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More Dogs on Main Street

Early in the fall, a film crew contacted me about shooting a TV commercial for Chevrolet trucks out at my ranch. There was no setting more appropriate to display obsolete SUVs than in front of my obsolete dairy barn. They also shot down in Salt Lake at the library square and on Main Street. The producer was pretty excited about it because they could get scenes that were about as rural as rural gets, and two very different urban settings in Salt Lake, all from one base of operations. It was a big deal, and took over a week for the whole production.

I’ve been anxious to see the Chevy ads on TV, so I’ve been paying more attention to ads than usual lately which is to say that I don’t change the channel when the commercial break starts. But so far I haven’t seen either the Salt Lake or Woodland Chevy ads. In fact, I haven’t seen much by way of ads from GM at all, other than for Hummer. They are so near bankrupcy that they aren’t buying ads like they used to.

There were also supposed to be some still photos from the shoot that would be used in print ads, so I’ve been scouring magazines for Chevy truck ads, with no success. But I have noticed something different about ads lately. They have gone retro. The other night, I was sitting out in the hot tub reading "Outside" magazine. This is a well-written magazine that used to be all about great adventures and is increasingly about $10,000 wrist watches. But it remains pretty trendy. I noticed a new look to a lot of the advertising. The graphic design has a 1930s art-deco look about it.

Art-history majors will correct the terminology, but I think you know what I’m talking about. It’s a graphic design that conveys high style and nostalgia at the same time. Instead of photos, they use very stylized drawings. The best local example is the Deer Valley trail maps from last season. A trail map is just a trail map unless it is also a piece of high-quality graphic art. It was worth framing. The main function, obviously, is helping tourists get to lunch without inadvertently launching off the Daly Chutes. The secondary function is to convey a sense of brand and timelessness.

Deer Valley is still pretty new. It’s still under construction. I remember very clearly when sheep grazed at Snow Park. The architecture gives a sense that it is much older than it is. There’s no mistaking it for Old Faithful Lodge, but sitting in the lodges, you’re not really sure if they are from the 1980s (or this decade), or from the 1940s or before. The trail map graphics reinforced that tone.

But suddenly that 1930s look is everywhere. Promontory is so new the paint isn’t dry, but its image is based in large part on the 1930s Yellowstone bus. It’s important that new money look old (rather than borrowed).

The retro trend may have started on wine labels, where it is completely appropriate to suggest that this bottle of $3 rot gut has been sitting in the cellar for decades, waiting for the right occasion. In "Outside" there was an ad for wine with a drawing of a couple in a canoe. She has a ’30s hairdo (but is wearing a life jacket). The canoe has the attitude of a locomotive or ocean liner. The color palette is a range of nicely muted tones. The wine may have been bottled last week, but the label says ageless. There were a couple of beer ads that used the same general style, though they kind of parodied their own design in the process.

A product as trendy as Sigg stainless-steel water bottles used the same retro design. The ads suggested that people had been sticking Sigg stainless-steel water bottles in the cup holders of their Studebakers since the 1920s. Of course, people didn’t need constant hydration in the 1920s. If they carried any kind of flask with them during Prohibition, it wasn’t full of water. But the ad is successful in creating a sense of nostalgia around a product that we didn’t even know we needed until we all decided that plastic water bottles were deadly a couple of months ago.

Retro is in. Ads have been showing retro ski clothes for a couple of seasons. They aren’t as retro as the 1930s I like to think we are smart enough that we won’t be wearing white shirts and skinny neckties while skiing, not even in the spirit of fashion.

I’m not sure what that all says about where we are going. Maybe the conspicuous consumption of the last decade is over. Those who have money will still spend it, but in ways that make it look like they are wearing timeless well-preserved ski clothes from the 1960s that happen to still fit even though they weren’t born until the 1980s. Of course, a nicely turned out set of ski clothes with the high-style retro-chic look will set you back about twice the price of a new 1934 Chevy. And this year, for the sake of every business in town, we all hope they sell like hotcakes.

Still, the nostalgia for the 1930s seems a little strange. It was not a great time, the Great Depression, although people had plenty of time on their hands to go fishing and the like since there were no jobs. At the rate the stock market is collapsing, it will be at $0 by Christmas. The discussion about General Motors going broke by the end of the year no longer seems alarmist.

So as the burgundy sun sets on the teal slopes of Walton Mountain, and we huddle in the warmth of the corn-cob-fired stove in the kitchen, we can take comfort in knowing that even if we are going into Great Depression 2.0, we are doing it with timeless style and appealing graphic design.

"Good night, Grandma."

"Good night, John-boy."

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.


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