"Just do it." "Where's the Beef?" "Got Milk?" These and dozens of other advertising slogans have infiltrated society's psyche. The instantly recognizable sayings are aphorisms of our time. They conjure images of success, stimulate memories of comfort, trigger ambitions.
They are, in fact, the products of a multibillion dollar industry run by several huge multinational enterprises that design multilevel campaigns to get people to buy merchandise, services, ideas and elected officials, among other marketable products. The slogans are designed to educate humans to become bigger consumers. And they succeed.
A Docuvertisement for Advertising
Doug Pray's Art & Copy
, which uses a montage of clips from well-known commercials, stills of print ads, talking head interviews with leading ad men and attractive graphics, addresses the social, cultural and economic phenomenon known as advertising, and its impact on contemporary life. Unfortunately, much of the handsomely shot, smartly edited and expensive-looking film, roles along like a long playing commercial for the advertising business itself.
One after another, the bigwig adsters -- such as David Kennedy, Dan Wieden, George Lois, Lee Clow, Hal Riney, Mary Wells, Rich Silverstein, Jeff Goodey and others who are interviewed on camera -- contratulate themselves and each other on their creativity, insights, team playing, hutzpah, dedication and commitment to social change. The interviews present all these image-makers as affable people, but their comments seem so self-serving and, especially when they tout their commitment to social change, unconvincing.
In Service to the Subject
Documentary filmmakers are obliged to serve their subjects, but Pray follows his admen around like a puppy as they proclaim the positive social effects of their ads and show off their lavish creative digs -- spacious and beautifully decorated environments --where they and their minions labor to design product campaigns that will determine public mind set. Pray laps up their every word, never probing nor challenging them to get past their self-congratulatory commentary. For example, they talk about Lee Clow's 1984 Apple hammerthrower commercial, broadcast just once during the Superbowl, claiming it initiated wideranging changes in contemporary lifestyle and social thought. The creators of Nike's "Just do it" ads claim their campaign encourages girls and boys to realize their dreams.
Where's the Beef?
The problem is that there's little balance (say, isn't that a Nike sub-brand?). Although neither Pray nor the pundits acknowledge it, that "Just Do It" campaign's relentless message is that realizing dreams is tied to owning and wearing Nike shoes. Nor is there discussion about the fact that Nikes are darned expensive (prices hiked up, no doubt, by that costly ad campaign) and beyond the means of many girls and boys who're lured into thinking they must wear Nikes to get ahead. Daily headlines describe various negative scenarios that may ensue: kids killing kids for their shoes, shoplifting, people becoming debtors to buy branded goods, knock-off manufacture and illegal sales. That Pray ignores this aspect of advertising's impact undermines his legitimacy.
Select Moments of Truth and Clarity
There are moments when the film presents intriguing, useful, presumably accurate information and revealing truisms. First, it's interesting to know that the modern (and powerful) style of advertising was born when innovative adman Bill Bernbach married art and copy by instructing designers and writers to sit down at the same table to brainstorm ad concepts. That seminal moment in contemporary culture deserves notice by historians and trend readers. Secondly, the statistics on the economics of advertising -- the sums companies spend on ad campaigns, and the incomes made by ad providers -- are staggering. The economics of advertising seem particularly wasteful when you look at the "Got milk?" campaign, for example, where a product which hasn't been altered, redesigned or refined and, as admen admit, is the same nutritional essential it's always been, is given a new image to make it more 'entertaining' to consumers. Although the film boasts the "Got milk?" campaign's success, it doesn't acknowledge that ad costs are covered by higher product prices, which puts this nutrition essential on the endangered list for low income families. Too bad the film doesn't address the question of whether such campaigns are actually counter productive to product end users.
The affable admen in Art & Copy speak in aphorisms that easily pass for truisms. One stand out comment that actually does seem true is Jeff Goodby's statement about advertising as 'art serving capitalism.' Yeah, that seems right. And consumerism.
Pray steers clear of advertising's criticized use of subliminal messages, but another of the film's revealing moments of truth raises the question of whether he's doing a bit of that himself. While reveling over the Hal Riney ad for Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign, Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins confides that Reagan, having seen the 'Morning In America' spot, said "I wish I were that good." Yeah, that a moment of truth. Pray, who undoubtedly weighed all editorial decisions, must have included it deliberately. Was it because he thought it too good an anecdote to pass up or as a splash of self-irony? You can't tell from the film.
Advertising's a great documentary subject. Unfortunately, this film, as slick and stylish as it is, doesn't do an adequate job of exploring its subject.
Other Interesting Films For Balance and A Broader View
Film Details:Art & Copy - 2009Director: Doug PrayRelease Date: August 21, 2009, limitedRunning Time: 89 mins.Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parentsLanguages: EnglishLocations: USATrailerCompany: Seventh Art Releasing