Adman on TV

Robin Williams plays a crazy creative adman in the forthcoming sitcom, The Crazy Ones.Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 11.24.49 PM

For her review of the sitcom, Jessica Grose at Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed me and we discussed some of the origins of the crazy creative adman character.

The figure of the adman as volatile magician arose in the 1950s and ’60s, according to Cynthia Meyers, an associate professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and the author of the forthcoming book A Word From Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio. In the early part of the 20th century, Meyers says, ad concepts were dictated by account executives. Illustrators and copywriters just worked for them. Back then, the “hard sell” was the main strategy. A burger ad would focus on concrete qualities such as how fresh the beef is.

Starting in the early ’60s, the “soft sell”—ads appealing to the client’s and consumer’s associations and emotions—began to dominate, and the designers and writers became much more heralded. Along with them came “a romantic terminology about the creative process,” Meyers says. Ads shifted from being about a burger’s juiciness to narratives about how burger grill marks remind you of your father’s love. TV writers in particular, Meyers speculates, like writing about advertising because they see television as experiencing the same central conflict between art and commerce. (Thirtysomething, which featured a married couple who ran an ad agency, memorably explored this theme in the ’80s.)

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