Category Archives: Reference Library

There Are 12 Kinds of Ads in the World

From Slate:

There Are 12 Kinds of Ads in the World
Resist them all!

In 1978, Donald Gunn was a creative director for the advertising agency Leo Burnett. Though his position implied expertise, Gunn felt he was often just throwing darts—relying on inspiration and luck (instead of proven formulas) to make great ads. So, he decided to inject some analytical rigor into the process: He took a yearlong sabbatical, studied the best TV ads he could find, and looked for elemental patterns.

After much research, Gunn determined that nearly all good ads fall into one of 12 categories—or “master formats,” in his words. At last year’s Clio Awards, I saw Gunn give a lecture about these formats (using ads mostly from the ’70s and ’80s as examples), and I was fascinated by his theory. I soon found myself categorizing every ad I saw on TV. It was a revelation: The curtain had been pulled back on all those sly sales tactics at the heart of persuasive advertising.

This slide show presents some recent ads exemplifying each of Gunn’s 12 basic categories. With a little practice, you, too, will be ticking off the master formats during commercial breaks.

Check out the story at Slate to see the slideshow.

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You Are A Captive Audience

Here’s some miscellaneous links about advertisers seeing people in their everyday lives as a “captive audience” for their sales pitch. Enjoy!


FillboardFillboard specializes in “handheld outdoor advertising” meaning they put ads on the pumps at gas stations. The site explains, “consumers interact with your with your ad during the 3-5 minute refueling process.” (What definition of interaction are they using?) And later boasts, “90% of respondents correctly recalled Fillboard advertising.” I think we can attribute some of this recognition to the initial shock of seeing advertising on a gas pump. This, of course, is the problem with ad creep; it works at first but eventually people stop noticing it. Then advertisers look further for places to put their messages, like escalator handrails, airplane overhead bins, eggs, bathroom urinals, stalls, and (soon) mirrors. Eventually Fillboards will become like all the other advertising media that surrounds one at a gas station, just more garbage.

Movie Theater Advertising

Another venue where people become a literal captive audience is at the movie theater. Where one used to expect hearing some music and seeing previews, most theaters in the past 5 years have begun playing promotional audio, and showing advertising not only during the previews, but from the moment the theater doors open. Bring this up at a party and it seems everyone has a complaint about ads before movies they’ve paid to see. In fact, recently a woman sued a Lowe’s theater for false advertising because the advertised show time and the actual show time differed drastically because of pre-movie advertising.

An AAA Blog reader sent me a post she wrote about pre-movie advertising which goes into some history and includes a great page from Kevin Murphy’s recent book, but I’ll let you see it for yourself. Speaking of fighting back…

Corporate Vandals Not Welcome

Corporate Vandals Not WelcomeI’ve been meaning to write about this for months and I’m a little embarrassed it’s taken this long. Corporate Vandals Not Welcome is a grass roots sticker campaign to go over illegal advertising. Companies attempting to buy legitimacy will pay “street teams” to put up posters, stickers, and other promotional materials illegally. The laws are loosely enforced (if at all) and the marketing firms incorporate fines into their budgets. All the while individual artists and graffiti writers putting up stickers of their own are called criminals, beaten, fined, and given jail sentences. Corporate Vandals Not Welcome’s message is simple and clear, and the stance (“we have declared open season on corporate vandalism”) is refreshing. While I’m sure the owners of the site would prefer to remain anonymous I’m going to assume they won’t mind if people borrow the message for their own campaign. Check out the site and get to it!

photo courtesy: PSFK

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So Happy Together?

dylan undiesJust as toxic sludge creeps into the groundwater that communities unwittingly drink, so advertising has crept into the music of our lives. What is it about music and advertising running off into the sunset together that makes me uncomfortable? And why is it that whenever the topic is broached, a fight ensues between vehement opposition and lackadaisical shrugging?

Given that this is a huge topic that needs a decent exploration, I’m going to take my time and explore it in chunks, appropriate, since favorite songs in advertisements often make chunks rise in my throat.

Music and advertising didn’t always go together. There were jingles (my dad can still sing all of them from his childhood) and their were songs, and ne’er the two did mix. As Carrie McLaren wrote in a piece called “Licensed to Sell” in the Village Voice in 1998, it wasn’t until Nike bought the rights to the classic Beatles song “Revolution” (sold by the imitable Michael Jackson) that companies really caught onto the emotional capital exposed by popular music. Read More »

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XXL Stencil Instructions

Advertisement Mural As promised, I’ve posted more instructions on how to do some previous projects – tools, techniques, and tricks . This round I explain how I made extra large, clear stencils to paint out poster advertising in the Mission District of SF in 2000. Because it can be done in high traffic areas in the light of day, I think this technique has a lot of potential to be used or built upon by readers of this site. It’s inexpensive, low risk, fast, and high-impact – check it out!

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If only we’d thought of it…

czech dream thumb

In May 2003, two young filmmakers disguised as “managers” cut the red ribbon and invited 3,000 people to clamor greedily towards a hypermarket that was, in fact, just a tromp-l’oeil billboard.

