A modest proposal

It is illegal to make false claims in a TV or radio commercial unless you are running for political office.

If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.

If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent.

These lies are seen and heard by millions, not only when they run as paid advertisements, but also when they are run again for free on 24-hour news networks hungry for controversy. And after they are run for free, they become talking points in an “unbiased” conversation that pretends there are two sides to every story, even when one side is lies. Two words: Swift Boat.

Lies, and a candidate’s embarrassing efforts to brush them aside, fill the news cycle and constitute the national discourse. And this terrifying and morally indefensible rupture from reality persists even when the country is on its knees.

If networks refuse to accept cigarette advertising, how can they readily approve dishonest political advertising? Cigarettes kill individuals, but lying political ads hurt the whole country. No democracy can afford this, let alone when the country is at war, and under existential threat from terrorists, and in economic free fall.

So here’s my idea. One that could actually work, if America’s networks remember they are Americans first, revenue seekers second.

Just as they once united to stamp out cigarette advertising, radio and TV stations and advertisers must get together and agree that false statements in political advertisements will not be tolerated. If you run a political ad that proves to be a lie, your network will pay a steep fine, and the advertiser will pay an even steeper one.

To avoid these crushing fines, networks will insist on proof of statements made in political advertisements, just as they demand proof of statements made in sugarless chewing gum commercials.

Political advertisers will not be able to lie about opponents. They will either have to attack opponents honestly, or talk about the actual issues facing the country, and how their candidate will solve those issues.

Imagine. We might hear ads about the banking crisis and how each candidate will address it.

Candidates might summarize their positions on Iraq and Afghanistan and end with links to more detailed positions on their websites.

The public might discuss the real issues facing us instead of manufactured Entertainment-Tonight-style “controversies.” People might even vote for candidates based on their resumes and positions on the issues.

It would be just like democracy.

[tags]advertising, political, political advertising, lies, TV, radio, politics, presidential[/tags]

An e-mail from Chip Kidd

I’ll never forget the day Chip Kidd sent me an e-mail. Chip Kidd, author of The Cheese Monkeys, the book that does for design school what Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust did for Hollywood.

I wrote about Chip Kidd’s work and he sent me a polite e-mail in response. He called me “Mr Zeldman.” Him. He. That Chip Kidd.

Chip Kidd, my all-time-favorite, hall-of-fame book cover designer. Fabricator of the jackets on at least half the modern novels I’ve bought “on impulse”—that impulse triggered and exquisitely controlled by Kidd, who approaches the problem of book design the way a director approaches montage in film. Not a crude film director, but a sly one. One who attacks at tangents, combining images to create compelling narratives that strangely illuminate but never crassly illustrate each book’s contents.

Let me tell you about Chip Kidd. I stare at his work, trying to figure out how he does it. Looking for flaws, like you do when someone is that good. Chip Kidd, you might say, is a design hero of mine. He is likely a design hero of yours, too.

Now he works for us.

The Deck, the premier network for reaching creative, web and design professionals, is proud to welcome Chip Kidd, Dean Allen, Ze Frank, and the crew behind Aviary as the newest members of our network.

  • Chip Kidd: See above.
  • Dean Allen: One of the finest writers ever to grace the web with wit, insight, and a distinctively detached charm. Also a heck of a book designer, although of a very different school from Chip Kidd. Also a software developer, and not a bad hand at web design. I chose Dean Allen to redesign The Web Standards Project when I was ready to leave the august institution. (It has since been redesigned by Andy Clarke. Not a bad progression.)
  • Ze Frank: A man who needs no introduction. The original bad boy of look-at-me, the-web-is-TV. Artist, illustrator, satirist, programmer, and on-screen personality. The Jon Stewart of confessional web video. The Laurie Anderson of pop. The boy Lonely Girl only dreams of becoming. Too big for TV, too big for your iPhone. Coming soon to a conference near you.
  • Aviary: makers of rich internet applications geared for artists of all genres. From image editing to typography to music to 3D to video, they have a tool for everything.

The Deck delivered 20,121,412 ad impressions during April. Limited opportunities are now available through the Third Quarter of 2008.

[tags]Chip Kidd, Dean Allen, Aviary, Deck, The Deck, advertising[/tags]

Stick out your tongue

While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.

Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.

The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.

The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.

It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.

During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.

And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.

We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.

After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.

The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.

Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.

Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.

Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.

I guess they finally made it.

