Or: Why I Don't Do Ad Clubs Anymore
I was once kicked off my local Ad Club board. We were affiliated with the AAF and did all the usual Ad Club stuff that the rest of them do; monthly luncheons with speakers, Addy Awards, and other self-congratulatory ego orgies. I was living in Springfield, Missouri at the time. To you big city dwellers, I know that’s a laughable place - flyover country - but believe it or not, Springfieldians are very proud of their area and actually look down on LA and NY.
Forty-five miles south of Springfield is Branson, Missouri, the hillbilly tourist town filled with unknown country artists, go-carts, miniature golf courses, real golf courses, funnel cakes and vacation timeshares. Branson had experienced an explosion of growth in the 90s that turned it into an out-of-control Mecca for blue hairs on tour buses and other aficionados of American tastelessness. Everyone was capitalizing on the sudden success, cracked wide-open by a feature on 60 Minutes
. Springfield renamed their airport Springfield-Branson. One tiny town that neighbored Branson, called Lakeview, decided they’d be better known as Branson West. Highway 65, a well trafficked Missouri corridor and the main entrance to Branson, was sprouting new billboards every week, each new one more hideous than the last, with loud colors and hideous close-ups of washed-up has-beens and never-weres like Andy Williams, Tony Orlando, Yakov Smirnoff or John Davidson, staring down at you with gleaming, capped and bleached smiles.
And then along came a state proposition that recommended the eventual halt of new billboard construction. I liked the idea.
The Ozarks are really quite pretty, and that stretch of Highway 65 between Springfield and the Arkansas border was becoming (to me, anyway) an eyesore of crass commercialism. I'm no tree-hugger, but it was really out of control, enough so that I decided to flip off all my commercially minded colleagues and support the proposition publicly. Tipping the scales for me was the club telling me that our official position as an AAF affiliate was total opposition to the proposition. Tell me how to think or how to vote? Damn, you've just stepped all over the liberty we cherish in this country and awakened the revolutionary in me
. So I wrote a piece for the newspaper that ran with my picture and the caption, “Jetpacks is a VP of the Springfield Ad Club.” It basically said, "We've got enough f-ing billboards now. Support Prop A." It ran in the local paper as well as in the Kansas City Star. It took the Kansas City AAF brass about ten minutes to call down to the local chapter and inform them that I was unfit to continue in my capacity on the Ad Club board, having just embarrassed them by using an AAF Club in my byline and mentioning that august organization in my article. I was now a traitor to the trade. But by that point, I was glad to be gone. Ad Club functions are generally just incestuous business card exchanges where the old divorced AE guys hit on the hot young AE girls. Oh, sure, they do some good with their annual contribution to the Ronald McDonald House or whatever, but by and large, it’s just a circle jerk and a chance to snipe about the local hot shop that always cleans up at the awards. Or if you’re lucky, a chance to land a job at that hot shop.
So, anyway, the proposition went on to be narrowly defeated. I’m sure if you drive that stretch of Ozarks highway today you’ll face a stacked and blazing gauntlet of cheap, ugly and loud billboards all shouting at you from the hills. There’s money to be made all around.
I’m never going to convince people like those on that ad club board that advertising can be more than loud calls to action and assaults on intelligence. It’s more than just dollars. It’s more than just buying more airtime than your competitor and bludgeoning the audience with increased frequency. But eventually - maybe even hopefully - over-saturation turns into backlash. Sometimes, one more billboard is one too many.
Labels: AAF, American Advertising Federation, billboards, Branson, creatives vs sales, outdoor signage, Springfield Ad Club