Spent the first quiet Sunday afternoon I've had in awhile drinking cans of Schlitz beer and plowing through articles, photographs and ads my dad had written in the 1950s, '60s '70s and '80s.
I separated the stuff into two piles: The stuff I could bring myself to throw away (I'm sorry, Dad)—and the stuff I'd leave up to Scout to throw away.
But as I tenderly built that latter pile, I allowed myself to hope there would be a few items she might decide pass to her children. And I tried to decide which ones they would be.
In case she's ever reading my blog for guidance in the matter—and of course my blog will be on the Internet for eternity—my recommendation for a Tom Murray keeper is "the secret of advertising," which might as easily be called "the secret of communication."
Adorned by a photograph of a white mannequin head chipped away around one eye to reveal a real human beneath, it reads:
Each of us wears a Halloween mask all year long.
We have to, to keep our nerve endings hidden. To keep our hopes, our fears and our prides and prejudices, our irrationalities and our cry-buttons from hanging out for everyone to stare at.
Or step on.
We wear these shells to work, to lunch, to meetings, and to church. We always keep them handy for when friends drop in. And adjust them for which friends drop in.
It's this shell, whether it be button-down, Edwardian, or denim, that confuses a lot of us in advertising. If we're not careful, we find ourselves writing to the mannequin, instead of to the man inside, which often makes our ad cute but not convincing, beautiful but not believable, "swinging" but without substance.
Shell-talk forgets that inside each of us , no matter how old or young we are, is a person who is worried about his money, his age, his happiness, his family, and whether people like him. Or hate him. Or worse, simply ignore him.
The secret of advertising, then, is to crack the shell, to talk to the man inside the man.
Simple it is, but easy it isn't.
It takes an uncommon understanding of people, great sensitivity and skill, and the discipline to use them every single time.
But it means the difference between an ad someone skips over and an ad someone reads all the way to the end.
Postscript: The life-size mannequin head in the photograph sat on a shelf in my dad's darkroom throughout my childhood, and it occurs to me that this object, and the idea it was made to convey, probably did as much as anything to make a communicator out of me. What, I'd like to hear, made a communicator of you? —DM