Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Advertising in Popular Culture

Irritate them, Mr. Norman. Irritate, irritate, irritate them.

- Evan Llewellyn Evans (played by Sydney Greenstreet) to Victor Norman (played by Clark Gable) in the 1947 movie The Hucksters

Quoted in Stuart Elliot, "For 60 Years, the Ad Game Has Been Fodder for Scripts," The New York Times, September 18, 2008

The AMC series Mad Men, which takes place in a 1960s advertising agency, had won much acclaim about its reproduction of the tone of that era. Stuart Elliot, The New York Times' longtime advertising columnist, put together a short list of movies and TV shows with advertising as a central theme. One movie he missed: Putney Swope, the 1969 dark comedy written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. starring Arnold Johnson as a black man who is made the chairman of an advertising agency.

One feature that most of the movies about advertising depict, whether critically (as in The Hucksters) or endearingly (as in Bewitched) is the need to catch audiences with jingles or pictures or other persuasive forms.

The following clip from The Hucksters is one of the classics that still resonates with critics of advertising. In it the agency people nervously wait until their client comes in the door. The client is modeled after the real-life George Washington Hill of American Tobacco, who is supposed to have done what the character here does.


Elliot's list ignores PR and press agentry. This scene from The Sweet Smell of Success is a classic critique of the relationship between press agents, gossip columnists, and sources. In the clip below the columnist (played by Burt Lancaster) is holding court with a senator who wants good coverage when the press agent (Tony Curtis) comes in on them. The scene turns into a revelation of the acid, tension-filled relationship between all three. The film was written by Clifford Odetts and Enest Lehman and produced by the company owned by Ben Hecht (who co-wrote the original version of the film The Front Page) and Burt Lancaster. It is credited with helping to destroy the often-reptilian power of columnist Walter Winchell.


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