Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rewriting history {or Butchering a classic}

If one is going to rewrite a paragraph of marketing copy, one might as well rewrite something that was worth reading in the first place. The following is my attempt to rewrite a classic Howard Gossage ad.


{The question isn’t should billboards be allowed to block your view, the question is should billboards be allowed at all.}

Billboards have been around for so long we’ve grown used to them. Most argue about where they are placed, or what is on them. No one thinks to wonder why they are allowed period.

Why is this? How have billboards acquired a right of way across our minds like they have over our views? Somehow outdoor advertising has become such an institution it requires conscious concentration to remember they have the same objective character as graffiti or other forms of vandalism. But while those messages are given the shrugging tolerance we grant juvenile delinquents, outdoor advertising is accorded the respect of an established industry. And it's become un-American to question them.


{how to look at billboards}

Howard Gossage

While it is easy to see billboards, it is hard to look at them objectively without getting bogged down in trivial or secondary criticisms; nevertheless let me try.

It is so strange that billboards exist at all that the current controversy about whether outdoor advertising should be allowed along federal highways achieves the unreality of a debate on whether witch burning should be permitted in critical fire areas. Apparently no one has thought to wonder just what in the hell billboards are doing anywhere.

Why do you suppose this is? It must be that billboards have somehow acquired an easement across our minds just as they have gained squatter’s rights on our visual air space. They’ve been there–everywhere–for a long time and we have grown used to them. It requires a conscious effort to recognize that a billboard has the same objective status as a “Jesus Saves” scrawled on a culvert of men’s room poetry; it is there by public sufferance. But there is this difference: while those other gratuitous messages are accorded the shrugging tolerance that we grant to eccentrics, outdoor advertising has come to be regarded as an institution like any other overtly respectable industry. This is where the confusion starts, for if one accepts this premise all sorts of preposterous assumptions seem worthy of consideration; indeed, it would be positively un-American to question them.


how to look at billboards

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