'Adland' Searches For Meaning On Madison Ave. Former adman James Othmer spent two decades working in the ad industry as it was in the throes of a dramatic transformation. As more consumers zap commercials on DVRs and read magazines and newspapers online, Othmer has concluded that the Madison Avenue industry as he knew it is dying.
NPR logo

'Adland' Searches For Meaning On Madison Ave.

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113128574/113128558" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Adland' Searches For Meaning On Madison Ave.

'Adland' Searches For Meaning On Madison Ave.

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113128574/113128558" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Toward the end of his long career on Madison Avenue where he crafted ads for everything from yogurt to long distance phone plans, James Othmer found himself on a teleconference contemplating cat turds - more specifically, how to sell turd-shrinking cat food. I thought for a moment, he writes, about the brilliant white-smocked team of scientists and chemists who had been charged with creating this product, the careful measuring of the various turds with calipers, comparing and contrasting shape and consistency with previous samples. I decided that their job was only slightly more humiliating than the one I was about to be given.

Adman-turned-author James Othmer spent two decades in an industry in the midst of dramatic transformation. And as more of us zap commercials on our TiVos and read magazines and newspapers online, he concludes that the industry, as he knew it, is dying. If you work in advertising or marketing, how is the industry changing and why? Give us a call. Phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, state secrets and lawsuits on torture and wiretaps. But first, James Othmer joins us from our bureau in New York. His new book is, "Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet." And welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JAMES OTHMER (Author, "Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet"): Thank you, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And cat turds had to be the pinnacle of your career.

Mr. OTHMER: I think that followed up the Brazilian hairball formula ad that I had to do, and I think that's what got me the gig with the cat turds, because I had excelled at that. So, I was moving in high circles at that point.

CONAN: It's nice to have a specialty, isn't it?

Mr. OTHMER: Oh, it's great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You tell very funny stories about the years you spent in advertising. And some of them raise questions about why you got in the business in the first place.

Mr. OTHMER: Well, unlike some of the students that are getting into advertising today, I sort of stumbled into it. I came from a fairly blue-collar background. My dad was a mason. I went to college. I studied journalism. I thought I might be a journalist. My brother laughed at me while I was working as a journalist because he was making three times as much as I was as a mason.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. OTHMER: And I decided I didn't want to work nights and weekends anymore, which is what I had been doing as a sports writer. So I kind of fell into advertising, where I…

CONAN: Where you worked 24/7.

Mr. OTHMER: Where I worked nights and weekends for the next 20 years, yes.

CONAN: Exactly. What a wonderful change was that? And, you know, the rise in the business is interesting. And there are so many interesting stories you tell, but one of them is about a shoot - I think your very last, or one of your last shoots in South Africa, as it turned out, where you could get the actors for the yogurt commercial more cheaply. But the disparity you saw between the craft trailer where it's serving, as you said, at anyone's beck and call, they can bring you fresh sushi or lobster salad, and you're looking out the window downstairs and there are people lining up for jobs.

Mr. OTHMER: Yeah, if there was any one moment where it brought home the disparity, it was during that shoot. We were on a rooftop in downtown Johannesburg, and at that time, downtown Johannesburg was sort of a husk of a - a burned-out husk of a city. We were staying in a gated hotel community outside the city, and we went in with security guards to film a yogurt commercial that we very well could have filmed in a soundstage in Queens, but we were there because it was cheaper and the union wages were different. And while I was, you know, eating my sushi and looking out over the smoky ruins of downtown Johannesburg, I certainly had a little bit of an epiphany about the contrast in lifestyles.

CONAN: And I should point out that James Othmer does have some nice things to say about the advertising industry, about the intellectual rush that he got from brainstorming and some projects that he was very proud of, including an AT&T commercial that commemorated the 50th anniversary of D-Day back in 1994.

(Soundbite of AT&T commercial)

Unidentified Man #1: I think of the men we lost there. I guess I wonder, why?

Unidentified Man #2: Freedom.

Unidentified Man #3: Then you were born just two weeks after I left to go over to England.

Unidentified Man #4: I'd go to a ball game, when they'd play the "Star Spangled Banner," and I'd think of my brother, John.

