DocuMondays – Art and Copy

Art and Copy (2009, dir. Doug Pray)

It’s everywhere. You experience it almost every hour of the day, and it is usually while you are in a passive state. It persists and nags at your brain without you ever realizing it, but when you see it done exceptionally well you sit up and make note. Advertising is a modern psychological virus. The majority of it is terrible, which makes sense when you think about how much of it there is. As the film states, we experience 5,000 advertisements a day in multiple mediums. When it is done well, we slip out of passivity, sit up, and make note. What’s interesting is the best advertising either sets an atmosphere without every directly referencing the product, or is completely direct about the product and the emotion that goes along with it. This documentary interviews the pioneers of modern advertising from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.

The documentary is structured in a very clean way. Each section of the film is divided with a scene without dialogue and statistics on advertising placed over scenes of urban meditation. The first section of the film talks about the environment the featured advertisers came into. We’ve all seen ads from the 1950s which have an air of a false stereotypical salesman’s pitch. With the young turks that took over in the 1960s, they began to create provocative ads that didn’t necessarily give the viewer information on the product, but evoked curiosity and emotion in them. The Volkswagen Beetle ads of the late 60s were a major breakthrough in American advertising, where the quirkiness of the product was acknowledged. Very straightforward taglines were used instead of just making the logo swallow up the space.

It was the firm Doyle Dane Bernach that brought us the Beetle ads, and the shockingly harsh (for its time) American Tourister luggage ad, as well as the hyper arty Braniff airline campaign and finally the I (Heart) NY image. Mary Wells, the Peggy of her time, was an incredibly inventive and creative copy editor who took her background in theatrics and applied it to advertising. The sense of drama in commercials is something that sticks with us today (think Budweiser frogs, Taster’s Choice soap opera). At the time these ideas were presented, the good old boy network in charge were confounded and even the clients were often times frightened at the possibility of risking their brand on such ideas.

The documentary focuses a lot on the divide between the business side and the creative side, particularly how in the old paradigm, the accounts people were over creative. In the 1960s, this was subverted with the creative types either becoming more aggressive or striking out on their own. The East Coast was also the mecca of advertising so no one was noticing when the West Coast firms began rolling out revolutionary campaigns. It was one of these firms that got the Apple Computers contract and brought up the “1984” Superbowl ad, introducing the Mac to us through a Ridley Scott directed ad. You never see the Mac once. This firm still holds the Apple account and came up with “Think Different” in the 1990s and the current silhouette iPod campaign.

The final segment of the film deals with the ethical responsibilities of the advertiser, in specifics how it ties to politics. They feature the Morning in America Regan ads from 1984 that are unlike anything out today, and epitomize the way an incumbent can run and win again. Some of the interviewees agree that the ads works, but from an ethical perspective they find it misleading because of the facts it ignored. Hal Riney, the man behind the Morning in America ad confesses that his habit of going purely emotional in his ads goes back to a childhood where affection was held back from him. In the majority of his work images of the Rockwell America is evoked in a cleverly deceptive way. If you are at all interested in media and the way humanity’s decisions can be shifted by the creative this would be a very insightful film to digest.


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