Advertising is based on one thing: happiness

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The writers of the critically acclaimed HBO series Mad Men didn’t create the rules for advertising, but they do describe them well. Advertising is about showing how a product assuages the fears of the customer (whether or not they knew they had those fears); advertising is about happiness. Don Draper explains:

This is a simple, obvious, and unbreakable rule, and yet there are so many ads that go astray. Or they think the formula is somehow different. Kate Dailey wrote an article for the Daily Beast about the ads that are aired during Mad Men episodes, and how many miss the point entirely. The advertisers seem to think that viewers enjoy Mad Men because it’s retro cool and full of male bravado and submissive women–but that’s just the front. The real allure is what’s behind that front, how the men screw up and what the consequences are for the men and women alike.

Getting ad men out of hot water? No, thanks.

Yet the advertisers press on blindly. A Clorox ad aired during Mad Men shows a white shirt with a red lipstick smudge on the collar, with the words “Getting ad guys out of hot water for generations.” Subtext: Clorox helps men cheat. But Clorox’s main demographic is women. Instead of assuaging the customers’ fear, the ad creates or increases it.

About a year ago, AMC announced a partnership with Unilever. Unilever, a giant marketing firm, created spots for six of the many brands it represents–Dove, Breyers, Hellman’s, Klondike, Suave, Vaseline–that would be similar in style to the show itself. The majority of the ads are set in an ad agency much like Don Draper’s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, with a short contemporary ad at the end. Almost every one of the retro ads objectifies women–again, women are the main buyers of these products (and the main demographic that views the show). So how are these effective?

Better these advertisers actually watch the show they’re trying to mimic, and learn from it:

Best superbowl ads


Superbowl Sunday is the one day in the year when people will turn on the television just for the commercials. Based on 2011’s showing, those people would have been disappointed. I can’t remember much, except that most of the ads were dreadful. And then there was that one ray of light:

But will the Darth Vader kid stand the tests of time like other Superbowl classics? Like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird shooting for a Big Mac?

Or like this other great duo?

Slapstick humor often scores big:

As do animals:

And then there are those few companies that put all the pieces together and seem to start a cultural phenomenon every single year:

Advertising for gorillas

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Also known as guerrilla advertising. Which means using every available medium to show your product, like…


And handrails inside those buses:

And benches at bus stops:

And escalators:

And sides of buildings:

And the revolving doors below:

And telephone poles:

How to be an advertiser

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What you’ll need: thick skin, inspiration

Songlist: Advertising Man by David Wilcox, Who Will Buy? from Oliver

Further reading: Guerrilla Advertising

I have to admit, advertising is not something that I dreamt of doing when I was kid. If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know that I had hundreds of careers in mind already as an 8-year-old. But, when I watched Mel Gibson make an ass of himself in What Women Want (doesn’t he always?), I couldn’t see myself in his or Helen Hunt’s admittedly excellent shoes.

Last fall, though, when I was unemployed and desperate I was considering every option known to modern mankind. I came across an article about the best advertising agencies in the Twin Cities and suddenly nothing sounded better. I checked out the offices (spacious, well-designed, in desirable parts of Minneapolis), the job listings (junior copywriter? I could do that!), the perks (booze cruises on the Mississippi!) and I was hooked.

The reasons I didn’t apply to any of these dream jobs were that a) I heard stories of advertising friends being fired at a moment’s notice and the general atmosphere of agencies being cutthroat and b) I got another job.

Don't these Olson interns look like they're having fun?!?!?!?

Last Friday evening I was talking with a advertising copywriter who worked for Olson, the one agency I was most excited about. When I told him that I’d been interested in that job he gave me a withering look, much the same look I give people when they say they want to write a novel, too. He asked me if I had a portfolio and I admitted, no, I was never serious enough about applying to create a portfolio. More withering looks. He went to portfolio school, and out of the twenty he started with, he was one of only four to graduate. Abashed, I asked him how he liked Olson.

“I was just fired on Monday,” he said, with a casual shrug. He was quick to assure me that that’s just how things go. He’d actually flown out to San Francisco the previous Friday to interview at a different agency and, just after packing up his things at Olson, he got the call that he’d been hired.

I told him I didn’t think I was cut out for the job; he looked as relieved as I felt. So, no advertising for me. At least not at an agency; I still think I’d be good at it…just don’t tell that guy.