TOOmany voices tell us things. But for almost all of them one k apt to feel there is one excuse. They have messages they want to deliver, and if they shout or whisper enticingly to make sure those messages arrive in our ear, then that is a measure of their sincerity.
But to these one can oppose perhaps the loudest, and most beguiling, voice of them all— advertising. It seeks to persuade us, not because it has a creed to instil. but because its practitioners have been paid to make us buy things.
The B.B.C. must have felt sure its telephone lines would buzz when recently it invited Mr. Jack Wynne-Williams, president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, to sit in the hot seat of the "It's Your Line" show.
And all the tough questions which the practice of advertising invites came up, even if the final toughness seemed in the event to leak away. But there they were: What right has advertising to rouse people's wants? How can you justify using blatant sexual appeal to put over products with no sexual connotation at all?
These and others bounced up at Mr. Wynne-Williams. And. truth to tell, they were not by and large very directly answered. Mr. Wynne-Williams did defend his art, and trenchantly, but mostly from attacks not actually made on it there and then.
"Drab" was a favourite word of his. 1 counted it four or five times in different contexts, and his main defence of advertising appeared to consist in his claim that it makes our lives brighter.
He harked back once to the immediate post-war period and recalled the one-brand days of Pool petrol, "There wasn't much satisfaction in driving away with a tankful of Pool," he said.
Yet how odd, when you look at it clearly, to want from a petrol just sales-point satisfaction. Ah. the critics of advertising will say, but there is nothing else they can advertise about any particular brand since they are all the same, and that's why they are apt to promise you their sort will somehow make you into a sort of human stallion.
All the same there may be something to be said for Mr. Wynne-Williams' view. After all. a great many drivers do. no doubt, get. a real sense of satisfaction from filling up with a petrol linked to an advertising campaign of great flourish and brilliance. Mr. Wynne-Williams would say the world is better for that.
It probably is, too, a little. Advertising of that sort is a kind of entertainment, and a decent ration of entertainment is no bad thing. Johnson said of Garrick's death that it "impoverished the public stock of .harmless pleasure" and so one might mourn the passing of those ingenious bullet-hole car-window stickers or many another petrol campaign.
Except that Garrick one went to see of one's own volition while petrol advertising is thrust upon one, claiming its doubtfully necessary share of our millionfold-battered attention. But could it be stopped, even if the general consensus was that we would be better off without that clamour?
As a matter of practical politics, plainly large-scale advertising is not going to cease for many a decade to come, and even in a more Utopian world doubt if this tide could be turned back. One shout begets a louder shout and so it goes on, and will go on. So we are stuck with advertising, and can only hope to teach ourselves individually to practise a sort of Trappismin the-world and learn to notsee and not-hear touch that goes on around us. Or, failing this, perhaps one ought to enjoy all the clamour as fully as one can.
rather suspect that this is what Mrs. Mary Tuck might say. Mrs. Tuck is a former much respected copywriter with big agencies who now runs a consultancy for advertising firms, and she is a practising Catholic. Somewhat dissatisfied with Mr. Wynne Williams, I talked to her, with at the back of my mind the implied, and damnably naïve, question: "Can a conscientious Catholic work in advertising?"
There are some, I swear, who would answer "No" to that. Advertising is wicked, they would say. It arouses desires we would not otherwise have. It seeks to make us do things by persuasion.
To this last charge Mrs. 'luck brings a robust answer: anyone brought up a Catholic, she says, will know that persuasion of itself is not bad. Read the Psalms.
Her problem working in advertising, she found, was not whether the whole business of persuasion was morally inadmissible but how to make sure she could do the job as it ought to be done. Perhaps because of the factor of intangibility in advertising (What really persuades? How much are we affected?) more than the usual number of fingers seem to want to dip into the pie. Everybody thinks he knows best. and so doing the job on its own terms is not always easy. But this is what honesty in work Is.
Honesty is efficiency. That point of view I got also from another advertising person I consulted. This was Mr. Roy Charterton, whose aid I sought not from a moral so much as from an intellectual standpoint.
Mr. Charterton is an interesting case. After a very suc,:essful undergraduate career at Cambridge he found himself with the world at his feet but no particular calling for
any one job. So he waited, and he thought. And finally he plunged for advertising.
So no lack of intellectual rigour in his arguments in favour of the profession he eventually chose and in which he has now spent a quarter of a century. And the linch-pin of his contentions, to my mind, was precisely his insistence on the need for honesty. (food advertising, he believes, draws attention to the actual good qualities possessed by the goods advertised.
What. you say, old cynic that you are, even detergents which everybody knows to be exactly the same? Yes, answers Mr. Charterton, even detergents, because in fact they are not all exactly the same. There are in those mass-produced detergents factors which the manufacturers can adjust one against the other within the same cost limits. And these make the powders different.
Your average cynic reading advertisements which counter "Black° washes whiter" with "Dino washes cleaner" remarks, "Yah. both making the same claim for the same product in different boxes."
Not so. There is a difference between making garments whiter and getting more dirt out of them—a difference achieved by emphasising one fairly costly additive or another. And the advertising tells you precisely which powder will make your linen the way you happen to prefer it.
Advertising today, Mr. Charterton points out. goes even further than simply extolling qualities already there. It conducts research to see what qualities are wanted in goods. It thinks hard about why exactly a product is good and 'then sees that that particular goodness is preserved, enhanced and finally bruited abroad.
And to this he adds the standard argument that advertising permits mass sales and mass sales permit cheap prices. It is a good argument. Rancorous journalists are apt to decry "washing-machine civilisation" with the implication that people ought not to buy
coarse consumer goods hut to visit art galleries instead.
But in sober life you need your washing machine to give you time to visit the art gallery, and without a prospective huge market it would be impossible to produce a washing ' machine at a price many people could afford.
Advertising, Mr. Charterton went on to say—not without some modest hesitation — can really e democracy. rbaee ys. D e e naesm Democracy, cbc h ay! s oe dm says, should mean more than simply the right of political choice: it should mean the right of life-quality choice. And one of the main features in this is an abundance of alternative goods to choose from.
It was a heady picture. Yes, I asked him, but how many of the practitioners of advertising live on these lines? Or, how many are ready not to be honest in return for quick sales?
It was not a question that could he answered, But Mr. Charterton was prepared to make a guess. He thought that some 15 per cent of the advertisements used would not measure up to his standard.
At times, assaulted perhaps by some more than usually naked lady used to sell some more than usually asexual object, one might feel his figure was wildly out, that it should rather be that only 15 per cent of advertisements actually extol the good qualities of what they blazon.
But. in fact, good advertising men are well aware that a sex symbol can do their product harm: it makes you remember the advertisement and not the thing advertised.
Indeed, much play was made in the "It's Your Line" programme with the full-page nude that appeared in The Times not so long ago. and apparently no one was able to remember what she advertised. (But I could,) Mr. WynneWilliams told us there was even a technical term in the advertising trade for this sort of misfire: it is called a "vampire."
Well, perhaps vampires are to be found in advertisements rather more often than real vampires occur in real life. But on the other hand perhaps we ought to realise that they are not quite so prevalent as common-or-garden bats either.