Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Now, Children.

I think very seriously about laughter.

I think very seriously about play. 

I think very often about an ad I read maybe 40 years ago by a very good agency that was subsumed and destroyed by the holding company that bought them.

The agency was Anderson Lembke. They were a business-to-business agency that understood--maybe better than anyone--how to take true complexity and make it sexy and simple.

I remember an ad they ran. They were looking for a copywriter.

It was a small-space ad. What used to be called "300 lines." About the size of an index card.

On the top of the ad in headline-sized type were the words "My Son." Then maybe 75 words of copy in smaller type. On the bottom of the ad in headline-sized type replicating the top were the words "A Copywriter."

The copy read something like this. (What follows is from memory.)

When my son was young he would draw trucks. Sometimes they would have five wheels. One red, one blue, one green, one black. One purple. As he grew older he learned that trucks had four wheels and they were all black. So he drew trucks that way. Anderson Lembke is looking for a copywriter who still draws trucks with purple wheels.

That's how I remember the copy. It was probably better than that. I likely butchered it.

But the point remains.

Children don't over-analyze things.

They laugh at surprises. And they create games. An ice cream stick can become a giant, a castle or a baseball bat.

Children know in many ways more about advertising than adults because they haven't yet been taught the utmost importance of gravity. They know they have hours in their day and they choose to fill them with surprises, imagination, laughter and thinking.

We have hours in our days and we choose to fill them with PowerPoint, meetings, long-winded preambles and 16-digit job codes.

My wife just showed me this film of Alexander Calder playing with his famous Circus. It was played on a continuous loop at the Whitney Museum when it was on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

That's not a 70-year-old man in the grainy film above. It's a little boy. The music you hear is what's in his mind. The hopping of the ringmaster is how toys walk.

In our industry's MBA-inspired, holding company quest to be taken seriously, we've forgotten what makes us different is our capacity for silliness, irreverence, imagination.

There are billions of smart people in the world.

Brains are a dime a dozen.

But making people laugh, wonder, crave through unjaded eyes is what advertising can do.

I was thinking just before I wrote this post of the first joke I ever heard or read. I was probably in Kindergarten and it was probably from the book above.

I remember the joke.

Q. "What's black-and-white and red all over?"

A.  A newspaper.

I remember as a four-year-old the spark of cognition when I understood the word "red" had been fucked with. That wordplay help my brain grow. It made me smile. It made me run and tell someone. It made me feel smart. That I "got" something.

I think as humans we have retreated at supersonic speed from the joy of joke. The happiness of ha. The light of learning.

That's what children have.

When they're lucky.

Advertising can do that for masses of people.

If we teach ourselves again.

If we let ourselves again.

I hope I made you think today.

And laugh.

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