Saturday, December 3, 2011

Art & Copy: Art Serving Capitalism

by Drew Martin
I have written about and recommended good documentaries for graphic artists such as Helvetica (about fonts/typography) and Milton Glaser, To Inform and Delight (about design). A third must-see film in this league, and perhaps the best crafted, is Art & Copy (about advertising).

For Mad Men fans, this is a good primer for a more evolved advertising environment to come in the much anticipated fifth season. Art & Copy is about the ad industry, roughly starting with the period when Don Draper is supposed to walk the Earth. That was a time dominated by copy - text-driven ads complemented by illustrative artwork.

All of this changed with Bill Bernbach, the legendary ad man and founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB). Part of his strategy was to put the art director in same room with copy writer in order to develop an ad in unison. He was the first to see what concoction this chemistry yielded.

Bernbach was responsible for the timeless Volkswagen Beetle campaign that made the quirky and (at first) unpopular German car an American hit. He did so by cutting through the tradition that had gotten in the way of the art and developed the big idea.

The title of the documentary is perhaps too generic but I do like how it also suggests the idea of making art and copying it, or copying art for advertising.

Lee Clow of TBWA\Chiat\Day speaks about the art of ads becoming part of culture as opposed to some form of "pollution." After reviewing his firm's iPod campaign (silhouette dancers) he says,

These things end up out in the world as know, you go back a couple hundred years to Paris and Toulouse-Lautrec was doing posters that went up around Paris to invite people to the Folies Bergère. It is now considered art. There are now coffee table books made of Toulouse-Lautrec art but back then he was just trying to get people to come and buy a drink, pay the cover charge to get into the Folies Bergère. I think we are in the art business when we do it well.

Jeff Goodby (Goodby, Silverstein & Partners) thinks of advertising as art serving capitalism.

Directed by Doug Pray, Art & Copy features interviews with some of the biggest names in the ad business, who created lines that are now part of American's DNA:

Jeff Goodby: got milk? Dan Wieden: Just Do It. Cliff Freeman: Where's the beef?
George Lois: I want my MTV!

These were not belabored ideas but quick thoughts. Goodby offered got milk? as a solution to an presentation board without a title. Wieden skimmed Just Do It. from a newspaper article heading "Let's Do It," the last words of a murderer from Utah to the firing squad just before his execution.

All of these are part of our psyche now and have bloomed beyond their original intention.

I want my MTV! was conceived to pressure cable companies to carry the network. It worked, instantly. The campaign is as demanding as Americans can be. The beef of Where's the beef? has come to mean any and all content and substance. Just Do It. became a mantra to everyone for everything including quitting a job, traveling, asking someone on a date and even divorce. Got milk? has yielded the most this? got that? It means if you do not have it, you should. As far as product-pushing one-liners, got milk? is pure gold.

Goodby comments, "It's so short and it's almost nothing. It's almost gone before you can say the words."
The nice thing about watching Art & Copy, as opposed to just reading about it (here and elsewhere), is to be able to see the spark in the creatives' eyes. Goodby has a kind, good-vibe face. His ideas grace him. Dan Wieden appears to be wicked smart and has a piercing intelligence. Freeman looks like he could sell you anything (he used to be a door to door salesman for encyclopedias). Lois seems more like a boxing coach than an ad man. He throws the equivalent of one-two punches that knock you out in the first round. His unfiltered creativity is simply pure, punkish energy. He thinks an ad should be like poison gas that makes your eyes sting and chokes you. He speaks about grabbing the client "by the balls."

By turning the industry on its head, a handful of creatives really did change the world.

Mary Wells (DDB) arrived at advertising with a background in theatre. Television ads at that time were simply moving versions of the print ad. Wells changed all that and introduced the idea of skits and situational comedy to the commercial. She also single-handedly changed the airlines, using DDB's account with Braniff Airlines. She sold them on painting their planes different colors, she brought in Alexander Girard for design, hired high-end fashion designers to make the uniforms for stewardesses, decorated planes with the flair of the destination. Flying became fun. Stewardesses became sexy.

One thing that really surprised me was some psychological digging in the film.

Wells (pictured left) says her mother was quiet and her father out of sight. He was an ambulance driver back from WWII and clinically depressed. She says he never said a word at dinner. "No one ever talked to me about anything." She adds, "I think people who are loners, who have lives they kind of have to overcome when they are young...I think that they get a strength that is very useful later on."
Charlie Moss, a creative director at Wells Rich Greene who created the “I Love New York” campaign, says Wells perfected the combined role of salesmen and entertainer.

The success of the mass media communicators seems to be born in a lacking childhood.

Rich Silverstein (Goodby, Silverstein & Partners) said he guesses it is all about trying to prove to his father that he is worth anything.

Clow (TBWA\Chiat\Day) speaks about being the little guy, David versus Goliath, a small firm versus a big ad agency, creative versus corporate. "Creatives rise up, they can't do shit without us!" is his battle call. He notes that this approach comes from meeker, underpowered times in high school.

The most telling of this psychological condition is from Hal Riney, the man behind Ronald Reagan's reelection ad campaign.