[tags]advertising, design, artdirection, writing, copywriting, TV, production, commercials, adverts, wisdom, work, experience, budgets, business, waste, government, medicine, OTC, overthecounter, newyork, nyc[/tags]

Lost, Ffffound, and Clusterflocked

The Deck, our advertising network targeting web, creative and design professionals, welcomes Ffffound.com and Clusterflock.

Ffffound.com is a popular user-generated repository for “quoted” visuals. And when we say popular, we mean astronomically.

Clusterflock has been described as a loud, witty cocktail party about design and lots of other things.

If you have a product or service that could benefit by being in front of a truly huge audience of savvy, influential creative people, contact The Deck. Limited opportunities are available starting in April.

[tags]advertising, webadvertising, deck, thedeck[/tags]

All Bits on Deck!

We’re as pleased as pale punch to welcome web designer, CSS whiz, microformats monger, icon designer, outstanding public speaker, and best-selling CSS-design-book author Dan Cederholm and his freshly redesigned SimpleBits site to The Deck, our advertising network targeting web, design and creative professionals.

Dan is a friend and creative hero of mine (and of yours, too, I bet), and it is a thrill to be able to drop a few pennies in his cup.

The premier advertising network for reaching creative, web and design professionals, The Deck serves up millions of page views each month and is uniquely configured to connect the right marketers to a targeted, influential audience.

[tags]simplebits, dancederholm, advertising, webadvertising, deck, thedeck[/tags]

Facebook and your privacy

Months after geeks who hate walled gardens hailed Facebook as the great exception, Facebook announces that it is wholesaling our privacy to any turdball with a dirty nickel to spend. So what else is new? And what do we do about it?

In a titled-for-SEO-rather-than-readers article, “Do Facebook users care about “privacy issues?” What about Doubleclick?,” Eric Eldon defends Facebook’s violation of its users’ privacy on the grounds that not many users have protested.

Some may not have protested because the petition against Facebook’s Beacon advertising feature is hosted by Moveon.org, an organization half of America considers a tool of the Antichrist. Many more may not have protested because they don’t know Facebook is violating their privacy. In a prove-nothing survey, no Facebook user I talked to yesterday was aware of the Facebook privacy concerns.

The New York Times explains what Moveon and members of the Facebook group, Facebook: Stop invading my privacy!, are protesting:

MoveOn is objecting to a new advertising technique that Facebook announced a few weeks ago that posts members’ purchases and activities on other websites in their Facebook profiles. Users can choose not to have the information posted from individual sites, or “opt out,” whereas with most Facebook applications associated with external sites, users must proactively choose to participate, or “opt in.” With the Beacon feature, if a user does not specifically decline participation, his or her Facebook friends will get a “news feed” notice about the purchase.

Back to Eldon. The interesting tidbit in his titled-for-SEO article is the suggestion that MoveOn is protesting the wrong thing, and that the problem goes well beyond Facebook:

Facebook uses the cookie it requires for logging into its site to track what you do on other sites, from what we can tell. These cookies are unique identifiers—code sent to each user’s computer from Facebook, and tracked by Facebook when they visit web pages.

In other words, Facebook tracks what you do when you are on websites other than Facebook, and shares that information with its advertisers and your Facebook friends. Hmm, who else does that sound like?

Google’s Doubleclick and Microsoft’s Atlas ad networks also use cookies to track user actions, and this is a long-standing issue for online privacy advocates. In fact, the U.S. Senate is looking into Doubleclick’s privacy issues now. We have not heard MoveOn comment on cookie tracking as it relates to Beacon or any other company that uses cookies to track users.

Spurious “no comment” jibes aside, Eldon has a point. Even if you feel smug for never having joined Facebook, unless you anonymize all your web browsing sessions, refuse to use or accept cookies, turn off images (in case one of them is a “tracker GIF”), and go into the woods with Ted Nugent and a crossbow, Big Advertising already has your number. It knows where you live, where you shop, and how much porn you download.

But that DoubleClick sins doesn’t excuse Facebook from betraying its members’ trusts.

(And yet, what else should we have expected? Did we really think Facebook’s investors just wanted us to have fun? Did we believe if there was a way to make a dirty dollar, they would scorn it on ethical grounds? This isn’t the Well, people.)

Stipulate that we like using Facebook but that we don’t wish to be denuded for the enrichment of goblins. Beyond joining the group and signing the petition, what do we do?

[tags]facebook, privacy, advertising, web advertising, doubleclick, socialnetworking[/tags]

Deck deal

We have a slot open for November in The Deck, our advertising network for reaching creative, web and design professionals. Give us a holler if you can pull the trigger quick and we’ll make a nice deal for a first-time advertiser.