A long, professionally developed and beautiful ad campaign so persuaded guests that they were shocked when the golden promise of 10 cent mineral water turned out to be a hoax. The tangible result was not money saved and products purchased, but the film Czech Dream, which I am hereby officially recommending to you.
Watching it is an education in the marketing process, as well as an insight into why advertising is so incredibly lucrative. In a film filled with hopeful but disempowered people (like all of us), the ability to spend money, and the opportunities to spend it well, are often the only ways we feel truly powerful.

Czech Dream is now playing at IFC Center in New York City. Check your local listings for wherever you live. If it’s not in your area, it’s also on DVD.

More on Czech Dream from Stay Free!

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Quick and Dirty Low-Tech Ad Buffer

Ad Buffer

I posted an improvised ad-buffing tool I made recently onto instructables. It costs less than $6 and can obscure advertising up to 12 high (or higher if you find an extending pole). It’s not the most sophisticated, but it gets the job done. Please, make your own and put it to use!

I might post some other instructions on covering advertising in the near future. They will be posted here.

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Webs of Empowerment

little girl who knows whats upI wasn’t sure what I was going to think about the following website. After all, we third wave feminists are always at each others throats for being the “wrong kind” of feminist, since through the past 30 years there have been fads in believing every tangent of contradiction possible.
But the website About-Face, I think, is a unifying force. The blog is great, with much-needed cultural critiques of everything from television to women’s gym habits. Best of all is the Hall of Offenders, where especially misogynistic or chauvinist ads are not only displayed but also dissected piece by offensive, denigrating piece. About-Face also realizes that the other hand of critique is activism, and thus has sections of ways you can Fight the Patriarchial Hegemony (I don’t want to just fight the Man, I want to fight the system, dude/ttes!) But I really think this section needs our help. There are more creative and attention-grabbing methods of fucking with Glamour magazine than writing a complaint letter. Luckily, About-Face has a bulletin board for new proactive ideas to get at ’em.
I think all of us would be better with a little About-Face surfing now and then (men included!)

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George Saunders on Stay Free!

Stay Free! has a nice interview with George Saunders, author of In Persuasion Nation. His book is on my “to read soon” list, but I’ve heard a few interviews with him and have been impressed with his thoughts on advertising and culture.

Here’s some excerpts from the Stay Free piece:

STAY FREE!: When you look at American culture today; commercialism, reality TV, the war, all the things that are in your stories – what do you see? What is your diagnosis?

SAUNDERS: I’ll give you a couple answers. One, there’s a cultural divide between the people at the top and the people underneath. So, in commercials: who’s making them? A handful of people. Why are they making them? To persuade us to buy things. There’s a group of people who have the power to broadcast and to put this huge machine at their disposal – this very beautiful machine that can make incredible images and sounds – and then there’s the rest of the population, which is “done to.” I would say that the gap between the doers and the done to is wider than it’s ever been.

and another:

SAUNDERS: On the other hand, I think it’s kind of funny, kind of joyful, kind of crazy – so I can look at it both ways. The point of the book really wasn’t, “Let’s ban advertising,” but just to sort of wallow in it a bit and come out a little more aware that these things aren’t really neutral.

Maybe another advantage of living a long time is you see the way the tonality of commercials has changed, even in my lifetime. And it’s not neutral and it’s not random. It’s very deliberate in the sense that somebody’s deciding to make these commercials and shows more aggressive, more hateful, more agitating. I don’t know why. I’m sure it’s very complicated.

This is just a taste. You can read the whole Saunders interview on Stay Free’s site. And of course there is Saunders’ actual books.

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New Lauren Greenfield video on NY Times

Lauren Greenfield

I was recently reminded of the work of Lauren Greenfield (wikipedia) when I came across an excellent video she made for the New York Times Magazine.

Her photography show, “Girl Culture,” was at a museum in Tucson several years ago when I coincidentally wandered in and became a fan on the spot. My wife and I were stunned by how the show was so powerful, insightful, and subtle all at once. Greenfield’s work spoke volumes by collectively presenting various moments in women’s lives for the viewer to consider. The combined effect of all the photos created a new context in which one could look at the culture. Check out the “Girl Culture” section of her website for more.

It’s my understanding that Greenfield considers herself a journalist before a photographer, so it makes sense that she has moved into video. The “Kids & Money” short for the Times is a 14 minute piece where kids in Los Angeles talk about their relationship to money, buying things, and how this impacts their interpersonal relationships. The first interview features two wealthy girls who talk about “four figure” bags and consider shopping a personal hobby (which made my stomach turn a bit). The other subjects come from various economic backgrounds and each story is troubling in its own way.

One of my former professors believed that adults tend to dismiss the media’s personal effect on them and wouldn’t truly consider the impact of the media and advertising until they thought about its effect on children. If that’s the case, this video will get a lot of people thinking. Highly recommended – check it out.

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No more junk mail!

