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Polis Report

Brain Drain

By Michael Learmonth

There's one ad campaign that's been bugging me all summer. It's the TV-mocking ABC slogans emblazoned in yellow on billboards and buses all over the Bay Area: "Scientists say we use 10 percent of our brains. That's way too much."

The campaign's humor grew on me a little bit, but I still can't believe this slogan would inspire anyone to flip on the blue box for another episode of Home Improvement.

Finally, my sister, a Ph.D. candidate in neuropsychology, gave me some validation. She took one look at the billboard and remarked, "That's ridiculous. That 10 percent thing is a myth. The research shows you use what you got."

Of course, no one is supposed to take those billboard slogans seriously. They're not unlike the new Winston's "no additives" cigarette ad that shows a corpulent man in blue jeans showing off an unseemly amount of backside cleavage. The punch line: "Why can't jeans ads be this real?" Or the Miller Brewing Company's "Dick" ads on television and in magazines that purposefully look scrawled on a wet napkin or shot at a party with a thrift-shop 16 millimeter.

Instead of vouching for a product's quality, the new wave of ads spoofs the idea of advertising and tries instead to associate the product with a wry, edgy sense of humor. The ads are saying, "OK, we know you're too sophisticated for advertising, but you're gonna smoke, drink and watch TV anyway, so why not choose a brand that's funny?"

ABC's ads, including slogans like "Hobbies, schmobbies" and "You can always talk to your wife," were created by the legendary ad agency TBWA Chiat/Day. Agency spokesman Jeremy Miller claims that more traditional network slogans like "Must See TV" and "Welcome Home" leave no lasting mark in the minds of TV viewers.

"We are trying to develop an attitude for the network," Miller explains. "These ads established a recognition that TV is actually a good thing." ABC's ratings next season will prove whether or not enough brains were convinced.

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From the Sept. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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