Nerds Get Their Revenge on Buyers of Books, Hamburgers and Pizzas

Herb may have been a nerd before his time.

Herb, of course, was that Burger King spokes-nerd whose commercial status two summers ago fizzled faster than a Whopper sizzles. The bespectacled and befuddled Herb was a marketing invention whose sole purpose was to get people talking about--and eating at--Burger King. While the Herb campaign wilted like week-old lettuce, other commercial nerds are now hits. Indeed, the nerd is alive, well--but perhaps a little less goofy--on Madison Avenue.

Leading the nerd parade is a meek-looking fellow named "Books" Dalton in whom the B. Dalton Bookstore chain is investing $5 million in advertising time. And a clay animated nerd-like creature, the "Noid," has been pitching Domino's Pizza for a slightly more than a year.

What's more, stereotypical nerdlike traits--such as bashful personalities and mismatched clothing--are showing up on everything from state lottery ads to airline commercials.

What is happening, ad executives say, is that once again, the advertising world is following the lead set by the film industry. Super Nerd Pee-Wee Herman's film, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," posted box office sales of $41 million for Warner Bros. in 1985. After the low-budget film "Revenge of the Nerds" raked in $41 million for 20th Century Fox in 1984, Fox rolled out "Revenge of the Nerds II" which has grossed $27 million this year. Said a Fox spokesman: "The films appealed to the nerds in us all."

Historically, nerds have seldom been used in advertising. And with good reason. Nerds have been considered odd-balls of the first order since surfers began commonly using the term in the mid-1960s. "Most ad executives know that viewers don't want to identify with nerds," said Dr. Joyce Brothers, the columnist and talk show host. "But if the nerd has some clear connection with the product--and is the blame of something that goes wrong--that's fine."

The Domino's Noid--who looks and acts much like some sort of joker--is blamed in the ads for home delivered pizzas that come cold, crushed, or cardboard-tasting. The crazy critter giggles with glee as he wreaks havoc on home delivered pizzas--such as jumping atop pizzas on a pogo stick. But the Domino's ad slogan clearly notes that "Domino's Avoids the Noid."

The Noid was the invention of an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ad agency, Group 243 Inc. "We needed something to really grab attention," said Mathew Thornton, a senior writer at the agency. "We don't see him being a nerd like Herb--he's actually much bigger than that." Indeed, Thornton said, the sole purpose of the Noid was to help build consumer awareness of Domino's. And in the last year, Thornton said, awareness of the Domino's name has jumped from 40% to the current 90%.

Now running neck-and-neck with Herb and the Noid for the top nerd title is a brand-new fictional bookstore manager, Books Dalton, bedecked in horn-rimmed glasses and bow tie. Indeed, when it comes to buying books, nerds are "opinion leaders," said Dave Stewart, marketing professor at USC. "I may not like to drink beer with a nerd," said Stewart, "but I'd sure like to know where he buys his books."

Already, however, comparisons are being drawn between Books and Burger King's Herb. But B. Dalton executives don't like them one bit.

"He's not a Herb clone," insists Dorinda Freeman, director of advertising for the Minneapolis-based company, a division of one of the world's largest retail bookselling chains, BDB Inc. "Everyone is confusing literateness with nerdiness. I hope our society doesn't think that all people who are literate are nerds."

Burger King officials--who would like the specter of Herb to disappear forever--are carefully watching the campaign. "Who knows?" said a company spokeswoman. "But what works for selling books doesn't necessarily work for selling hamburgers."

Oddly enough, Geer, DuBois Inc., the same New York ad agency that creates upscale ads for Jaguar Cars Inc., has also devised the Books character for B. Dalton. And David Bickford, the New York actor who portrays Books in some 68 different television ads, readily admits that Books is a nerd--but a far different sort of nerd from Herb. "Everyone in the country named Herb had a reason to be embarrassed after the Burger King ads," Bickford said in an interview. "But unlike Herb, Books is an intellectual. That's nothing to be embarrassed about."

