Most songs in the Western art music tradition set poetry to music. Part of what makes poetry so special is that it can have meanings and implications that are deeper than the words on the surface. When Robert Frost writes about “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” we are well aware that he is speaking metaphorically about decisions.
Now, isn’t the same thing true of advertisements? They say one thing on the surface, but they intend to communicate something deeper. They ask “Are you beach body ready?”, but they mean to say that you’re not desirable unless you’re skinny. They show a bright picture of an elegantly dressed gentleman smoking a Camel cigarette, intending to communicate that Camels are a symbol of wealth and status.
The goal of an advertisement is to plant a desire. To make us feel like we lack something, be it beauty, love, or security. To undermine our sense of material contentment and keep us in a lifelong cycle of buying new stuff.
We are meant to be passive recipients of advertisements, because when we’re not paying attention, we’re not privy to their subversive messages and sleights of hand. Advertisements are most effective when they’re in the background, when we absorb them with an uncritical ear.
The reason I wrote this song cycle is not to elevate advertisements to the level of art, but to use art to convey some truth about advertisements that cannot be conveyed any other way. My aim is to bring advertisements into the foreground, into the center of our awareness.
The final movement of this suite sets what I believe to be an ideal advertisement—which is not really an advertisement at all. It is a notice to the public which simply states what is being sold, how much it costs, and where it can be purchased. There is not a whit of rhetorical cunning. It is an earnest and straightforward statement that dignifies consumers by treating them as rational agents capable of making their own commercial decisions.