I’ve read a lot of great books about advertising and marketing, but none even comes close to one I read as a teen. It still occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf.
It’s a 1972 text called “Madvertising (or Up Madison Ave.),” and it was created by the same geniuses who guided Mad Magazine through its glory years. Many of those writers and artists had cut their teeth in the advertising industry, and they used the book to skewer the many tricks and techniques major advertisers employ.
They had particular fun with the arguments put forth by copywriters. In a play on the promotional materials used by record clubs (if you’re under 45, that may need some explanation), the copy notes: “All records must meet our rigid specifications,” followed by an explanation of “They must be round and have a hole in the middle.” The copy goes on to say, “they are guaranteed to be brand new and have never been played. To be sure they have never been played, we play each one three or four times.”
They poke fun at those evil disclaimers at the bottom of ads — and mind you, this is long before automotive lease ads appeared. Take this round-trip airfare deal’s “mice type:” “Fly any Wednesday during Passover that the plane is less than 1/8 full, including the crew, and you must stay in Miami for at least two years, four months, three weeks, and five days and return on a windy Thursday in Lent on any flight that is carrying penguins as air freight.” I think that’s less restrictive than some of today’s airline deals.
The book explores everything from misleading headlines, to well-cropped photos, to packaging sins, to games played with statistics. And it includes my very favorite advertising strategy: “Nobody has ever died from eating our brand!”