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Advertising Parodies

here is so much going against the endorsement of consumer goods by so-called celebrities ?the endorsers are not qualified to praise the products they do, like cricketers endorsing sports cars they have never driven, and often the products endorsed are not even used by the endorsers, as in the case of a well-known soap endorsed by film stars ?that the wonder of wonders is that crores upon crores continue to be spent on media advertising, and that millions upon millions of readers and audiences in general continue to swallow these ads which rarely tell the truth.

It has been said that cricketers, for example, earn more from their endorsements than from the game itself. The same charge cannot, however, be laid against film stars who do earn considerable amounts from the products they sponsor but those could never match their earnings from films, certainly not in India where payments to film stars exceed 50 per cent of the total budgets of the films they star in. This is because in Mumbai, unlike in Hollywood, films sell on the names of the stars, rather than of directors or producers or scriptwriters, as in cinematically advanced countries.

There are endorsements and endorsements, but probably unique among them are endorsements by gangsters. Robert Lacey’s scrupulously researched and fascinating book on Henry Ford and his son Edsel illustrates some examples of these.

It was after the totally unexpected failure of the Model T, after the outstanding success of Ford as car maker, that things changed. Henry Ford could just not reconcile himself to the fall in sales. He blamed salesmen saying that their mental attitude was at fault, and added 1,300 new dealers to the already existing network of 8,500 on the wrong assumption that this would make them compete with one another and so increase sales. After all, as Lacey puts it: “The car had been the making of Henry Ford, lifting him from any other Detroit manufacturer to become car maker to the world.?Nevertheless, with increasing competition from other manufacturers?less noisy cars, and the recession of 1920 which hit the automobile industry hardest of all, there was a sharp decline in sales. Besides, the demands and nature of the car market were changing. Ford, for all his successes, lacked the proper management structure “to identify such problems, work out solutions and get things done?

But Henry Ford never lost his touch. He came out with a new model V-8, which turned out to be another populist triumph. As Lacey puts it: “The V-8 was the first hot-rod car, the progenitor of stock cars, drag races, and all the other forms of redneck motor sport which are the American answer to the daintiness of the European Grand Prix.?/font>

Surprisingly, however, gangsters found the V-8 particularly suited to their line of work because its quick getaway left pursuers standing. Lacey quotes John Dillinger, Public Enemy Number I, writing to Henry Ford between holdups in 1934: “You have a wonderful car, it’s a treat to drive one.?And not to be outdone, Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame sent in his own testimonial: “I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one.?/font>

Lacey concludes his story on a dramatic note: “These unsolicited tributes from the folk heroes of the era were parodies of conventional advertising, but when Bonnie and Clyde came to their gruesome and bloody end in the pine hills of north Louisiana in May 1934, they offered Henry Ford the ultimate product endorsement. Their beige-grey ‘Desert Sand?V-8 Fordor Deluxe, stolen 7,500 miles and twenty-three days earlier in Topeka, Kansas, had been riddled with 107 bullets from the rifles and automatic shotguns of the ambushing lawmen. But when the bloodstained bodies of the bandits were removed from the car, and the local Ford dealer was called to drive it away, the ignition was turned, the starter was pressed, and the V-8 engine started first time.?/font>

Courtesy: “Ford: The Men and the Machine?by Robert Lacey, published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, in 1986.