Ad Men

By

Published August 19, 2009

In his latest documentary, Art & Copy, which premiered this year at Sundance, director Doug Pray speaks with the minds behind some of the biggest smash hits in TV advertising or, as he put it, “Pioneers of an industry that literally defines mainstream culture.” Treating advertising as an art form, he casts industry figures in the same light as the grafitti artists (Infamy), 90’s grunge scensters (Hype!), and DJs (Scatch) he chronicled with his past work. Below, some of the classic spots discussed in the film, along with some the stories behind them. Whether “I Want My MTV” is as important as the things that were actually on MTV is for you to decide:

 

Apple, “1984”

 

 

Directed by Ridley Scott, this legendary TV spot launching the Macintosh ran just once, during the 1984 Super Bowl. According to Lee Clow, creative director at ad agency Chiat/Day at the time: “A very frightened board of directors actually said, ‘This is stupid. The whole company is riding on this computer and you’re gonna spend all this money on a commercial that doesn’t even show it?”

 

Braniff International, “The End of the Plain Plane”

 

 

Braniff went a little gonzo marketing itself as the fun 60’s airline. Charlie Moss of Wells Rich Greene says he and his creative team revisited the tarmac cha-cha party concept daily, but dismissed it as “just too obvious.” Until Mary Wells disagreed: “Obvious? It’s divine!”

 

Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?”

 

 

Wendy’s got cold feet about dissing the competition’s skimpy burgers: “They tried to kill Where’s the Beef a week before it was supposed to go on the air,” campaign mastermind Cliff Freeman recalls.  “Guys were saying, ‘I dunno, maybe we’ll have a big bun ourselves.'”

MTV, “I Want My MTV”

 

 

Creative director George Lois borrowed a slogan from 60’s Maypo ads; if viewers saw Mick Jagger begging cable companies to pick up MTV, they’d do it too. “I told [MTV founder] Bob Pittman, “I’ll get a rock star! We’ll get rock fans to drive the cable operators crazy with phone calls.'”

 

California Milk Processor Board, “Got Milk?”

 

 

“I look at it and I go, that’s a dumbass line. That’s bad. It’s clunky. It’s not even English,” recalls Rich Silverstein. Luckily, he let partner Jeff Goodby have the last word. And he came to see it as more honest than its predecessor, the “Does a Body Good” campaign. “That was untruthful. You do not chug milk after a 100-yard dash.”

 

Nike, “Just Do It”

 

 

Inspired by the last words (“Let’s Do It”) of a Utah murderer facing execution, Wieden + Kennedy’s disarmingly simple slogan has soared beyond the world of sports. “None of us really paid that much attention. We thought, ‘Yeah, that’d work,'” says Portland, Oregon-based Dan Wieden. “Sometimes it’s the most inadvertent things that you don’t really see. People started reading things into it.”

 

Art & Copy opens August 21. The IFC Center at 323 6th Avenue in New York.