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Whatever Happened To The ART In Advertising?


I love browsing through Vanity Fair magazine. The articles are always interesting, and I always find cool ads strategically placed throughout the magazine. Gorgeous models dressed in the latest fashions, famous photojournalists taking us along for the journey - it's a welcome escape for these trying times!

One day I was surfing their website and came across an interactive version of their January 1935 issue. The cover was a rather animated looking version of Uncle Sam with his hands folded behind his back (OK - perhaps he also looks like one of those Wall Street types who was able to get out before the big collapse).

As I continued to browse through the issue, I noticed something interesting about the advertising. Each ad looked like a mini work of art - and each accompanying image told a story. There were no 3 or 4 word taglines, but a description of the product told through the eyes of the narrator. It was almost as if each ad was a mini screenplay of sorts.

An ad for Listerine was titled "Noah Webster thought that colds were caused by comets." The story goes on to say how Webster reached that conclusion, then describes the real reason behind colds (viral) - and tells the reader how Listerine can help to fight colds. The ad even refers to a scientific study or two.

Besides their visual appeal and impact, what makes these ads appealing is the amount of thought put into them. I'm not saying that modern day ads don't require a large amount of idea generation and thinking, but it seems the ads of yesteryear tell a story that I can remember. The ads relate to me at a human level. They ask me direct questions, and pique my curiousity by telling me who else is using the product. The illustrations are top notch, and point to people's personal experiences as a way of relating to my own needs.

The point is that I remember the ads - which makes me remember the products.

Have we lost the ART in advertising? Did the ad execs on the hit TV series Mad Men have something to say - and can we learn something from the success gained through the use of more traditional forms of advertising? Is there room for story and a more "artistic" approach to advertising in our fast paced digital world?


Karen Hegmann

Hi Brad

Thanks for stopping by and for sharing the site with your students. It's always interesting to look at techniques used in the past and compare them to today's ads. Often, today's advertisers can benefit from using narrative techniques in both online and print ads.

Brad Strong

Well said, Karen, thanks for the insights and especially for including links. Enjoyed this and the previous article on narrative in ads. Will share this site with my students.

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