Newspaper article International New York Times

Stan Freberg, Madcap Adman and Comic Satirist, Dies at 88

Newspaper article International New York Times

Stan Freberg, Madcap Adman and Comic Satirist, Dies at 88

Article excerpt

Mr. Freberg, who was called the father of the funny commercial, was a purveyor of advertising sales pitches that employed extreme reverse psychology.

Stan Freberg, a humorist whose sprawling imagination fueled a multifaceted career that included pretty much inventing the idea of using satire in commercials, died on Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 88.

His death was announced by his son, Donavan.

Mr. Freberg was a hard man to pin down. He made hit comedy records, voiced hundreds of cartoon characters and succeeded Jack Benny in one of radio's most prestigious time slots. He called himself a "guerrilla satirist," using humor as a barbed weapon to take on issues ranging from the commercialization of Christmas to the hypocrisy of liberals.

"Let's give in and do the brotherhood bit, / Just make sure we don't make a habit of it," he sang in "Take an Indian to Lunch," a song on the 1961 album "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America," a history lesson in songs and sketches. Time magazine said it may have been the "finest comedy album ever recorded."

His radio sketches for CBS in 1957 included some of the earliest put-downs of political correctness (before that idea had a name). One sketch entailed a confrontation with a fictional network censor, Mr. Tweedlie, who insisted that Mr. Freberg change the lyrics of "Ol' Man River," starting with the title. He wanted it renamed "Elderly Man River."

Mr. Freberg made his most lasting impact in advertising, a field he entered because he considered most commercials moronic. Usually working as a creative consultant to large agencies, he shattered Madison Avenue conventions. He once produced a musical commercial nearly six minutes long to explain why his client, Butternut Coffee, lagged behind its competitors by five years in developing instant brew.

His subversive but oddly effective approach caused Advertising Age to call him the father of the funny commercial and one of the 20th century's most influential admen. He won the Clio, a top industry award, 21 times, and had a diverse clientele, including General Motors, the United States Army and the Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Freberg's tactics worked for the simple reason that he was funny, having honed his humor on some of history's best-selling comedy records. Paul McCartney said in 1985 that the Beatles' anarchic humor owed much to his influence.

Mr. Freberg used humor to declare war on postwar advertising, which in the 1950s was criticized by the likes of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith and the social critic Vance Packard as selling people stuff they didn't need. …

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