The Advertising For Peanuts Archives

Hi there. Welcome to the Advertising for Peanuts Archives.

In case you aren't familiar with the legendary advertising blog of the Oughts, here's a little back-story. I started AFP in in 2005. I was a hungry Chicago copywriter at the time and started posting the very best ads from around the world wide web, along with my own brief, astute and often hilarious commentary. Advertising for Peanuts quickly became a darling of the ad blogosphere and grew to have a modest following, with a few thousand people stopping by daily for their quick ad fix.

In these archives you will find over four years of advertising history and 850 bits of ad candy and wisdom. This blog got me fired from my first job and, hired at my second job and was a twisted labor of love for many years.

At the end of 2007 I took a job at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and no longer had time to feed the ad world's insatiable appetite alone, so I enlisted the help of some friends and industry pros to help offer daily meditations on the biz through 2008.

If you are an ad student, seasoned pro, or just been watching a lot of Mad Men lately, I think you'll find something of value in these pages. So dig around and enjoy. Thanks.

If you'd like to check out my work or contact me go here - http://davidlittlejohn.com/

Thanks to all

My hat is permanently off to Littlejohn for, among other things, having created and evolved this blog over the last few years. That’s a long life for any blog. And to have kept it vital the entire time is no mean feat.

As Littlejohn knows all too well, I am not a fan of the blahgosphere. I think that, while it does serve our collective need to communicate, it also serves to encourage a culture of self-importance and self-indulgence, it enables (in the negative sense) tons of unhealthy and wasteful behavior by people and businesses who would be better served getting a life or tending to their businesses. And it feeds the tendency to self-delusion that plagues thousands of would-be-if-they-could-be “writers”, “thought leaders”, “pundits” and so forth.

That being said, this blog has been a great experience for me. In particular, I’ve really enjoyed reading the posts of the other members of the peanut gallery, who have served up much to chew on. And it is thrilling to have gotten responses to some of my/our posts. For a person who has worked in the dark anonymity of advertising for almost 30 years, where we send out messages and never hear back from anybody, it is very gratifying and encouraging to read the thoughtful, funny and challenging things that many people have had to say in responding to my/our blatherings.

So I want to join Littlejohn and my fellow peanut gallery denizens in thanking every one of you who have consumed Advertisingforpeanuts.

Keep an eye on Littlejohn. You’ve not heard the last of that guy.

Next to lastly, in keeping with my decades-long tradition of exploiting every last opportunity to promote myself, let me offer two suggestions:

1) If any of you bloggers out there can find a way to make use of the random cantankerations (cantankerizations? cantankerosities?) of a grizzled ad guy, by all means let me know. I know just the guy, and he’s always looking for an outlet. (Is it slightly hypocritical to eviscerate the blahgosphere with one breath and pander to its population with the next?)

2) As a freelance copywriter, I am forever searching for new clients. I just can’t get enough of new learning curves and thorny communication problems. If you are, or you know anyone who is, in need of some powerful big thinking, or intended-for-human-consumption writing, whether you’re at an ad agency, design firm or a business of some sort, I encourage you to make contact. Keep in touch. Don’t be a stranger. Let’s have a conversation. You know where you can find me. Or, if you don’t, here’s where: jim@communicaterer.com.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this simple reminder regarding advertising. In the words of Chairman Jimmy, “Advertising, like a good brassiere, is designed to lift and separate.”

The Death of an Advertising Blog

(BOULDER, Co) - Advertising For Peanuts, the daily blog known to all its readers as the Consumer's Guide to Advertising, Media and Organic Produce, has died at the age of 3 (which, in blog years, was a good long life). Its final post was number 858. Its visitors total 1,211,743.

Advertising For Peanuts was born September 9th, 2005, in Chicago, Illinois. In its infancy AFP showcased daily the freshest and most innovative advertising found on the world wide web, accompanied by quippy comments via blog editor and creator Littlejohn (ad copywriter).

