Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grammar in Advertising: Hanes Gets Their Gaffe

You can get away with saying just about anything if you say it with a smile.  Even bad grammar.

Hanes' recent advertising campaign for their "lay flat collar tee shirt" is so hilarious that I may have to forgive them for not calling it the "lie-flat collar."  I would call Hanes' attention to not only the verb tense but also the adjectival hyphen, except for the fact that they already know about their gaffe. In one of more than a dozen short commercial spots the grammar problem is brought up by a "bacon neck," and dismissed. So Hanes knows the grammar rules. As I tell my students, once you know the rules, you can break 'em if you can score.

And as a former ad exec, I understand lay-flat's appeal. Still, in the smaller copy text they could use the verb lie when referring to what the "lay flat collar" does. I'm afraid of their success, not of selling shirts (they've sold me) but of selling Americans on the use of lay as an intransitive verb in the present tense.

I'm on a loser I know.  I still blame Apple every time someone says "think different" or "any verb different." Recently the poster for the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with its comma-spliced tag line "It's not a diary, it's a movie" had me chaffing. Guess I need the comfort of Hanes.

Even as Hanes breaks the rules it scores big on the laugh meter with these spots.  Hanes has a comedy of manners in an airplane coach, starring basketball legend Michael Jordan, who plays himself and comedic actor Michael Torpey, who plays Rick, a carpet salesman that has read Me 2.0 a few too many times. (Believe me, reading it once is too many times, but I digress.)  When Rick finds himself seated next MJ and that they both are wearing Hanes, he figures it kismet.  The laughs come from both fellas playing their lines straight as Rick sidles up to Jordan in efforts to ingratiate himself to the basketball great. It's obvious this 15-hour flight just got longer for MJ. It's a sort of humor akin to The Office caused by awkward moments where strangers are forced to deal with each other.

Here's the "Grammar" spot.

You can catch all of Hanes Flight #23 series videos at Hanes "Comfort Air" site.  After a brief (no pun intended) introduction by a attendant that seems to be channeling a certain former Alaskan governor, you'll want to select "In-Flight Movies."

The "reality" of series is backed up by layers of simulacra. In the spots Rick mentions his blog, That's So Rick, which is actually up and running here. Read the blog  which boast Rick's adventures and insights as a carpet salesman, and the parody continues. On one post you'll find a link to sales of a items that the fictional character is hawking on, such as a coffee mug with a mobile phone photo of MJ and Rick and tee-shirts with Rick's sales tips.

But what about Rick's carpet samples? Or is that all a lay? Smile.

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