Unidentified Man #5: AT&T invites you to join us in saluting the true heroes of D-Day and all those who have fought for freedom.

CONAN: And that's an inspiring story. That's a great ad.

Mr. OTHMER: I had - that was probably the high point of my career. It maybe wasn't the most creative, but it certainly was the one that made me feel the best about what I did. We took a bunch of veterans over to Normandy. It was very moving, very sad. It was a great feeling because it meant so much to them. What it had to do with the phone company, I'm not quite sure…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OTHMER: …but I think it was a really nice gesture on AT&T's behalf. It wasn't a hard sell. They contributed quite a bit to veterans foundations as part of our program. So it was great fun during the day, and at night it was also quite the opposite. It was the other side of the industry. We had a blast over there, as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's an interesting story that he tells about staying in the chateau in France and what happened there. You'll have to read the book. In any case, tell me the difference between that ad, which is very emotionally effective - I got a little goose bumps myself just listening to it. And I bet it's even better when you watch it. And tell us a difference between that and the "Subservient Chicken."

Mr. OTHMER: Well, I was lucky enough to straddle two eras in advertising, and I really think it was an amazing time. I had the kind of remnants of the "Mad Men" era when everything was about big branded television, print ads, captive audiences. And as time passed, audiences diminished, network ratings went down, and people were looking for new ways to engage with consumers. And in the old days, you could count on a specific set of people to watch your show and shove your impressions upon them as much as you want. In fact, the - in old English, the noun brand, the etymology goes back to bround, B-R-O-U-N-D, and that comes from "Beowulf," meaning destruction by fire. You would sear your message into someone.


Mr. OTHMER: So, now what has happened because of the emergence of the digital culture and because of the need for brands to find other ways to get their message across is a need to engage or have a dialogue with consumers. "Subservient Chicken" was done by the Barbarian Group and Crispin Porter in Miami about five years ago. It just had its fifth anniversary. And it was the first truly big viral marketing effort in which consumers actively engaged in it. They went on this site where a man in a chicken suit would follow your orders.

He was subservient. You would ask the chicken, do a flip, and he would do a flip. You would ask the chicken to do something a little risqué, and he would wag his finger at you. It got 40 million people in a matter of weeks playing with this subservient chicken online. And again, one might ask: Did it sell grilled chicken sandwiches? I'm not sure, but I think the Burger King were quite interested in the fact that their brand was elevated. It was being discussed. And I think at that point, people across the advertising community realized that there was a while other way to talk to consumers at this point.

CONAN: And we'll talk more about that. Our guest is James Othmer. His book is "Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet." If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And let's get Pam on the line, Pam calling us from Kline(ph) Village in Nevada.

PAM (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi, Pam.

PAM: So, I told your screener a funny - a story that I thought was pretty funny, which - I had grown up in advertising, because my father was - one of the top guys at McCann and then Interpublic, and so I had grown up in that field. And then when I first got out of college, I wanted to work in TV, so my father, you know, kind of helped get me a job as an assistant editor at a company that did a lot of cutting for his company.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

PAM: So anyway, it was an ad about salad dressing or something, and I'm screening it. And my editor is sitting there, and I'm just running the machine, and the client is sitting there, and at the end of - it was this father and daughter arguing, and the client at the end of, you know, the 30-second spot said do you think people are going to understand the relationship between the father and daughter?

And you know, I'm straight out of college. I said ,oh, for God sakes, this isn't "King Lear."

(Soundbite of laughter)

PAM: And then when he left, the editor said: Don't ever talk to a client again.

CONAN: James Othmer, there's more than a few stories like that in your book.

Mr. OTHMER: Yeah, there are conversations…

PAM: (Unintelligible) how I thought it had changed, and I ended up going on to work in news, and I think that it changed the same way news did. Like, when I first got in, it was just fun and rough and tumble, and it was just a really fun industry, and I think now it's just a lot of number-crunching. Everybody's scared. Everybody's, you know, trying to get jobs, and there's no profit, and there aren't the fun times that there used to be.

CONAN: Indeed, indeed. James Othmer, there are so many stories in your book about relations with the client and what the creative director is or is not allowed to say.

