One of my issues with Text Book is that it feels a bit antiquated. While some of the sections are fairly timeless, others hinge too much on a newsworthy item (such as AIDS) or a pop culture phenomenon that is discussed in a stale way. One of those phenoms is advertising, as discussed by Esslin, who is more from the era of Ogilvy on Advertising than he is of the current landscape.  After all, the article is 30 years old!

As someone who escaped from the rubber room of advertising, however, I am compelled to tell you that what Esslin says about ads being miniature dramas is correct. In fact, more than the average person realizes, ads are actually an exercise in showing the consumer a brief moment that reveals a much greater and deeper story (perhaps not unlike the scene we read of the women examining the farmhouse of the murder victim).  Unlike what we see on TV shows, advertising executives don’t sit down with a bottle of gin and make up ads out of thin air.  Nowadays, any print or TV commercial by a self-respecting client and agency will be written off of a meticulously researched and painfully (you have no idea how painfully) composed document called a creative brief. That brief states who the target consumer is, what the key idea (thesis) is, what the support points are (like product claims or other compelling info), any necessary mentions (like a trademark), what the “brand personality” is, and even a “takeaway” (which is usually a statement of how the consumer should react to your ad). All of this has to generate a message that will be condensed into not FIFTY seconds, as Esslin says – because it’s not 1980 anymore – but thirty or (even worse) fifteen seconds.

The reason I bother blabbing on about this in my blog is that I think the study of commercials does have some application when considering how to reveal things that can’t or shouldn’t need to be shown to the reader. How do you draw a character who doesn’t have time to tell everyone her life story, but gives you the feeling you already know it? How do you reflect a certain brand personality (tone) through your words and actions? Considering what we, as consumers, take away from commercials could actually be a fun and interesting way to link to a discussion of how to show-without-telling in much greater literature.

On a personal note, reading Esslin also makes me think again about why piles of research show that 15 second commercials just don’t work.  Clients love their cost-effectiveness, but I think (again) that this format  just busts the limits of how much drama or involvement you can bring the viewer in such a short amount of time. Behind every commercial (whether slice-of-life or testimonial) there really has to be a drama (or a comedy) – or else the story is forgotten.

One thought on “Backstory

  1. Professor Sample

    I like the backstory you provide to the advertising section of Text Book. I definitely agree with the datedness of the book. Even outside of the time-specific examples, there’s something very 1985 about the book. (In fact, the 2nd edition came out in 1995. We’re reading the 3rd edition, which came out in 2002. I can’t figure out when the first edition came out.)

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