Ivan Levison —
Direct Mail, E-mail and Advertising Copywriting

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Every summer, just before it was time to go back to school, my mother would take me to Macy's to buy new school clothes.

Not too amazing. Until you learn what we went through to get there. You see, Macy's wasn't just across the street. We lived in the Bronx and the department store was way downtown in Manhattan on 34th Street.

That meant we had to take the subway. Again, not too amazing, until you remember that descending the steps of the Independent Line in August was like entering Dante's seventh level of hell.

The question I always asked myself as we rattled along in our mobile sauna was why we were going to Manhattan when there were dozens of stores only two blocks away? Why did we go through this ordeal of fire simply to buy me some shirts, socks, and a new winter coat?

At nine years old I never knew the answer. Today I do.

The answer is advertising.

You see, over the years, through their endlessly persuasive advertising, Macy's had purchased and cultivated a small part of my mother's mind.

Sure, the local stores were good now and then, but "For back to school the right place is Macy's!"

Never mind that like a fighter trying to make the weight, I sweated out three and a half pints of water under the Grand Concourse. The point is, "For back to school the right place is Macy's!"

Now the reason I'm telling you this story is not to call attention to my mother's hypersensitivity to advertising. On the contrary. The important thing to remember is that we're all sensitive to advertising despite our protestations to the contrary.

Oh, yes. Many people, filled with smug self-satisfaction, claim to be beyond it all. They tell us that they're just not influenced by ads or commercials. This is self-delusion.

Let me give you an example.

My wife and I were recently at a dinner party in San Francisco. The guy sitting across from me was a doctor who really freaked when he heard I was a copywriter. (I guess he thought I was personally responsible for every ring-around-the-collar commercial he ever had to sit through).

Anyway he went on to tell me what I've heard a million times. That advertising doesn't touch him. That he chooses products rationally. And so on, ad nauseam.

Here's a guy who drinks Henry Weinhard's (not Bud), drives a Volvo (not a Chevy) and eats Haagen-Dazs (not Lucerne). And he still tells me that he's not affected by advertising. As I explained to him over the pasta al pesto (not Rice-A-Roni), we all are human. Inside of all of us is that hopeful little kid, dumping out the Cracker Jacks, looking for the prize.

I did my whole number and of course got nowhere. This bothers me not at all. You see, I know a secret. That, like soldiers wearing their rank on their sleeves, we all go through life flashing little messages and emblems that help define who we are or who we want to be.

Whether we wear Guccis, Nikes, Kinneys, or walk barefoot, we are making a public statement about who we are.

Advertising is the mirror in which we see ourselves as we want to be.

It is a powerful force that can take us anywhere.

Even downtown to Macy's.

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