Mr. OTHMER: Yes. I was at a KFC franchise e-meeting, which is akin to going before both houses of Congress to present. People were pulling up in Cadillacs and owning 20 KFC branches, and we had to present work, and before I went up there was a preamble done by my boss, and she kept referencing to the Colonel as the Captain.


Mr. OTHMER: And in Louisville, Kentucky, that is not what you want to do in front of 100 franchisees, and I kicked my friend, who was sitting next to me, under the table, and I said she's getting Sanders confused with Crunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OTHMER: It did not sit well with the client.

CONAN: Pam is also correct, at least by the account in your book, that these are desperate times on Madison Avenue. People are indeed very worried about their jobs.

Mr. OTHMER: I think in old agencies, big-model agencies, people are indeed concerned. I think brands are shifting. The loyalty has gone way down. Whereas brands used to stay for seven years - when I worked on AT&T, when they finally left us, they had been with us for 75-plus years.

Now brands are looking to many shops to do their work. They're not as loyal as they had been, but while some of the bigger holding companies are quite concerned, there's an emergence of what I called idea factories, smaller places that kind of embraced the digital age. They had grown up with small screens, and they see the future, and a lot of people at these places think that the chaos and the uncertainty is wonderful and something to embrace rather than something to fear.

CONAN: Chaos and uncertainty. Pam, it sounds like the business when you joined it.

PAM: Yeah, I mean, it used to be just so much fun, and the people were zany. My father started as an account executive before he became one of the bosses, and he had unbelievable stories, and I mean, it was the same way in news. It just seems that as there was more choice and more outlets, the margin of profit went down. I mean it was - you know, it seems counter-intuitive, but you know, it's not, and it's just - there's not that much profit in it anymore.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

PAM: And I know that when I was working at CBS…

CONAN: Pam, I'm afraid we have to…

PAM: Oh, okay, thanks.

CONAN: We'll get that call another time. We appreciate it though. Pam calling us from Klein(ph) Village in Nevada. Our guest is James Othmer. We're talking about his new book, "Adland." If you work in advertising or marketing, how has your business changed and why? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The days of the 30-second commercial may be numbered. We are more aware of ads than ever and more likely to skip them.

That doesn't mean advertisers are giving up. They are, in many cases, just getting sneakier. James Othmer argues that there is a creative revolution underway in advertising. In his new book he writes: The fusion of viral video and social networking with scavenger-hunt sandwich boards and, yes, public bathroom drops is only the beginning.

You can read an excerpt from his book, "Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet" on our Web site at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you work in advertising or in marketing, how is the industry changing and why? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Let's go next to Adam, Adam with us from Phoenix.

ADAM (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Adam.

ADAM: I love this show. I was in real estate in Phoenix, lost just about everything, decided I've got to do something different, and I love the cell phones, I love the iPhones, I love the androids, the BlackBerrys, and I thought what better way of, you know, getting a new medium going than to advertise on cell phones.

So about five months ago I started a company to advertise on cell phones, and speaking of the scavenger hunt, I created a scavenger hunt for some friends of mine who own a liquor company, and they just - you use your iPhone and go and find the hidden bottles, and it's worked out great. We just got our first winner yesterday.

CONAN: And how are sales in that liquor store doing? Did they go up?

ADAM: It's not a liquor store, it's a liquor product. It's a tequila.

CONAN: Okay, and have sales of that…?

ADAM: I don't know - we don't have that tracking yet. It's so new, I honestly haven't made a penny yet, but I'm happy, and I think it's going to work. And you know, just the response rate of the people playing, it's an interactive gave on the iPhone, and they try and hunt down these hidden bottles of tequila, and when they put all the pieces together like a scavenger hunt, then they win an award, and they come into, you know, one of the places that sells it, and you know, they're able to…

CONAN: Cash in.

ADAM: Get a necklace or a headband or a keychain or something, but the response has been tremendous. I'm really excited because it's brand new. Being in real estate…

CONAN: It sounds like solving the puzzle is the more interesting part than - the actual prize isn't that great.