Emotion was always to some degree a part of my life that had been left out and I think...I suspect I let advertising be a sort of an avenue to express some of the things that I might not have experienced in my life. I missed a lot of things and I certainly missed the kind of wonderful families that we all still admire and I think there is a lot of that in my work.

Goodby, who seems the most immune and well adjusted of the lot, says,

When Americans buy a Hal Riney experience, when they buy into one of his campaigns, I think many times what they are buying is what they wished their lives would be; A feeling for something that happened in their childhood or, you know, something that would have been better if you'd had that kind of dad or that kind of mom or lived in that kind of house or that kind of little town. A time in America that people had wished had happened - probably never did. What people don't understand is that how as a person you are experiencing is actually what he wishes his life would be and he's creating that and it's so evocative and so attractive. You're feeling him, experiencing the man - Hal, about trying to move people by emotions.

Silverstein contributes,

Hal Riney is the devil and he's also the angel. Riney always said there is the responsibility on the part of the advertiser for people to know that this was an ad... so that when you are talking to somebody you had to make it clear that you are talking in the form of advertising to them at the time. Well, that world is like long gone. You know a lot of the things that have happened to us in the name of advertising sneak up on us in crazy ways and they seem like something else. It's not about commercials any more. It's about everything. Everything is an ad: a stunt or paint on the wall or a guerilla tactic or a theatre placement or product. It just goes on and on and on and on.

To this Goodby ads, "It's like air and water. It's just going to happen to you."
Freeman considers a mutual relationship,

If you communicate in a way that is entertaining people literally get something from it and they literally like you because of the way you sold them something...they are like...(they're American man)…"This is free enterprise you are a hell of a good salesman thank you very much!"

When speaking about the Just Do It. Nike campaign by Wieden + Kennedy, Goodby explains,

The reason why the campaign is successful is that a likable human emotion - the idea that we can get healthier - was suddenly in parallel with a corporate mission which was to sell a whole bunch of equipment to people and we like those two things together. We don't distrust those two things when they are going in the same direction. People don't mind being sold to if they understand why it's happening and they enjoy the process. At the same time I would hope that people understand that brands can be dangerous.

All the ad people interviewed in Art & Copy seem to be sincere about making well made ads.

Jim Durfee explains,

If you can find that kernel, that core of what the product is, so that when you talk about it, no matter how you talk about it, people respond and say "Yes, that's right." Then if you talk about it in a strong, interesting, memorable way they say "Yeah that's right, I'm going to buy it." It's a challenge to say the right thing.

A great example of this is Phyllis K. Robinson's Clairol campaign that that highlighted the me generation. "It lets me be me."

The senior Riney speaks about the creative talent. He says that when he started, creatives were nothing - flunkies. In the agency, the cherished spot was the account guy. He tried it for six months and thought it was the worst job, ever.

One of the most remarkable advertising stories explained in the film is Lois’ campaign for Tommy Hilfiger. After talking about his MTV campaign, Lois looks at his watch and says, “I can make Tommy Hilfiger an important brand in a couple hours.”
It sounds cocky, but according to Hilfiger, that is exactly what Lois did. Hilfiger wanted recognition but what Lois offered him was overnight success and Hilfiger was a bit stunned by it. Lois created an ad that compared Hilfiger to three top designers. Hilfiger was reluctant because it sounded like he was bragging to men he considered gods.

Lois countered,

If you want to have any name recognition in this business at all, you need millions of dollars worth of advertising over and over and over and over and it will take you years. If you want your name to be known right away and people to go and look at your clothes, we need something unique like this.

Lois believes an ad should be "seemingly outrageous"... because you look at something and think it's outrageous and then in the next two or three or 20 seconds, you realize, 'Wow it's on the nose!'

The most interestingly part of the Hilfiger campaign is that it ended up making him a better designer, working harder, trying to live up to prove naysayers wrong. He says that Lois turbocharged his success.

I do not think Lois is pitching advertising itself when he says,

Great advertising makes food taste better, makes cars run better. It changes the perception of everything.

Wells adds,

I think what you can do is manufacture any feeling you want to manufacture. You can create any feeling that you want people to have
She says that she and the other best advertisers are born with a gift for sensing what it is that will turn you on.

Another remarkable case study in the film is about something that would seem like a hard sell, milk. Jeff Manning of the California Milk Processor Board simply wanted to create good advertising for milk in California. He explains that milk is generically marketed and that it is taken for granted. “Nike and Snapple can introduce new packages new bottles, shoes…we sell white milk in gallons.”

The original intent of the new, milk campaign was to express that people should not run out of milk or to buy it before it goes sour and the reality was that the consumption of milk was on a steady decline.

When Goodby offered “got milk?” everyone objected. It was not a complete sentence. It was not grammatically correct. His partner, Silverstein, voiced "That's a dumb ass line. That's bad. It's clunky, It’s not even English." Goodby stood his ground, "No, I like got milk? It's kind of cool."

Silverstein, of course, now recognizes the brilliance of it and appreciates the campaign’s success.

