Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How Advertising Runs The World, part II

Seth Stevenson's Ad Report Card feature in is generally interesting and occasionally great. Given how pervasive and influential advertisements are in our daily life, I'm glad that someone is taking the time to be thoughtful about them.

Of the higher-ups in the advertising world that I've met personally or gained an impression of through some print or video interview have come across as smart and competent about how to use the tools of their industry to achieve their objectives - communicate brand identities, introduce new products, and sell you things. But the vast majority of the advertising world seems to be made up of uninspired, dull, and misguided people.

This is, of course, an overly harsh judgment. Harsher still has been my impression that beyond a few geniuses, a slightly bigger handful of expert manipulators, and some successful copy cats, most advertising professionals have no fucking clue what they are doing. Advertising, as an industry, seems like an elaborate and extremely well-funded crapshoot. Theories abound, few of them good. Disciplines on only vaguely sounder footing, including psychology, marketing, visual design, creative writing, and even neuroscience get dragged into the tawdry discussion.

All this, I suppose, as a long-winded way to convey my ill-informed impression that few of the practitioners of advertising are as thoughtful as the handful of people who critique the industry. With that said, the current article/video essay in the Ad Report Card feature is worth a look, as it summarizes one industry veteran's identification of archetypal ads that are successful. From Stevenson's introduction:

In 1978, Donald Gunn was a creative director for the advertising agency Leo Burnett. Though his position implied expertise, Gunn felt he was often just throwing darts—relying on inspiration and luck (instead of proven formulas) to make great ads. So, he decided to inject some analytical rigor into the process: He took a yearlong sabbatical, studied the best TV ads he could find, and looked for elemental patterns.

After much research, Gunn determined that nearly all good ads fall into one of 12 categories—or "master formats," in his words.
See the essay here, with a lot of embedded video examples.

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