Making ads speak

DSC00079 Yesterday, I talked about the reinvention of the photograph.  A couple of days ago, I found myself reading a charming essay on how we might reinvent the Google ad.  

Hal Roberts points out in the early days of advertising, it was customary to include jingles in printed copy.  As Roberts puts it, 

"The idea of advertising as poetry seems quaint today, but actually more possible in the age of the text only AdWords format. It’s striking that AdWords today consists only of straightforward sells."

Striking indeed and a little depressing.  Anthropologically, the interesting thing about ads is that they are constantly inhaling and exhaling culture meanings.  Good ads are simple acts of Aristotelian metaphor.  They take meaning from the world and invest it in the product, brand or service.  Clearly, this "respiration" doesn't happen at all when the copy writer is restricted to copy.  

Naturally some people will say that cutting advertising off at the knees as Adsense does is a good thing.  After all, advertising is a bad thing.  So speaks Barber, Ewen, Galbraith, Klein and Riesman.  But in fact I think advertising has been a very interesting way for our culture to rehearse its option, canvass its possibilities, and rebuild and various buff and polish as it seeks to stay in touch with its own dynamism.  So speak Brantlinger, Cowen, Docker, Dickstein, Pells and Susman. 

What to do about Google ads?  Roberts charming idea is that we should resusitate jingles. Splendid.  How about some images while we're ad it.  I am not saying 4 color, 2 page layouts or anything.  Just a little something more than a handful of words..  I'm saying let's open up the door to meaning that it might flourish even here.  


Roberts, Hal.  2008.  Watching Technology from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. November 12, 2008here.    

Barber, Benjamin R. 1995. Jihad Vs. McWorld.New York: Time Books/Random House.  

Brantlinger, Patrick. 1983. Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay.Ithaca:Cornell University Press.  

Cowen,Tyler  1998.  In Praise of Commercial Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  

Docker, John. 1994. Postmodernism and popular culture: a cultural historyNew York: Cambridge University Press. 

Dickstein, Morris. 1999. Leopards in the Temple: The transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  

Ewen, Stuart. 1976. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer CultureNew York: McGraw-Hill.  

Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1958. The Affluent SocietyBoston : Houghton Mifflin.  

Klein, Naomi. 2000. No logo: no space, no choice, no jobs taking aim at the brand bullies. Toronto : A.A. Knopf .  

Pells, Richard H. 1989. The liberal mind in a conservative age: American intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950sMiddletown : Wesleyan University Press.  

Riesman, David. 1964. Abundance for what?  Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.  

Susman, Warren I. 1984. Introduction: Toward a history of the culture of abundance: some hypotheses.  Culture as History: The transformation of American society in the Twentieth century. Pp. xix-xxx. New York: Pantheon Books.

Post script:

My apologies for the mixing of typefaces.  Google's chrome and Typepad continue to play together only under supervision and even then too often it ends in tears.  

5 thoughts on “Making ads speak

  1. Charles Frith

    Sweet Jesus this is a can of worms you’ve opened. OK I’ve bee meaning to write about this but I’ve failed so here goes in the comments.

    Communicaton works on a spectrum from messaging to feelings. Great feelings are more inclusive than great messaging.

    There is not more concise messaging communications format than Google Ads. Why would anyone want to fuck with it?

    Also it’s about as utilitarian as one could wish for. There’s no Kerning in Google Adsense is there?

    In any case, why feel bad about efficacy. It works. (Although I have a feeling it is diminishing with younger folk) and Google has give me a shed load of awesome products for over a decade.

    I’ve probably completely missed your point Grant and I don’t mind you sticking the boot in. At least I might learn something. Or others might.

    Love that pic yesterday. On the money dude.

  2. Antony

    I would tend to agree with Charles’ comment.
    I’m no anthropolgist (shame on me) so maybe I’m way off: isn’t the lack of overt cultural meaning in the content of Google Ads a clear cultural meaning in itself?
    In this case, culture is on the context. When searching aren’t we generally in a very functional, “find it” mode (the utilitarian side of current culture)?
    The fact that an ad is so tightly matched to context perhaps reflects the way many people divide their time into micro-activities, even when multi-tasking.
    This would have its own cultural interpretations regarding how we interact with the world around us.

  3. Enjoy the blog

    If you speak with the Adwords “pros,” those who use it, and profit from it, you’ll discover they don’t consider Google ads to be traditional advertising; it’s direct marketing. (Many, many dollars are wasted on the wrong methods.) You could probably create Adwords messages that are far more nuanced and enticing, but why would an advertiser want to pay for all the clicks by non-targeted online browsers? There is far more thought and careful word choice that goes into (effective) Adwords campaigns than meets the eye.

  4. jerng

    I once toyed with an AdWords ad for my blog that read “Philosophy in Malaysia / Give up, there isn’t any”. This seems to strike a chord.

  5. David Hawksworth

    I think I disagree with the comments.

    I am a big believer in finding the lines along which you can see the connecting principles between different forms i.e. a paid search ad and a print ad. I don’t think its enough just to say they work in different ways; one being rational and the other emotional.

    Why would I ever want a print ad that gives me some packaged up meaning that i did not ask for when what I really want is to find my way in the world.

    Or when I am trying to find my way would it not be enhanced by some emotional luminosity or incredible surprise. After all the world around us is full of sign posts and navigational aids that convey richer more instructive information by going beyond simple text.

    In their current format is hard to see what the two have in common but thats not the way things are going to stay…

    What if search was in three dimensions or the print ad was clickable – would they not then exist on exactly the same plane?

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