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The Fall (and Rise) of Clowns in Advertising: Part 2

  The first part of this article, exploring earlier uses of the clown in advertising and the shift from an "innocent character" to a "downright monster" can be found here.

  

PART 2: THE (CROCODILE?) TEARS OF A CLOWN

In the early-2000s, The Burger King returned. But he was changed. No longer did we have the hallucinogenic merry-maker from early ad campaigns. Instead we got this:

 

 

We’ve all seen various episodes of this ad campaign. Personally, I love them. I think they’re creepy, funny, and disturbing—yet extremely successful in doing what a commercial is supposed to do: provide brand recognition.

I can truly say that I would s**t my pants if I woke up and found that... creature... beside me.

And, though The Burger King doesn’t hurt anybody, he sure seems menacing. It's not just the plastic (literally) smile on his face, but the way that he regally displays Burger King food with a magician's wave of his hands... (*shudder*).

But he's also represented as being quite cool. Take this ad, for example:

 

 

I mean... well, damn! Screw the hamburger deal. Sign with the Dolphins! (Insert team of your choice here... you get the point...).

Then there were the combo ads, the "creepy-meets-cool" ads as I like to call them:

 

 

If I were that guy and I'd had a gun... well, you get the picture. And I would have enjoyed the delicious burger without an ounce of guilt.

Except for the fat content.

So while The Burger King was playing sports and hangin' out in beds and such, Ronald did... well, pretty much nothing. He appeared sporadically, but it seemed that the fast food mega-giant was more interested in nailing the Macarena market:

 

 

Where's Ronald? I'm thinkin' that he does a few little signings per year, then spends the rest of his time with a mess of whores and booze on a way-cool yacht the size of a small city. At some point he'll start peeing in jars and saving it, grow his fingernails so long that they form curly-cues, and become a germiphobe. He'll invest in films and experimental airplanes, before going insane and wandering the desert, to be found by the side of a highway by some random guy. To this guy he will leave his entire burger empire....

'Course, that's just my imagination running amok. But ya gotta admit... that's a rather interesting image.

In 2010 we still have many ads that angle towards the creepy factor. And (though I'm horribly afraid of clowns) I'm glad for it.

E-Trade:

 

USPS:

 

Both of these ads rock. They're memorable, funny, and create product recognition.

I'm much more scared of the tiny clown in the USPS ad than I am of the one hired by the baby.

Yes. I need therapy.

But I've noticed something of a trend. It's small, barely on the radar. Something is shifting in the image of the clown. In a strange way, we're heading back to the innocent image used in commercials during the 1950s. In some ads, clowns are now being portrayed as slapstick pranksters that don't scare the hell out of people. Instead, they make people laugh.

 

 

And this WalMart commercial, while playing on the creepy-factor, even elicits some sympathy for the man in make-up:

 

 

Note that we never see the father before he has transformed into a clown. What we get is a character trying to entertain kids. A character who suffers because of his own good will. And while it's funny, it's also somewhat sad. Is this not the definition of what a clown is designed to emotionally trigger?

But I think this next commercial shows where the concept of the clown is going. Part American Western, part slapstick clown act, part martial arts extravaganza, this ad has it all.

 

 

If you're a film buff, you'll notice that this ad pays homage to fight scenes from The Matrix films, particularly a giant battle known as "The Burly Brawl" from The Matrix Reloaded. Gone is the image of the happy clown. There's no sign of the creepy clown (at least not in the "hiding in the sewers stealing children" aspect). This commercial not only embraces the comedic aspects of the clown, but also elevates the clown to the status of a lone hero.

So, it appears that the aspect of the clown is evolving yet again. We've seen the clown as a child's friend, a psychedelic entertainer, a creepy critter, an outright monster, an entertainer who pays the price, and now... an ass-kicking hero.

Where the clown in advertising will go is uncertain, though it seems there's no end of this iconic image in sight.

But I still find them scary.

Teaser image courtesy of cesarastudillo via Flickr Commons.

John Barker
Clever Ads, Promotions and Marketing
InventorSpot.com