Book Excerpt: ' And Now a Few Words From Me'

Leading ad critic Bob Garfield says breaking the rules isn't always — or even often — such a good idea in chapter one of his new book, And Now a Few Words From Me: Advertising's Leading Critic Lays Down the Law, Once and For All .

Chapter 1

Rules Are Made to Be Observed

So, you know, I was reading Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust … just reading a little Proust one day … and while reading Proust, I happened upon a line that intrigued me. (Actually, I happened upon it quite often, because I've started that book at least seven times and never gotten past page 175, because this guy was positively soporific. Having a little insomnia at bedtime? May I suggest a little Proust? You'll be out like Rosie O'Donnell within six pages.)

But it so happened that Proust, the nineteenth-century French novelist/sleep aid, made a striking observation. It was about poets, "whom the tyranny of rhyme forces into the discovery of their finest lines."

His point was that the rigid poetic form focuses a writer's thinking. The need to contrive a rhyme forces the poet to measure every subtle shade of meaning and to be judicious with every syllable. While a given stanza offers a vast lexicon of options for expressing a thought, it is not nearly the daunting, infinite number of possibilities in the realm of unrhymed blank verse or — more daunting still — unrhymed, metrically unregulated free verse. Bearing no responsibility for meter and rhyme, the author of free verse is free to be sloppy, flabby, imprecise. The author of rhyme must find just the right vivid solution — a solution that, minus the tyrant, might never have otherwise suggested itself.

Rhyme, of course, in incapable hands, can lead to hackneyed couplets like the worst-laid plans. But in the hands of an artist, it can be the stuff of magic.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

That's the first stanza of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and I dare say you can feel the exhaustion of the day's end, which is here a metaphor for life's end. The tyrant, rhyme, here is proved to be an enlightened despot indeed. (Oh, by the way, "lea," pronounced lee, is a pasture. Read it again if you have to.)

The Tyranny of Freedom and Vice Versa

Loosening by tightening; Proust wasn't the only French thinker to observe this paradox. The sixteenth-century philosopher Michel de Montaigne also considered the liberating beauty of form. (And, as God is my witness, this one didn't come from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, either. I ran across this one reading the collected musings of Montaigne himself. I won't explain to you how this came to pass. I'll simply leave you to be quietly awed.) Anyway, Montaigne noted that the sweet sound of the trumpet results from the physics of constriction: " … as the voice, forced through the narrow passage of a trumpet, comes out more forcible and shrill; so, methinks, a sentence pressed within the harmony of verse, darts out more briskly upon the understanding, and strikes my ear and apprehension with a smarter and more pleasing effect." He and Proust were making identical points: what superficially may look confining is, in fact, the path to liberty. (For the moment we shall ignore that when another philosopher, Nietzsche, ruminated on the ruminations of yet another philosopher, Kant, on the very same subject, the concept of freedom by repression was seized by Hitler as a rationalization for totalitarianism. Arbeit macht frei, my ass.) Here's a little Shakespeare:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,

Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Nice work. It is wrought in fourteen lines of iambic pentameter— three quatrains, followed by a couplet in the rhyming scheme ab, ab, cd, cd, ef, ef, gg. He wrote 154 just like it. That was number 29. Here's number 6:

Then let not winter's ragged hand deface

In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill'd:

Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place

With beauty's treasure, ere it be self-kill'd.

That use is not forbidden usury,

Which happies those that pay the willing loan;

That's for thyself to breed another thee,

Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;

Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,

If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:

Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,

Leaving thee living in posterity?

Be not self-will'd, for thou art much too fair

To be death's conquest and make worms thine heir.

It's hard to say which sonnet is more magnificent, but I'm just curious. Did you happen to notice anything, apart from the rigid constraints of the form, remotely similar in the two works? Similar language? Similar themes? Similar imagery? Actually, I can answer that question: no, you didn't, because the two sonnets, apart from fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, have nothing whatsoever in common. The first is about how even the biggest loser feeling sorry for himself is uplifted by the life jacket of love. The second instructs a handsome young man to have his portrait done, because time is unkind to beauty. So, once again, the Bard of Avon didn't seem too hamstrung by form, did he?

