Monday, January 15, 2024

King. And Advertising. A Repost.


In the small portion of our universe that still cares about books and which, somehow, still prefers books to the pseudo-wisdom of social media, or the abject offensive dumbness of the musk-zuck cockfight, there's been some fanfare of late about a new book. It's Jonathan Eig's recently released biography "King: A Life," an exhaustively-researched 841-page volume on the 39-year-long life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Buy it here. 

The book got some of the best reviews I've ever read. Read the Times review here. Read the New Yorker's review here.

The point of today's post, however much I am "enjoying" Eig's book (enjoying, of course, is a difficult word here) is not to flog this particular volume. It's to flog the very idea of reading. 

Frankly, I'm more than a little fed up with people selfie-izing themselves at this tradeshow or that, talking about this fake ad or that, or hopping around like they're dancing on hot-coals while blathering about AI and its impact on advertising.

As Senator Claghorn might have barked three-quarters-of-a-century ago, "Your tongue's wagging like a blind dog's tail in a meat market." 

And here's where I round into my point.

I don't want to hear any more excuses.

If you want to be better at advertising, a better creative, a better account person, a better planner, a better leader, a better listener, a better follower, more compassionate and emphatic, you ought to read as avidly as you consume more contemporary forms of media.

Here's a short passage I read last night about Martin, Jr.'s father, who at the time used the name, "Michael."

Michael was about twelve years old when his mother sent him on his mission that bright summer day around 1910.


As he carried his bucket, he paused in front of a sawmill where he watched burly men and oxen at work, hauling timber. 

A voice snapped him to attention. It was the white mill owner: “Say, boy, run get a bucket of water for my men from down at the stream.” 

Apologizing, Michael told the mill owner he was on an errand. He needed to go. The mill owner grabbed Michael by his shirt and kicked over his bucket of milk. As Michael bent to pick up the bucket, the white man’s boot connected with the boy’s ear.


He tumbled. He tried to rise, but a fist smashed his face. Blood poured from his mouth. Everything went hazy.


Michael got up, ran home, and spotted his mother in the yard, washing clothes in an iron tub set over a fire. Delia scanned her son’s blood-crusted face and torn shirt.


“Who did this to you, Michael?” she asked, voice low and tight. The boy didn’t answer.


“Michael!” Delia screamed. “Who did this?”


Delia marched to the mill, squeezing her son’s wrist as she tugged him along. She found the owner. “Did you do this to my child?”


She locked eyes with the man.


“Woman! You lost your mind? Get the hell outta here before I—”


Delia screamed: “Did you do this to my child?”



She lowered her shoulder and rammed the mill owner in his chest, knocking him into the side of a shed. She forced him to the ground and hammered at his face with hands and arms hardened by a lifetime of manual labor. When one of the mill workers tried to pull her away, Delia punched him, too. The others backed off. “You can kill me! But if you put a hand on a child of mine, you’ll answer.”

Maybe I'm wrong here. 

Maybe this is just interesting to me because I have academic seasonings and I love history.

But to my eyes, as far as it is from writing copy for Saran Wrap or a new, plusher toilet tissue, there is much to learn here. Much to learn about parents and children. About love and duty. About what drives people. The realness of real lives. Not merely the quest for a new cheesier Dorito.

I often use the 57-year-old Volvo ad above as an example of what I'll call "reality-based advertising." It seems to me it deals with life and its difficulties--car payments, planned obsolescence, keeping up with the Jones'.

To me, as heretical as it may seem, the story above about Dr. King's father and McCabe's Volvo copy have a lot in common.

Sure, what happened to Michael King and what Delia King did could have gotten them killed. It's a story of life and, almost literally, death. 

The Volvo story, too, is a story of life. Sure, not the same import as the tale told by Eig. But a story told with emotion and empathy. A reality-based story that resonates because it's true or it happened or could happen.

If I were asked to write a Volvo ad, or any ad, tomorrow, I'd hear the usual bushwa. People don't read. There's nothing about the ______ that's any different than anyone else's __________. But I don't believe that. I refuse to believe we are undifferentiated carbon-based bipeds who dance because the Tostino pizza rolls are done.

Much of my incredulity comes from being a reader.

I've learned there are volumes within volumes.

And humanity in every life.

That's something to shoot for.

Being human.

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