Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Learning from the Dead.

When Norman Lear died a little over a month ago, much of my generation mourned. Lear was the progenitor of the TV baby-boomers grew up on. From "All in the Family," to the almost-morbidly deadpan "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," Lear's shows provided entertainment based on life. His shows were the antithesis of the "nothing school" of Seinfeldian comedy. They reflected the turmoil of the in-the-moment world.

I read Lear's obituary (link above) with what today passes for perspicacity. I specifically remembered these sentences. They impelled me to reflect on advertising as it exists today, as opposed to how it was when Lear's shows dominated Prime Time--during advertising's so-called "Golden Age."

What Lear brought us--admittedly through a commercial filter--was television that reflected life. I think the best advertising of the era did the same.

DDB's VW ads didn't show a slinky lady on a thoroughbred next to an Oldsmobile in front of a manor house. They reflected a semblance of humanity and human concerns. The high-cost of living, the obsolescence built-into Detroit's products, the folly of trying to keep up with the Jones.

Scali's ads for Volvo did the same. As did myriad ads from Carl Ally for a variety of clients. All of the ads below are from the Carl Ally agency. I worked at Ally & Gargano for five years--and studied ads like these. For $15, you can buy Amil Gargano's book on the agency. About two days of Starbucks.

The point in all this isn't to bemoan the good old days of advertising. It's to lament that the ads we do are no longer "reality-based." As in the Lear quote above, they don't contend that today people have no problems, rather that their problems are there are two guys in the apartment, and only one beer, or I'm dying to switch phone carriers or cable companies even though there's no differences between any of them, or that paying for a soda with cash is hard--thank god I have a card that lets me tap to pay.

What's more, people are so thrilled how today's products, service and offerings improve their lives that they high-five their friends, break into song, or, usually, start dancing.

What's happened is that as an industry we have stopped seeing people as people. 

We have abandoned empathy.

We advertise to archetypes or personas or, worst, targets.
We don't understand candor and honesty.
And we have such disdain for people that we think they're too stupid to realize how avidly and actively we treat them like idiots and talk down to them.

Perhaps the greatest commentary ever on modern Western society was by the Stones. They certainly created the best song ever about advertising.

The song is an indictment of what we, as an industry, do way too often. Dull gleaming overpromising pablum with no product truth or emotional resonance.

It might not be bad to use "Satisfaction" as a brief. Even though it's sixty years old. It understands more about truth and honesty and that people have real problems and real worries that go beyond whiter-whites.

I'm sorry that's news to so many people.

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