Mental Floss

A Documentary for People Who Love 'Mad Men'

Ransom Riggs

I didn't really think the world of advertising was all that fascinating -- until I started watching Mad Men a few years ago. Now I can't get enough. That's why I was thrilled to stumble upon a documentary that premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival called Art & Copy. It features really illuminating, no-holds-barred interviews with a lot of people who today are considered the pioneers of modern advertising, and who came of age in the Mad Men era. People like George Lois, the loud-mouthed and brilliant guy who came up with Volkswagen's legendary "Think Small" campaign. And the guys who came up with "Got Milk?" -- which everyone thought was a dumb idea, until someone realized it was brilliant. And the guys who did "Where's the Beef?" -- which the client almost killed a week before it aired, and went on to become one of the most remembered and loved commercials of the past thirty years.

It's also a fascinating look at how much advertising has changed since the sixties and seventies. Back then, city-dwellers saw an average of about 1,000 ads a day. Now it's more like 5,000. Isn't that insane? That's why 65% of Americans say that they feel "constantly bombarded by advertisements." Which speaks to another point that Art & Copy and its interviewees argue rather well -- which is that, yes, there are plenty of crappy ads out there, that are offensive and stupid and appeal to the lowest common denominator, but when advertising really works, when it really does all it can do, it rises above crass commercialism and becomes a work of art. You know those Toulouse-Lautrec prints you see all over the place these days? A lot of those were posters he made -- advertisements that were printed and pasted around Paris, to try and induce people to come to certain cafes and bars and pay the cover charge. They were ads, and now they're art. So where do you draw the line?