It’s 47 minutes long, but make the investment. It’s a tribute to creative pathfinders and an object lesson for business people in media. One thing both groups can agree on, he says, is that the long run will reward the risk-takers. Tell great stories really really well, and audiences won’t just watch you — they’ll carry you on the bus and take you to the hairdressers. How can anyone argue that our attention spans have shrunk to the size of tweet when we now watch 13-hour TV seasons in a day?
Sunset Magazine launched in 1898 as the era’s equivalent of an in-flight magazine, published by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company to convince prospective railroad tourists that the West wasn’t as wild and crazy as popular literature of the time made it out to be. Maybe some of those Sunset Magazine-reading tourists would even buy a plot of California land from the region’s biggest land-owner, the same Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Thirty years later the magazine relaunched (under new ownership) as a Western lifestyle magazine that looked more like the forebear to the current publication, with its renowned testing kitchen, wine cellar and Cliff May-designed headquarters in Menlo Park.
When you’ve survived more than a century, especially in the magazine business, you have to feel a sense of pride. I mean, if I were in their shoes I’d be downright cocky, too busy taking victory laps to pay much attention to digital reinvention. (Come find me at the ChasNote headquarters in 2104 if you don’t believe me; I’ll be unbearable.)
So it’s pretty cool to see what they’re up to today: A new partnership with Curious.com, the online learning platform, to turn lifestyle content into adult education for upscale foodies. Each seminar consists of video tutorials, exercises, and a Q&A backchannel. A nice marriage of the traditional (one segment dusts off a 1966 stuffing recipe) and the cutting-edge, and a clever move for a hundred-year-old print brand that’s looking to engage a new generation of digital readers.
I knew something was wrong when I could actually answer the first few clues in a New York Times Sunday Magazine crossword puzzle. (One Across: Ask ___ what your country…. Answer: Not!! And then Two Down: JFK’s office shape. Answer: Oval!!) And what was it doing on Page 11? On a normal Sunday I can read most of the essays without even getting to the magazine’s back pages and seeing the damn thing, which always tempts me to try my luck and ultimately feel crossword inept. Perhaps the JFK-on-PBS ad below the puzzle, or “Advertisement” at the top should have tipped me off. Well, whatever. So it’s an ad. A good one, in my opinion. For lame crossworders like me, it was a novel and pleasant experience to find myself filling in some squares on crossword puzzle inside the Sunday Magazine. And the JFK trivia did spark my interest in the latest installment of the Kennedy files. Maybe I’ll tune in to PBS tomorrow at 9/8c.
Ok, technically the industrial musicals of the 1950s, 60s and 70s weren’t advertising, per se. They were Broadway-style musicals scripted and scored to be performed once to a private audience of employees at annual sales meetings for companies such as Ford, Maidenform, American Standard, and others, featuring songs intended to ennoble the prosaic work of selling bras, typewriters, diesel engines or sneakers.
I highly recommend you carve out 45 minutes to listen to Terry Gross’s interview with song-writer Sheldon Harnick, actor-singer John Russell, and author Steve Young. You almost can’t believe how authentic these songs sound, until the lyrics register in your brain. Young, author of Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals, introduces one tune, written for an Exxon event, as “a stirring bit of info-tainment about the petroleum industry” — and you’d think you’re listening to the theme song from that Disney film about Davy Crockett. Another, written for a Keds sales conference, promotes a new line of casual kids shoes to the tune of Old MacDonald, and literally makes Ms Gross snort on-air with laughter.
The lyrics are mostly atrocious. But what’s relevant to practitioners of modern native advertising is that everything else isn’t atrocious. The companies behind industrial musicals hired top talent from Broadway — dancers, actors, musicians, and song writers — and paid them to make catchy jingles that worked on audiences almost like the real thing. Sheldon Harnick made industrials, and he also wrote the songs for Fiddler on the Roof. Terry Gross admitted that one of the songs brought tears to her eyes, and Steve Young said (with some regret) that a song from Diesel Dazzle was stuck in his head, on and off, for twenty years.
Tell me you wouldn’t retweet a “very well done, very professional romantic ballad about a bathroom”?!
How cool would it be if the US Postal Service actually adopted one (or several) of these suggested taglines?!
The above is an art piece by San Francisco artist (and a pal), Tucker Nichols. It ran as an Op-Art in the New York Times two years ago. (Don’t give me that look. What, you’ve never fallen behind on your reading?!)