ADAM: Exactly. They play the game. It's part of this whole new network of consumers getting these applications and playing a game, and then what we've done is interactive and put a product in that game, almost like - I hate to say it - but Second Life, and then they play the game while they're driving around. Maybe they climb the top of Camelback Mountain here, and we've hid, you know, a medallion up there, and they climb the mountain, and then they shake their phone, and all of a sudden the puzzle piece appears.

CONAN: Ah. Well, James Othmer, that sounds like one of those sneaky approaches that you write about.

Mr. OTHMER: Well, it's sneaky on some levels, but it's engaging, and I think people are willingly engaging. They know they're interacting with a brand, and I think they're willing to do that as long as the brand stays honest and doesn't sell them down the river, even in a scavenger hunt.

I noticed that in downtown Manhattan the other night, BBDO and again the Barbarian Group did an event for HBO called HBO Imagine, where they projected four videos on the sides of buildings in downtown Manhattan. People lined up, the press was there to watch this. Each side of the building told a different - one story but a different aspect of the story. Meanwhile, there was an online component, where people were reading blogs about the people in the story.

One story was an art heist was going on, and it engaged people to the extent where they were solving mysteries. They get involved. I guess HBO's idea was to own storytelling, and what was interesting is that generationally some people were saying I think it's the coolest thing I've ever seen. I was online playing the game and really getting into it. And other people responded by saying who has 12 hours to spare to interact with a brand?

And I guess it raises the question, you know, you might do it with a film company or a television network or a sports car, but are you really willing to go on a scavenger hunt on behalf of a toilet paper brand or a bar of soap?

CONAN: Under the right circumstances, absolutely.

ADAM: Interestingly enough, we can watch these people play the game, and it looks like some people are waking up at 3:00 in the morning and going out to find these things.


ADAM: You know, whether - you know, they can't do it at work. It's really interactive. They have to be mobile, but it looks like we can see them getting out and moving from place to place, and they're interacting with the product in a way, and it's really, really neat.

I am enjoying this program immensely, and I'll let you go. I know there's a lot more callers like me, but thank you so much. I'm enjoying it.

CONAN: Well, James, good luck with your venture.

ADAM: Oh, thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to - this is Steve, Steve with us from Boston.

STEVE (Caller): Hi, Neal.


STEVE: Well, I came into this conversation a little late, but I am calling as a supplier to the advertising business or, I should say, as a past supplier. I am a photographer from years ago, and the difference I've found between then back in the old days and now is that what seems to be missing is a collaborative process. The ad agencies now tend to call us and ask for what we have in our files, as opposed to how we can help them to create a new photograph for their ad.

CONAN: So they're looking for stock pictures or stock footage.

STEVE: Exactly, yeah, stock and existing photos. So really the fun's kind of gone. You don't really get to work together and, you know, start from a layout, you know, throw in ideas. They're just looking for what you've already got, and I was primarily a people photographer, a lifestyle photographer, but I know it's the same with still life, with conceptual still-life images too.

There's just so much existing photography out there, and now what's happened is that there's always been the stock images that have actually, you know, commanded a fairly decent fee. However, there's so much now royalty-free, meaning that the client just buys it, they don't have to pay any kind of additional fee for the use. So they would pay the same amount if it were a national ad versus if it were a local ad.

CONAN: Yeah, interesting, because I have some friends who are actors, and they're always on the - blogging(ph) their friends to tell them whenever they see their commercials that they're in, in their market, so they can call their agent to make sure they're getting paid for it, so…

STEVE: Right, right.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. Steve, thanks very much.

STEVE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Ryan in Kansas City. Do you watch "Mad Men," and do you love it?

Mr. OTHMER: I watch "Mad Men" and I truly enjoy it. I'm not sure that I love it. I think it's a great period piece. I'm not that old that I truly would be able to tell you if they got it right or not, but I think there are moments when they're talking about the work and the creative process that resonates as well today as it did then, and what particularly resonates with me right now is when I see the ethical choices that some of the characters are involved in. And now we're -it's ingrained within us to think twice about some of the things, for instance - well, let alone smoking and drinking while pregnant, which some of the characters do.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. OTHMER: But working on behalf of a cigarette brand. I think that was a brilliant episode in the first season, when they were talking about how to differentiate a certain cigarette product. I truly believe they really weren't thinking about the moral consequences back then as much as - and they didn't know as much about it back then as we do now. So I like it. I enjoy it. I think they got some things right.

