Why are we so captivated by advertising?

Everyone complains about having to sit through a bad ad before a movie. We complain about our public spaces being taken over by advertising, and we curse the name of whoever invented pop-up ads. But, for some reason, the world is still in love with advertising.

Ever since Mad Men premiered in 2007, there’s been an explosion of new advertising-related programming. There’s Terry O’Reilly’s “The Age of Persuasion,” Google’s “Project Re: Brief,” AMC’s “The Pitch,” and there’s even a new ad-world show that’s rumored to star Robin Williams in the works.

So what is it about stories from the advertising world that captivate us so much? Is it Don Draper’s cigarette smoke curling into the air? Is it Harvey Gabor’s incredibly infectious passion for the “buy the world a Coke” commercial? Or is it something else entirely?

I for one was pulled into the advertising field by an undying love of design and entrepreneurship. There’s no business that combines the two like this one, and this combination always keeps me coming back for more. But what about non-industry folks?

I think it’s about watching the process of discovery. When Bill Bernbach wrote “Think Small” for VW, or when Chiat/Day produced Apple’s “1984”, something profoundly new and different was created. Whether these ads are art or not doesn’t really matter: what’s important is that they’re revolutionarily different, and carry a monumentally simple idea.

Ideas like “Think Different” (Apple), “Where’s the Beef” (Wendy’s), or “Drive it like you hate it” (Volvo) are all such ideas. They challenge our perceptions of what a computer, fast food joint, or European automobile should be. They bring new meaning to old things, and many of them continue to influence our thinking to this day.

People love to be a part of something new. People want to be on the cutting edge, and by watching the creative directors and advertising execs who invented some of the most persuasive ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries, TV audiences get to be a part of that amazing process.

And that makes for some damn good television.

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