Advertising and the Art of Palin

 

podcast

Standing behind Dorothy Isono, watching her work was a remarkable sight to behold. Her fingers clacked across the keyboard with amazing speed and windows skittered open and shut across her screen. She would pause every now and then to say something and it would take a second or two for the computer to catch up to her. When it did, her screen would invariably reveal a beautiful and elegant design. "Wow.", I would say. "That's pretty damn, fresh."

 

Dorothy was the Associate Creative Director on the account I worked on and she was immensley talented, calm and good humored. She never flinched, even at my most ridiculous statements. "Dorothy, I'm going to leave early so I can get home with enough time to give my children their nightly beating before bed." "Oh, Ok.", she would say placidly.

One day she was telling me how she had gone to her daughters' kindergarten class for career day. She tried to explain her job and advertising to them. "In the end, I just told them I make garbage.", she said. "What?!! Seriously?!!", I said laughing. "Well yeah." She said, "I mean that's what we do, right? First we mull over concepts. Then we go on the photo shoot, agonizing over every detail of every picture and the phrasing of every word. When it's finally produced the consumer looks at it for maybe three seconds, if we're lucky, before tossing it and it ends up in a land-fill." She had come to this epiphany after seeing ads that had taken up eight, long weeks of her life, swirling around a parking lot. The same can be said of television advertising. It is used as the excuse you've been waiting for to go to the bathroom or to excercise the fast forward button on your Tivo. More often than not, it is just background noise. Audio-visual clutter, but clutter nonetheless.

Dorothy was right and it echoed the sentiment of another good friend of mine, Winston Simmonds, Jr., who we often referred to as the Black Ferris Bueller. "We're not solving the cure for cancer." He would often say, "This is just advertising."

I guess the reason the two of them have always stood out in my mind, is because of their somewhat unique view on the world of advertising. I suspect it's why both of them were always so even tempered, even in the midst of crisis. Most people in advertising, I have found, take it extremely seriously. Even though I like what I do for a living, try as I might, I can't take it as seriously as most of my peers because I always hear Dorothy's truth ringing in my ears. In the end, we just make garbage.

Still, I do marvel at the process. Creatives are given a brief on the habits of the target market. What they do, where they live, what they wear, what kind of music they like and so on. Most often the goal is to get consumers to buy something. Whether they need it or not, is irrelevant. We do this by creating characters or situations that will appeal to the target. Mom's for example, like to see other mom's that look like them, in similar situations. Pressed for time? Don't have time to cook? Buy some macaroni and cheese! It's goddamn delicious!

You'd be surprised how much time is spent crafting the perfect character. They are refined and digitally retouched until absolutely every blemish is removed. Every word they say is finely honed, until the edges of their made-up personalities are perfectly round and smooth. They are flawless characters who exist only within the confines of an ad.

When it's all said and done, hopefully consumers will say something like this, "Hey! I like that person in the ad. They're just like me. I'm going to go right out and buy their crap!" And so it goes. I go to work, secure in the knowledge that there are enough people who believe the stuff we make-up to keep me and thousands of others like me, employed."

Sweet!

I was ichatting with my friend Tina, who works at an agency in New York, about Sarah Palin. "From a marketing standpoint, she's brilliant.", she said. "Attractive, hockey mom, five kids, LOVES Jesus. Genius! I wish I had thought of her." "Yeah.", I said. But I couldn't help thinking about Dorothy.

In the end, it's all just garbage.

Which reminds me, buy some of my damn tshirts!

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