The Five Most Influential Clips in Advertising

Movies about advertising are generally terrible.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing moments to be found. In fact, many of these scenes, some of them decades old, are referenced in creative meetings to this day. And for the most part, each can remind us, about the immutable facts of the human condition which all great advertising taps into.

 

“They’re boxy, but they’re good.”

In the 1990 Dudley Moore film “Crazy People”, there’s a scene where the Account Director (Paul Riser) is discussing with the Creative Director (Moore), his concerns over the general direction that his copy is taking. While this scene is entertaining, at least to folks in the industry, the movie falls into the aforementioned “terrible” category. Perhaps the funniest aspect of this clip is how, in many ways, the joke of the movie presages the advent of no-nonsense, every-man, Dennis-Leary style of advertising that dominated creative bullpens later in the decade.

 

“I’ll accept that change and ignore it once I get the job.”

The alternative title for this short film could have been “Agency: know thyself”. Legend has it that “Truth in Advertising” was created for a Canadian advertising awards show. Sadly, as its emergence on the internet occurred before the modern high definition streaming age, as far as I can find, there are no high-quality versions of this available. But it is perhaps the most quoted twelve minutes of video I have encountered in the industry—at least by people over the age of 29. There are a few NSFW moments of dialogue, so headphones are advisable.

 

“Whether it’s 10% more of it, or 15% off of it, they’re entitled to it!”

The British film “How to Get Ahead in Advertising” was mostly an unflattering portrayal of the industry. This is telegraphed by the foundational premise of the film, that the protagonist’s career is propelled due to the influence of a talking boil that sprouts from his neck. The film’s final scene, presented here, does a wonderful job lampooning the seriousness and gravity that all of us in the industry, in some sense, subscribe to. It’s the cinematic jab at the David Ogilvy quote, “Advertising isn’t life or death. It’s more serious than that.” In the end, it’s a good reference to keep in mind when assessing whether your messaging has gone beyond persuasive into sermonizing.

 

“It's not a slide projector, or a wheel... it's a carousel”

This is the oft quoted scene from the series “Mad Men” where Don Draper enlightens the technology-focused engineers from Kodak about the true connections that companies can create with consumers if they tap into deeper emotional commonalities. Having worked for engineering driven clients, scenes like this are a great reminder that we all should remember features and benefits are there to support the big idea. Not the other way around. 

 

But seriously…

The next “clip” is actually an entire documentary. And it’s a great watch for anyone who is or wants to be in the ad industry. The 2009 documentary “Art & Copy” offers a glimpse into thoughts of some of the most influential minds of the past 30 years. It may harken to a simpler, less big-data-driven era of the business, but the basic lessons of simplicity, big ideas, humanity and motivation apply to any medium.


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