"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 5 August 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Some Jingle-Jangle Morning


[This is a picture of some Emmy imagery. When was the last time you watched the Emmys?]

Last week, the Academy of

Television Arts & Sciences

announced that it would be

presenting an Emmy for

Outstanding Commercial of the

Year. While the news sparked

brief hopes for a self-reflexive

ideological tussle - Ellen

nominated for its work in hyping

homosexuality, the first lady's

appearance on Step by Step

garnering it a mention in the

unpaid political category - the

Academy's true intention is

depressingly straightforward, as

obvious as product placement on

Seinfeld. They're going to give

a prize to the best commercial.

You know, the things that run

during breaks.


[This is a photo of a man's head, painted gold, wearing an olive branch for a hat, ala Julius Caesar. Very appropriate.]

On the surface, acknowledging

that ads have become as

compelling as "regular"

television seems like a ballsy

move, a capitulation to Bill

Maher's quip at last year's Clio

Awards: "Boy, if the shows were

as good as the commercials, TV

wouldn't suck so much." Maher's

made a career out of passing off

obvious opinions as outrageous

ones though, so it should come

as no surprise that the Academy

was persuaded to include the

award by an "in-depth documented

presentation ... about the

artistry and talent that goes

into the making of commercials."

It was an easy sell, the logical

next step for an industry in

which commercialism and

cross-promotion have always been

part of the package. The only

shock came from realizing that

it's a separate category.

Perhaps they were afraid of a

Nike sweep.


[This is a picture of a cup of coffee, just as it's about to be consumed. I had a rough weekend. I think I'm going to get myself another cup of coffee.]

The fact that quality accounts

for the only real difference

between Taster's Choice

minidramas and Party of Five,

Mountain Dew highlight reels,

and MTV Sports, begs a question:

If advertising has become so

good at being entertainment, why

bother selling anything any



Then again, who says they're

selling anything? The

much-lauded Nissan campaign

featuring animated dolls, a

mysterious old man, and a lot of

cryptic yellow signs has

produced an incredible buzz - but

no sales. As of last

quarter, the US$200 million effort

hadn't affected the Maxima's

market position, and the only

upside may stem from the sale of

a proposed line of action

figures based on the ads.

Questioned last winter by

The Washington Post, Nissan's vice

president of marketing, Tom

Orbe, stood by the stop-action

salvo, stating, "Our likability

quotient and awareness quotient

have escalated quicker than we

ever imagined possible."

Likability? Awareness? You'd

think they were running for

president, not selling cars. (Of

course, they're not, so maybe we

should tighten up those

immigration laws after all.)


For ad agencies, it seems that

convincing people to buy a

product has become secondary to

convincing marketing managers

like Orbe that convincing people

to buy a product is secondary.

And agencies have become so good

at it, they seem to have

convinced themselves.


[This is a photo of the word Micro-brew with some unidentifiable imagery behind it. I guess it's supposed to be micro-brew paraphernalia.]

Speaking of Wieden &

Kennedy's Miller Genuine Draft

"macro-brew" campaign,

copywriter Jeff Kling told

Portland's Willamette Week, "Our

ads cease to be advertising ...

It goes beyond the hackneyed

realm of hyping product

benefits." This may come as news

to Miller company.


Not that Miller's complaining - not

yet. Sales of MGD have shot

up from $1.6 to $2 billion in

the last year. Still, whether

this is due to W&K's

campaign or to any number of

related factors (including a

decision to stop promoting

smaller brands like Red Dog and

to cut prices nationwide by

about 3 percent), appears

irrelevant to both the

campaign's critics and its fans,

who prefer picking apart the

commercial's "anti-advertising"

aesthetic to judging its



To critics, what's disturbing

about these ads isn't that

they're trying to sell you

anything - it's that they're

not. The disappearance of

jingles, slogans, and

point-by-point comparisons from

much of the commercial landscape

has made for a disorientingly

level playing field, where

cultural products -

entertainment, art, and ads

alike - are hard to tell apart.

Critics say this means

advertising has gotten more

powerful, but it might also mean

that art has become impotent. Or

maybe, more bleakly, that art

derives its power from



[This is photograph of a nice, chilled glass of Florida orange juice. Actually, it's supposed to be OJ but it could be anything else made to look like OJ.]

What else explains the shrill

refusal of Negativland's Mark

Hosler to participate in the

Miller campaign? The Willamette

Week reported Hosler was

depressed and dismayed by

W&K's overtures: "Can't you

tell that we're in opposition to

the world you're creating?" That

the agency recognized

Negativland's clever

consumer-culture cutups as a

homage to advertising's

effectiveness is perversely

appropriate: Using the band's

sound collages as a score would

have made for one of the

slickest, least intelligible ads

yet. After all, if you can't

tell an ad is an ad, doesn't

that mean it's not doing its

job? On the other hand, what if

you think that art is an ad?

courtesy of Ann O'Tate

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