In the last Stay Free!, I did a brief history of anti-advertising, i.e. ads that make fun of advertising. Sprite's "Image is Nothing," Miller Lite's Dick, and since then: Camel's, Continental Airlines, M&M's anti-millenium ads, they're all over.
Since advertisers supposedly hate ads so much, and since selling is such a burden, I thought it would be funny to offer them a chance to create real anti-ads? That is, to create the most scathing and pointed attacks on advertising possible--product not included. In other words, to call their bluff, and to publish the results. Because some of the people who make these ads--"with it" young hipsters--honestly believe they're subverting from within, it wasn't going to be a clear-cut "no thanks." Granted, Stay Free! wasn't going to draw many contributors, not because we're too "radical," but obscure. Ad "creatives" would want props, water-cooler action no mere zine could deliver. Ideally, the article should be for a national magazine, something credible (or, at least, readable). Unfortunately, editors weren't interested. The rejects piled up; three lifestyle mags, four if you count Harper's, and an advertising trade mag were all underwhelmed. That left two options: my more or less regular spot in the Village Voice--which didn't seem appropriate--or Stay Free! Of course, approaching creatives from an unknown zine meant we'd need something else to win their attention. Thus: Vance.
Up until around that time, Vance Packard was one of the people I'd read about but never read. I bought his classic, Hidden Persuaders (1957), as soon as he died and let it sit on my shelf for a couple of years. Since he was often lumped in with Wilson Bryan Key (Subliminal Seduction) as a conspiratoral, sensationalist type, I pretty much wrote him off. Hidden Persuaders turned out to be great, though. Sure, it had its flaws. But considering his critique of consumer culture was hugely popular brought its own kind of jolt. Packard helped popularize a critique of advertising which was quickly absorbed with ads about advertising (or what we're loosely calling anti-ads). His heyday now safely past, I figured he'd make a perfect camp icon.
Back up: Instead of pitching this as an article, it needed a little more excitement. So the article became a celebration, the "First Annual Memorial Tribute and Festival of VANCE." After hours hunting down the people responsible for the Dicks, the M&Ms "millenium" hype, etc., I (with the help of a friend who knows honest-to-god ad people) carefully crafted a letter to make the VANCE project sound as appealing as possible. Made a flyer, dug up some prizes, the works!
Ultimately, to cut to the chase--surprise--no one responded. Well, ok, one of the Miller beer team called and invited me to smoke crack with him but that was it. He didn't even return my call (though this was probably my fault for being in a coma when I droned into his machine about preferring watery, domestic urine to crack). At any rate, the next time someone tells me the creators of Dick et al. are really trying to subvert The Man, I'll have one word for them: VANCE.
The prize for submitting anti-ads: a limited-edition VANCE wrist watch. Perfect for any occasion. Can you believe anyone would pass a beauty like this up??on the job
on the town
YOU MISSED OUT, PEOPLE!!!