For crying out loud, you needn't turn to Shakespeare or Proust to understand this lesson. Just talk to any child psychologist. Children need rules. The lack of boundaries does not liberate; it enslaves, trapping the frightened child in an anxiety-provoking world of consequences he cannot control. Discipline, a firm establishment of boundaries, relieves kids from the terror of uncertainty. If you want an insecure child, give in to his every tantrum and whim. If you want a happy, well-adjusted kid, learn to say no and mean it. Needless to add, this is equally true of adults. "Good fences," Robert Frost famously observed, "make good neighbors." They also make good art directors.

So why in advertising — when it is well established among artists that there is nothing so intimidating as a blank piece of paper — this preposterous cult of rule breaking? Rule breaking, in fact, if we are to take seriously all the industry's widespread and ostentatious claims of iconoclasm, has itself become the rule. Every corner of advertising, in every corner of the world, is populated with people who imagine themselves to be courageous anarchists. Bob Schmetterer, chairman of Messner, Vetere, Schmetterer, Berger, McNamee/Euro RSCG traveled to Cannes to speechify on "Breaking the Rules." The introduction to the TBWA website proclaims: "Change the Rules." Korey Kay & Partners, the Los Angeles agency, asks prospective clients to declare in writing whether they'd be willing to break the rules. Even DDB chairman Keith Reinhard, the soft-spoken and conscientious midwesterner, claimed, in a speech before the American Association of Advertising Agencies, to be a "rule breaker." All that mischievousness! But wait, there's more! Because the same "philosophy" has spread, like spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout, from the big leagues to the minors.

On its website, the Virtual Farm agency in Pennsylvania has promised prospects great ideas that break the rules. GreenDOT Advertising has used its site to explain it's wise to break the rules, but only if you know what you're doing. (GreenDOT claimed to possess such rarefied knowledge. They all claim to possess such rarefied knowledge.) Fellers & Co., a Texas marketing and advertising group, brags that its creatives "Break the Rules." BananaDog Communications, the Australian web designer, lists as its corporate philosophy, "Our goals and visions are to break the rules." Lines Advertising & Design says that "The Only rule to follow in developing an idea is not to have any rules." Web banner creator Dave Nixon lists ten rules for banner design in descending order, culminating in Rule No. 1: "Break the rules." Corinthian Media, the media-buying company, admonishes prospective customers, "Don't be afraid to break the rules." Self-described marketing guru Dan Kennedy's book is titled How to Succeed in Business by Breaking All the Rules. And how-to instructor Robert W. Bly explains, "The top copywriters succeed because they know when to break the rules."

And lest you imagine that this is just a domestic phenomenon, please note the theme for the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations' AdAsia 2003: "Break the Rules."

Here's some not Proust:

I, I wanna be bad

You make bad feel so good

I'm losing all my cool

I'm about to break the rules

I, I wanna be bad

I wanna be bad with ya, baby

I, I, I, I, I wanna be bad, baby — from "I Wanna Be Bad" Copyright 2000 by Willa Ford

Yessiree, baby, if you wanna be bad, set out boldly to break the rules. Then you can hardly fail. For instance, several of the agencies I just mentioned are long since out of business. And, of course, who can forget Burger King's 1989{-}90 ad slogan "Sometimes You've Gotta Break the Rules"? The spectacular crashing, burning failure of that campaign, leaving the client in flame-broiled cinders, is testament to the abject vacuity of the proposition. Yet, as we have seen, every creative director and his brother speak of smashing barriers, violating taboos, pushing the envelope. Why? Who says the envelope needs to be pushed? In most cases the writer, the client, and the consumer would be far better served if the envelope were simply stuffed, stamped, and sent on its way. The path to market-share hell is paved with brands that actually had relevant, differentiating news to deliver — the kind of brand-benefit news most marketers would sell their mothers' kidneys to be able to exploit — only to indulge in some eccentric notion of inspired misfeasance.

This Just In: Transportation Transports

One vivid example was the introduction, by the Mullen agency of Wenham, Massachusetts, in 1997, of General Motors Certified Used Vehicles. The cover letter that accompanied the reel to the "AdReview" Viewing Laboratory began as follows: "Only a few times in the past 100 years has General Motors introduced a new brand. Recently, the GM Certified Used Vehicles brand was launched and now takes its place alongside Saturn, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac." So evidently this was a momentous occasion, although the agency left a couple of things out:

1. The entire Buick motor division 2. Any sense whatsoever, in the actual advertising campaign, about what this new brand was supposed to be

By 1997 other manufacturers had long since established certified-used-vehicle programs. As a late entry, the agency determined, GM had to do something different, daring, unexpected. So, in introducing certified used vehicles, General Motors ignored the "certified" and the "used" parts of the advertised brand and paid homage, eventually, at the end of sixty-second commercials, to … the convenience of vehicles. Turned out, and I hope you're sitting down, that cars and vans are very good at transporting people.