Above all, AFP always sought to highlight the good in each piece of creative, the part that makes the brain tingle. Some days AFP even offered a nugget of ad insight of its own. AFP never slammed, trashed or poo-pooed, and it always cited its sources. At its core, quiet simply, it was a place for ad nerds around the world to get their morning fix.

On November 11, 2007 Advertising for Peanuts found a new staff of esteemed writers and a grown up format: 7 columns, 7 writers, 7 days of the week. Each writer offered a unique perspective on the ad game, giving AFP a new depth, range and a varied voice. (It should be noted that, unlike Advertising For Peanuts, all of its writers are living and in good health. And perhaps, even interested in writing for your non-deceased blog. See their info to the right.)

You could say, in the end, that Advertising For Peanuts simply lost the will to live. But, while the blog itself might be dead, its content lives on forever, pingable and searchable by Google robots, in that great big archive in the cloud. So future generation can stumble upon the ideas and words written in these pages, only to realize this site actually has nothing at all to do with organic produce. Just another faulty search result in the ad blog blip of time.

Thanks to all of you, our loyal readers.
Feel free to pay your respects in the comments.

Advertising: the cottage (cheese) industry

In these troubled times, here’s a reassuring thought. Advertising may languish at times like these, but it will never die. Because, like so many other disciplines, the effectiveness of which is wide open to interpretation, advertising is too squishy to be pinned down—like cottage cheese. You can’t dismiss a discipline in its entirety, once and for all, if you can’t come up with irrefutable evidence of its worthlessness. Some advertising seems to work sometimes. And that is enough of a carrot to keep businesses coming back for more.

Disciplines that vanish are those that can be definitively disproven and discredited. Alchemy. Phrenology. That kind of stuff. But advertising, bless its heart, will always be able to make a plausible (but never airtight) case for its effectiveness.

The influencing of human behavior in a gross and macro manner can’t generally be tested and proven successful or unsuccessful. You can look at the numbers and find evidence of the effect of advertising, maybe, but other variables invariably muddy the waters. Not the least of which is the psychological/emotional variable that inclines both agency and client to interpret numbers sympathetically and optimistically, because they need to justify the time, money and effort invested in it.

Of course, direct marketing zealots will be quick to point out that their brand of advertising is absolutely measurable, and I concede that point to them. But that subdivision of the advertising community, it seems, will forever be just that—a subdivision—because, among other reasons, that form of advertising doesn’t seem to lend itself to softer emotional brand image/brand voice advertising that contributes, presumably, to the long term health of the brand. So far, no one has cracked the code on making an ad funny or touching or provocative while at the same time screaming “but wait, that’s not all!” and pounding away at the 800 number or URL.

What about all this online/interactive stuff that is being heralded by many as the future of advertising?

All this alternative/guerrilla/webby stuff suffers from many of the same limitations that traditional advertising does. The metrics that are used are mostly indirect—click through rates and other such dubious measures. But whether the website or the interactive game or whatever is actually enhances the brand or is responsible for an increase in sales is mushy stuff. Like cottage cheese, it’s slippery and squishy and it conforms to the container in which it is held.

I celebrate the cottage cheesiness of advertising because, as long as advertising appears to work, or, at least, doesn’t clearly not work, advertisers will advertise (though maybe not in the coming year, given the gloomy forecasts). And you and I will continue getting away with doing what we do.

A penny for your parallel thoughts

There is a kind of silly movie that came out in September called Eagle Eye. This movie relies heavily on the following device: the protagonist spends much of the movie being directed, via one electronic medium or another, to do this or that by a terrorist cell that has somehow secured control of every electronic network (ATMs, the electricity grid), including networked communication devices like news tickers and other electronic signs used to communicate.

So our hero glances at a news ticker on a building or some such thing, and is instructed to jump off a building or stop a train or whatever, in order to forward the terrorist plot.

The reason this idea of being able to instantly communicate with a single individual out in the world, using whatever medium is in his proximity at any given moment, interests me is that I’ve seen this idea executed by three different parties within the past month.

