Monday, August 23, 2010

Art appreciation (from an unlikely source)

Abstract expressionism has all too frequently been the butt of jokes in popular culture. Garnering only a portion of the respect it holds in the art world, abstract works have inspired endless "my kid could've painted that for free" quips in television and movies -- and in all likihood, advertising as well.

But not here:

This 1963 ad from the chemical manufacturer Celanese isn't interested in the typical "it looks like the artist exploded" style of one-liners. Instead, they use an example of abstract expressionism to symbolize "modernism" and it would appear that their intentions are straightforward. Any suggestion that the art style was less than legitimate would undermine the ad's entire argument.

"Celanese happens to be a young company. Much more important, it's a modern company." the ad assures us rather defensively. It seems to be in response to more established competitors (or perhaps less established upstarts); at any rate, by this time, Celanese was nearly 45 years old, hardly the paragon of youth.

As for the artwork in the ad, it's would seem to be inspired by the work of American painter Jackson Pollock, a major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement. A pioneer of the "drip" technique using liquid paint on a canvas lying on the floor, Pollack's drip paintings were polarizing to both critics and the public. But thanks to a glowing profile in a 1949 Life Magazine, his were probably the best known examples of the controversial post-World War II art movement. Obviously the designer of the ad above was an admirer of Pollack's work.

Here's a couple of Pollack actual drip paintings. See how easily they could be substituted in the ad above:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Red is...what?

Here's an interesting late-1960s CBS programming ad by the celebrated designer, Lou Dorfsman:

Hmm. Odd bit of hyperbole there. At the height of his popularity, the comedian Red Skelton could be described as clever...a gifted mime...or even, as the ad says, "screamingly funny" (I said he could be, I didn't say everyone would agree)...but beautiful?

Actually, it makes a bit more sense when you consider the era in which the ad was created and ran. "Black is Beautiful" was the theme if you will, of the late 1960s U.S. cultural movement that countered traditional "Caucasian-centric" views of desirability, and the phrase was on was more likely to come up on the news or talk shows than in entertainment programs (such as, not surprisingly, the show in question).

So was CBS being insensitive in the co-opting of the phrase? Maybe, but they weren't the only ones to do it.

(The above ad, I suppose, at least has the virtue of being sincere about it.)

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hartog barely there

That Maidenform woman... you never know where she's going to turn up. Even in these ads from another clothier entirely...

"People barely vote for anything but hartog." or so the headline of this 1957 ad quips. According to this site, Hartog of California was "the leader of cool surfer style in the '60s," but frankly, it's hard to tell from this ad what they specialized in except labored puns about political cynicism and nudity. If you read to the bottom, you'll see the word shirts, but I doubt most readers of the era ever took their eyes off the shapely woman doing the Voting Dance of the Single Veil.

This other ad in the series doesn't make things much clearer, except now the strained attempt at cleverness seems to reference ogling topless ingenues while simultaneously warning against sexually transmitted diseases.

To put it another way, while the models who are showing lots of skin, it's really Hartog who's barely there.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Deja Vertigo?

Just noticed this poster for this upcoming movie...

Very simply and dramatically suggests the terror and disorientation of someone apparently buried alive. But even more, it shows the obvious influence of the movie poster work of seminal graphic designer, Saul Bass -- this one in particular:

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Flushed away...

The Ty-D-Bol Man returned to cultural prominence -- albeit briefly -- today, when it was reported that the actor who played him passed away.
Stage and screen actor Dan Resin, who portrayed the dapper Ty-D-Bol man in television commercials for the toilet bowl cleaner, has died. He was 79...

As the Ty-D-Bol man, Resin wore a captain's uniform and sailed off in a motorboat across the sparkling blue waters of a toilet tank after his product pitch: "Helps clean and deodorize your bowl automatically every time you flush."
Like Charmin's "Mr. Whipple" campaign, the diminutive Ty-D-Bol Man was seen as another example of the inanity and vulgarism of modern advertising as television grew ever more ubiquitous in American life.

"Inane? Vulgar? Me?"

I don't have much else to add here, though I do think it's funny that Mr. Resin's Broadway resume includes "Don't Drink The Water."

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Innuendo -- It's the American way

I've discussed American Airline's "Fly Me" campaign previously, but this ad deserves special mention. It seems to be created for those for whom the "stewardesses" with the come-hither come-ons ("I'm Cheryl. Fly Me.") was a bit too subtle:

The "giving a party" headline, the knowing eyes, the tongue definitely not in cheek -- you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for an ad for some kind of in-flight escort service. The copy isn't going to give you much help, either:
"At first I was bashful. But then people began thanking me for an enjoyable flight. I liked that. And I realized how much I wanted everything to go just right. That I had fun when they did."
And like a good procurer, American Airlines ends by promising
We'll keep combing America for girls like Sandy. And as soon as we meet them, we promise to introduce them to you.
And you wonder how that "Swinging Stewardess" image became so embedded in popular culture.

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