I will say that when I was in advertising, and for a lot of the people that I see still in the business, we did smile a lot more and we had a lot more fun. We had people tap dancing on tables. We had crazy counts chasing us around French castles on shoots, and we told great stories.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Robert, Robert with us from Oklahoma City.

ROBERT (Caller): Yes, how are you doing?

CONAN: Go ahead.

ROBERT: I'm a partner of an Hispanic advertising agency in Oklahoma City, and I'm definitely seeing the trend towards companies going with multiple agencies, especially when dealing with their multi-cultural markets, and you know, so much so that even during the recession, we've seen growth within our own agency of people trying to reach the Hispanic market. So I definitely think that's one of the things that's changed quite a bit.

CONAN: That is very new, James Othmer.

Mr. OTHMER: That is new, and it used to be given lip service. I had been in meetings where you would bring in your Hispanic agency or your African-American specialist agency, and they weren't as involved in the overall brand campaign.

I think more and more they are involved, and one thing about advertising people, if there's money to be made, they'll get over their hang-ups, and they realize that there's quite a huge amount of money to be made in the Hispanic market and the African-American market. And to your point, it is harder for a brand to have a centralized message because now they have agencies that specialize in digital, specialize in Hispanic.

It used to be the main advertising agency's job to kind of be the shepherd of a given brand. Now it's almost the responsibility - it is the responsibility of the chief marketing officer at a brand because he or she is the person who decides what partners they're going to play with and to make sure that they all get along.

ROBERT: Yes, and many times the message for the Hispanic market is completely unique, as far as, you know, how they present the brand.

Mr. OTHMER: Oh, it absolutely is, and a company can make a huge mistake by thinking they understand cultural nuances. You know, the old story that everyone used to tell was the Nova story, which meant no go.

CONAN: No go, yeah, absolutely. Robert, thanks very much for the call.

ROBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to, if I can push the right button, Michael, Michael with us from Fayette in - is this in Arkansas?

MICHAEL (Caller): Oh, I'm sorry. It's Fayette, Alabama. We're…

CONAN: Oh, I apologize.

MICHAEL: …Birmingham.

CONAN: Okay. Go ahead, please.

MICHAEL: Okay, thanks. I'm a - oh, I've done graphic design and logo design for small businesses locally and some ad copy. And that's - I'm also a cartoonist in the MGM, Warner Brothers, Disney, Hanna Barbera-style, and I would love to go into animation myself. Unfortunately, most of the jobs in TV commercials are - no, in animation tend to be TV commercials. And I just put that in ahead of time to explain the two questions that I have for your guest. I'll make them very quick, though.

First of all, do you have any studies on whether or not what ad agents -ad copywriters have done with the English language? I didn't notice this until Alabama School of Fine Arts - putting periods after phrases, dependent clauses, nouns, and other non-sentences. Do you have any study, or where can I get them, whether or not it's affected teenagers' skills with written English over the last 45 to 50 years, the…

CONAN: James Othmer, can you help Michael out on that?

Mr. OTHMER: I'm sure it's contributed to the slang part of the vernacular. I would worry more now about the shorthand - if you want to worry about it at all - the shorthand going on on small screens like twittering and the way people abbreviate sentences. And in some ways, it's a game and it's an interesting use of language that I'm not so worried about. If people look at that as proper King's English, I guess that's a mistake.

Again, I'll use an old dated example: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should was a grammatical mess. And some agencies try to keep it correct. Others will be lenient if the client likes it.

CONAN: The best one I remember that was actually grammatically correct is: "The Birds" is coming.

MICHAEL: It started with the Doyle Dane and Bernbach's now classic - a lot of people listening, even listening to public radio, let alone here where I live, remember the Volkswagen campaigns and we see every day the logos for Cummins engines from 1965, American Broadcasting Company, and to some small extent, the 1961 UPS logo before the big facelift. But most of us don't know who created them.

