Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is the best advertising conservative or radical?

         "Indeed, one of the ironies of the age is that the one realm of American life where the language of the 1960s radicalism remains strong is the business world." That's a quote from David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author.

          As examples, Brooks quotes the Burger King ads: "Sometimes you gotta break the rules". The Apple commercials that saluted "The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers."  He calls these companies and their leaders "the Counterculture Capitalists".

          This brings to mind the Volkswagen ads of the 1950s, which poked fun at our long, sleek, fin-brained American cars whose sales depended on becoming quickly obsolete as soon as the new models came out.

          I'm not as sure as Brooks that this insolence comes from '60s radicalism as much as advertising's ongoing quest to be different and provocative; to find the competition's weakness and go right for it with a passion. While ordinary advertising people still seek a "unique selling proposition" based on rational differences, the really good advertising people know you can't do good ads without an enemy.

         That's why Volvo asked, "Would you sell your present car to a friend?" Why Dove launched a contrarian "campaign for real beauty" using average-looking women instead of models. Why Mini Cooper,  a truly unique car, launched a campaign to "Watch out for counterfeits".

         To be mediocre in advertising, you simply have to get along at work and do nice ads selling nice products to nice people. To be great in advertising, you have to go right for the jugular.

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