Edited by David Shayne

Watson Guptill


224pp/$24.95/October 2005

Cover by Patricia Dwyer

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

MAD Magazine has long been known for its satirical take on advertising.  In MADvertising, David Shayne collects numerous examples of MAD's satires spanning the years to present a look at the skewed humor of the magazine's writers and artists dating back to at least issue #17 in 1954.  However, while the primary focus of MADvertising is the humor of the works themselves, at the same time, the book works to look at the evolution of both the satire and advertising itself.

The style of the parodies mirrors the style used in advertising from the 50s to the 2000s, demonstrating the changes in style as well as the advances in the technology available for the creation and production of the ads.  Drawings and black and white photography from the 50s and 60s give way to better and better quality color pictures, both natural and doctored, as the 70s and 80s usher in a period of increased computer use.

Most of the products satirized are readily identifiable, from Skippy Peanut Butter (Stikky Peanut Butter, p.47) to Met Life (Mutt Life, p.139).  Most of original products, either through luck or the choice of the editor, still exist.  In a few cases, the original products being lampooned have gone the way of the Dodo, such as Action Detergent (p.97).

The humor exhibited by the ads in MADvertising range from the sophomoric to subtle satire.  The best ads play on the perception of the truth about the item being advertised juxtaposed with the elements of advertising which are frequently used in the product's advertising by ad companies.  Of course, in many cases, MAD selected specific ad campaigns to mock, and in those cases the reader's familiarity with the original campaign helps, but is not necessary, for full appreciation of the parody.

The book ends with three special sections.  The first two, described as "Galleries of Sin" are collections of mock-ads depicting smoking and drinking.  These ads are particularly effective as they both mock the print ads for cigarettes and alcohol while, in many of the most successful cases, pointing up the very real health issues associated with these "glamorous" products.

The final section includes five pages of real ads by the same artists and writers who contributed the fake ads to MAD, blurring the lines of satire and reality even more.  While these ads may very well have been very effective on their own, coming at the end of more than 200 pages of satire, it is hard to read them without looking for a punchline, which is, obviously, missing.

An interesting inclusion in the introductory material is the re-creation of several pre-MAD ads which featured an unnamed child who would eventually become the basis for MAD's logo, Alfred E. Neuman.  Seeing this character used to sell drinks (Cherry Sparkle and Happy Jack) or dentistry without the strange twists introduced into advertising throughout the rest of the book is an almost surreal experience.

While MADvertising does show the progression of ads and can be seen in those terms, the true value of the book is the humor and satire which is presents.  Humor is, of course, a very individual thing, but there are enough different types of humor presented in these ads that some level of the satire should appeal to just about any sense of humor, even, or perhaps especially, for those not desirous of a sociological lesson on advertising.

Purchase this book from Amazon Books 

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