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An ad stopped me in my tracks the other day, though nothing about it seemed to stand out in a creative sense. The art direction was hardly engaging; the visual -- a half-smiling, chinos-clad woman in a wicker chair -- was nothing to write home about; and (let the hissing start) there was even a coupon, ferchrissakes. Clearly not Creativity material. No contender for any Pencils or Lions. And almost certainly the product of some hacky team secretly aspiring to greatness if only Nike would call. Or was it?

I dug the ad, which was for Land's End. The neutral art direction evidently intended to stay out of the way of the message, and that message was almost exclusively in the copy, of all things. Here was a piece of smart if unglamorous writing that reasoned with me to take an interest; an ad that didn't depend on eye candy and empty images, unlike the majority of apparel and fashion advertising. Instead, it gave me, in about 300 no-bullshit words, the rundown on why Land's End pants are better than the competition's. It was an ad that talked to me. Perhaps even talked me into it (and thus into those pants). It was also an ad that took its audience seriously, with a reasoned pitch and to-the-point factual arguments.

As a genre, those ads are now almost extinct. And that's a crime.

Advertising has become an art in which there's plenty of talk but precious little information, a profession that calls for a proliferation of snazzy images as copy is getting squeezed, marginalized and pushed out. That may be just dandy for parity products like cigarettes, gas or caffeinated soft drinks. But what if the advertiser has (or should have) something to say? For instance, with the exception of the Saturn print campaign, no car ads make elaborate copy points anymore. They all visualize concepts like 'safety' and 'freedom.' For real information, they send the consumer scurrying to find his own damn Consumers' Union and NHTSA data. This for a product on which people are expected to spend 20, 30 grand or more.

One reason consumers don't put much faith in advertising, I think, is that ads are now vaguer than ever before. Images can make for alluring reveries, but communicating the fine points of real product benefits often requires good copy

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