Thursday, November 9, 2023

It's Un Real.

On Tuesday, I posted a raft of 1960s, 1970s, and even 1990s-era Volvo ads. They were pretty good examples of some of the best of a bygone era of advertising.

On Wednesday, Dave Trott sent me a note on muskrat's site that included an ad I neglected. Saying it was one of his favorites from his days at Pratt, in Brooklyn, in the late 1960s.

I always loved the ad, of course. But for whatever reason--I guess I was too excited by the copy, I never noticed the wardrobe of the two guys in the photo. This morning I observed a couple of things. One, the guys look real, with real poses and real wrinkles. They were wearing real clothing, baggy and worn. And two, the guys have real bodies. They aren't cut and svelt. One looks a little fat-assed. You know, like a real person.

I had always believed that one of the extraordinary things about this Volvo ad above, is that they showed and recorded the car being a car. Being driven, being abused, going through the travails of modern life. In fact, they show the car dirty. That's something American car makers of the day, or even today, would ever show. In fact, realism is to be shunned.

Just seconds ago I got an email from The New York Times. It's one of the dozen or so subscriber emails I sign up for. This one must have found me by mistake--because it's all about fashion advice. In this case, can you wear pantyhose as pants? 

I won't comment on that alleged trend. But what I will comment on is the utter-posiness of the photograph above. Of course, I couldn't pick a Jenner out of a one-person line up, much less a Kardashian. But what struck me was the artificiality of it all. Every single pixel of the photo above has had all possible humanity styled the fuck out of it. It's all about as natural and real at trump's cranial merkin.

About two weeks ago I read something called "The Age of Average" by Alex Murrell. Murrell argues that "from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same." Above are some composite photos that underscore Murrell's thesis. And, I suppose, my thesis, too.

In an effort to make everything, "upbeat, friendly and optimistic," (in the vernacular of about 99.9878475-percent of all briefing documents, we have expunged any and all traces of humanity and reality.

Somehow we're expected to believe people break into dance when they buy nacho chips, are disconsolate when someone else grabbed the last can of beer, are actively concerned with the some au courant banality that in all likelihood occupies less than two-seconds of thought in the course of a month. Linguistically, we're meant to believe people say "boo-yah" or "that's my happy place" at the drop of a woolen cap in August, and that all 350-million citizens in the fattest nation in the history of the planet have abs you could grate cheddar on.

Look, I don't give a rodent's heinie in someone wants to walk around with their underwear on the outside. Sure, I think it's grotesque and stupid, but c'est la vie.

But I do wish as advertising practitioners we could again connive a way to start showing truth and reality again. Depicting things as they are, not as an all-you-can-eat focus-group wishes they were so their Hallmark-sensibility doesn't get hurt.

If I had to write a brief tomorrow, or even make a client presentation, I might as a pre-amble start with these words from Harvey "Big Daddy" Pollitt, as truthed by Tennessee Williams.

"The truth is pain and sweat and payin' bills and makin' love to a woman that you don't love any more. Truth is dreams that don't come true, and nobody prints your name in the paper 'til you die." 

I think the cataclysm that is modern advertising has a lot to do with a world that hates the world we live in and tries to pretend we don't. 

Carl Ally said, "Advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." Today, instead, we deal in cliches and pablum and, without empathy, try to primrose the world into a bland, blind, blunt numbness so our customers--whom we call targets--are trained to smile and dance like everything's ok. And everything is ok, as long as we have Y-O-Y incremental growth of .22-percent and hit our KPIs as if they are real.

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