Like it or not, commercial speech -- advertising -- makes up most of what we share as a culture. We live in a time when the vast majority of Americans can recite, almost without thinking about it, the ingredients of a McDonald's Big Mac but would be hard-pressed to do the same with, say, a line or two of Wordsworth's poetry. It's with this in mind that James B. Twitchell, one of the most respected advertising scholars and pundits, and the author of the classic advertising text Adcult USA, has chosen the twenty ads (complete with their artwork) of the twentieth century that have most influenced our culture and marketplace. P. T. Barnum's creation of buzz, Pepsodent and the magic of the preemptive claim, Listerine introducing America to the scourge of halitosis, Nike's "Just Do It," Clairol's "Does She or Doesn't She?," Leo Burnett's invention of the Marlboro Man, Revlon's Charlie Girl, Coke's re-creation of Santa Claus, Absolut and the art world -- these ads are the signposts of a century of consumerism, our modern canon that is understood, accepted, beloved, and hated the world over.
Twitchell has chosen carefully. These are not necessarily the ads and the ad campaigns that have been most effective in selling their products, but rather those that have entered the popular lexicon and had a profound effect on us all, often without our knowing it. The ads and the people behind them developed the art of selling things, and became in the process cultural artifacts. In other words, these ads became events in advertising culture and, by extension, in common culture.
Each ad and its overall campaign are deconstructed; we see firsthand how and why they are created, which needs they address, what boundaries they break. And we meet the geniuses of the business -- Rosser Reeves, Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins -- and learn what made them tick.
Individually, these are fascinating accounts of how specific, brilliant ads were developed and run. Together, these ads tell the history of our century through the lens of consumerism. Twenty Ads That Shook the World will stand as one of the genre's seminal texts, equally useful to the people working in, or studying the art of, advertising, and to those of us who, despite our best intentions, say, "Where's the Beef ?"
About James Twitchell
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Published April 25, 2000
Business & Economics, History, Political & Social Sciences, Professional & Technical.