A lot of people seem to think that Advertising is characterized by the absence of Art. The argument goes something like this: Art is something personal and beautiful that hangs in museums and makes people think. People think of the starving artist, living in a crappy apartment and caring about the integrity of his passion rather than how much money he makes. Ads are unavoidable posters, banners, television commercials, radio spots, corny grinning real estate agents on buses and benches, billboards for adult-only super-stores or annoying radio personalities, generic beauty product magazine ads, internet popups…
They’re plastered everywhere. And someone is profiting off them. Ads aren’t about integrity; they’re about profit. What people don’t realize is what GOOD Art and GOOD ads have in common: they’re about business AND integrity. They don’t have to choose one over the other. No artist wants to starve, and no ad agency wants to plaster what-they-know-is-crap on buses. Artists want to make a profit off what they love, and advertisers what to make a profit off work they’re proud of, too.
Andy Warhol definitely made headway in proving that Art and Ads are connected. He was able to maintain the integrity of his work but also freely admit that he was a part of a consumerist society. His work was mass produced; he wasn’t anti-establishment and he wasn’t poor. But he was still respected and creative.
This is why I think studying good art makes a person very capable of creating good ads.
First of all, this is one way how to evaluate a piece of art. I’ll look at two very popular pieces at the Art Institute of Chicago (one of my favorite museums) for this example.
The first piece is Caillebotte’s “Rainy Day in Paris” (1877). If you took your first look at this painting and decided to go the simplistic route of interpretation, you might think, “Well, what I first notice is this man and woman holding an umbrella and walking down the street. It’s raining. That’s probably why they need an umbrella.”
But why would Caillebotte spend so much time on a painting just to show a couple in the rain, an objective observation? There has to be something more… Upon further observation, you’ll see that although their arms are linked, they aren’t looking at each other. They’re not walking close to each other. They look disinterested.
What about everybody else on the street? Everyone else seems disinterested, too. People are looking at the sky. People are looking at the ground. People are not looking at another person.
So, what is the historical context of this painting? Paris had recently undergone something called Haussmannization, which was essentially a huge urban development project that redefined the map of Paris. Wide boulevards were favored to cramped, narrow streets. This meant Paris looked like a more modern, clean, organized city. Also, though, once the narrow, historical Paris disappeared, a lot of people were displaced. Not everyone was happy about Haussmannization.
So what does this all mean? It means that the “revamp” of Paris made a lot of people feel lost. You know that criticism of the 21st century: Everything is more modern and technological, but everyone seems disconnected? That’s the same argument that existed during the late nineteenth century in Paris.
So this painting isn’t about rain and France? Nope, it’s about disconnect in a modern society.
If you go through the same process with “Nighthawks” (1942), you could come up with a very similar interpretation. Different time periods, same criticism of modernity. Interesting, right?
How does this relate to advertising? If you want to sell something nowadays, it’s never simple. You have to dig for the deeper meaning behind the product. What makes a customer buy your, let’s say, pen when another company’s pen is technically exactly the same as yours? How to you make a homogeneous product unique?
A speaker in a Madison Advertising Club meeting taught us the “5 Why’s.” That basically means that you ask yourself, “Why does a customer buy a Bic pen?” and then you keep on asking why until you get o the real answer. The AHA moment.
Why do you buy this pen? To write. (THIS is not a good campaign at all. No differentiation here.)
Why do you want to write? Because I have something to say.
Why do you have something to say? I don’t have to opportunity to speak my mind at work, at school. I’m part of a system where I can’t stretch my creative muscles.
So, Why are you buying this pen REALLY? To create something.
That’s the campaign: TO CREATE, not TO WRITE. The same practices that go into evaluating art can go into evaluating an idea, an ad or a strategy.
***To the People at Translation: some of this article comes from an answer I had for another part of your application. There were many ideas I wanted to expand on from that one answer, and I thought a longer essay would do perfectly!