China-based sculptor Daniel M. Krause, interviewed in the new “Hunt, Gather” issue of Broad Street, mentions that one of his pieces is visible in an ad for Scientology that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl. (You can see the ad above; Krause’s sculpture is at 0:14).
That led me to this interesting piece in Slate about the curious business of advertising for religions. In it Seth Stevenson points out that like all ads, TV spots for religious groups—no matter if they’re a collection of Catholic churches, Unitarians or Scientologists—suggest (or invent) a problem and then offer a solution.
Do the ads work? Who knows? Advertising is more art than science, and at least one study says half of them don’t have any effectiveness at all. Still, anyone who wants to inform a public about something needs to spread the word somehow.
It might seem strange for a publication obsessed with truth-telling that Broad Street is proud to claim among its founding advisers Mark Fenske, the contrarian advertising icon/Yoda (and voice of Cheez-It snack crackers!). But Fenske argues that brilliant storytelling and truthfulness are as important to great ads as they are to great literature. (He has a Zen-koan-like post about that here.)
Maybe ads are the great popular art form of our time. Certainly the nationwide ritual of gathering for the Super Bowl to cheer, critique and appreciate the advertisements is a hallmark of our current culture.
Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Who am I to judge? I have my favorite commercials, just like everyone else.
Here’s one—salesman nonpareil Ron Popeil’s ad-libbed ten-minute ode to food dehydration. It’s like watching a brilliant jazz soloist in full flow. I have grave doubts about his honesty, but no one can doubt his mastery of the pitchman form. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his New Yorker profile in 2000, “Ron Popeil was the most brilliant and spirited of them all.”
Feel free to share your favorites. In the words of Fenske: “Get your own box!”