Art & Copy misses its own point

Doug Pray attempts to sell advertising to audiences in his latest film

It’s hard to peg down the message in director Doug Pray’s latest documentary Art & Copy. There’s no cause to champion, no historic precedence, not even a controversial notion. Instead, the audience is engaged in a brief, candid discussion on the ad industry's evolution and the successes that the changes spawned.

Art & Copy is essentially a series of one-on-one interviews with some of the ad industry's innovators and trendsetters. Pray masterfully stitches together an open forum on creativity, its genius, and its impact with past and present ad directors and copy writers responsible for some of the world’s most popular ad campaigns. While the faces, names and companies may draw a blank for the average viewer, one immediately connects with the dialogue about their various successes.

We’re introduced to industry greats such as George Lois, a now-retired art director who looks more like a boxer than an ad man. In his heyday, Lois shocked the magazine world as art director for Esquire. He was responsible for some of its most controversial and memorable covers, such as the Muhammad Ali/Saint Sebastian cover and the Andy Warhol “Drowning in Soup” cover. Lois describes advertising as a “poison gas” that can make the person affected get the chills, choke you, make you cry, and maybe even make you pass out. Consequently, Lois is also the man behind MTV’s “I want my MTV!” campaign, and created the hype that spawned the success of designer Tommy Hilfiger as well.

There's Phyllis K. Robinson, one of the business's first female copy directors; Mary Wells, the brain behind the “mod” Braniff Airlines campaign; and art director Lee Clow, whose agency created one of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time: Apple’s “1984” commercial, which officially launched the Macintosh computer system. Others of note include Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who implemented the “Got Milk” campaign, and Dave Kennedy and Josh Weiden of the Wieden & Kennedy agency, creator of Nike's “Just Do It” slogan.

The stories behind the various ad campaigns featured in the documentary provide a glimpse into the creative process and provoke a larger conversation about what spawns innovation and creativity. Nostalgic print ads and TV commercials interspersed throughout the ad men’s stories help to solidify their points. Unfortunately, the documentary falls short when it comes to actually analyzing the campaigns' impacts.

Between the various case studies, Pray provides a slew of statistics about advertising’s effect on society, like how the average American watches about 61 hours of advertisements per day, more than 1,351 HD channels worldwide, and how that number will increase by 305 percent over the next four years. It's unclear whether Pray's criticizing consumers and the ad men or if he’s still describing the evolution of advertising. What is clear is that some answers are missing to tie the whole thing together.

Pray obviously wants to illuminate the impact of advertising on popular culture, but his point becomes increasingly harder to interpret as the film progresses with all the seemingly intentional distractions. Art & Copy will likely become required viewing for industry insiders and advertising students, but offers little insight to those of us on the outside.