“Get rid of Snoopy,” I advised Met Life, in print, because, obviously, the ads were just a particularly saccharine form of celebrity endorsement.
And because their Peanuts-ness distracted from whatever the given message was supposed to be. And because life insurance is as serious as a morbidity table and requires faith in the financial stability, stewardship and dependability of the insurer -- values not well communicated via whimsy. And because cartoon characters don’t require insurance, because they are drawings.
Right? Well, sure enough, Snoopy has been cashiered.
Only 28 years after I suggested it.
All right, perhaps MetLife’s original notion has been vindicated -- namely, that people don’t like thinking about life insurance at all, because it reminds them of mortality, a bottomless abyss of silent darkness, a waxen former self rotting from within until nothing remains but a shell of parchment drawn grotesquely over loose and hollow bones. Plus, monthly premium payments.
Given human psychology, maybe The Peanuts Gang! was indeed a better selling proposition than Eternal Nothingness!
But as they say, “all good things must come to an end, especially when the advertiser is facing a Millennial generation with no fucking assets to insure.”
And so comes a talky new commercial, from an agency called Argonaut, filled with many uncompelling words and images and a generic tagline (“Navigating Life Together,” which could just as easily be for Prudential, or Waze or Captain Morgan) and a Millennial voiceover complete with vocal fry.
No matter that the ad is utterly unnoticeable. This is almost 2017. Nobody will ever see it.
Now, please note I used the term “cashiered” to describe Snoopy and his friends. I did not say dead, because they are not. The campaign is dead. Charles Schulz is dead. The newspaper industry that made them an industry unto themselves is hanging on for dear life, But Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus et al live on in licensed merchandise, movies, TV and other advertising the world over.
And should they ever depart this mortal coil, you won’t hear it from me.
I made that mistake once before. This was February 17, 2000, when upon the final original Sunday Peanuts strip, I wrote a long, bittersweet obituary for the Peanuts gang. It was sweet because I grew up with them, and cherished Schulz’s genius. It was bitter because, I argued, Schulz totally lost the thread about 20 years before retiring.
I knew it would strike a nerve. What I didn’t know as I was writing it the previous week was that Schulz would die on the night before his last strip -- and my essay -- were published, so that readers would think I was desecrating his still warm corpse. And oh, they did.
That was a tough end-of-life to navigate. Because the cartoon characters weren’t nearly adorable enough to take anybody’s mind off of death, and because -- good grief -- there is no insurance policy against people thinking you’re a blockhead.