The best Web sites and books about advertising.

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May 16 2008 7:35 PM

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The best Web sites and books about advertising.

The 49th annual Clio Awards, which honor "creative excellence" in advertising, are taking place this weekend in Miami. Ads from around the globe are competing for Clio statuettes in categories that include television and radio commercials, as well as billboards, print ads, and interactive multiplatform campaigns.

You can check the  Clios' Web site to see if your favorite ad made the grade. But how best to keep up with the ad world at large, all year round?

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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Bob Garfield, the critic in residence at Advertising Age, writes a regular column reviewing current television commercials. He wields a from-the-hip style and a deep data bank of knowledge. (If a new ad is a rip-off of an old ad—even one from as far back as a decade ago—Garfield will remember and call foul.)

For a far more caustic (and also more frequently updated) take, I suggest Copyranter. This sometimes off-color blog is penned by an easily riled fellow who says he's worked as an advertising copywriter for the past 16 years. His daily entries are at their best when he's hating on the latest tin-eared blunders put forth by his brethren. Recent posts have seen him complain that a print campaign for the Economist seemed "aimed at childish doofuses" and that a Volkswagen ad was "a classroom example of tired borrowed interest." Not enough anger? Click over to Adrants for another dose of, yes, ranting.

If you're looking to find a particular ad—such as that one Schlitz spot that aired during Super Bowl XIII and has stuck in your memory ever since—check out Adland's massive archive of print and television commercials. They date from as far back as 1970 to as recently as last week. Sadly, you'll need to pay a fee to watch Adland's video clips, but if the ad you're seeking is from the 1980s, you may be able to find it at X-Entertainment, which maintains a large free collection of commercials that will make you nostalgic for the age of Atari and the California Raisins. Or perhaps you'd like to go even further back in time? The Retro Press blog posts old-time print ads ("The new Philco radio-phonograph plays any record on a beam of light! No needles to change!") and also maintains a fun gallery of vintage print advertising from the 1930s through the 1960s.

New York Times Magazine columnist (and Slate alum) Rob Walker keeps an online journal highlighting an advertising trend he's dubbed "murketing." The insight of murketers is that brands do best when they can manage to simultaneously mean different things to different demographic groups—which, of course, results in some rather odd attempts to appeal to wide swaths of consumers. The energy drink Red Bull, for instance, blends a vague slogan ("Red Bull gives you wings") with bizarre extreme-sport stunts and traditional nightclub promotions, creating a hazy brand image that appeals equally to athletes, clubbers, and tired office workers. Walker lays out his theory in well-written, entertaining detail in his new book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (available early next month from Random House).

Perhaps the best book for anyone wishing to delve deeper into the black arts of mass persuasion is legendary adman David Ogilvy's Ogilvy on Advertising. First published in 1983, its many illustrated examples are by now a bit dated. But the book's ideas about how to reach the public with a powerful advertising message will likely never go out of style. Stressing the importance of "positioning," for example, Ogilvy recalls, "I could have positioned Dove as a detergent bar for men with dirty hands, but chose instead to position it as a toilet bar for women with dry skin. This is still working 25 years later." Another 25 years after Ogilvy wrote that, Dove's positioning remains essentially the same.

Joshua Ferris' 2007 novel Then We Came to the End is set in a Chicago advertising agency, and a central plot point involves the development of a pro-bono ad campaign. This sharp and funny look at the culture of the workplace will ring true to people toiling in other industries. But something about the characters' mix of smart, creative energy and brutal self-loathing seems specific to the world of advertising professionals.

A version of this article also appears in the Washington Post's "Outlook" section.

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