Comments off.

[tags]deck, thedeck, advertising, ad, network, creative, web, design[/tags]

The Deck turns 21

Content wants to be free, but content providers want three squares a day. Advertising is often the answer, but advertising on the web tends to be intrusive. Not so with The Deck, our targeted advertising network for web, design, and creative professionals. Its secret? Just one Deck ad per page, seen only by pre-qualified viewers, in a context they trust.

It’s a pleasure to welcome three new sites: Darius Monsef’s COLOURlovers, Veerle Pieters’s veerle.duoh.com, and A Brief Message, a concept developed by Khoi Vinh and Liz Danzico that aims to become the “Op-Ed” page for design on the web.

If you have a product or service that could benefit from being in front of millions of web, design and creative professionals each month, give us a shout at The Deck. Limited inventory is available for the fall.

What is Art Direction (No. 9)

Alive Day Memories - Home From Iraq

This outdoor ad, newly posted on a phone kiosk, arrested me as I strolled down Lexington Avenue last night. Its explicit content can be summarized as follows:

A young woman, facing the viewer, holds what appears to be a prosthetic arm—her own prosthetic arm, one infers. The young woman is casually dressed in a sweater and jeans. Her expression borders on neutral. Where her right arm should be, the sweater has been pinned back. The poster also contains words advertising a new HBO documentary, executive-produced by James Gandolfini, concerning the difficulties faced by a new generation of American war veterans returning home from Iraq.

That is a pictorial inventory, but the poster contains more content than I have listed. Most of that content is externally located. For this poster has been framed and shot, and its subject styled and posed, almost exactly like an American Gap ad.

Consciously or unconsciously, an American viewer will almost certainly make an uncomfortable connection between the disfigurement and sacrifice portrayed in this ad, and the upbeat quality of the Gap’s long-running, highly successful clothing slash lifestyle campaign.

That connection is content. And the non-verbal information that triggers that content in the viewer’s mind is art direction.

Wordless and full of meaning

What is the art direction saying? What is it adding to the content that is already there? Surely the sight of an attractive young woman who has lost her arm fighting in Iraq is loaded enough as an image. Surely a non-combatant, far from Iraq, safe at home, already feels plenty of complex emotions when confronted with this one veteran and at least some of the visual evidence of her sacrifice. What additional statement is being made by the art director’s decision to style this poster like a Gap ad?

Here is a possible reading:

While many Americans are well aware that their country is at war, many others are doing their best to blot that thought out of their minds. In this effort at collective amnesia they are abetted by many retail advertisers and TV programmers, including not a few TV news programmers. Ratings-wise, the war is a bummer. Sales-wise, it is a drag. America wants to shop and move on. (Interestingly, the fashion industry is the one segment of America’s consumer culture that is paying attention. The 691 pages of the new September Vogue are filled with skirts, shoes, dresses, and jackets that obviously resemble armor or in other ways clearly invoke awareness of war and warriors.)

In conceiving the way this poster would be shot and styled, the art director was not holding the Gap responsible for the war in Iraq. Nor was he or she blaming the viewer. But by carefully echoing the imagery of an ad that epitomizes our comfortably shallow consumer lifestyle, the art director does indict the complacent among us and challenge us to think about something besides our next new sweater or iPod.

The placement of type ensures that the words are the last thing we see on the poster. We absorb and are discomfited by the rich, non-verbal text for several beats before our eyes take in the explicit, written content announcing a documentary.

That is art direction. It is not art. It is not design. It is something else. It makes us feel. It makes us think. It holds up the mirror to our desires, our regrets, ourselves.

[tags]artdirection, whatisartdirection, alivedaymemories, iraq, gap, veterans, advertising, iraqwar, wariniraq, posters, thesis, antithesis, synthesis [/tags]

ALA 230: Make the logo smaller

Happy Cog starts its publishing year with a great little issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Whitespace

by Mark Boulton

So you think you know all about whitespace. You may be surprised. Mark Boulton, type expert to the stars, shows how micro and macro whitespace push brands upscale (or down) and enhance legibility in print and online.

How to Grok Web Standards

by Craig Cook

For designers who find web standards as easy to grasp as a buttered eel, Craig Cook shows how to stop the hurting and turn on the understanding. Learn how web standards work, and why they are more than simply an alternative means of producing a visual design.

[tags]design, typography, whitespace, webdesign, webstandards[/tags]