Campbell & Wagman Keeps Up Quick Pace

It is fast becoming the little-agency-that-can.

Just 10 months ago, Craig Campbell and Mike Wagman left their senior positions at the ad firm Foote, Cone & Belding and opened their own Los Angeles ad firm, Campbell & Wagman. Of course, they didn't start out empty-handed. They took the $30-million First Interstate Bancorp account with them.

In a town with more than 300 ad agencies, the move left some competing ad chiefs wondering why another firm was starting up. They've quickly found out. Already, the agency's billings are up to $55 million. And last week, Campbell & Wagman picked up the $20-million broadcast advertising portion of Marshalls Inc., the Woburn, Mass-based fashion discounter. That marks the third account the firm has picked up in the past two months.

But this one won't be easy. Marshall's isn't chasing yuppies--but neither is it after the K mart crowd. Instead, it is pressing hard--with its new slogan, "Goodby Department Stores, Hello Marshalls"--to reach fashion-conscious consumers who can't afford high fashion's high prices. Said Craig Campbell, "This is not a Neiman-Marcus audience."

$490.7 Million Spent to Reach Latinos in 1987

Like never before, advertisers are spending big bucks to reach the nation's Latino market--especially in the Los Angeles area. Nationwide, advertisers targeted the Latino market by spending an estimated $490.7 million on ads in 1987--a 23.2% increase over the $398 million spent in 1986, according to the Santa Barbara-based publication, Hispanic Business.

Nearly a quarter of that figure, $103 million, was spent in the Los Angeles area--the nation's largest Latino ad market. And the biggest single spender was Philip Morris Cos., which spent $13.3 million on Latino advertising. "Almost every major advertiser is doing at least some Hispanic advertising," said Marissa Banks, associate editor. "I can't think of one that isn't."

Piscopo Makes Miller Ads More Filling

The new King of Commercials appears to be former "Saturday Night Live" TV star Joe Piscopo. At least, that's the word from Video Storyboard Tests Inc., a New York firm that monitors TV advertising. For the third quarter of 1987, the series of Miller Lite ads starring Piscopo ranked as the most remembered among 6,000 viewers interviewed.

The new Miller Lite campaign--which replaces the brew's "Less Filling, Tastes Great" campaign--features Piscopo as everything from a comic karate expert named "Bruce" Piscopo to a rotund rap singer "Rappin' " Fats Piscopo. "There is a renewed interest in the Miller Lite campaign," said Dave Vadehra, president of Video Storyboard. "The change, obviously, is paying off."

Sports Executives Would Shoot for Dr. J.

Michael Jordan just got slam-dunked--and Arnold Palmer got shanked.

While they may rank among the top names in their respective sports, the two athletes did not fare well in the hearts of 400 top sports marketing executives surveyed by Sports Marketing News. In the survey, executives were asked to vote for the athlete they would most like to have endorse their company or product. Julius (Dr. J.) Irving ranked highest, with 11% of the votes, and Jack Nicklaus ranked second with 8%.

Neither Jordan, who makes $4 million annually in product endorsements, nor Palmer, who makes $8 million, received a single vote. "Given a choice," said Philip Maher, editor of the Westport, Conn-based publication, "sponsors would rather hire someone who is not already overexposed."


The top advertisers ranked by spending for Latino-oriented advertising. Estimates for 1987.

Company Advertising (Millions) Philip Morris Cos. $13.3 Procter & Gamble 12.0 Adolph Coors 9.8 Anheuser-Busch 8.0 McDonald's 7.0 Johnson & Johnson 6.0 Colgate-Palmolive 5.0 Ford Motor Co., Goya Foods Sears Roebuck & Co., Nabisco Brands, AT&T;, Dart & Kraft, American Home Products, Lever Bros. 3.0 U.S Army 2.5 General Motors Corp. 2.4

Source: Hispanic Business Inc.

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