If there’s one thing “Mad Men” has been successful at, it’s the launching of a ridiculous number of columns, opinions and people who’ve popped up to attach themselves to the show’s popularity. One tangentially related column is this one by Mat Zucker, CCO of OgilvyOne Worldwide. Writing in an online Jewish publication called Tablet, he asks if today’s advertising overtly, or covertly, appeals to the Jewish population:
Capitol One: At first glance, there’s absolutely nothing Jewish about the Capital One brand. It’s from Virginia. It’s barely 25 years old. But in a big departure from the long-running campaign starring Vikings (also not Jewish), Capital One Bank now taps a portfolio of funny men in its ads, who I would argue, are specifically targeting discrete types of people. There’s Alec Baldwin, for example, to appeal to liberals, Jimmy Fallon for the young people, and Jerry Stiller for us, who comforts a woman with “Bubby” and decries earning “bupkis” on interest.
For a site like Tablet magazine, the article is a breezy read, but as advertising commentary, it’s very silly. It also seems Mat Zucker hasn’t spent much time outside New York City, and all too stereotypically portrays his experience as being typical of all American Jews. For example, he suggests that one of the reasons there’s “absolutely nothing Jewish” about Capital One is because it’s from Virginia. Well, guess what: The most powerful Jewish person in Congress is Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader. And he’s a lifelong Virginian. And a Republican. You can disagree with Cantor on policy issues, but he’s as much a part of the American Jewish experience as Mat Zucker is.
But the real problem with Zucker’s article is the problem all agencies have when targeting ethnic audiences: The belief that there needs to be something stereotypical in a spot to make it resonant with Jews. Like Pepper Miller asked in her book “What’s Black About It?” If you’re going to ask, “What’s Jewish about it?” when creating or referencing a spot, you’re going to end up with work that feels trite or stereotypical to some and offensive to others. That Zucker sees Jewish references in advertising that has nothing overtly to do with Jews or Jewish products is mostly the product of his imagination, not reality.
Judaism and American Jewish culture have permeated American media and pop culture just like every other ethnic or minority’s group’s culture has—Irish, German, Hispanic, African-American, Italian, etc. And advertising is part of that culture. I suspect a writer of some other ethnicity could take the same brands Zucker calls out and make similar myopic observations.