Saturday, 11 September 2010

George Lois:The original Mad Man and why I used to love advertising

There was a brilliant programme on BBC 4 a couple of nights ago called  Selling The Sixties. Written and directed by Tim Kirby, it was stuffed with loads of cine footage of 60s Americana and had at its pivot  the man responsible for selling America hard in a way that has all but disappeared, with ideas, creative thought no less,  that let the public think for themselves a little bit.

George Lois was the maddest of the Mad Men; a true creative* who produced the legendary Volkswagen ads for Doyle Dane Bernbach that started with images and text that simply made sense in that they didn't. You had to read the text to find out why this odd little car was called a lemon. You had to because there were only a few lines to read and when you finished you remembered what you'd read and you'd tell your friends. Ads were up for up for grabs as subjects for water cooler conversations.

It's so strange that all that genius has gone from our billboards. Have the accountants got the ear of every client? There doesn't seem to be any commercial for a car that doesn't share the same sort of vocabulary as the other undistinguished motors that buzz about in hideously expensive acres of cgi backdrops. Honda and its Power of Dreams campaign was outstanding, but I wonder if they've (the creatives) been told not to make their ads too distinguished because car ads are all about spending shitloads of money just to get brand share. So, you saw ten commercials for cars last night. Remember any? Doesn't matter, just buy one; a Peugeot. a Honda... Just get a red one or something. Everyone's happy.

We are now in the clutches of people who are treating us like idiots. Well. we are all punters and we do buy shit occasionally, but we can't all pretend this is post-modernism. Or are we so detached as an audience that we giggle at the latest trilling  Go Compare intrusion and think, 'Yes, what a cynical reaction to a dull client brief. Brilliant.' I'm not sure that we do.

But by all means go compare today's moronic dross to the 50 years-old classics by Lois and I dare you to think we've got the real deal. We're the lemons now.

*I must thank Mathew Priest who sent me a podcast from Chicago Public Radio co-produced by the daughter of Julian Koenig who, although credited with his work on the famous VW campaigns, is largely ignored in the general historic scheme of things. It was Koenig who came up with most of what Lois sayshe originated. In fact, he's scathing and bitter about Lois' absurd and downright wrong credit pinching. but, I suppose it is advertising; if you don't get on with arseholes as a rule then you really should leave.


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  2. I'm sending you a podcast now made by Ira Glass and the This American Life team (phenomenal podcasts), one of the stories is told by Sarah Koenig, the daughter of Julian Koenig, who disputes most claims by George Lois. It's fascinating man, contact me when you've heard it x

  3. Can't wait to hear it. I'm going through a revival of my love for all things that knocked me sideways when I was a kid: Larry Rivers paintings, Warhol, Chevvies, Boeings and Sgt Bilko... Pretty superficial, but still gives me a real warm feeling. All that confidence and chrome! But the people who produced those ads were undoubtedly clever and persuasive, if a little (in Lois' case) overbearing.