Ok, technically the industrial musicals of the 1950s, 60s and 70s weren’t advertising, per se. They were Broadway-style musicals scripted and scored to be performed once to a private audience of employees at annual sales meetings for companies such as Ford, Maidenform, American Standard, and others, featuring songs intended to ennoble the prosaic work of selling bras, typewriters, diesel engines or sneakers.
I highly recommend you carve out 45 minutes to listen to Terry Gross’s interview with song-writer Sheldon Harnick, actor-singer John Russell, and author Steve Young. You almost can’t believe how authentic these songs sound, until the lyrics register in your brain. Young, author of Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals, introduces one tune, written for an Exxon event, as “a stirring bit of info-tainment about the petroleum industry” — and you’d think you’re listening to the theme song from that Disney film about Davy Crockett. Another, written for a Keds sales conference, promotes a new line of casual kids shoes to the tune of Old MacDonald, and literally makes Ms Gross snort on-air with laughter.
The lyrics are mostly atrocious. But what’s relevant to practitioners of modern native advertising is that everything else isn’t atrocious. The companies behind industrial musicals hired top talent from Broadway — dancers, actors, musicians, and song writers — and paid them to make catchy jingles that worked on audiences almost like the real thing. Sheldon Harnick made industrials, and he also wrote the songs for Fiddler on the Roof. Terry Gross admitted that one of the songs brought tears to her eyes, and Steve Young said (with some regret) that a song from Diesel Dazzle was stuck in his head, on and off, for twenty years.
Tell me you wouldn’t retweet a “very well done, very professional romantic ballad about a bathroom”?!