Art & Copy: How to Sell Soap and Sex and VWs

Since his 1996 grunge-rock documentary Hype!, Doug Pray has become an ever-more-adept assembler of polished images. And where else would that tendency lead but to the world of advertising? Most filmmakers moonlight in the field, but here Pray trains his camera on the guys behind the ads—the '60s boomer revolutionaries who advanced the field out of the Mad Men era. And hence the famous VW ads from Doyle Dane Bernbach, the groundbreaking art design for Esquire magazine by George Lois, and the use of pop songs (like the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun") by Hal Riney, later the voice of Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign. These guys, their work—it's genius, at least to anyone not offended by art (the image) and copy (the words) designed to sell. Yet however stirring these vintage campaigns and their graying creators may be for ad junkies like me, Pray fails at analysis. His film is simply a tribute. Random statistics—kids see 20,000 TV ads per year; 30 seconds on American Idol costs $750,000—mean nothing without context. And linking the ad biz to cave art (?!?)—well, that's just idiotic. Everyone quoted here, and perhaps Pray himself, wants to be seen as an artist. I wish I had that talent, too. But in this economy, those of us who pay for ordinary dumb stuff may not want to spend extra for that halo.

 
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