20 April 2012

Think *Today's* Ads Go Too Far?

Easy to imagine that anything goes in ads today.  Sex.  Language.  Innuendo.  During my career, ads have broken the "damn" and "hell" barriers.  The belch barrier.  The fart barrier.  Radio spots portray orgasms.  North American TV may soon break the dreaded nipple barrier.  

But no, Virginia- in ads today, 'anything' does *not* go.  Witness the wealth of retro ads that would never, ever run today.

Nossir.  Pardon my chronological snobbery, but we're outgrowing racism. Also disappearing, albeit slowly, are traditional strains of misogyny-

Part of the many brilliant touches within Mad Men, especially the first episodes, was its cultural anachronisms-  pregnant women smoking and drinking; adults striking other people's kids.  In an early scene, the Drapers' young daughter is playing 'space alien'- with a plastic drycleaners' bag over her head.  Her mother scolds her- not because of the suffocation risk- but for dumping out the newly-cleaned clothes.  Ads become time capsules for the attitudes of their time.

Ads + time become social artifacts, reminding us of just how much our attitudes and behaviors shift.

Truly- what woman doesn't live to have cigar smoke blown in her face?

Some retro ads are outrageous.  Some-

-are downright chilling.

It becomes an interesting exercise to imagine which of today's ads will be considered equally outrageous- and anachronistic- a generation from now.

For the time being, though, let's celebrate the progress we've made.  After all, we've come a long way...

Virginia Slims: You\'ve Come a Long Way Baby!
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14 April 2012

The Storytelling Deficit

For the first time in generations, Advertising is moving away from storytelling.  And it's hurting as result.

Storytelling isn't something we merely like to do.  We're wired for it.  As much today as in the days of the earliest known cave paintings.

Yet it wasn't until 1926 that Advertisers twigged on.  That year John Caples wrote this famous ad- one of the first to use storytelling as a sales device:

By the mid 20th Century, advertising had established a highly effective tradition of ad-storytelling, in print and broadcast.  Storytelling is why 'slice of life' TV ads thrive today.  However mind-numbingly stupid they are, however far they condescend to a perceived idiot-audience, (and in this case, in spite of their breathtaking misogyny) their stories, their characters make a visceral impression beyond the conscious mind's ability to block them out.

Today, all that has changed.  Thousands of new media compete for your attention.  Ads are shorter, pithier, and ubiquitous: each with less time, and increasingly buried in a blizzard of daily ad clutter.

Storytelling is disappearing.  Characters and vignettes- clever or otherwise- are disappearing: making way for advertising drive-by's.  Quick, staccato, single-use images and impressions built to stand alone.  Including "blinks"-  one-second broadcast ads:

Now we're in the era of Social Media- most about a decade old, and their language still to be written.  Texting is just the first shot.  A language that turns what I've just written into:

Storytelling is going to make a comeback- needs to make a comeback.  Not to satisfy a nostalgic baby boomer indulgence, but because it's part of our wiring.  Stories are how we're made to communicate.

Each time we create a new medium it takes decades to define it- to create a language that plays to its strengths.  In that sense, Social Media are still in their cavity-prone years.  The language is only now being refined.

That story is only now being written.