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Shakespeare in Advertising

Disclaimer: Before anything else, please do note that the videos included are not mine in any aspect. They belong to the companies who produced them, and to the respective people who uploaded these videos.

Written by:

Lampa, Karenina Isabel A.

2009-13797

University of the Philippines – Diliman, Quezon City

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We may have seen traces of Shakespeare and of his works in various media. This includes cartoons (such as Hey! Arnold, Jimmy Neutron, etc.), movies (Shakespeare in Love, Romeo +Juliet), even in other books written by various authors and comics, and so much more. However, who’s to say that it stops there? There is so much more to explore. One of these is none other than advertisements. William Shakespeare has been used time and time again, after all, in different forms of advertising. But advertising what, exactly? After seeing and watching a couple of these advertisements, it is then safe to say that Shakespeare can be used to advertise about practically anything under the sun.

Now admittedly, I am not really a fan of advertisements and commercials. They are nothing but nuisances to our television-watching and movie-enjoyment. However, I cannot deny that while they do bother me to some extent, there are quite a number of commercials that have made me laugh. Do not get me wrong, though. The entertainment value that advertisements offer do not go unnoticed by me, of course.

But then, how exactly does Shakespeare fit into this world of advertisements and commercials? We may not be fully aware of it, but his name and works have appeared in quite a number. The big question is, did they give the name of Shakespeare justice? Or did they just add up to a number of those irritating commercials?

Here are some of the videos that I have managed to scour online.

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Levi’s

This first one is taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is by Levi’s. Some of its strong points include the fact that it remains to be a purist’s work. The lines uttered by the characters in the commercial were taken directly from the play of Shakespeare itself. It is simple, and yet the aura this commercial emits is enough to catch the attention of the viewer and attract prospective buyers. In my opinion though, incorporating this specific play into a commercial about jeans is not really something that most would think to be appropriate. It seems as if the ‘jeans’ part was simply inserted for the sake of promoting the product, without much thought. But then again, it is in the commercial’s simplicity that makes it acceptable enough as an advertisement without offending Shakespeare purists.

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Moving on, these next three videos are all commercials based on, wait for it- Romeo and Juliet. This is probably the most commonly used among all of his works, because of the familiarity it brings to not only scholars and academics, but even to the people who are not even inclined to reading much about classics.

All three were used by different companies and products, so how effective were they?

Nextel’s Advertisement

This first advertisement incorporating the famous love story of Romeo and Juliet was used by Nextel, a telecommunications company. Basically, it shows Romeo and Juliet delivering a few lines, and then they die. The thing that I really liked about this commercial is its creative incorporation of the use of the cellular phone. It is funny to see it being used in the middle of the Shakespearean period, amidst those costumes, and it works well. Although at some point, its try at humor borders on being much too exaggerated and ridiculous, the use of Shakespeare here is not really that bad. A couple more lines from the original text would have added a bit more literary value, but then again, this is a commercial we are talking about, and we cannot be quite sure how this could appeal to the mass viewers. This is, suffice to say, Romeo and Juliet in thirty seconds. With cellphones.

T-Mobile’s Advertisement

This one is also from a telecommunications provider, but it is very different from Nextel’s commercial. While Nextel used the death scene of the lovers, this one uses the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, with a prolonged twist. A Shakespearean purist would probably find himself a bit peeved at the fact that the only essence of Shakespeare in this commercial would be the first few lines of Juliet, and then the names of the characters. However, I think the more important fact is that purists will not be the only one who will be watching this commercial, and that the producers would have to find a way to make other people understand and like it. After watching a few of these advertisements, I could say that it is quite hard to stay focused on Shakespearean texts alone. This commercial right here proves that fact.

Spike TV’s Commercial

Men are known for their impossibly large ego and, of course, their ways of being unable to control their desires when the call of flesh comes. This next advertisement takes us away from telecommunication companies, to television stations. I found myself actually surprised that this commercial worked for me. Before you do judge me, hear my side. See, I find Shakespeare present in this video, as we can clearly see that it is a re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet’s death scene. But, unlike some of the other commercials, the way that they meshed both Shakespeare and the entirety of the product they are advertising worked well. It is quite clever to use the plot line of a Romeo and Juliet acting on stage, and then the man playing Romeo gets distracted by the body of Juliet as she leans forward. This, in my opinion, both took into account the fact that they are in fact using Shakespeare as a part of their advertisement, but they still have to incorporate a part of what they are trying to reach out to people, which is this new television station for men.

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Leaving behind one of the most tragic love stories we have come across, I then present you one that is different from the ones posted above.

Red Bull

*For a clearer view, click here

What I really like about this one is that while it may not be referring to Shakespeare’s works, it shows us Shakespeare in the process of writing. And then, has it not always been a wonder for us how this brilliant man managed all his works? It is also  in cartoon-form, which somehow differs from all the others I have mentioned above. The point of comparison here then, is the fact that even if the advertisement does not refer to his famous works and does not include actors and actresses, it still is effective. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason why I came to like this one, but there is just something about it that seems so out of the ordinary. Shakespeare in cartoon form, with a can of Red Bull? Brilliant. That is just my explanation for it.

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As of today, there are a lot of advertisements which have managed to incorporate a bit of Shakespeare, be it the plotlines or the lines itself. All have used different techniques, as we have seen and observed in the videos above. However, I think that actually managing to add a bit of Shakespeare flair to an advertisement could prove to be a lot more challenging as compared to using Shakespeare in media such as movies or television shows. Commercials are, admittedly, made in such a way that they are short but they should be witty and able to attract much attention of the viewers. I think of it much like a poem and a short story, wherein in short stories (in my case, movies and television shows) can have more time and more lines which enables them to do Shakespeare justice, but in poems (advertisements), one really has to think. “How can I use Shakespeare and promote my product all in less than a minute?”

It is difficult to remain such a Shakespearean purist when it comes to advertising. But then again, while some of these commercials are not at all bad, I still feel as if there is something lacking. Perhaps more Shakespeare essence to them? I cannot be sure. But then, how much Shakespeare can one put in a video that only ranges up to 30 seconds, if not at most, right?

These commercials have employed the technique of incorporating Shakespeare on different levels, but there is still room for improvement. The videos use Shakespeare, yes, but only insofar as to using popular and well-known lines without so much as a thought of the context in which these statements were used. The main criticism I can level at these videos is that they utilize Shakespeare only through parroting of famous lines. Why stop there, when we know there is so much more to explore?

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For your viewing pleasure, listed below are some advertisements with reference to Shakespeare. (Again, I do not own any of these. Credits go to the producers of the commercials and the people who uploaded these videos).

McDonald’s
Klondike Ice Cream
Classic BIC Banana

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. March 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Your analysis of Shakespeare’s appropriations in these advertisements were interesting in their variety, and pointed admirably to what I think was these commercials’ essential goal, which was to employ the reputation of the bard in facilitating name recall for the product. I agree with you that the T-Mobile and Red Bull commercials struck me as entertainingly humorous and thought-provoking as well, but only when I watched them on their “own” terms. It might seem funny but the only occasion in which these advertisements worked for me was when I understood them as deliberately avoiding to be anything serious or literary, and when I judged them as intentionally packaging themselves to cheaply benefit from the lines and the dialogues of the plays without really striving to arrive at any didactic conclusion. After a sort of suspension of purism, in short, these examples can be persuasive, engaging and even hard to forget.

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