One spot featured a montage of children playing various sports. It started with three hockey players emerging from a garage, then a chubby little golfer, then a yawning girl swimmer. The audio track was some coach giving encouragement: "You guys are the champions, you know that? All right, let me see those game faces. That's it." Then, in reverse type, the word love appeared on the screen, and a little girl said, "We need love." Then the coach exhorted his team: "We're out here to play baseball, right?" "Right!" the kids shouted back. Then the word encouragement flashed up, and a girl reiterated, "We need encouragement." The next two images showed one pair of kids dressed up for a dance, another pair for a Halloween party. Then a kid in front of a fighter plane. The next buzzword: inspiration. "We need inspiration."

At that stage the ad seemed like your basic, aspirational Nike commercial. But then came a wonderfully charming shot of a kid dressed in a dog costume fashioned entirely out of empty twelve-ounce cans. Then a little girl angrily walking down the sidewalk, having just been in a fight. (Dad: "She didn't start it." Mom: "It doesn't really matter who started it.") This led to the next human quality kids require adults to furnish: "We need understanding." Then, finally, after shots of a boy violinist and a sullen little girl in a leotard, came the ultimate thing kids need:


And, sure enough, the ad documented hockey players and the dancer and the tin-can dog waiting around for the grown-ups to pick them up. In a minivan. (Which make you couldn't tell, because it was a bird's-eye view.) Then, finally, the voice-over jumped in to tell you the point — or, at least, the sponsor — of all this moral and practical instruction: "Introducing used vehicles. Reconditioned, warrantied and ready for life. GM Certified."

Get it? Kids need understanding and chauffeur service. In the second spot, some equally trenchant news: salesmen need cars. And so, presumably, we were to be moved by how this new GM brand understands our lives.

Terrific. So what? What good could that understanding possibly do us? While Mullen's slices of life were indeed precious, we didn't need Certified Used Vehicles to lecture us on loving and encouraging kids. We have Hillary Clinton for that. As for the revelation that automobiles are useful, well ’ duh. The problem wasn't that the ads belabored the obvious. It was that the ads belabored the wrong obvious. Never mind the benefits of love and automobiles.: Where are the stores? How are the prices? What kind of warranty? Oh, and, by any chance, do they sell used Buicks? So, yes, the campaign was unexpected, all right. And, of course, also unsuccessful. GM and Mullen soon parted ways. In marriage and the agency business, so often, rule breaking results in relationship breaking.

Will Refract for Food

Maybe you look at that example and say "That's breaking the rules? Calvin Klein does kiddie porn commercials, and a used-car montage is subversive?" But I started with that one on purpose, because in attempting to forge some sort of emotional bond with the viewer, it breaks the most fundamental advertising rule of all: if you have news to deliver, deliver it. Consumers are actually eager to have information. It is one of the few things they actually value about advertising, so to squander that opportunity in favor of getting sentimental over secondhand Luminas is absolutely unforgivable.

Alas, while that example is certainly a bit infuriating, it's also basic and unremarkable. My goal here isn't to leave you a bit infuriated. My goal is to enumerate transgressions so extravagant and insane that you actually bleed through the ears.

So let's take a moment to revisit the extraordinary, rule-breaking, barrier-smashing, envelope-pushing 1994 For Eyes campaign, from the Beber/Silverstein agency in Miami. This whole-grain eyewear chain, founded by ex-hippie opticians (!), had amassed a fortune selling discount eyeglasses. Its peace-and-love values remained intact, however, and its corporate principles regarded the use of advertising merely to sell goods and services to be just, like, sooooo old paradigm. Therefore, in a series of fifteen-second spots the advertiser contrived to combine a commercial with a message of social responsibility. The most astonishing of these let the camera linger on homeless men living like society's refuse in a city park. "If you've grown used to this, you need glasses," the public-spirited portion of the ad observed, its figurative finger wagging in the face of the viewer.

