When ads become art

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Just under a year ago, I interviewed Brian Martin of Brand Connections for a feature I wrote about vacation and travel marketers. It wasn't in the final product, but he and I spent some time discussing how the long-form, print direct response ad had evolved over the years.

The other day, I went to a flea market in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and found some framed ads from old issues of Ladies' Home Journal. I wish now that I had bought one or taken some notes, but I spent some time admiring the copy and imagining myself as a person reading those ads and being driven to respond (in this case, to write the Armour company for bacon recipes and tips).

Then, this week, we have been working on the writeups for the Caples Awards Book of the Night. Looking through last year's book for inspiration, I was reminded of the ad that made John Caples famous, "They laughed when I sat down at the piano." Thinking back to the ads I saw at the flea market, I could imagine Caples' ad framed and hung up in a Brooklyn condo alongside the LHJ ads and some of the other old-style long-form pieces Martin and I discussed.

What makes ads, after time, into art? Surely the trend toward "vintage" fashion helps. However, these ads, hung on the wall, invite a reader into a long-past world. As I imagined myself reading the ads in the context of their times (the post-war boom of LHJ and the "Roaring Twenties" of Caples), I was drawn in to learn about something I didn't need, want, or have an opportunity to get.

Great ads capture the zeitgeist of their time. Today, DMNews highlights a good number of user-generated campaigns, reflecting consumers' desire to take part in the marketing to which they are exposed. And, some find their way off the screen, through the printer, and pinned to cubicle walls, showing that going forward we will still see great advertising celebrated as more than just a push for purchase.
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