File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 37

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 13:21:09 GMT
Subject: State of the Digital Art  1

   Wall Street Journal, October 3, 1996, pp. B1, B5. 
   Advertising: New Ads' Shapely Stars Are A, B, C ... 
   By Sally Goll Beatty 
   The most popular new face on Madison Avenue is featured in 
   a new Nike ad with a little girl in a swing and the slogan 
   "If you let me play." 
   That face is Bell Gothic -- a clean, streamlined typeface 
   with gently curved edges and a whiff of cyberspace. A 
   similar type style adorns a new UPS campaign, as well as 
   recent ads for Epson, Kenneth Cole, Discover Card, 
   Chrysler, Budweiser, Citibank, Fidelity Investments, 
   Samsung, and Compaq -- to name just a few. 
   Typography, long one of advertising's humblest tools, has 
   taken on new importance in the Information Age. Art 
   directors are relying on stark, eye-catching type to help 
   break through the clutter of competing ads. They're also 
   seeking simple type to counterbalance the visual chaos of 
   many of the collage-like ads that seek to simulate computer 
   Bell Gothic, along with its lean and simple lookalikes, 
   fits the bill. More to the point, designers say, it suits 
   the often contradictory image of corporate America that 
   Madison Avenue is selling these days: strong yet sensitive, 
   technologically sophisticated yet back-to-basics. 
   "It's a little understated, not pompous, with a forward 
   edge, a little bit technical perhaps but not too 
   machine-like," says McCann-Erickson creative executive 
   Steve Ohler, describing the typeface his agency chose for 
   AT&T spinoff Lucent Technologies. 
   To help. Lucent present itself as "a breakaway 
   entrepreneurial company with incredible credentials," 
   McCann tapped graphic designer David Carson to invent a new 
   typeface, says Mr. Ohler. The font, christened Lucent, is 
   a member of the Bell Gothic family with angular wings on 
   the edges of its n's and diagonal tops on its t's. 
   For Epson, another high-tech company trying to send a 
   complex blend of advertising signals, agency Ammirati Puris 
   Lintas chose a similar typeface called Letter Gothic. "What 
   the font does for us is it makes it appear very classic and 
   also very hip," says Ralph Palamidessi, the art director 
   who designed ads for Epson's printers. The campaign's tag 
   line offers the same mixed message that Epson is 
   unthreateningly old-fashioned yet state-of-the-art: "Think 
   of it as a box of crayons ... From the 23rd century." 
   Another Ammirati art director, Tod Seisser, used a modified 
   version of Bell Gothic for UPS ads. "There's a modernity 
   about it, and an honesty," he effuses. The ads feature the 
   slogan, "Moving at the speed of business." 
   Some advertisers are turning to the Bell Gothic look to 
   make a clean break from a traditional image they're eager 
   to avoid. "We're trying to bust open the stereotypes that 
   women are subjected to, so I didn't want to use a typeface 
   that would be typical of a woman's ad," says Rachel 
   Manganiello, the Wieden & Kennedy art director behind the 
   Nike ad supporting women's sports. Estee Lauder's Pleasures 
   cosmetics line, for example, features a floral script with 
   elaborate curlicues. "Particularly in women's advertising," 
   she notes, "there's a tendency to make things too flowery 
   or soft .... We wanted to run counter to that." 
   Fidelity's ad agency chose Letter Gothic and another clean, 
   rounded typeface called Avenir to distinguish the 
   mutual-fund giant from older Wall Street firms. "All the 
   other investment firms are using serif typefaces," says 
   Pete Favat, creative director of Fidelity's agency Houston 
   Herstek Favat. Serifs, the fine lines at the end of a 
   letter's main strokes (See the top of the "w" in "The Wall 
   Street Journal"), suggest a company "has been around for a 
   long time," he says. "That's great for Merrill Lynch. But 
   Fidelity is more of a faster-looking, contemporary 
   The mania for cleaner typefaces reflects a larger concern 
   for advertisers: how to grab attention when more ads than 
   ever are crammed onto billboards, sports arenas and 
   television. "To me, less is more," says Robert Lussier, the 
   art director who chose Letter Gothic for the Kenneth Cole 
   catalog. "When you have a lot of things going on, you have 
   to have something simple." 
   Another factor: the spread of computer graphics, which let 
   art directors stuff ads with more visual tricks and 
   elements. "They've allowed someone to take a typeface on 
   screen and stretch it and condense it and break it every 
   which way," says Mr. Seisser of Ammirati Puris Lintas. 
   Such visually challenging layouts reflect a style pioneered  
   -- and taken to its illegible extreme -- in the magazine 
   "Wired." While the source of the new look in fonts is 
   unclear, many of the ads that use it have appeared in the 
   magazine and target its technologically savvy audience. 
   But don't expect the trend to last forever. Some designers 
   are already worrying about simple-type burnout. "You can 
   have a great message and if you put in something that's 
   perceived as too trendy or overused, you can defeat the 
   purpose," says Mr. Carson, the graphic designer. The danger 
   for advertisers, he adds, "is that you get lumped into this 
   group and lose some of the very identity you're trying to 

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