Book Review: Hey Whipple, Squeeze this

By Jake Cornelius Thursday, August 13, 2009

The August 2nd episode of BBC's popular automotive show "Top Gear" included a segment in which two of the show's hosts were assigned the job of creating an advertisement for a new car. Hilarious mayhem ensued. The car they had to create the ad for was the new VW Scirocco TDI, a diesel version of the sporty hatchback that won "Top Gear's" car of the year award. (Sorry America, VW has no plans to sell the Scirocco in the US). The hosts, James and Jeremy, concluded that the car was indeed sporty, handled great, and got around really well. Plus, it got 55 mpg! Fantastic! Unfortunately, the engine was a real dog. The power band was too small and the gearbox didn't match well with it. Their conclusion after driving it was that it was "a great car ruined by a canal boat motor. Never buy it." Now they had to create a TV spot for it.

So how do you create an advertisement, and what is the advertising business like? Luke Sullivan's Hey Whipple, Squeeze This gives a humorous inside look at the industry and how to create a great ad. The title comes from Sullivan's years of despising Charmin's lovable Mr. Whipple. He was featured in 504 different Charmin ads from 1964 to 1990 and, after knocking Scott Tissue paper out of the no. 1 spot, kept Charmin the market leader. Yet, he was irritating, wasn't he? Compare him to all the great VW adds we've seen over the last 4 decades. Those are witty, fun, unobtrusive, and best of all, memorable. Neither campaign changed drastically over time, and neither needed to because they were effective. The difference is in how they got consumers to remember the product. Sullivan gives many fine examples of print and television ads that ran over the last 40 years and explains what made them work. He also describes his years in the business and what it was like working with so many other creative people all bouncing ideas off each other. He tells about some truly awful (unnamed) clients and the things they want an ad to do and some of the great clients that would grab an idea with gusto and run with it. Some people get it, some don't. One of the things I really liked about the book is how much of Sullivan's advice about both the idea of advertising and the business of advertising relate to any other business and even the way we live. We all like to smile and feel good about ourselves: That's what an ad should do, and it's something we can do at a personal level. The consumer isn't stupid: An ad shouldn't be demeaning towards anyone and neither should we as individuals or business people. Know what you're talking about: Obviously.

I really enjoyed this book and I got a lot out of it. I took several graphic design courses in college and this book helped me (belatedly) figure out what I did wrong and how I could have made my work better. It also would have helped James and Jeremy. After numerous attempts that had me rolling on the floor laughing, they almost created some decent work. It was an ad for a VW, but it sure wasn't a VW ad.

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