"Most advetising is shit. Always has been," Lee Clow said calmly, to resounding laughter, at The New Yorker Festival last week.
TBWA\Worldwide's creative chief was taking part in a packed, sold-out event called "Mad Men: Truth in Advertising" at a wine bar in downtown New York.
Joining him were Matthew Weiner, creator of the AMC series that has people obsessed with advertising again, and Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation LLC, the brand imaging company. Afterward, the audience lined up to, among other things, show Weiner pictures of their parents and grandparents, who looked just like Don and Betty Draper in the early 1960s, and to get Clow's autograph.
Clow agreed with the basic premise of Mad Men, that the creative revolution of the '60s (and the work of Doyle Dane Bernbach, in particular) drove "intelligence, humor and honesty" into the mix and "invited future generations into the business." That's when Clow himself entered the business on the West Coast during the post-Bewitched years.
Clow also showed a few of his favorite ads, including the 1997 Emmy Award winner, TBWA\Chiat\Day's "Here's to the Crazy Ones" spot for Apple. And that's when I had an epiphany. This time, from the moment I heard Richard Dreyfuss's voice and saw the images, I actually had chills because I liked it so much.
That's in distinct contrast to when I reviewed it snarkily 12 years ago.
I've had this experience with books-you pick up something you read as a kid or in college, and feel totally differently about it -- but never with a commercial. When the ad came out, I could see it was graphically smart, but aligning the company with people like Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi struck me as pretentious and a bit of a stretch.
Let me quote myself (what could be more pretentious?): "Even if Apple claims these are not endorsements, it's easy to take issue with the fact that ... in the Apple universe, Martin Luther King Jr. equals Ted Turner equals Lucy and Desi. In the end, they're all equal genius units, having lived to shill Apple. ... Surely people who make TV shows -- or make anything -- want to see themselves as 'people who push the human race forward,' and not your average flunkies producing a committee-driven product that sometimes stinks."
But back to the wine bar.
The truth is, the ad guys and Weiner made for an uneasy trio. When moderator and New Yorker contributor Ken Auletta asked Weiner if he thought advertising was indeed shit, he said, "I do TV. I don't point fingers."
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