you guys won some awards?

Yeah, a bunch, actually. We won a “Site of the Day” award from Adobe, a Web Marketing Association’s WebAward and a W³ Gold award from the International Academy of Visual Arts. But the real award was to talk to the kids themselves, who gave the site feedback like “awesome” and “rock-star status.”

Come on.

Okay, the best part was the actual awards.

Getting Pumped Up for National Punctuation Day!

By Dan O'Sullivan
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I normally don’t work so late at night. But I’m giddy with excitement because Friday is National Punctuation Day. I’ll be lucky if I can fall asleep the next two nights.

I’m kind of a punctuation junkie. I have a good handle on when to use the semi-colon (rarely) or the exclamation point (even more rarely). I know my em-dash vs. my en-dash. And I excel in correctly placing the apostrophe and determining whether to stick an “s” after it.

So in honor of this most holy of days, here are four random observations about punctuation:

1) The en-dash is useless. The middle child — shorter than the beloved em-dash, longer than the industrious hyphen. Why do we need an en-dash to separate numbers when the hyphen would do just fine?

2) People have got to learn how to use the apostrophe. I mean, is it really that hard to understand you place it after rather than before the “s” when the subject is plural? I’m not saying everyone has to be a punctuation expert, but geez …

3) The hyphen confounds me. The Associated Press says to use it for compound modifiers. Sometimes, however, it feels like too much. As Bill Walsh asks on Blogslot: “What makes ‘law-abiding citizen’ obviously correct and, say, ‘law-enforcement officer’ pedantic and excessive?” Um … I’m not sure, but I know exactly what he means.

4) Hollywood is lazy. I’m far from the first to note that movie titles can be maddening. For example: Eat Pray Love — no commas? The book had them; why can’t the movie? Would people be less likely to buy a ticket if the title were properly punctuated? I don’t get it. And that’s one more reason why I’ll never cut it in Hollywood.

Anyway, here’s wishing you and yours a happy and memorable National Punctuation Day.

‘Sorry, Honey, We Can’t Afford to Feed the Baby This Month. The Premium on My Segway Insurance Just Went Up.’

By Dan O'Sullivan
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In doing some competitive research for a client in the insurance industry, I learned this startling fact: You can actually buy Segway insurance from Progressive. See for yourself.

So, what do you say to someone who has a Segway insurance policy?

  • “It’s a good thing you’re covered — you can really get hurt cruising at a maximum of 12.5 miles per hour.”
  • “Wouldn’t you be better off investing your monthly Segway insurance premium in a gym membership so you could get some exercise?”
  • “Exactly how long have you been a total nerd?”

And in an attempt to prolong the cattiness of this post: What’s the deal with Progressive spokesperson Flo? For awhile there, I found her TV ads kind of amusing. Lately, they’ve veered into the land of the annoying. And seeing her face plastered all over the Progressive website, well … let’s just say her manic eyes and exaggerated smile are really creeping me out.

Lunch with a Side of Identity Crisis

By Anna Goldsmith
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Dear Local Café,

I think you guys are really nice. Like, the other day, you didn’t even give me a single dirty look when my one-year-old kept crawling behind the counter. Or when the three-year-old who accompanied us left sticky strawberry ice cream handprints on the table. (Okay, maybe that last one was my fault.)

But here’s the thing: No one’s coming in to appreciate it. And in our busy neighborhood, where people love to spend gobs of money on food, you should be thriving.

The food and service are good, so what’s going on? Here’s my guess:

The window signage is not only confusing potential customers, but it’s grossing them out. I know, I feel bad for telling you this because I know your heart is in the right place — you don’t want to leave anyone out. “Everyone can have a great lunch here,” you’re trying to say, right?

But when I see lasagna and sushi on the same sign, I just think about raw fish sandwiched between sheets of pasta, and then I feel sick and go to Hi-Rise or Sarah’s Market instead.

By now you might be wondering if this just some crazy rant inspired by low blood sugar? What does a copywriting know about the restaurant business? Well, nothing, but we do know a lot about branding and this really what we’re talking about here. And right now, your brand is very confused: You are trying to be everything and that’s just not working.

So, adorable little corner café/ice cream parlor/pan-Asian-Jewish-deli, it’s time to make a decision: What’s your brand?

How do you decide? Branding is a mash-up of both tangible and intangible qualities and it starts by honestly asking these key questions: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What sets you apart? What can you give your audience (customers) that is different from what they get elsewhere? You should be able to answer this quickly and easily. And this is true whether you are running a lunch counter or Fortune 500 company.

Here, I’ll help you figure it out. Tangible: Your lasagna is just okay, but your sesame noodles are some of the best I’ve ever had. So let’s leave the Italian to the Italian place down the street, huh? Intangible: Unlike the sandwich place up the street, you don’t sneer at your customers. You seem genuinely happy they’re there. Even if you did have as many customers as that sneery place, I’ll bet you’d make every one of them feel right at home.

So here’s my rough stab: Maybe a trip to your establishment is like a lunch invitation to your friend’s Chinese grandmother’s kitchen? See, now I really want to go there. Please take care of this before lunchtime tomorrow.

Love,

Your Humble, Hungry Neighbor

You Mean the Advertising Industry Existed Before Sterling Cooper?

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Yes, it’s true: Madison Avenue was cranking out advertising well before Donald Draper et al. were doing their thing. The glorious proof comes in the form of The High Art of Photographic Advertising, an exhibit running through Oct. 9 at Harvard Business School.

The website includes the back story:

“The 1934 Art and Industry Exhibition Photograph Collection brings together some of the finest examples of 1930s documentary, public relations, and advertising photography from prominent photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, Russell Aikins, Alfred Cheney Johnston, Victor Keppler, Gordon Coster, Anton Bruehl, Nicholas Muray and others. This stunning group of black and white gelatin silver prints and color images was originally displayed in a 1934 exhibit sponsored by the National Alliance of Art and Industry (NAAI) and The Photographic Illustrators, Inc.”

Even a photography novice like me can tell that these photos are stunning, original and ahead of their time. (Check out the wild one at the bottom of this page. Something that’s sure to scare the hell out of the kiddies.)

And from a copywriter’s point of view, some of these ads made me a little jealous. Take the one at the bottom of this page, for the Auburn Phaeton motor car: Four meaty paragraphs concluding with …

“You find crowning justification of your judgment in your relaxed comfort and sense of security as you drive one of these New 1935 Auburn Models. This experience you are cordially invited to enjoy.”

These days, you rarely get that kind of space to tell a product’s story in a print ad. And grandiose phrases like “You find crowning justification” generally don’t fly either. (Well, maybe that’s a good thing.)

Anyway, if the TV and print ads you see on “Mad Men” have tempted you to sample advertising from another bygone era, then check out the HBS exhibit.

Skip the Ma’am, Please

By Anna Goldsmith
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When I turned 30, my best friend gave me a birthday card that read, “Happy Birthday, Ma’am.” Then on the inside: “Get used to it.” But I can’t. Six years and hundreds more “ma’ams” later, I still bristle every time I hear it.

So when I read Natalie Angier’s article, “The Politics of Polite,” it, well, it was like the article I’ve been meaning to write for six years.

Ma’am, a simple contraction of “madam” meant to show respect, instead, as Angier puts it so perfectly, “can feel like a tiny jab, an unnecessary station-break to comment on one’s appearance: Hello, middle-aged- to elderly-looking woman, how may I help you this evening?” Yes! That’s exactly what it feels like.

So until there is a linguistic equivalent that makes men self-conscious of their prematurely balding head or spare tire, I think we need to all agree to just stop saying “ma’am.” OK?