Almost every time someone points me to a heartbreaking or hilarious commercial that’s tearing up the viral popularity charts, I laugh or cry and then ask myself what it had to do with the brand who sponsored it (for example). Or, worse, wonder who sponsored it. This Intel “Look Inside” spot bucks the trend.
It captures an inspiring story of young man’s brilliant medical invention and connects it back to an innovative spirit that Intel wants us to associate with its brand, culture and products. For many years Intel asked us to look inside our laptops to make sure there was “Intel Inside” — a rational appeal to our inner IT Manager. Stories like Jack Andraka’s and the invitation (the dare?) to “Look Inside” ourselves is an appeal to our inner dreamers, and emotional arguments always kick butt over the rational ones.
I wonder how this came to be.
I’m on a plane to New Jersey for my 25th high school reunion, which promises a cover band that will play both Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper, and a slide show of pictures from when we all had mullets. Low-tech time travel! And earlier this week my kids and I watched the 1989 box office hit Back to the Future II, which features actual time travel. You may already be aware that the movie sends Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) into a distant future — 2015 — to meet his older self and that older self’s wayward children.
It’s always fun when we get the chance to catch up to imagined futures depicted in science fiction (or 80s comedies). In this case Robert Zemeckis et al totally blew it with the flying cars, hovering skateboards and the eighties-only-brighter outfits. But Doc’s pocket computer does look a lot like an iPhone, and I, for one, eat a lot of compressed, dehydrated foods (and our modern foil-wrapped energy bars don’t even require a rehydrating oven).
I also love vintage ads, mostly because of how silly they sound to contemporary ears. Like ads encouraging you to pour 7Up down your baby’s throat or doctors recommending Camel cigarettes. But every now and then you find a vintage ad that should still be in rotation, like this one from IBM (thanks, Kurt!):
From the modern-day Atlantic:
The January 1985 issue of The Atlantic Monthly offered its readers an assortment of wonders. A cover story on “Theaterphobia” — a moviegoer’s experience on Broadway — penned by one David Denby. A humor piece by Patricia Marx titled, cheekily, “Getting Along With Russians.” A literary take on the complexities of E.M. Forster, and of Degas, and of Matisse. And that was just the journalism. There were also the ads. Oh, such ads! Ads for cars (“there is a special feel in an Oldsmobile”). Ads for cigarettes (Marlboro/Merit/Carlton) featuring horses and bold claims regarding tar levels and, in one particularly awesome instance, a surly-looking sea captain. Ads for delights both physical (NordicTrak cross-country ski machine!) and intellectual (Book of the Month Club!).
Plus this ad from IBM promoting its investment in programs to increase the number of women studying and working in science, tech, engineering and math:
In the past ten years, IBM has supported more than 90 programs designed to strengthen women’s skills in these and other areas. This support includes small grants for pre-college programs in engineering, major grants for science programs at leading women’s colleges, and grants for doctoral fellowships in physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and materials science.
According to IBM’s ad, 13.6% of math and science PhDs in early 1980s were women. I assume that counts all living PhDs at the time, not just graduates in a given year. Given the current stats that say 22% of engineering PhDs and 27% of math and computer science PhDs are award to women (see Inside Higher Ed), the numbers should be heading in the right direction, eventually. But, dang, that’s not exactly lightning-speed progress. And as the recent controversy over Twitter’s all-male board makes clear, the shortage of women in tech needs an explanation that goes beyond math. Perhaps boardrooms that include some women will invest more money in educational programs (and ad campaigns) that accelerate the pace of change.
I spotted this in illustrator Wendy MacNaughton’s Instagram feed.
MacNaughton painted the cover art for a recent issue of Print Magazine: A big fish being held by a somewhat smaller fisherman. The cover includes the standard utilitarian elements of a newsstand magazine — the magazine’s title, the issue date, cover lines that tell you about articles inside — but most of the cover’s real estate is given over to MacNaughton’s artwork. It’s the art (or photography), after all, that draws our attention to a particular issue of a magazine. You might say art (or photography) is the native language of magazine covers.
If you’re an advertiser that pays a premium to place your ad on the back cover, then, you would be well advised to do whatever you can make your ad’s creative design as awesome as the artwork on the front cover.
Or, in the case Shutterstock, the back-cover advertiser for this issue of Print, you might just let the artwork from the front cover spill right into your ad. Then, anyone who wants to enjoy the full Wendy MacNaughton fish illustration needs to open the magazine, turn it face down, and view at the front and back covers — including the Shutterstock message behind the fish’s tail — at the same time.
As the artist herself puts it, “bonus: we got the advertising to support the art. high five, print mag.”