Friday, January 20, 2006

We Better Settle This One

How could the SJ-R run a story on Robert Vaughn and not mention his star turn as hard-ass spokesman pitching the local legal services of Ron Kanoski and Associates? Granted it was an AP story, and the headline did play off the “Tell them you mean business” tag line from the ad. Still, I expected at least a sidebar on how this Hollywood legend has been lighting up the small screen and billboards here in Springfield.

I haven’t been following the Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s career too closely lately, but assumed it must be in the toilet given the low-rent pitchman gig he took on. Not that celebrity endorsement deals are only for fallen stars desperate for some quick cash.

A-list celebrities are increasingly lending their voices and mugs to Madison Avenue productions. It used to be that they would only do commercials in foreign countries in an attempt to raise their Q rating abroad, while holding-on to their artistic integrity here in the States. But I suppose that any more, art is commerce, so Bob Dylan has no qualms about getting tangled up in bloomers and shilling for women’s undergarments.

Back to Vaughn, what makes these commercials seem as if he is struggling to stay in the spotlight is that he isn’t playing Robert Vaughn the respected thespian; he’s playing a lawyer who kind of reminds people of Robert Vaughn. It’s like if Catherine Zeta-Jones were to put on a sequin dress and reprise her role as Velma Kelly, belting out a song-and-dance number that extols the services of Cingular Wireless. Who knows, maybe when she’s 70 and her husband Michael Douglas is pushing one fifty, the royalties from the Streets of San Francisco will stop rolling in and she’ll be forced to see if those old gams can still kick up some endorsement deals.

Speaking of Michael Douglas and wireless technology. For me, the most enduring image of his career is of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko strolling along the beach and talking into a cordless phone the size of a shoebox. At the time, this use of cutting-edge technology and the freedom that it offered was meant to demonstrate the superiority of the super-rich over us plebeians who were lucky if our landline phone cord was long enough to reach out onto the patio.

Watching that scene in today’s flip-phone era, Gekko looks burdened by the cumbersome device, like a Depression-era tenement dweller lugging a 25lb. block of ice up ten flights of steps. The dated allusion is disruptive to a serious viewing of the movie today; although it does make it ideal fodder for Michael Ian Black commentary on I (Heart) the 80s.

But I digress.

For those who haven’t seen the Robert Vaughn commercials, they feature pasty litigants who quake at the very mention of Kanoski’s name as opposing counsel, and hastily decide to settle the claim against them. Then Vaughn appears, all litigious-like, and delivers the ad’s tag line, punctuating it with a forceful finger pointed at the camera.

They are obviously generically produced, (your name here) advertisements that are available to any ambulance chaser in the country who wants to shell out for some dramatic panache. This makes Vaughn appear not only desperate, but wanton as well.

Kanoski & Associates are getting their money’s worth from the endorsement deal. They have Vaughn’s picture plastered all over their Web site, giving potential clients the impression that he will be by their side when they face-off in court with the guy who rear-ended them in Shakey’s parking lot.

Many in the legal profession find the commercials and others like them distasteful.

The North Carolina State Bar prohibited two law firms from continuing to air the Vaughn ads, calling them unethical and misleading to consumers.

In Florida, law firms are not allowed to have actors or spokespeople appear in their commercials, a ruling that some find discriminatory on the grounds that good-looking, Billy Flynn-type lawyers will have an unfair advantage over their Raymond Burr-esque brethren. And if there are any attorneys in Florida who look like Catherine Zeta-Jones, they can all forget about it.

I’m not in a position as a consumer to judge if the Vaughn ads are deceptive, as I rarely have the need for legal representation. If the next time I find a dismembered finger in my Wendy’s chilli I subconsciously start to hum the theme from The Magnificent Seven, I’ll know I’ve been had.


Marie said...

Will Vaughn suffer from brand confusion? My daughter, upon seeing an ad for his upcoming TV show, exclaimed something like, "A lawyer from Springfield is getting his own TV show. Weird."

Do you think it would be too much to ask to require TV advertisers to indicate when actors are used in their ads. I nearly had to be sedated when I saw the CEO from Geico acting like a couch potato in a Netflix commercial. And, the chubby young staffer at Capitol One is now renting a car from Enterprise to travel to his 10 year class reunion? Okay. It is plausible that he still works at Capitol One, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

These ads have been around since I was a kid (easily 20 years ago), and people apparently still know who Mr. Vaughn is - so it's unlikely that there's much concern about brand confusion...