Do-it-yourself

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Tom Carvel

Tom Carvel

As a creative in advertising, I find my teeth grinding whenever I see a commercial that is clearly a do-it-yourself production. You know the ones I mean. The spots typically feature a business owner who thinks he can save money by not hiring an agency and by being his own spokesman. Zero charisma. Lame delivery. Bad puns.

As a business owner, I have a slightly different take, especially in the present economic climate. The late great Tom Carvel represents what’s both right and wrong about this approach.

Back in the 70s and 80s, Tom made himself synonymous with his soft ice cream empire by doing home-made commercials with home-made announcing. His distinctive voice, as someone on a Comments page put it, “sounds like Tom Waits gargling hot asphalt.” There were times it was even hard to make out what Carvel was saying.

But it is hard to argue with results. Tom Carvel built a highly successful fast food franchise, as evidenced here and here. Not believing in ad agencies was not the same thing as not believing in advertising. Clearly, Carvel had faith in marketing and he funded it and threw himself into it full bore. He came up with novel names for ice-cream novelties, such as Cookie-Pus and Tom Turkey. He spent a lot of money on media in order to attract business to his stores.

Today, Carvel the company is going strong long after its founder’s passing. The offbeat ice cream cakes still bear the names of the characters that Tom Carvel created. I’m guessing that an agency is involved now. Fudgie the Whale appears to be a little too carefully art directed. Instead of looking like the creation of someone armed with a cake icer and not enough time serve up his creation, Fudgie now resembles the baby monster that bursts out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. I miss Tom’s amateurish but consistently funded efforts to build his brand.

Fudgie the Whale

Fudgie the Whale

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