Advertising has received some pretty rough treatment in movies over the years. Advertising characters in the movies have problems. They have trouble dealing with the truth. And they can’t seem to manage their family and/or personal relationships. Here’s are some movies that, I think, illustrate my point.
The Hucksters, 1947: Clark Gable is Victor Norman. In this film Vic invests $35 for a “sincere” tie to make him appear worthy of a high paying position at an advertising agency. He gets a shot at managing THE BEAUTEE SOAP account. His client vividly demonstrates how he thinks advertising works. He spits on the conference room table. “Mr. Norman, you’ve just seen me do a disgusting thing. But you will never forget it.” He further explains that advertising must “Irritate. Irritate. Irritate.” Vic must find a way to keep his integrity and keep this client happy.
The Man in a Grey Flannel Suit, 1956: Gregory Peck is a Madison Avenue Public Relations man. He is uncomfortable with the deceptions that are a routine in his work. Ultimately, he finds the truth liberates him, in his career, with his family, and dealing with his past.
Twelve Angry Men, 1957: This classic movie, staring Henry Fonda, is about jurors in deliberating in a murder trial. It features, on the jury, a pretty dramatic specimen of a wishy-washy and spineless advertising man. He’s the one most willing to be swayed by popular opinion. “Run it up the flagpole, see if anyone salutes.”
North by Northwest, 1959: Gary Grant is an advertising man. When he’s about to be roped into a special assignment with the CIA he says: “Look here, I’m an advertising man not a red herring. I have a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders dependent upon me.” In another scene, he tells his secretary: “In the world of advertising there’s no such thing as a lie. There’s only expedient exaggeration.”
Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979: Dustin Hoffman is Ted Kramer, a creative director, who’s just been handed big THE MID ATLANTIC AIRLINES account. Ted’s wife, (Meryl Streep), announces that she is leaving him and their 7-year-old son. Ted loses his job while trying to be a single parent. One memorable scene shows Ted desperately interviewing for a job the Friday before Christmas with an office party as a backdrop.
Lost in America, 1985: Albert Brooks plays a man fed up with the rat race and convinces his wife to travel across country in a recreactional vehicle. This hero ultimately must return to the business he knows in order to survive.
Nothing in Common, 1986: Tom Hanks is a hot shot creative director who’s just been handed the COLONIAL AIRLINES account. He risks loosing everything to attend to his father in the hospital.
Crazy People, 1990: Dudley Moore finds himself in a mental institution where he discovers telling the truth in advertising is a big idea. His mental patient mates are recruited with a show of hands. “Who wants to be an ad man?” The show of hands is impressive until Dudley follow’s up with “Who wants to be a fire truck?” gets a similar response.
Twelve Angry Men, 1997: This movie was remade with an all-star cast. The wishy-washy ad man remains a timeless classic.
It’s enough to make you wish you sold used cars for a living.