What a Polish Marxist Can Teach Us About Advertising

Viewpoint: A Reminder to Look at the Human Side in a Digital Age

By Published on .

Mark Wnek
Mark Wnek
I read with sadness and fascination last week in The New York Times the obituary of a fellow Pole, Leszek Kolakowski.

Mr. Kolakowski was a philosopher who rejected Marxism and helped found the Solidarity movement in Poland. In 2003, Mr. Kolakowski, who was 81 when he died, became the first person to receive the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities.

This was an award from the U.S. Library of Congress given in a field where there are no Nobel Prizes. A great man, a vast intellect, but not exactly Ad Age fodder, you might think.

And largely you'd be right.

But it was the almost-forgotten field of "the humanities" that made me think about our business -- in particular, how excitement about the human side of things has become, dare I say, old school.

The more means to my end the better. The medium is the message? I'm afraid not.

Is the Cannes Grand Prix-winning Philips' "Carousel" exciting because it's interactive? It's exciting because it's a beautiful and perfectly crafted piece of advertising. Must everything be scientifically measurable? Yes, if rendering it measurable doesn't render it mediocre.

According to his Times obituary, Leszek Kolakowski gave a lecture in Australia in 1982 in which he said one role of philosophy was "never to let the inquisitive energy of the mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense ... never to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it."

You would have made a great creative director, Mr. K.

Mark Wnek is chairman-chief creative officer of Lowe, New York. He tweets at Twitter.com/markwnek.
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