Then, the second portion of the message: "Two pairs for $79." Well, it broke the rules, all right, as seldom before in the history of commerce had a marketer so daringly juxtaposed unspeakable human tragedy, on the one hand, with attractive discount pricing, on the other. The campaign was on for less than a week when it was pulled, in response to viewer outrage. The agency was soon fired for talking the client into what, for my money, is the single worst TV commercial ever made.

Of course, it wasn't my money, was it? It was the client's money. It's always the client's money. How easy it is to break the rules when somebody else is footing the bill.

In subsequent chapters I'll describe many such mind-boggling blunders in sickening detail, along with the associated costs to those clients gulled into signing off on them. For the moment, though, let's revisit a car campaign that famously broke the rules in August of 1989, quickly found itself water-cooler conversation from coast to coast, vaulting into the nation's consciousness as few product introductions ever do, and has been paying the price ever since.

You remember it, too. It was the unveiling of the long-awaited Japanese luxury-car line Infiniti, a debut so enamored of its Taoist imagery that it engendered an inscrutable Eastern conundrum: what is the point of no cars driving? Nine commercials from Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos featured beautiful scenes of nature's serenity and no automobile whatsoever. Not a one. Trees in the distance, rustling in the breeze.

That was the image — the only image — in the spot called "Distant Leaves." Just a long shot of windblown trees, with a voice-over narration in a calm, putatively conversational tone, not much more than a whisper: "The car is connected to an engine, a suspension system. The car fits in the road, which fits in a landscape. And when all of this — the will of the driver, the ability of the car, the feel of the road — when all of that is one thing, together, then you get a sense, a true idea of luxury. Infiniti."

Other spots had names like "Misty Tree" and "Delicate Branches" and "Flock of Geese" — each with the same spare style, the same fixation with some bit of Washington state naturalism and the same nonmention of antilock brakes or McPherson struts. In "Summer Storm," which showed distant lightning over a lake at dusk, the narrator said, trying his level best to sound unnarratorlike: "You know, it's not just a car, it's an expression of the culture, an aesthetic that is connected somehow to nature, a way of saying 'This is what we can do if we work at the highest level of our potential.' That's the level of the commitment behind a new line of luxury cars from Japan. Infiniti."

Swell, but does it have power windows?

The answer, of course, was the basis for the whole campaign: certainly there were power windows. Certainly the entire line of new Infinitis had amazing engines, marvelous suspensions, and every appointment you could think of--just like Acura did and rival new-entry Lexus did and, come to think of it, General Motors did. Nissan Motor Corp., which owns Infiniti, and the agency well understood that quality and comfort were hardly distinguishing qualities. By 1989 the luxury-car marketplace was glutted and getting glutteder. To prosper under those circumstances, to enjoy the fat margins of the luxury segment, to win the hearts and minds of consumers with $40,000{plus} to spend to be backed up on the freeway, they believed that simply having a great car would not do. So they decided to take the focus off the car.

It was a strategy based on novelty (How could that not get attention?) and psychographics, aiming at the large, barely tapped market of affluent young people who regard luxury cars as vulgar emblems. They know a Jaguar is a beautiful automobile, but they also know owning one is the automotive equivalent of neck jewelry. They are inconspicuous consumers, and the car-free launch of Infiniti was an attempt to seize their imaginations not with slick product shots but with ideas. Or, at least, with the illusion of ideas. The copy was mainly a lot of pseudospiritual drivel, and the studiously conversational narrative more pompous than authentic.

"A new vision, more idealistic," the narrator intoned in a spot called "Rain with Branches." "The time has come, the walrus said. The time has come. Infiniti." Oy vey. In search of the paradoxically inconspicuous consumer: an exercise in paradoxically pretentious understatement. But if part of the goal was to generate attention, that it did. Oh, did it ever. Within weeks, Infinit — the car company too embarrassed to display its cars — was a national laughingstock. Jay Leno, in his Tonight Show monologue, reported that Infiniti showrooms were empty, but "I understand that the sale of rocks and trees is up 300 percent."

Truthfully, the campaign wasn't awful. In its conception, at least as a teaser, it made sense. But the advertiser and the agency became so seduced by the uproar the ads were generating that they — like so many misguided souls — mistook awareness for affection. Having gotten the American public even more curious about the look of the new cars, they, for the second phase of the campaign, pushed all their chips onto the same number. That's right: they barely showed the car in those spots either. Lexus, meanwhile, had its handsome models in America's face constantly, with copy aimed not at those who desire luxury to fulfill some sort of Zen concept of automotive perfection but at those who wish to impress the living crap out of their neighbors.

