Girl Scout cookie season is over in most parts of the country, I think. No longer can I run out and buy, on a whim, a box of Thin Mints for lunch. Our family stash will have to last us another 10 months.
But while the tang of fresh Samoas and Do-Si-Dos is still clearly planted in your memory, I thought I’d offer up a little media lesson predicated on cookies, courtesy an enterprising Girl Scout troop in New York.
Take a look at this picture:
In case you can’t see it very well, it’s essentially a simple sign featuring Leonardo DiCaprio clutching a box of Girl Scout cookies at the Oscars. (As we’ve mentioned, Chris Rock brought out his daughters’ Girl Scout troop to sell cookies to the assembled masses.) The sign reads as follows:
This is Leo
Leo wants an Oscar
Leo buys Girl Scout Cookies at the Awards
Leo wins an Oscar
Leo is smart
Be like Leo
Had I seen this sign in person, I would’ve bought at least three more boxes of Thin Mints based on my appreciation for the creativity alone. (And eaten all three before I got to the car.) And I think its creator has a future in advertising. Here’s why:
First, she tapped into the ability of celebrities to sell us stuff. Sure, we can deny all we want that we’re not influenced at all by what actors or singers or sports figures say or do or wear, but marketers know differently. I mean, there’s a reason why Lincoln hires Matthew McConaughey to sit behind the wheel of a Lincoln MKX and stare at a bull, or why Samuel L. Jackson keeps asking us, “What’s in your wallet?” And while I don’t own a Lincoln or have a Capitol One credit card, I do have a faux Peyton Manning jersey in my closet and a growing affinity for Papa John’s pizza. Celebrity endorsements might not be the sole reason we buy something, but is it a factor? Advertisers sure think so.
But there’s more in play here. The sign isn’t just suggesting that we buy Girl Scout cookies because Leo buys them. We should buy them because Leo bought them and immediately won an Oscar!
This is a critical element in lots of advertising—that if we buy something, it’ll make us smarter or happier or better than we were before. Some shillers of stuff connect the dots between their product and “success” (whatever success looks like) explicitly: Buy this treadmill and you’ll be healthier! Get this online language program and you’ll learn another language! And hey, these advertisers might well be telling you the truth (if you actually use the products, that is).
But many advertisers will merely suggest that your lives will be improved immeasurably by using whatever products they’re selling … even if the products being sold have nothing to do with the improvements they suggest you’ll accrue. Not everyone who drinks soda, for instance, is young and attractive and surrounded by friends … but mysteriously, almost everyone who drinks soda in commercials is. Buyers of Apple products are likewise mostly young and undeniably hip world-changers when we see them in commercials. That’s a big part of their appeal. But I own several Apple products and, alas, I’ve not become noticeably younger or hipper.
The “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign popularized by Dos Equis beer is perhaps the slyest example of this mode of advertising. Though Jonathan Goldsmith (the campaign’s “Most Interesting Man”) and his glorious beard recently announced their retirement, the commercials were clever, winking nods at our penchant for trying to improve ourselves by buying things we know don’t improve us at all. Each ad was punctuated by a series of compelling non-sequiturs referencing Goldsmith’s “Most Interesting Man”: “He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels,” or “He has won the lifetime achievement award, twice.” The commercials worked because we know how advertising works. It’s an inside joke that we’re all in on … and yet it still leveraged a bit of beer drinkers’ desire to be a little like that “Most Interesting Man,” too. Sales of Dos Equis beer went through the roof during the campaign.
The Girl Scouts in New York tapped into the very same, winking vibe, and gave it a twist. “I don’t always buy Girl Scout Cookies,” DiCaprio might be saying, “but when I do, I win an Oscar.”
Media influence is indeed everywhere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s always good to recognize it when you see it. After all, we have room in our kitchens for only so many Thin Mints.