“Like a lot of things in life,” said Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in David Mamet’s script for The Untouchables, “we laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s true.”
That explains the little waves of titters and giggles, and the occasional big burst of cheers, that accompanied Jerry Seinfeld’s good-humored but eviscerating acceptance speech for his honorary prize at the advertising world’s 55th annual Clio Awards on Wednesday night.
The former star of NBC’s long-running Seinfeld started off by thanking agency Olgivy & Mather and American Express, which got him launched in the ad biz (he got the honorary award for his work with both companies), then declared, “I love advertising, because I love lying.”
That one got a little wave.
In advertising, everything is the way you wish it was. I don’t care that it won’t be like that when I actually get the product being advertised, because in between seeing the commercial and owning the thing, I’m happy, and that’s all I want.
Tell me how great the thing is going to be. I don’t need to be happy all the time. I just want to enjoy the commercial; I want to get the thing. We know the product is going to stink. We know that, because we live in the world, and we know that everything stinks.
We all believe, ‘Hey, maybe this one won’t stink. We are a hopeful species — stupid, but hopeful. But we’re happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase. I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.
That last one got a big burst.
If nothing else, ad execs apparently have a sense of humor about themselves. As quoted in AdWeek, one award winner later in the evening quipped, “Apparently everything I do is meaningless. But it was Jerry Seinfeld who said it, so I suppose that makes it OK.”
A blog post at the Clio Website said that the comedian took “a moment to dispense some harsh (but oddly uplifting) truths about the advertising industry.”
Here’s the whole thing …
Seinfeld has appeared in long-form and short-form ads since 1997, for such companies as Apple (briefly, for its “Think Different” campaign), Microsoft (with Bill Gates), Amex (with Superman) and, most recently, Acura, in ads meant to accompany his series on Sony’s digital network Crackle, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
So, apparently, if your Windows PC ever crashed, your Amex card was refused, or that Acura stalled in traffic, Seinfeld is at least partially to blame for getting you to buy it in the first place.
But he’s fine with that. As he said in the speech, “I also think just focusing on making money and buying stupid things is a good way of life… If your things don’t make you happy, you’re not getting the right things.”
Seinfeld ended his speech by recalling the disaster of epic proportions that was the 1991 print and radio Clio Awards–outlined in this harrowing and hilarious firsthand account by ad exec John Follis–in which a caterer and an apparently inebriated PR exec took over impromptu hosting duties in the unexpected absence of Clio founder Bill Evans.
With an incomplete list of winners, and after large doses of heat, frustration, and alcohol, tuxedoed ad execs finally stormed the stage, snagged whatever leftover Clio award statues were at hand, and left in triumph. A second ceremony to honor TV ads was scrapped, owing to financial troubles and Evans’ drug arrests.
Seinfeld said, “That’s my favorite awards-show occurrence, because it’s so honest. People just said, ‘I want a damn Clio,’ and they went for it. And that is why I am happy right now. I got this. I didn’t really win it, but I got it.”
He concluded with, “I’m happy now in the same way those executives were in 1991 when they ran onto this stage and grabbed trophies that weren’t theirs, but it trumped up their phony careers and meaningless lives.”
But in an AdWeek interview about his Acura spots – which satirize vintage TV ads – Seinfeld praised the car-company execs, saying, “I have never been given the creative freedom that I was given on these by Acura. They’re gutsier than any other company I’ve ever worked with.”
No word on whether the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, or Tonys are planning to give Seinfeld any honorary awards down the line, but one can dream.