Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mad-Libs from Hell

Years ago, when I was studying advertising design at Art Center in Pasadena, a charismatic teacher of mine said something I've always remembered. He said, "All advertising is an interruption. So you'd better make it good."

It goes without saying that advertising has gotten worse and worse in recent years. It's generally dull, desperate and apparently created by an infinite number of chimpanzees. But it has certainly gotten more interrupting. Mankind has devised very clever techniques and technologies to thrust messages at us--everything from pop-ups on Websites to those irritating little, superimposed animations at the bottom of a TV screen. But, at the same time, almost in inverse proportion, we've become mentally challenged with devising clever messages themselves.

Last night I was watching a college football game (UO vs ASU, but that doesn't matter) and I was noticing that my view of the action on the field kept being blocked by these obnoxious animations at the bottom of the screen, promoting some stupid show. Once I missed a game-changing fumble because it was hidden behind a dancing graphic. It was like having a person get up in a theater and climb past you just as the first, critical plot point is revealed. "Luke, I am your...." "Excuse me, excuse me, gotta get to the snack bar."

The interruptions are everywhere. Recently, wrapping around the cover of a local newspaper, I noticed the unfortunate juxtaposition illustrated above. A very tragic story of a missing little boy, non-sequitured with a very clever media buy in which the paper runs an ad in a false half-cover--fooling you into thinking it's part of the editorial. Hi-jinks ensue. Of course, even a funny or creative ad in that place would have been inappropriate--probably even more so, like Mad-Libs from Hell.

Advertising breaks on television now last longer than the shows segments themselves. I timed one channel the other day and found that the commercial breaks ran an average of 8 minutes while the actual programming ran for only 5 between them. So what we had was like a Home Shopping Channel interrupted by entertainment.

It used to be that advertising itself was more entertaining that the programming. Brilliant writers and art directors, attracted to the industry by high salaries, glamor, and the promise of seeing their ideas come to life, produced some of the funniest, most creative work in the history of advertising. People had a reason not to go to the bathroom during a break (they now have time to paint the bathroom), because they might miss something truly entertaining. Smart advertisers knew this and kept it coming; a funny ad had a direct lever on  their profits,while dull ads drove people away.

But those days seem to be gone. The only tactic advertisers seem to know is to just get up in your face. Yell at people. Poke them in the eye. Interrupt them. Use exclamation points liberally!!! Bore them. And creative people are reduced to headlines like "Boatloads of Fun." I think the creator of the above ad may have resisted using an exclamation point as a form of passive-aggressive protest. But I may be giving him too much credit.

No comments:

Post a Comment