Doyle Dane and Bernbach in Chicago in 1959 for Volkswagen, and Paul Raushenbush, better known as Paul Rand, for those trademarks - that's much closer to what I do. And the good news about it is that it completely got rid of the hard sale. I collect old - antique magazines and their advertising and antique signs.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

MICHAEL: The hard sell that was slowly going out during the time "Mad Men" was set. As a child of almost the hippie era, born in late 63, I'm too young to remember any of that hard sell. The bad news is, that Doyle Dane and Bernbach's practice of putting periods after nouns…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: …stopped in the '70s and '80s when I read somewhere that they brought back hard sale, the ad agencies did, after 1975, so that clients…

CONAN: Michael…

MICHAEL: …wouldn't cut off their accounts during the recession. Here's the second…

CONAN: Michael, I'm afraid we have to move on to give somebody else a chance. I apologize.


CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. We're talking with James Othmer about his book "Adland." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

CONAN: And Michael mentioned UPS. Here's an email from Cindy in St. Louis. I worked at a huge PR agency for years. UPS was one of their biggest clients. There was a famous story about a day-long, on-site meeting at UPS headquarters with 40 stakeholders, including the CEOs of both UPS and the agency. As the meeting wrapped up, one of the people leading it asked an intern to get notes and other materials about the meeting sent out to everybody as soon as possible, to which he replied, absolutely. I'll FedEx everything out tomorrow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: A short-lived intern, perhaps. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Jennifer, Jennifer with us from Sarasota.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. I'm actually an old PR pro who worked within the advertising world. We would complement at(ph) advertising, much like the event you were talking about in Manhattan where you had media there, because our job was to get through the media. And frankly, we've gone down the toilet. We have absolutely no reputation whatsoever. PR used to be, you know, a pretty noble profession. We worked with the media. And now we're seen, really, as the bottom of the barrel.

CONAN: And in the same way, you write in your book, James Othmer, really, about the big, old-line advertising agencies that nobody wants to be an advertising agency anymore.

Mr. OTHMER: Yeah. The idea factories go out of their way on their Web sites to say we are not an advertising agency. I did a survey and I went across some of the better, smaller boutiques that are doing some of the more interesting digital work, and it was hilarious how many of them really went out of their way to say we're not an advertising agency. We're making special forms of engagement. We're captivating the culture.

You know, it was just a spin, really, on saying, we are an advertising agency. It's just that we're a little smaller and we have a foosball table…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OTHMER: …and people skateboard in the hallway here and wear headphones while they work.

CONAN: Jennifer, thanks very much for the call.

JENNIFER: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I wanted to ask you, we just have a couple of minutes left, but why are there so many movie trailers in the Super Bowl this year?

Mr. OTHMER: Well, one of the reasons that you see movie trailers - and also Doritos has just bought three consumer-generated ads for the Super Bowl, which goes back to crowd sourcing in the way that is changing quite a bit. But…

CONAN: Sure, they ask their consumers to create the advertising for them.

Mr. OTHMER: Exactly. And it - some might see it as a way out, but I bet you Doritos says we have five months of active consumer engagement going on here. They're going to blog about it. They're going to get involved in the contest. And it's not just going to be a one-day payoff. But as far as the movies, it's - Super Bowl is one of the last few times when you can have a huge, captive audience.

No one really is going to be DVR-ing it, zapping past the commercials. People actually want to watch those commercials. And movies are a time -they have a shelf life. And it's a very specific time when they have to get this message out, so it becomes an incredibly competitive and an also a very powerful peace of advertising for moviemakers.

CONAN: So that since people are not going to watch the Super Bowl on TiVo - unless they happen to root for that team and watch it endlessly over and over and over again - they're going to see the ad for the movie, and maybe go see it the next weekend.

Mr. OTHMER: I would think so, although the way the movie business has been going, I don't think it's working that well.

CONAN: James Othmer writes about how the advertising agency business is not working so well, either. He's the author of "Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet." You can read some of the ethical questions he raises in an excerpt from the book. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And he joined us today from our bureau in New York.

Thanks very much for your time.

Mr. OTHMER: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up: The Obama administration clamps down on state secrets. We'll find out what that means. For lawsuits about warrantless wiretaps, rendition and torture, stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.