“Adcult USA”, copyright (?) by Dutch artist Ronald Slabbers, who says his “cutout” is an illustration depicting how deeply advertising reaches into American society... commisioned by the Dutch trade magazine “Blad”... available on his lively website at www.ronaldslabbers.com
There's a new publication in the works at Columbia College Chicago, and that means you no longer have an excuse to put off typing up that piece you've been writing in your head.

It's a magazine, adcult .

It's intended as a respectful if irreverent take on the world of coax and persuade and sell -- the advertising culture in which we all live and work... the world of marketing and PR around which all the liveliest elements of our economy and our social environment have accumulated.

Adcult is being developed -- appropriately -- by the Marketing Communication department at Columbia. No, the world doesn't need another cheap shot at how we're all suckered by the multibillion-dollar advertising industry... or how "spin" is ruining the political dialog. There's already a vast literature on the subject. We're going for something a little more nuanced.

What we want to attempt is a readable magazine that takes the culture of manipulated need as a given, and riffs on it... "Readable" in the sense that anyone who wears a walkman or watches TV or reads a magazine or even stares dully as the ad-splashed bus rolls past, will find the subject recognizable and interesting... "Riff" in the sense that any writing form may be considered suitable, so long as the subject matter is our PR- and advertising-mediated world.

What we have in mind is the kind of publication that will make ad copywriters proud of their historic mission -- at the same time that it makes them squirm because they didn't realize they were so transparent.

For example, here are a few ideas we've been kicking around ... articles that may already be in the works, ready to be spiked because your version is better:

1. A story told through a sequence of ads -- There will be no paid advertising in our publication, but that doesn't mean we want a magazine without ads (can you imagine life without ads? Think college text-based email vs. Yahoo!) What we have in mind is a single continuous story told through the revised text in a series of real (altered) magazine ads, distributed from the inside front cover, all the way through the magazine to the (surprise ending?) back cover... improvised perhaps from an actual selection of say 20 different ads, full page and smaller, from an actual consumer magazine. The story will be presented without a reader's guide, or other insulting clues -- it will be obvious quickly enough to anyone browsing the magazine who's half paying attention. Fiction? or maybe not? -- your choice.

2. Confessions of a RetroSexual -- The sexual revolution has dramatically altered our culture on so many levels, impacting our economy, our politics, our personal relationships, our psyches. But there is a resistance movement, offering two cheers for the old arrangements, yearning for yesteryear, back when advertisers wouldn't think of showing young women in their underwear, nevermind in men's underwear. How do we exploit this theme? One suggestion is to cast Mr. Clean (still sans body piercing) as an interviewer, probing for insights from advert icons of today. (Could be a single article; or a running theme from issue to issue; or a series of short pieces in our first issue).

3. Spinning the Unspinnable -- Is there such a thing as an event too straightforward to spin? Another dramatic premise for an enterprising satirist or critic: an historic what-if, outlining the marketing plan for an otherwise untenable idea or unrehabilitatable rascal.

4. Making matches (sex sells) -- perhaps a feature for our first issue, perhaps a series running in each issue, showing pictorial ads that are all but totally dependent on nubile models (boys or girls), without the identifying copy... challenging readers to identify not even the brand but just the generic product that these sexy ads are selling.

5. Poetry -- a poem constructed entirely of more or less recognizable sales pitches or slogans from print ads, broadcast ads, etc.

6. Barbie and the American Girl do the dishes -- eavesdropping on a "friendly" private conversation between two of America's most widely respected role models.

7. How I quit smoking by paying attention to the cigarette ads: reverse effects from ad campaigns that insult our intelligence.

8. Alternative uses for famous ad slogans: juxtapose ad industry memes with political or social scenes so that the meaning is stood on its head.

9. Campus surveys -- a regular feature, using the Columbia College campus (our product placement gimmick) to test or to illustrate trends... for the first issue, perhaps: what if any are the remaining taboos for advertisers?

10. Marketing to children -- there's a $6 billion market there, if we're not afraid to push the envelope. What's your take on that?

11. Your call -- what other roads would you like to see Adcult travel? Blaze the trail.

We are on a fast track to producing our first issue, so don't procrastinate. The pay is lousy, but those free issues are going to be worth real money some day.

Give us your feedback -- or your
finished article -- online at


or the old-fashioned way at
    AdCult - Alton Miller, editor
    Columbia College Chicago
    600 S. Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60605
    Phone: 312-344-7600
    Fax: 312-344-8065

Get involved in a discussion of adcult at the AdCult Discussion Area

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Quotations on previous page cited in James B. Twitchell's fascinating book,
Adcult USA, published by Columbia University Press, ©1996

All information not otherwise copyrighted is copyright 1999 by Alton Miller
For questions or suggestions concerning these web pages contact altonmiller@mail.com