History of advertising: No 162: Freberg, Ltd (But Not Very)

History of advertising: No 162: Freberg, Ltd (But Not Very)

To those of a certain age on this side of the Atlantic, Stan Freberg will always be synonymous with comedy songs such as his St George And The Dragonet spoof of Dragnet and Elderly Man River, which anticipated "political correctness gone mad" by decades.

In his native US, however, Freberg is equally well-known as the man who first put a smile on the staid face of TV advertising.

Freberg’s subversive style was very much reflected in the Los Angeles-based agency he established and christened Freberg, Ltd (But Not Very). Its motto was "Ars gratia pecuniae" (Latin for "art for money’s sake"), while the company seal featured a real seal wearing sunglasses.

Its founder, though, was deadly serious in his declared intent to change an industry about which he was fiercely critical and which was often the victim of his biting satire.

Many years on, some commentators regard Freberg, Ltd as a precursor of Michael Ovitz’s Creative Artists Agency, whose 1991 capture of Coca-Cola’s creative account was seen as symptomatic of big clients’ eagerness to look beyond the agency establishment for solutions.

Back in 1957, Madison Avenue was deeply suspicious of Freberg’s contention that injecting humour into TV campaigns would make them memorable and cause consumers to seek out the products they advertised.

The agency establishment argued that ads that made people laugh would also make them forget the product they were supposed to remember.

David Ogilvy reaffirmed that view in Confessions Of An Advertising Man when he declared: "People don’t buy from clowns."

Freberg gave the lie to that argument, producing a string of TV spots famous for their droll writing and clever delivery that have since become classics. Advertising Age was moved to dub him "the father of the funny commercial".

Things you need to know

  • Freberg’s 1958 single Green Chri$tma$, which attacked the over-commercialisation of Christmas, was almost suppressed by Capitol Records for fear of offending ad agencies.
  • In one of Freberg’s most famous ads, a 1970 spot for Heinz soups, the musical star Ann Miller turns her kitchen into a gigantic production number while singing such lyrics as "Let’s face the chicken gumbo and dance".
  • Freberg, who died in April 2015, had won 21 Clios for his advertising work.

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