WHERE THE SUCKERS MOON: An Advertising Story by Randall Rothenberg

WHERE THE SUCKERS MOON: An Advertising Story

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A tedious case study of what can happen before, during, and after the shift of a desirable advertising account from one agency to another. In an effort to revive the company's flagging car sales, Subaru of America (SOA) put its sizable (albeit modest by auto-industry standards) account up for grabs during 1991. Drawing on the access granted him by SOA, Rothenberg (The Neoliberals, 1984) offers an exhaustive and ultimately exhausting rundown on a commercial mating dance. He also lards his fly-on-the-wall reportage with digressive takes on the history of big-league advertising and its dominant players. To some extent, these asides provide context for the author's evaluation of the work clone by the survivor of SOA's screening process -- Wieden & Kennedy, a so-called postmodernist shop based in Portland, Oreg., which made a name for itself as Nike's ad agency. Like many partnerships, the SOA/W&K alliance proved short-lived, contentious, and mutually frustrating. The association ended not with a bang but a whimper shortly after the agency's spots (duly approved by a Subaru management team that had been revamped in the interim) finished dead last in a USA Today survey of viewer reactions to commercials broadcast during the 1993 Super Bowl telecast. In reporting countless instances of high-stakes conflict and steering the episodic narrative up innumerable blind alleys, however, Rothenberg (who borrowed the book's title from an A.J. Liebling pensÉe on fortune) frequently loses track of his story. He doesn't even get around to detailing the background of SOA's Japanese owner (Fuji Heavy Industries) until near the end. As it happens, the parent organization's engineering-versus-styling bias informed many of the clashes over image that marked promotional debates at SOA during the early 1990s. Despite a few fine set pieces, this is an overlong, essentially pointless anecdote in which unsympathetic hucksters are pitted against one another -- and the consuming public.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1994
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Knopf