Ad Exhibit Looks to Past, Interactive Future

Toulouse-Lautrec is well recognized for his work in the Art Nouveau style, but his paintings commissioned by the Moulin Rouge are not automatically recognized as advertisements of the day. His work — along with more modern, interactive advertisements — are on display in a new exhibit at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).

The library is hosting the Opt In to Advertising’s New Age exhibit, which looks at the evolution of advertising in print, radio, television, and online. Opening at the start of Advertising week, the Online Publishers Association-sponsored exhibit will run through the end of the year.

Upon entry, floor graphics that look like buttons from a Web site declare memorable taglines like, “Where’s the Beef?” and “That’s a Spicy Meatball!” These images lead visitors down the stairs to the basement-level exhibit.

Each of the four channels that encompass the exhibit receives interactive treatment with digital displays designed to reflect the particular medium. Print ads are displayed on a screen encased in a sculpture of offset letter blocks; radio jingles are played from a giant retro radio with preset buttons to toggle the decades; and TV commercials run on a 1950s-inspired set.

The online component is represented by an oversized flat-panel monitor and mouse to simulate a Web interface. Navigation in the left-hand column of the display lists ads selected for the exhibit. Highlights include a creative for Audi with an unfolding map and the Virgin Atlantic “bad hair” advertisement where users can use tools to cut and style a sloppy ‘do. Interactive ad units can be clicked on and behave as originally intended.

“Online advertising is only about ten years old; what you see is akin to radio ads of the 30s,” said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association.

Regarding the nascent medium of online advertising, said David Ferriero, Andrew W. Mellon director and chief executive of the Research Libraries at the New York Public Library where the exhibit is being housed. put it into context by comparing it to print. “We barely understand how paper behaves,” he said.

A fifth installation, which grants the “Opt-In” to the name of the exhibit, consists of a touch-screen display where visitors can tailor a digital advertisement to suit them. The OPA feels this user-initiated customization is the essence of “opting in” and demonstrates the promise of advertising’s future. From the same kiosk, users can participate in a viral campaign and send an email to notify friends of the exhibit.

The exhibit itself is located nearby the library’s bookshelves, and will likely attract curious students taking breaks from study as well as industry insiders who wish to look back at the history of advertising.

“The exhibit provides a prototype to share with scholars and let them interpret and use,” said Ferriero, who is working to build the library’s own catalog of advertising creative history. “We’re interested in the scholar 100 years from now, as well as the scholar now.”

While the exhibit will open with an event at the start of Advertising Week, additional talks will be hosted by the NYPL branch. Through the course of the exhibit, the Online Publishers Association will bring host educational sessions with high school students, hoping the activity will stimulate interest in advertising among members of a new generation.

“We hope to inspire the next generation of creativity and ask the question, where does advertising go from here?” said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association.

The SIBL branch assistant director John Ganly and The One Club’s executive director Mary Warlick and marketing and interactive director, Kevin Swanepoel serve as co-curators for the exhibit. The One Club provided creatives from its vast archive. Panasonic provided the technology and equipment to create each of the displays and production and design was undertaken by LD Gertz and Associates, the Entity Agency and Brad Geagley.

In the new year, the exhibit will travel to the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills, and will then go to Chicago. The OPA hopes to eventually find a permanent home for the installations.

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