“The Conversation” Has Been Integral To Advertising For Decades

The ever-generous Tom Asacker sent me a serious looking hard bound book, The Ad Men and Women: A Biographical Dictionary of Advertising, edited by Edd Applegate.
I finally cracked the tome and read the chapter on Howard Luck Gossage, written by academic Kim B. Rotzoll.
Here is a passage I particularly like (from page 160):

They (advertising practitioners) regard the audience incorrectly—as individuals gathered by the media to read or watch something else, the non-advertising content. Thus, advertisers never think of the assembled as their audience and, hence, feel no particular obligation to them—as, for example, does the actor. Given this erroneous premise, Gossage asserted, all sorts of sins are permissible—mind-dulling repetition, vapid messages, every conceivable abuse of taste.”

I’m thinking Gossage would have liked the internet—it’s a place where advertisers can run their own content.

Columnist Alan Cundall noted, “the three Gossage trademarks: the indirect approach using long copy, the frivolous contest, and the reply coupon.” Here too we find telltale signs that Gossage would have been an internet man. Long copy, frivolous contests and coupons! Are you kidding me? Coupons means tracking. Gossage charged a premium for his commodity products, namely his firms’ ads. He had to make them worth the money and that meant then, as it does now, return on investment.
Less we think Gossage’s style simple, Rotzoll argues that it’s merely “surface dressing of a deep-seated communication philosophy.” Gossage believed “advertising should be involving for the audience. That they should be offered some reward for partaking of the message, be it entertainment, information or simply the satisfaction of message-producing curiosity.” He also said that “truly involving advertising begins when you establish a ‘conversation’ with the audience via response mechanism.”
A man before his time was Gossage. Were he alive today, I believe he wouldn’t just like the internet, he’d love it. It’s democratic, can hold infinite copy and consumer generated contests are commonplace.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.