Messner_adweekThis is Tom Messner.  He writes a column for Adweek.  In January, Tom decided to review traditional texts in the field of advertising.  The essay is called Old Testament.

This is brilliant in the way that the best of advertising discourse is often brilliant.  Just when the world has decided that advertising (of a conventional kind) is over, Messner steps forward, puts this anxiety aside with not so much as a parenthetical acknowledgment, and patiently begins the work of recovery.  What are the key texts? 

The review is filled with wonderful moments, as when Messner stops to come part first sentence translations of Proust’s Swan’s Way. 

Reviewing From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, by Jerry Della Femina, Messner says,

It is dated and contemporary; shrewd and unwise; avuncular and juvenile. For those who grew up in New York, going to work in advertising was not unlike going to work for steel in Pittsburgh, coal in West Virginia or tires in Akron. I always thought Della Femina had too much fun being Jerry B. Jerry to write the great American ad, but he did write the great American ad book.

Reviewing My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins, Messner says,

Every syllable says 19th century: He puts a period in "ads." as an abbreviation and is the embodiment of the Puritan work ethic in its best sense. David Ogilvy read his books seven times and said they changed his life; I read them once and remain untouched to that extent but moved by the spare sincerity.

If I may presume to say, this is what happens in moments of crisis.  When all the world runs shouting into the night, some people say, "Ok, let’s review.  What is it we say we do?  What do we do?" in the process extracting the most powerful propositions and processes of the industry  before the naysayers succeed in burning it down. 

It’s a little like Minerva taking flight at dusk,  but in this case, I think it represents a recovery of memory, a return to self, for an industry that systematically refused an idea of what it was.

In this vacuum, post war intellectuals scathingly set up shop.  And advertising became whatever they said it was.  Speaking now anthropologically, this was a very bad thing.  It encouraged the creation of a culture’s self loathing and self mystification.  The intellectuals were pleased to call the advertising community our myth makers, but in fact they are more properly called our meaning makers.  Myth makers, that’s a title we should reserve for the Stuart Ewen and the John Kenneth Galbraith. 


Messner, Tom.  2006.  The Old Testament.  Adweek.  January 16, 2006.  here.
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