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The Century’s Most Groundbreaking Advertising And How It Changed Us All James B. Twitchell Essay

Just like all the ads around us, it seems as if we are beat over the head with the idea that success comes from distinction. Time and time again, we all hear this notion that if you want to “break though” the clutter, you have to be different. It’s easier said than done with billions of ads around us. So, where did this all start? We have learned about the days when people would paint their street signs in hopes to be the best barber shop in town. Well of course, with little competition meant great business. Unfortunately, we have grown to live in a world full of competition, for jobs, more money, better education, etc.

Now take a step back, the people behind selling you all these things are competing for your attention too. Who is the going to sell you the best education, the best food, where is the best place to get a great job? It’s an all around circle of who can get whose attention. In light of all this information we deal with day in and day out, James B. Twitchell has taken us back to the roots of where our advertising comes from. There were groundbreaking advertisements that opened the door to evolution and change. In his book, “20 Ads that Shook the World”, we are taken through this history and story of our past.

Everyone thinks advertising is just the cousin to the creepy used car’s salesman, but there is a rich culture behind what we do that no one knows about! It’s not just people sitting in conference room thinking about how to get your money, ok, well maybe it is, but it’s not what society makes it out to be. Their ignorance comes from a lack of education. Twitchell’s 20 ads are a plethora of information and as he retells the deep history rooted back to the “good old days”, he tells this story in hopes of enlightening those with a preconceived notion. Twitchell lays the groundwork for his book through a very interesting introduction chapter.

From topics of commercial speech to commercialism, he discusses the cultural phenomenon that makes up ads. He makes it clear from this point on that advertising is not something that leads individuals to buying things. Advertisings – its society’s way oh “blaming” the adman for their incessant purchasing habits. “Once we are fed and sheltered, our needs are and have always been cultural, not natural”, Twithcell claims, and this basis for writing the book is ingenious. Advertising professions might pick this book up in their spare time for a fun read, but I think he has targeted this novel for those who don’t know.

Rightfully so, it is a great book for the avid advertiser in college. Education is key; he makes a point to discuss how you can ask any doctor or lawyer about their history. “Why do they have institutional memories while admen don’t? Twitchell’s twenty ads address the problem of an incomplete education, so the book serves a great audience. To us (advertisers) ads are an art form, but to the rest of the world it’s all something they glance over for thirty seconds or so and forget down the road. He makes the point to say that we don’t have a story that is unforgettable.

We too can be doctors and English professors who can say we have a story to study not “trash”. To every story there is another story – the beginning. If we can appreciate the history behind what we do, society too can learn what is about ads that makes them what they are today. Not all of them of course, but the ones worthy of being considered “the greatest art form of the twentieth century” (Marshall McLuhan) With this idea that Twitchell is telling a story he has laid the book out into 20 chapters, suitably each chapter recounts the background of each advertisement.

The book is a composition of shorts stories that in the end retell the whole idea of what the groundwork for today’s ideas are based off of. His method of developing the story is not really a narration but more of an exposition because he dives into the meaning of each advertisement. His analysis not only recounts the historical background for which the ad was written. However, because the book is also tailored to an “uneducated audience”, one might consider his thoughts to be more of an argument in some cases.

If he wrote the book with the intention of changing the idea of what advertising really is to someone, it might help to say that his method of development can be classified to specific target audiences (both and argument, but more of an exposition). Without a doubt in an advertiser’s mind, Twitchell’s basis and thesis can’t stand to be argued with. Advertiser’s can all agree with the fact that we “clutter” the world with information, and we all know what it is to put together a great ad.

It takes a lot of hard work and you can’t really say there is a formula to it, but we can surely agree on the fact that someone back in the day came up with something that sparked the way we create things today. The greatest example of the book is chapter 13, The Hathaway Man: David Ogilvy and the Branding of Branding. Back in the 1950’s Ogivly came up with this man that everyone wanted to be and every woman wanted to be with. These ads for the Hathaway Shirt Company ran from 1951 to 1990, and for 39 years one man was successful at branding a plain white dress shirt.

People wanted this shirt because the loved the man who wore it. Think about today, we want things because of the stigma behind who makes it or who wears it. “The modern customer of prestige brands wants the mark for all to see”, Hathaway Shirts opened the door for the brand clustered society of today’s logo driven enterprise. Twitchell’s examples, from Marlboro and Listerine mouth wash, to the story of Coke and Christmas, all 20 ads are dissected, bit by bit, to really explain to the reader what is about each ad that started the revolution. Now, who can argue with that?


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