Junk mail is annoying. This is obvious, it’s why it’s called “junk.” It’s also why my friend Bob’s worst enemy signed him up to every mass marketing campaign as part of a prolonged vendetta which also includes logging a noise complaint every time he plays music in his apartment (which I have to admit is pretty clever!)

junk mail sculpture

Junk mail sucks. It moves around your house like a plague because you feel bad throwing it out, but you never want it, so it’s simply perpetual clutter that seems to mysteriously self-replicate.

Luckily, (unless you’re part of the 1.9% of people that really appreciates receiving AOL ads in the mail) a movement is springing up to eradicate the junk. New American Dream is at the forefront. In a rare move for an organization, they decided not to be hypocritical(!) and abstained from the unsolicited membership drive mail-out. While doing this, they started an action plan to get rid of junk mail entirely.

Go here for a list of proactive ideas to get you started and sign the petition for a federal do not mail registry!

(Junk Mail Abrams Tank by Burtonwood & Holmes)

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City fights illegal gig posters with CANCELLED stickers

In a remarkable “Plate of Shrimp”/cosmic unsconsiousness type event, this popped up on BoingBoing today.

City fights illegal gig posters with CANCELLED stickers

The city council of Glasgow is fighting illegal handbills with science: they’re paying city workers to go around and stick “cancelled” stickers on all the illegal gig posters put up around town. Staff who patrol the city every working day spotting new posters and marking them are now a central part of the council’s £100,000 a year war on flyposting.


And other workers have been issued with “cancelled” stickers which make it clear the ad has been banned by the council. And they have already had an impact on some rogue promoters who have been inundated with complaints from music fans. People who have bought tickets to some of this summers big gigs have complained, thinking that an event, rather than the advert, had been cancelled.

Link (Thanks, Jono!)
(Photo thumbnail ganked from a larger pic credited to Jamie Simpson)

I had seen a circus poster in the subway with a “CANCELLED” sticker over it in NY last month. It was the only one I saw and it made me wonder if it was fake. Then I thought… anyone could do that! Which turned into another idea that will materialize at Conflux this September. Oh the suspense…

(thanks Mark.)

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Oprah, baby, please let me DeTouch you…

My Mom recently expressed exasperation at a toothy magazine cover of Oprah Winfrey. “She’s the same age as me, so why doesn’t she have bags under her eyes and everything else?”
The answer is, of course, the vanity tag-team of plastic surgery and photo airbrushing! Thanks to Evan Roth, a senior fellow at the Eyebeam OpenLab, my mom can soon see EXACTLY where Oprah’s eye baggage is hidden. Roth’s project, DeTouch, uses the open-source technology, Processing, to deconstruct magazine retouching pixel by pixel. Using before and after photos, DeTouch uses algorithms to map the precise aspects of the “before” photo that were deleted, added or changed by the retouch artist.
This program is an essential media literacy tool, especially for young women who might put their natural bodies at harm to mimic the fantasy world that gleaming glossy magazine covers create. With scary television shows that treat plastic surgery treatments to be as blasé and normal as buying a new pair of shoes, DeTouch provides a reality check that we all desperately need.

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The Sweet Failure of a Pork Barrel Valentine

Katrina Smashed Billboards

The imperative Iraq budget is long overdue, so doesn’t it make sense that Congress should spend hours discussing the oldest federal law regulating billboards, the 1965 Highway Beautification Act?

This unlikely coupling was courtesy of Senator Harry Reid, who, admidst the thoughts of blood, debt and destruction abroad, folded in a big wet kiss to our advertising boys here at home.

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“Hey girl, that’s a nice stick you’ve got there!”

Note: This post was contributed by guest writer, Emily Gallagher. She’ll be covering news about ad creep, artists projects, and other items of interest to us here at the Anti-Advertising Agency. This will allow us to keep the site active while I work on other things (as well as some upcoming surprises from the AAA). If you have a tip for Emily or would like to make a contribution of your own, please contact us. –Steve Lambert

Instant Trash Good news! Former Boeing executive Tom Burns has solved two of North America’s most pressing problems in one little, instantly disposable product! Yes, now coffee shops will FINALLY have a place to promote their business while preventing scalding drips of coffee from sloshing out of a to-go cup’s sippy hole. StixToGo, the answer to our prayers, is a thick plastic plug with an enormous eye-level protuberance to stick an advertisement on. One can guess that the plug will remain in the sippyhole for a duration of 5 seconds, but the website avoids using the phrase, “instant pieces of junk” and assures us that customers and coffee house owners love StixToGo. Read More »

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Graphic Imagery

I just came across this video. When we posted our Light Criticism video last month, a lot of people wondered how it was possible that city dwellers see over 5,000 advertisements each day (source). This video may help.

“Kapitaal is a typographical stroll throug a Dutch city revealing the influence of graphic design.” Kapitaal is a a project based animation made by Ton Meijdam, Thom Snels, and Bla Zsigmond for Museum De Beyerd, Dutch Museum for Graphic Design. It was also shown at Version>06 in Chicago.

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