Saturday, May 12, 2012

The historian looks at advertising.

         Through a former client, himself an historian, I became acquainted with Daniel J. Boorstin. Dr. Boorstin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, most noted for his three volume intellectual history, "The Americans". He also served, until recently, as the Librarian of Congress.

         In his third volume,  "The Democratic Experience", Dr. Boorstin discusses the emergence of advertising. He called it "the omnipresent, most characteristic, and most remunerative form of American literature".

        He went on: "This new subliterature was destined to have a popular appeal and a gross national influence without parallel in the history of sacred or profane letters. In Mid-Twentieth-Century America the force of advertising word and image would dwarf the power of other literature."

        Then he added, "Nothing loosened up the world of the word quite so much as advertising."

        Boorstin quotes John E. Powers, one of the leading early American advertising writers. "The commonplace is the proper level of writing in business, where the first virtue is plainness. Fine writing is not only intellectual, it is offensive", Powers wrote.

       Boorstin also quotes ad pioneer George P. Rowell: "You must write your advertisements to catch damned fools --- not college professors --- and you'll catch just as many college professors as you will any other sort."

       Today the standard of advertising writing has changed. It's good, contemporary English, with no attempt to hide wit or wisdom.  I tell my students to read the "Talk of the Town" column  in the New Yorker every week. That's the style for every ad writer to emulate.

       You can let your own personality intrude from time to time as well. If an ad doesn't have a personality, it probably won't sell anyone anything.

       Keep in mind the thoughts of Dr. Boorstin. Advertising can be powerful. If your ideas are.

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