The Ads Epidemic | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

The Ads Epidemic 

Infectious cliche runs rampant, strikes copywriters in their prime!

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The epidemic might have gone largely unnoticed had it not been for the inspired work of a tireless research team who just last month uncovered the insidious ill now subtly contaminating America.

"All we know now," reflects the team leader, Dr. Zygmunt Figment, "is that the condition seems to be confined to one demographic group, namely advertising copywriters. It's characterized by a sudden compulsion to write--in a headline, theme, or tag line--the double entendre We Mean Business or a variant of it."

In searching for the origins of this yet unnamed and seemingly irrepressible affliction, the researchers appear to be at odds in their conclusions. Most speculate that the Reagan administration, with its tacit enshrinement of unprincipled and remorselessly cruel business practices, unleashed the pathogen--giving license to the indiscriminate joining of the word Mean to the word Business. Others trace the genesis of the contagion to a single copywriter, infamous for his frequent, market-hopping job changes. It's surmised that over the course of decades he repeatedly infected his various art-director partners with the idea, and that indeed, he is responsible for the very first isolated case, a 1940s Ford Motors ad unearthed last July. Little stock is put in this theory, though, since the great profusion of We Mean Business ads didn't surface till the 80s. Yet another farfetched theory, espoused by a tiny but vocal splinter group, holds that the malaise is simply a congestion of the ad writer's bent for falling into the grasp of the obvious, or the grips of plagiarism. Naturally, this simplistic notion is given short shrift by experts.

"The condition has become so widespread," laments Figment, "that it seems to have surpassed as the 80s' most infectious ad cliche such stubbornly resilient strains as the Shaky-Fakey-8mm-Home-Movie commercial, the Old-Song New-Lyric formula, and the Slow-Motion-Multiple-Hug spot, not to mention the headline 'Food for Thought' and the slogan 'A Commitment to Excellence.'

"Today, the communicability has so exacerbated," adds Figment, "we're witnessing manifestations such as We Mean Business ads for De Paul Business School and Digital Equipment actually adjoining on the same newspaper page. Who caught it from whom, we haven't yet ascertained.

"Whether the epidemic will continue its apparently inexorable march into the 90s, or whether the virus will invade the general population, we can only guess. But one thing we do know. Stopping the spread of this rampaging chestnut before the next century begins is our first order of business. And we mean it."

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