“There is no other kind of communication in the world that is as focused as an ad is. You have got a certain amount of time to engage somebody and you have to do it in a quality way. It's like haiku.”

He continues,

I think we are trying to entertain society using clients' products. If a client heard that they'd go, “Wait you are not thinking about my product.” Of course we are but I believe we are here every day to do something kinda special to connect society in some entertainment form.

Goodby adds,

It's the same as making art. I make stuff, I put it in people's faces and it changes them and hopefully it enriches them and feel something. And it's real a rush to have it happen to millions of people at once. I have always made a distinction about things that you experience as a single person and you go “Wow, this is cool I want to go tell my friends about it” and things that you experience as a single person and you know millions of other people are seeing it at the same time. It’s a mass communal happening and not too many things offer that in life.

While watching the documentary, I was most impressed by the wisdom of Dan Wieden,

Creative people need this sort of duality; of feeling very secure in some deep sense enough that they can be very risky and put themselves into the work. What I've tried to do is focus on the environment, which people work here and let them relax and be themselves and be adventuresome. I think most creative people are so damn insecure that they want to think that they know everything but they know deep in their hearts that they are in deep trouble from the minute they get up in the morning. So if you can tell them "That's the way you are supposed to be,” sometimes that's kind of liberating.

The whole trick of this business is to stop pretending you are an advertising agency and help the client forget that he is a client and just sit down at the table go 'so what are we going to are we going to turn people on?
A lot of people think of risk as challenging convention and that's one form of risk I think the real risk comes in being willing to try to be authentic.
The interesting idea about branding is that you are giving an idea not just to the customer but also to the company itself of who they are and a sense of themselves (you know what I mean) and a sense of their role and their responsibility in the greater economy. That's at least like being at least a midwife to something.
For a business often associated with lying in order to sell, there is a lot of discussion throughout the film about the truth.

(pictured above, left is a "fake" Nike ad, meaning Nike did not create it, and yet it is still advertising for them)

Liz Dolan, former head of marketing for Nike admits,
He always terrified me, Dan Wieden. He's always going to tell you exactly what he thinks. Making great advertising is very much an emotional, very much a difficult process and it is not for the faint of heart.

Goodby offers,

If there is a truth in it, it is not about the product and it's not about your relationship to the product when you buy it. This sounds crazy but you are really saying is that I am part of the people that get this humor. I am part of that group, they want to become part of that community.

Clow voices,

I think we have higher aspirations for our clients and are more passionate about what our clients can be, should be to try to be then they are. We are trying to tell them - Hey you can be more than just a car company. You can be more than just a pet food company. You can aspire to loving dogs rather than just feeding dogs.
While the Art & Copy shows advertising as an interesting and creative world, Goodby offers a more sobering view,

It is a business of rejection. You start working and then you kill ideas for yourself. You show it to your partner and then he or she kills a few ideas. And then you show it to the client and the client kills a few ideas. Then you show it to some people in a focus group and they kill a couple of the ideas and then you come back again to the client again and he decides he did not like after all because his wife saw it. That can sometimes take a year, that process. It can take a year. It is very stressful and depressing to have those ideas killed and so there has to be a nurturing environment because people have to get themselves up off the floor and do this again.

There is also something reverential about these people...

This business is not a work of committees. It's about a few really good people and if you are lucky enough as I have been to have a few of those people around you can probably succeed because there aren't a whole bunch of them.


Can I say one other thing? I don't think any organization or any career succeeds if there isn't a goodly amount of old fashion love involved and a deep sense of affection for each other and the people you work with. And if you can hold onto that and make your decisions with those things in mind even when they are hard decisions you have to make, I think it is a big difference.

(Wells, pictured right)

I don't get tired. Maybe because I am not afraid. I think fear is a very powerful depressant.(Lois)
I think creativity can solve anything...anything...anything!

Art & Copy is littered with statistics (from the time it was made in 2009):
The global advertising business will exceed $544 billion by 2010
Food companies spent $32 billion on advertising last year
Car companies spent more than $15 billion
Political advertising over $2.6 billion in 2008
44% of all satellites launched are for commercial communications
75% of global satellite services revenue comes from television
70% of U.S. tv broadcasting revenue comes from ads
In the 1970s, the average city dweller received about 1,000 advertising messages every day. today it's closer to 5,000
There are 450,000 billboards across the US
$7 billion is spent on billboard advertising per year.
The average American watches 8 hours a day of TV
Last year Time Warner sold $8.8 billion worth of advertising
A 30-second ad on American Idol costs $750,000
A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl costs $2.7 million
Michael Jordon's value to Nike has been estimated at $5.2 billion
There are 565 satellite-delivered TV networks in the U.S.
There are 1,353 HDTV satellite channels around the world today.
75% of U.S. homes have 3 or more televisions
Americans see 61 minutes of ads each day on the Internet, TV, and mobile screens
65% of Americans believe they are constantly bombarded with too much advertising
Advertising agencies employ 182,600 people in the us there are about 26,000 ad agencies worldwide
80% of all advertising is produced by only four global holdings