Tuesday, October 06, 2020

'To Express Myself in a Quite Straightforward Manner'

“Meanwhile, if I were endowed with wealth, I should start a great advertising campaign in all the principal newspapers. The advertisements would consist of one short sentence, printed in huge block letters—a sentence that I once heard spoken by a husband to a wife: ‘My dear, nothing in this world is worth buying.’ But of course I should alter ‘my dear’ to ‘my dears.’”


On Sunday, Ted Gioia tweeted a 1969 magazine ad in which Dave Brubeck hawks a car stereo system. We see the pianist in jacket and tie, behind the wheel, smiling, presumably listening to his new eight-track player. I’m not one for condemning public figures who endorse commercial products. We all have to make a living. When I see such an ad today, I seldom recognize the pitchman, so its impact is lost on me. That’s true of most advertising. It’s doubtful that any ad has ever influenced me to buy anything. Of course, if advertising’s true power is subliminal, I would never know, would I? The closest I’ve come to writing advertising copy came when I wrote speeches for a university president, a moral lapse that still fills me with shame. Let’s recall that one of our finest poets, L.E. Sissman, made his living writing ad copy, about which he said:


“Copywriting teaches you to say exactly what you mean in the fewest possible words the first time around and under pressure of time. This is a valuable lesson for the poet.”


The passage at the top is taken from “Advertisements,” a talk Max Beerbohm gave on the BBC in September 1942 and collected in Mainly on the Air (Heinemann, 1957). Keep in mind what else Beerbohm says in his talk:  


“I wish, Ladies and Gentlemen, I could cure myself of the habit of speaking ironically. I should so like to express myself in a quite straightforward manner. But perhaps it’s as well that I can’t; for, if I could, my language might be over-strong for Sunday evening.”

1 comment:

Thomas Parker said...

Of all the books I own, some of the ones I most treasure are four big Taschen volumes: All-American Ads, 50's, 60's 70's and 80's. A truer history of our so-called civilization will never be written.