Here in the Chicago area, the Harris Bank has an ad campaign based on the idea of helpfulness, and has just started running a new set of spots that employs, basically, this same device. In one vignette, a guy bumps into a woman on the street who greets him by name, but he can’t recall her name. At that moment a bus passes by with a poster reading “Her name is Jane” or something to that effect. He reads the sign and greets her by name, thus being saved from an embarrassing moment. Each spot contains three or four of these helpful vignettes, always with signs of some kind providing a critical piece of information in the nick of time.

This month I also spotted a commercial from some other advertiser, the identity of which escapes me, that employs another facsimile of this same device.

Now, for all I know, this idea has been employed in the past by other advertisers. There are, after all, few new ideas. But it’s interesting that all three manifestations of the same device have occurred at virtually the same time.

The fact that all three popped up at the same time tells me that none of these three ripped the idea off from one of the others. This is not an example of bandwagon-jumping. It is, instead, just the most recent example of parallel thought, a phenomenon that most anyone who’s been in this business for any length of time, has experienced.

Being the victim of parallel thought can be very exasperating. How often have you presented an idea to your CD or a client, just to have essentially that same idea show up on TV or the web or whatever, sending you back to the drawing board?

What I’d like to know, but so far have no clue about, is exactly how this happens. Is it, in fact, pure co-incidence, because there are so many ideas being released into our culture at any given time that, inevitably, every now and then, two or three iterations of the same idea are bound to surface more or less simultaneously? What are the odds? I’d really like to know.

Or is there some other process at work, where by the probability of the occurrence of certain kinds of ideas is increased according to the nature and flow of our collective cultural conversation? Or is there some other organizing principal at work?

I have to think that some of you out there have given this phenomenon some thought. Any theories?

Sadly, not beckoned

I feel compelled to react to Littlejohn’s most recent post, in which he points a big arrow to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s latest project to make a film comprised of “lovely things” submitted by everyone so inclined.

I checked out the short film chronicling the event that inspired or kicked off this larger film project. At first, it did my hippie heart good, watching this charming story of an event that she caused last August in Millennium Park in Chicago.

But that hippie heart of mine has always been sort of half-hearted. I just can’t reconcile it with the darker part of me that finds emptiness, folly and/or hubris in most human undertakings. That part of me promptly filed Ms. Rosenthal’s project in the same bin where I store so many silly sentiments that pop up in our culture. Make love, not war. Music can change the world. Stuff like that.

It is refreshing, I suppose, and surprising, to come across such an innocent and optimistic enterprise. But, as a citizen of the ugly real world, I find my self backing away from the sentiment.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe I am terminally cynical. Maybe I’m old. Maybe it’s because, as I now realize, “lovely” isn’t in my vocabulary.

Whatever the reason, I just can’t bring myself to join this lovelyfest. My loss, no doubt.

I wish the project and its originator well, but I must recuse myself.

The Beckoning of Lovely.

In advertising, we get to make a lot of stuff: videos, posters, websites, widgets, booklets, characters, sometimes even new inventions. Making stuff is my favorite part of advertising. I think it's most people's favorite part. But it's rare that we ever get to make something that one would describe as lovely. Clever, funny, smart, fresh, innovative, these are the words that most often describe what we do. And sure, advertising has its lovely moments (Cog, Balls, Halo). But when was that last time you made something truly Lovely?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an Author, former "Ad Girl" and a skilled maker of stuff (you can see 17 things she made here.) Her latest project is a film called The Beckoning of Lovely. And she wants to use all the lovely things you've made to make it. Music, short films and videos, art, stories, lists, monologues, poems, sand castles, whatever it is you're making, if it's lovely, she wants it.

So, ad friends, this your chance to make something lovely, anything, and then, like we do in the ad biz, share it with the world. But this time you'll be making and sharing something, for the sake of sharing. A lovely thought indeed.

Watch how the Beckoning of Lovely project got started here.

And when you're ready to submit your lovely thing, go to whoisamy.wordpress.com