Archive for March, 2010
Among the most regrettable qualities of advertising professionals is their tendency not to dig deeply enough into the superficial (apologies to Andy Warhol for the slight rewrite of one of his aphorisms). We have a tendency to assume we know what words like “glamor” mean, and race off to create a television commercial that uses glamor (or its simulacrum) to sell 1,200-calorie cheeseburgers. Virginia Postrel in the Weekly Standard has written a whip-smart review of two books on the subject–Glamor, A History by Stephen Grundle and Glamour in Six Dimensions by Judith Brown–that I cannot recommend highly enough to people who are paid to sell things to other people.
Postrel debunks John Berger’s (you may remember him from his BBC series Ways of Seeing) Marxist notion that glamor boils down to nothing more than “the state of being envied” and suggests that instead glamor is “a generous quality, a sign of an open society.” But rather than attempt to summarize or improve upon what she has written (a daunting task), I’ll cite a couple of salient quotations from it to whet your appetite:
• The pleasure and inspiration may be real, but glamour always contains an illusion. The word originally meant a literal magic spell, which made the viewer see something that wasn’t there. In its modern, metaphorical form, glamour usually begins with a stylized image—visual or mental—of a person, an object, an event, or a setting. The image is not entirely false, but it is misleading. Its allure depends on obscuring or ignoring some details while heightening others. We see the dance but not the rehearsals, the stiletto heels but not the blisters, the skyline but not the dirty streets, the sports car but not the gas pump. To sustain the illusion, glamour requires an element of mystery. It is not transparent or opaque but translucent, inviting just enough familiarity to engage the imagination and trigger the viewer’s own fantasies. (Postrel)
• “The Apple tablet is the Barack Obama of technology. It’s whatever you want it to be, until you actually get it.” (James Lileks)
• When Anthony Patch, one of [F. Scott] Fitzgerald’s failed heroes, learns that “desire cheats you,” he refers to a phenomenon we now recognize as the power of glamour: “It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it—but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone—.” We may demand the sparkling surface, like a cellophane coating, yet what we are able to grasp will be of little consequence. Glamour wields the power to capture its viewers’ attention as if by a spell that fascinates and arrests. . . . Transfixed, one gazes at a world of possibility that is foreclosed, inaccessible, yet endlessly alluring. (Judith Brown)
I encourage you to read the full article, then go forth to your next client meeting where you’ll be able to wield glamor with wisdom and terrifying precision.
Ralph Redington died suddenly on Monday in Southern California of a heart attack. He was 58. I met him only once. But his wife, Sue Redington, was a colleague of mine at Draft FCB. She is as kind, warm and genuine a woman as one could hope to meet. She and three boys–Bryan, Kyle and Brady–now face life without a husband, without a father.
This is heartbreaking stuff. If you can take a second to go to the Ralph Redington Memorial page on Facebook, I know Sue, her family and all the people who care about them would appreciate the show of support. And if you can find it in your heart to make a donation of any kind to the scholarship fund that has been established, so much the better. You may send a check to:
The Ralph Redington Memorial Scholarship Fund
17600 Gillette Ave.
Irvine, CA 92614
You may also donate via PayPal – RedingtonMemorial@gmail.com
Thanks for anything you can do for the family during this difficult time.
“I am a deeply superficial person.” -Andy Warhol
“Deeply superficial” comes close to being a perfect description of advertising. What matters about an ad is not its subtleties and hidden details; it’s what the great mass of people who are only half paying attention take away from it. Close analysis is irrelevant, unhelpful and fruitless.
Richard Rodriguez, in an article in the Wilson Quarterly about Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers Union, now widely considered something akin to a saint for his struggles (including hunger strikes) against the exploitation by big agriculture of the Mexican immigrant workers who harvest most of our fruits and vegetables, suggests that the creators of a famous Apple campaign that featured Chavez perhaps weren’t superficial enough. Somehow in an ad that was intented to be deadly earnest, they missed the clanging irony of their simple layout:
[In 1997] executives at the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day came up with a campaign for Apple computers that featured images of some famous dead— John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra— alongside a grammar-crunching motto: THINK DIFFERENT. I remember sitting in bad traffic on the San Diego Freeway and looking up to see a photograph of Cesar Chavez on a billboard. His eyes were downcast. He balanced a rake and a shovel over his right shoulder. In the upper-left-hand corner was the corporate logo of a bitten apple.
“Think Different” has been lauded as one of the great advertising campaigns of our time. Maybe it is, if you don’t think about it too hard, but I have always struggled with the idea of associating a product, something that anyone with a credit card can buy (even a product that I love as much as an Apple computer) with Ghandi, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and, yes, with Chavez. One must “think different”–and not in a good way–to fail to see the hubris in that.