The Art of Advertising

Saturday, 27th February 2010 at 0:43 UTC Leave a comment

Advertisements penetrate every corner of our modern lives. As my body clock settles back from Canadian to UK time, I’m recovering from the ad-fest that being host country to the Olympic Games always inspires. But is advertising an art form? Can an advert actually be worth watching just to see the advert? And if so, what does this say about the arts as we now experience them?

Being in Canada brought with it a fair share of ridiculous and aggravating advertising. Several adverts had great messages until the Coke or McDonalds logo appeared, branding over patriotic messaging. McDonalds even have an advert that looks like a perfume advert but turns out to be about posh people going for a late night MaccyD’s. Chevrolet had talking cars, Bell communications had, well, boring conversations.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen a couple of advertisements that have stood out from the pack, one essentially a short story conveyed in under a minute that manages to develop and project emotions in part through sheer simplicity. The other, well, you have to go and watch it. “The Man your Man could smell like” is an amazing piece of filming. Here’s Google’s offering:

On one level, I’m sure this could have been made as a film or art school project; its certainly got simplicity, and it certainly tells a story. No matter how much I wanted to stop and inwardly scream at myself for being taken in by an ad for information sucking behemoth Google, I just enjoyed the advert. As a Chrome user, its unlikely I’ll ever bother with another search engine, and its my first port-of-call except when I know I’m just going to read Wikipedia. I’m pretty surprised I haven’t seen more take-offs on this one, because its not terribly difficult; all the action is screen-capture based.

OK, did you spot how many times they changed camera shot? They don’t! Did you see how he was moved from the deck of the ship to final ‘shot’? This is a massive budget, highly technical piece of filming. Its unlikely this stunt would have been pulled off in any regular movie. Don’t worry about the actor, by the way, this advert has ensured casting crews are camping on his doorstep waiting for him to sign contracts; he’ll be back!

Both of these are clearly works of skill; they’re not just a regurgitation of a meme that rolls round almost every single commercial break. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a toiletries add quite like this one, and search ads are pretty much undefined; Yahoo and Microsoft are the only others to recently demonstrate ads in this category. And they’ve managed to avoid creating another Aleksandr Orlov, who whilst we’re on the subject of Art and Advertising is about to be placed in his own movie.

I suppose its not really much different from the days when painters made most of their money through commissions. Indeed, privileged sponsors of art are almost as old as art itself. For instance, only recently have arts like political satire managed to exist safely above ground. To assume that all commercially funded art forms might drop away just like that is perhaps naive.

But can these adverts be seen as anything other than a desperate attempt to shove a product under people’s noses, and can they been seen aside from the products? I suppose some really popular adverts have taken on a life of their own, but when we invoke them, can we do it without accidently advertising the product for which they were made? Or perhaps our culture now so saturated with advertising messages that we cannot untangle ourselves from the diet of marketing messages we keep being fed.

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Entry filed under: Art, Corporations, Marketing, Media, Technology.

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