Friday, May 31, 2019

Slag-heaps and advertising.

About six-million years ago, just as the last dinosaurs were exiting Riverside Park for the local neighborhood tarpits, I had a college friend who lived about 40 feet down the hall from me. One November I had nowhere to go for a school break and he invited me over to his parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Randy was from coal-country in central Pennsylvania, a thousand-person hamlet called Trevorton, just outside of the small city of Shamokin, PA.
A slag-heap at one end of Trevorton.

The great Ben Shahn's view of slag.

Trevorton was a coal town and like most of the entire area, the town itself was built on top of an anthracite coal seam. The town's one street was lined with small company homes that tilted this way and that, undulating with the wig-wag of the street that had sunk here and there due to the digging beneath it. At the end of the town's one street was a giant mound of coal-mining detritus, the leftovers from decades of digging, called a slag-heap.

Some weeks ago I read an article in "The New York Times'" long-running series on Privacy. The writer recommended switching to a browser called Brave--it would eliminate cookies, tracking and banner ads from my life. I leaped at that like a wolf at a wounded sheep, or Hank Aaron after a belt-high fastball.

Yesterday morning as I went online, I noticed this information on my Brave home page. In about a month I had been sent nearly 80,000 ads.

About three years ago I was shooting some spots with Joe Pytka. One of the celebrities we were filming was the director Ridley Scott. Pytka and Scott had a conference call that I was invited to listen in on. 

Of course when two lions get together there's a bit of competitiveness. Scott said something like, "I've shot 2,000  commercials in my life." Pytka responded, "I've shot 4,000."

I did some math in my head. If Pytka and Scott have had 40- year directorial careers, Pytka has shot on average two-commercials every week for 40 years. Scott, one. That's a lot of ads.

Yet in just a month, I've been assaulted by a twenty-times that amount just because I read the Times and the Journal online and check my Facebook and email a few times a day.  

In my lifetime in advertising there has always been crap. Crap, like rust, will outlast us all. 

Crap might be little animated hammers pounding your head for Anacin. People squeezing toilet paper and gushing. Bras that lift and separate to the delight of various bosoms. The stupid ass cable and phone company assaults on our intelligence and taste. People who spontaneously spin around, arms out-stretched in wheat-fields. The Chevy real people commercials. The asinine Toyota woman. There are too many to enumerate. 

I can't prove and won't assert that advertising today is dumber than it was when Scali, Ally, Levine, Ammirati, DDB, Backer and a few other purveyors of intelligent work were around.

But I do know this, empirically and from real-life experience. Advertising is too much with us. We pay for TV (which we never had to do for the first half of my life) then we pay again with our eyeballs. And there are probably twice as many ads per hour as there used to be.

The web is where creativity goes to die. In its roughly 20 years of existence, I've not yet seen an ad (they call them experiences now--ha ha) as moving, informative and involving as this from the Times.

The goal of enlightened agencies used to be to be more entertaining, better produced and better written than the content they were running amid. So the work they do for clients stands out. Now we just try to be louder.

That brings me back to the beginning of this long post:


Piling up crap.

Is that the business we're in?

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