NEW YORK — The simplicity of black and white is returning to television commercials as some national advertisers vie for attention amid their noisier, brightly colored competition.
A brewer, a snack-food maker, a perfumer and two clothing manufacturers have concentrated on black-and-white commercials in recent months.
"It's like something is wrong with the television and you are suddenly seeing an old 1950s movie," one commercial maker said.
Three of the commercials use country-and-western settings. Another shows an announcer talking with characters from "Leave It to Beaver" or "Dragnet." The fifth is set in what appears to be an airy urban loft.
The clothing commercials are designed to create an image rather than to sell clothes, the companies said.
The commercials for Guess? Inc., an apparel company based in Los Angeles, show a pickup truck crossing a plain. The jeans-clad driver gets out, ropes a horse and brands it with the Guess label. The viewer learns that the driver is a woman when she takes off her cowboy hat before getting back into the truck that disappears, replaced by a red-ringed Guess label. The only sound is the specially written musical score.
"We wanted to establish and reinforce an image" of timeless quality, said Paul Marciano, ad director for Guess. Roger Lunn, the British director who made the commercial, said he wanted to convey "a sense of adventure" that comes from wearing Guess clothing.
Create a Feeling
"We wanted to create a feeling opposed to saying something about a product," Lunn said. "Against the color and flamboyancy of all the programs, can you imagine the impact of a black-and-white commercial?"
Marciano was the only executive willing to discuss the budget for his commercial. He said about $400,000 of the $1.5 million allocated for the ad campaign was spent on production, a larger percentage than normal.
The commercials appeared for about three weeks this fall in several major markets--New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco and Phoenix--and will be back again for two weeks near Christmas, Marciano said.
Conveying a sense of timeless quality was also the aim of the other clothing commercial, featuring dungarees by Ralph Lauren.
"We wanted to show we stand for products that are beyond fashion, not something that's in this year and out the next," said Buffy Birritella, ad director at Polo Ralph Lauren Inc. in New York.
The commercial shows a group of people of all ages in the back of a pickup truck. They are also shown milling about on a farm--leaning against a barn, playing together, a man walking down a country road trailed by a youngster.
"We were selling a mood about a product rather than the product itself," Birritella said. The black-and-white format gave the commercial "a gritty, natural and down-home" quality, she said.
The commercial was broadcast for two weeks earlier this fall on six stations in the New York market and nationally on the MTV music network. Birritella said the company may buy some time nationally for the ad next year.
In a Miller Lite beer commercial first used on the pregame show for the Super Bowl football game last January, a group of cavalrymen pulled up their horses when they spotted Indians atop some nearby hills.
The leaders of the two groups met face-to-face. Their tense, but silent, confrontation eventually erupted in the "tastes great, less filling" disagreement that Lite has used in its ads for a dozen years. The commercial concluded: "No one knows how long the argument has gone on."
"It was set up to remind you of every western you've ever seen," said Bob Bertini, a spokesman for the Lite brand at Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee.
The black-and-white style shocks viewers who have grown accustomed to colorful ads, he said. "We have really gone full cycle," he said.
The snack-food ad is for Tostitos, a tortilla chip made by Frito-Lay Inc. of Dallas. Its message, that Tostitos are good for sharing, is woven around clips from TV shows popular nearly 30 years ago.
Talking With Beaver Cleaver
In two commercials, it appears that the Tostito spokesman is talking directly with Beaver Cleaver or with Sgt. Joe Friday of "Dragnet."
The ads first appeared regionally in January and were recently shown nationally, said Laurie Beeson, vice president for brand marketing at Frito-Lay.
Calvin Klein Ltd. uses a primarily black-and-white commercial for the perfume Obsession. It shows a woman whose brush with the fragrance has changed her life. She is shown taking leave of friends and family.
The ads first appeared nationally in March, said Richard Calman, chairman of the Klein ad unit, CRK Advertising.
The commercial makers say the black-and-white approach is best suited to brands trying to establish an identity or raise awareness rather than score big sales gains.
"I don't think you could sell soap powder or waffle mix like this," Lunn said.