Let’s give a little back

I consider myself an ad geek. I read the ad rags, peruse annuals with what I consider to be a discerning eye, reference obscure Scandinavian TV commercials in random conversations, and hell, I even write for an advertising blog.

One conclusion I’ve reached in my ad geekness is that we, as a whole, like to “borrow” from popular culture.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if we want to sell a product, what easier way is there than to piggy back off a popular trend? It immediately elevates the product to a familiar level – popular trend, popular product. Hard to argue with, right? We take a little something, we spin it, and bam. We have a campaign that is memorable.

Well, in the short term it’s hard to argue with. But in the long term, it undercuts the advancement of our profession. What real value, as an art form, does advertising have if all we do is borrow and never add?

(Yeah, I just went there. I consider advertising an art form. And it is.)

Throughout history, there have been art movements that defined their times. Consider surrealism, cubism, classical, neo-classical or pointillism. Each was the defining movement of its era.

Sure, nowadays we’re hired guns for large corporations. But does that devalue the artistic merit of what we do? Consider for an instant that Michelangelo was hired by the church to paint the Sistine Chapel to advertise the notion of God. That’s art, isn’t it?

But advertising has more power now than any other art form in history. 50 years ago, you’d have travel your ass off if you wanted to see the masterworks of Toulouse-Lautrec or Michelangelo. But thanks to the nature of worldwide media today, we can instantly change the way people think. We create new words. We redefine the old with new definitions.

Advertising is capable of changing millions of people’s views in an instant. And that, incidentally, is precisely what art is meant to do.

Maybe we can create a new movement that defines our era.

But if modern advertising is going to merit serious consideration as an art form in the future, we need to stop borrowing and start adding. We need to invent.

So let’s motor, just do it and wait for the good things that come to those who wait.


Tom Tom said...

Right on dude. The reason companies hire agencies in the first place is to piggyback off of our abilities as artists to sell their product. If we weren't artistic, they wouldn't need us at all.

BUT, the reason we need to be original is not to advance our field (whose purpose is admittedly to sell product), we need to be original because 3 months down the road it's not our rip-off of an idea, it's the original idea. But if the branded thing IS the original idea, then that's what's remembered.

I always think of it in the way of "if they stopped advertising today, how long would the brand survive?" Most would disappear in days, some months, a select few, never.

Plus, once you own one share of mind you can move on to another. That's why clients that stick with creative shops for a long time have such a stong foot in the marketplace, it accumlates as they stick and move. The others just have to keep hitting the same nail forever or perish.

Littlejohn said...

lefthand - I agree, advertising is a powerful, culture shaping force. But I think there a few other factors that are keeping advertising from reaching "art" status for the majority of people. And it's not that 95% of it is crap, the same is true of art.

For one, advertising is a cheap form of art. There is only one Sistine Chapel, which makes it special. But we mass produce ads in the millions, maybe billions. And it's free for people to view. Even though young photographers could probably make more money if they made hundreds of copies of their pictures and sold each for 5 bucks, they have to limit the prints to only 25 and over price them at like 1000 bucks, just to be taken seriously. It's hard to take our work seriously.

For two it's a disposable ever-changing craft. The Sistine Chapel will probably always be there, but the billboards and commercials that we made 2 months ago have already come and gone, and will probably never come back. That doesn't feel like art to people.

But I think our idea of art is changing. Our culture now values ideas and with the internet, people are getting accustomed to appreciating mass disposable media. But if people are ever going to take our work more seriously, we have to take ourselves more seriously (or maybe a lot less seriously).

Tom Tom said...

I meant to say...

"we need to be original because 3 months down the road it's not our rip-off of an idea that's remembered, it's the original idea that's remembered."

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