Adventures in Adland

A post a year is not exactly brilliant but whatever – at least there is a post coming after one year… So over the winter holidays I managed to finish reading Adland by Mark Tungate, in all of his 2007 hardcover edition weight and dignity – how long since I haven’t bought an hardcover? I think there was no ebook version available yet when I looked for it, but I might be wrong (I noticed that now there is a new July 2013 edition, Kindle and paperback versions). Here it comes my review, ready to be copy pasted into Goodreads, Amazon, everywhere (joking, I just started again with Goodreads because it seems to me that aNobii is moving slowly, if not going downwards, which is sad because I like the service, without having been a heavy user).

Adland, full hardcover beauty, real paper!

Adland is a very well written story, and a rare example, perhaps still unique, of an history of advertising offering a global perspective (note that I haven’t done any serious bibliographic research, but I’m pretty sure that this book will stand out for a long time in any case).

I think that Adland is most fascinating when it comes to the portraits of men and women that have built and developed advertising over the decades. Tungate has interviewed many of them in preparation of his writing or he has talked to them elsewhere as it appears evident from his standing as a top class journalist. It’s a kind of paradox, but even if naming agencies after the founders is one of the more enduring practices in advertising, very often little is known of these people, and even more of co-founders, and the other most important collaborators, were they partners in the business or not (I mean, all of the great professionals beside the greatest starts, the David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, Bill Bernbach and so on, which do have an obvious prominent space in the book) – and then sometimes clients played a key role also (even if by and large this is an history from the agency side). Now, advertising means of production are people – well, raw material is culture if you wish, but it’s not a ready to use asset that you can buy on your own, as you would do with whatever commodity or manufactured good. You need people anyway to make it work! This is typical of professional services in general of course – which by the way are often not well covered by business histories as far as I know.

Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett in the nice B&W photo insert

On a critical note, I would say that the very last chapters are less convincing, or let’s say that even if they put it clearly about the total overhaul of the advertising world spurred by the Internet, there is no proper discussion as such. I read somewhere online about a possible “Adland 2” from Tungate so who knows, something not less robust on the topic might well be in the working.

PS: I’ve been always interested in the collective and often anonymous nature of many creative endeavours. Advertising I think is a typical example, in that often people experience artifacts with no mention of the authorship (which is very relevant instead in a trade or analytical perspective). Right on the topic, I’ll add here a shameful propaganda note to Advertising is the eye of the beholder, a personal side project based on Instagram and Tumblr.

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