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October 11, 2010
Just in Time for Winter: The Amish Fireplace!

Yes, I still read the daily paper. I’m afraid my beloved laptop is a hassle first thing in the morning. I might spill coffee on it. Besides, I find newsprint easier to stomach at this time -- the same way I prefer corn flakes instead of beef stew. Obviously, I’m aware fewer and fewer advertisers care about we holdouts, hence the ever-shrinking size of newspapers and newspaper readers.

Yet, there is one among those still using newspapers as a primary advertising vehicle: the Amish Fireplace Company. Every year, as the weather cools, I begin to see full page ads in the Chicago Tribune hawking oak mantles supposedly made by “Amish craftsman working their fingers to the bone…to make sure everyone gets their (fireplace) deliveries in time for Christmas.”

To be specific, the Amish Fireplace Company offers a heating mechanism and prefab oaken mantle or “portable encased Amish fireplace.” But the very, very long copy ads employ every selling trick in the book to romanticize these contraptions, including made-up “calling zones” dividing the United States into three temperature regions (“Cold,” “Frigid,” and “Frost”) as well as a 48-hour deadline for ordering from the “hot line,” and so on.

Do corny tactics like these really work? They must. After all, the full-page ads appear every autumn like pumpkins. Sensational ad copy -- and by sensational I mean flowery and deceiving -- still has a place in Ad land, even if it’s alongside a horse and buggy.

But my favorite part of these corny newspaper ads is the visuals, which depict a bustling workshop filled with overall-clad Amish craftsman busily building fireplaces. Helping the men-folk are numerous plaintive females, replete with long, dowdy dresses and puritanical head wraps. Oh yeah, and they’re in a barn! It’s like Santa’s workshop, but instead of elves the workers are all look-alikes from "American Gothic."

Not only is the photograph corny, it’s a fraud. Given the Amish theme, it’s ironic with all the retouching. With the Amish, isn’t “what you see is what you get?” Blatantly using Photoshop every stage of fireplace construction has been crammed into a visual narrative: sawing, hammering, staining, polishing, etc. Subsequently, far too many people are doing way too many things. No chance the Amish or, for that matter, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would allow such hazardous workplace conditions.

Looking again at the photo reveals countless other fake, hilarious details. Despite close quarters, none of the workers are interacting. Each Amish person is religiously going about his or her appointed task. The effect is creepy, not inspiring. About halfway through the assembly line, the fireplaces are suddenly ablaze! A worker applies stain to one while its fake logs are burning. Scattered blocks of wood and completely unreal shavings fill out the surreal tableau.

Finally, we have the fireplaces themselves. Little more than glorified space heaters, these oaken monstrosities define ugly. Just the idea of a movable prefab fireplace is tacky, let alone the finished product. An inset photo shows a horse-drawn buggy carrying the garish contraptions -- almost like coffins -- down a lovely country road. Crazy!

Is this an exploitation of the Amish? I wonder if and how many Amish are getting paid for this. Yet before declaring them victims, bear in mind most mobile homes are built, in part, by the Amish. My point? Despite their famously strict values and industriousness, the Amish seem completely willing to make crap. Is the Amish Fireplace Company really an Amish fireplace company? The website, amishfireplaces.com, is hosted by Heat Surge, LLC, which suggests otherwise.

I don’t know whether these “genuine” fireplaces are made by anyone Amish or whether the devices even work. Online chatter suggests they do throw off considerable heat. Perhaps this is true, but one thing’s certain: Like the Amish people, this newspaper campaign is a relic from the past.

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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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