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Last September, when the pollsters at Gallup asked Americans to “describe the federal government in one word or phrase,” 72 percent of the responses were pejorative. The federal government was a “constipated,” “obese,” “crappy” “bureaucracy” run by a “bunch of yahoos,” or by a “bunch of [profanity deleted].” We may be more politically polarized than ever, but when it comes to the federal government, we stand united in our disgust.
One often hears that we should run government like a business. What would a business do if it saw brand loyalty give way to such brand hostility? Wouldn’t its executives summon the alchemists of advertising? The day after last November’s midterm elections, Harper’s Magazine gathered creatives from four ad agencies—Saatchi & Saatchi, Goody Silverstein, Grey Group, and Weiden+Kennedy—and assigned them a daunting task: to develop a television spot for the federal government. And not just any television spot. We wanted one both memorable enough and entertaining enough to compete in the most expensive televised-marketing event of the year—the Super Bowl.
The conversation that followed, which can be read in our February issue, touched on government’s image problem and the recipe for the perfect Super Bowl ad. All four agencies created storyboards for Super Bowl spots, which also appear in the issue. One of them, Goodby Silverstein, took the task a step further and created a real website as a companion to their fake ad below.
More from Sam Stark:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”