At the end of the first year, Lexus sold more than twice as many cars as Infiniti, an advantage that has only grown larger. In 2001, Lexus's U.S. market share for cars and light trucks was 1.3 percent. Infiniti's was .4 percent — leaving one to wonder why the conventional wisdom puts such a premium on being unconventional.

The "1984" Paradox

I keep asking why that's so, but, come on, I know why. One reason is that advertising creatives, as a class, seem to be caught up in their own Myth of the Cutting Edge, that they are somehow dangerous agents provocateurs, daring young men doing high-wire work without a net, artists who substantially define themselves by redefining the status quo. As we shall see in Chapter 7 ("Are You Doomed? Take This Simple Quiz!"), I don't think that is healthy, productive thinking, but we shall get to this later. The second reason is the "1984" paradox. The spot called "1984" — as noted in the introduction to this extraordinary literary event — was probably the greatest commercial in the history of advertising. Created by Chiat/Day and directed by the legendary Ridley Scott, it depicted a futuristic Orwellian nightmare in which a tyrannical Big Brother ranted, via telescreen, to an auditorium full of devolved, slack-jawed drones.

But as they sit there — glassy-eyed and monochromatic — down the aisle runs a young woman, slim and strong and supple. She is wielding a track-and-field hammer, which she whips round and round until she finally unleashes it toward the huge telescreen. Big Brother's image disappears in the shattering explosion. The slaves are freed. Then the voice-over: "Introducing the Apple Macintosh. So 1984 won't have to be like 1984."

Get it? Big Brother is IBM, the looming, information-dominating tyrant, and Macintosh is the fearless liberator — a tool and (more important) a symbol of independence for the heroic iconoclast. Nowadays, needless to say, that sounds ridiculous, because in no way, shape, or form is IBM the omniscient, omnivorous Big Brother. Obviously, Microsoft is Big Brother. But back in 1984 the landscape was a little different, and this commercial was an emotion-laden masterpiece.

It was also — by any ordinary measure of linear, logical, left-brained, informative communication — one of the most irrational acts in advertising history. Think about it. The personal-computing world at that time was a DOS world. Not a Windows-overlaying-DOS world. Just plain ugly, unadorned, C-prompt-intensive DOS. So here comes this revolutionary, user-friendly new technology that introduces the idea of icons and a handheld mouse with which to navigate around applications. And the commercial — the Super Bowl commercial introducing this extraordinary new technology to the world — doesn't include so much as a product shot.

How's that for pushing the envelope?

It was an astonishing gamble that has paid off in incalculable ways. For instance, forgetting for a moment the commercial's vaunted place in history, at this writing eighteen years later, this defiant, psychographic appeal is still the very core of all Apple marketing, all the time. "Think Different" and "1984" are fundamentally identical.

So there you have it. The greatest commercial of all time — perhaps the greatest single advertisement of all time — broke every rule imaginable. Indeed, much of the greatest advertising breaks every rule imaginable; its very genius resides in the unexpected path it takes to make an impact on the consumer. I'm thinking, for instance, of Volkswagen's "Lemon," Clairol's "Does she … or doesn't she?" and Nike's "Just Do It."

The problem is, those are three examples. Each year at least three hundred thousand ads are produced — and maybe it's three million — and a shocking percentage of them violate the rules, too, under the pitiful, misguided belief that such is the road to Greatness. But that is not the road to Greatness. It is the road to Extreme Suckiness. If you've been to Cannes, and sat in the screening rooms as these would-be tours de force roll by one after another, you understand how pervasive is this cult of lawlessness and how consequently ubiquitous is the suckitude. A visit to the International Advertising Film Festival, or most any other awards competition, is a voyage to Suckville.

