For all of the advertising-related design I have done for various companies I have worked for, and despite my enjoyment of Mad Men, and innumerable specific ad campaigns, I easily sympathize with those who believe that ad agencies are evil incarnate.
But I think that is simply because the overwhelming majority of advertising is very badly executed, and treats its audience as if they were stupid. Which they may well be, but that’s a topic for another blog… When ads are done well however, they implicitly acknowledge the intellect of their audience; they require a bit of knowledge or experience or wit, they appeal to our sense of humor or our ability to recognize cultural connections. When they do this effectively, they can transcend themselves.
There was a lot for me to like in the film Art & Copy. For example, the ascendence of the art director to the equal of the copywriter is noted. Or the explication of a common denominator among many of the featured ads – greats from the past 20-30 years – that they were rejected by those commisioning them, and had to be championed by the creatives in order to see the light of day. Or in particular, the idea that great advertising is in fact art. That is, the products themselves, whether billboard, television spot, magazine spread, or other, can transcend their primary purpose of selling us something, and stand on their own aesthetic merits.