The "1984" paradox raises big questions for agencies as well. Do you cultivate an atmosphere of anarchy and derring-do, encouraging your employees to make all the wrong choices in a futile search for the breakthrough idea? Or do you enforce rational protocols for communication that are unlikely to result in the next "1984" but will improve the overall agency output by orders of magnitude? Most agencies seem to have opted for the former. In my soon-to-be- announced agency, Garfield & God, things will be done a lot differently — because, as it turns out, discipline and genius are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, let's try a little exercise here; let's scan the twenty-five greatest advertising campaigns, as declared a few years back by Advertising Age, and vet them for rule breaking. Apple, Volkswagen, Nike, Clairol, Avis ("We're number two. We try harder.") clearly took approaches revolutionary in their categories and counterintuitive according to all that advertising had writ holy. And, just to show you I'm not stacking the deck, I'll even throw in the Burma-Shave's road signs in verse, although they were really just a small-scale copycat idea that mushroomed into a phenomenon (turned out the tyrant, rhyme, didn't bat 1,000): WITHIN THIS VALE/ OF TOIL AND SIN/ YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD/ BUT NOT YOUR CHIN/ BURMA-SHAVE. The other nineteen campaigns — the other nineteen — broke not a single thing but sales records.

Coca-Cola ("The pause that refreshes"); Miller Lite ("Tastes great, less filling"); Federal Express ("Absolutely, positively overnight"); Alka-Seltzer; Pepsi-Cola ("Pepsi-Cola hits the spot"); DeBeers ("A diamond is forever"); Maxwell House ("Good to the last drop"); Ivory Soap ("99 44/100% pure"); American Express ("Do you know me?") Anacin ("Fast, fast relief"); Burger King ("Have it your way"); Rolling Stone ("Perception vs. reality") and Campbell's Soup ("Mmm, mmm good") focused on intrinsic product benefits.

Marlboro (the Marlboro cowboy); McDonald's ("You deserve a break today"); the U.S. Army ("Be all that you can be") and Pepsi ("the Pepsi Generation") reflected back on the aspirations of the target audience. Chanel ("Share the fantasy"), Absolut vodka (the bottle-shape campaign), and Hathaway ("the man in the Hathaway shirt") cultivated a sophisticated image.

Every one of those campaigns turned not on insurrection but on insight, understanding the brand and the consumer and forging a message to forge a bond between the two. Just for the record — and you'll just have to take my word for this, because I'll be damned if I'm going to list the whole lot of them — 79 of Ad Age's top 100 campaigns are as noncounterintuitive as can be. The people who created them understood that rules are made to be observed. Or, as my pal Montaigne put it in 1575: "We should not easily change a law received." To wit:

USA Today, September 28, 1989: Burger King's new ad slogan is more than a sales pitch. It's a battle cry.

"Sometimes You've Gotta Break The Rules" is a daring tack for the nation's No. 2 restaurant chain, but desperate times call for daring moves. Since 1986, Burger King has seen its share of the hamburger market chipped away to 16.8% from 17.7% by a series of almost laughingly inept ad campaigns. During that time, No. 1 McDonald's has climbed from an estimated 30% to 35%. And what remaining company spirit "Herb the Nerd" and other lame ads didn't destroy, internal strife snuffed out. Restaurant quality and cleanliness began to slip — the early signs of death in the fast-food business.

As 800 employees digested the new campaign at a special screening here Wednesday, the company's marketing chief put the magnitude of the challenge in perspective. "We're trying to start a whole new company here, folks," said Gary L. Langstaff. "Don't look back."

Advertising Age, January 29, 1990: Three and a half months into a new marketing program, Burger King franchisees are grumbling about the umbrella ad theme. . . . "The ['Sometimes you just gotta break the rules'] theme is completely ineffective," said Gary Robison, a Denver-area operator. "You've got to explain it to most people." Denver franchisee Nick Kraft said, "It's hard to understand, and the message is confusing." The director of operations for three West Coast franchises said the theme is causing problems more serious than confusion. "What does 'Break the rules' mean?" asked this operator, who requested anonymity. "Some customers believe they can get anything they want, and for free." He said one customer who was told he couldn't get six packets of barbecue sauce for his 69¢ bag of fries responded, "Hey, you advertise that you gotta break rules."

Associated Press, Feb. 27, 1991: Burger King's top marketing executive resigned Wednesday even as the nation's second-biggest hamburger chain is considering scrapping the "Sometimes you've gotta break the rules" advertising theme he developed.

Advertising Age, April 22, 1991: Burger King last week introduced its new theme, "Your way. Right away," backed by its old "Have it your way" jingle, in a new 30-second network TV spot for its BK Broiler. It ended the controversial 19-month tenure of "Sometimes you've gotta break the rules."

From And Now a Few Words From Me : Advertising's Leading Critic Lays Down the Law, Once and For All, by Bob Garfield. Copyright, Jan. 21, 2003, McGraw-Hill Trade. Used by permission.