Art for ads sake. Are they really that different? What can art teach advertising? And vice versa.
The internet has given the world so much creative stimulus that people have become creative connoisseurs – difficult to impress or shock. From Instagram to pinterest, creativity is no longer a profession…it’s just who we are. And when brands can’t deliver on these new creative expectations the results are mediocre, needing more media to support unwanted comms. It’s getting harder to make an impression but that in turn opens up new avenues and drives the creativity needed for ads closer to the arts.
Buy me a beer and I’ll talk for hours on this subject but to keep it short here are three points to challenge your perception of the divide between art and ads - something I have wrestled with in my own work and with those I collaborate.
The stereotypical differences.
Art vs Ads. There are many labels we use to stereotype and separate these two worlds. Niche v Mass, Raw v Researched, Physical v Virtual, Priceless v Disposable, Authentic v Scripted, Emotion v Functional, Real v Fake, Deep v Shallow, No Budget v Big Budget, Expressive v Single Minded, Muse v timeline. You get the picture.
But what do you think is more popular on the internet?
A bespoke, raw, authentic emotional and very real thing - not made from money but made from inspiration or something for the masses that is scripted with clear researched information, presented by fake people in a shallow storyline with a big budget.
But these are only the stereotypes and great ads are not so easily categorised, they blur the lines between art, entertainment & a straight commercial message. Your modern head space needs to be a mix of all these stereotypes, thinking between arty and addy. There is still a place for addy ads but there effectiveness is directly linked to the media spend - you are forcing your message on people and you will pay for that in your bottom line.
Great work can’t be categorised so easily.
Street artists take their message to the people, often expressing powerful insightful ideas and in many ways acting more like adverting for a cause than a purely artistic expression. It is a dialogue but it’s no longer between the artist and the foot traffic. It’s power comes from the fact that it exists in the real world but once photographed it will find more (a hell of a lot more) eyeballs shared around the internet.
One powerful example by artists Elmgreen and Dragset is their permanently installed sculpture ‘Prada Marfa’ situated 2.3 km northwest of Valentine, Texas, just off U.S. Highway 90 - basically in the middle of nowhere special. But you only have to google image search Prada Marfa to understand it’s real communication value.
Going back a few years the work of Joshua Allen-Harris plastic bag animals in the streets of New York in another loved and widely shared experience despite only being done in a few locations and only installed in one city. Or take the work of artist Briancoshock secreted away in the manhole covers of Milan and yet embraced by content hungry cyber channels.
While these examples are presented as art their principles of how they are communicated across the internet are valuable lessons in modern advertising. More inspirational projects can be found at
It is this thinking that has led myself and collaborators to work for Melbourne Queer Film festival (MQFF) ’To Russia with Love’ which saw Russian posters installed in Melbourne in an act of solidarity between the two separate Queer communities. The MQFF Russian posters placed in Melbourne became the campaigns powerful image which saw a big uptake by content channels reporting on the festival.
Another way we have been applying this thinking is with our recent million plus view campaign for Beyond Blue ’Dadvice’ which simply see’s real dads oversharing about the joys and struggles of being a new dad. We kept the cameras amateur and real because nothing would have killed the genuineness of this faster than 4k advertising production values.
The 4 reasons why brands need to stop making ads the way they always have.
1) The modern media landscape continues to split and divide making road block media harder and harder to promise. Ads are everywhere but ultimately they are gates to other content or peripheral decorations, many of which people can easily navigate around or ignore. You want people to want to own your ad. Owning it by sharing it, or taking a picture of it to keep and of course ultimately buying your products with pride.
3) Very few brands can promise truely unique selling propositions so we advertise in a mostly commoditised market. When products are commoditised brand love is the only real difference. The more real and expressive a brand is the more people get to know and love that brand.
4) People’s tastes have changed and will continue to change. We (the people) are curators of what we want to see and “ads” are low on the list. Tell me something interesting or make it beautiful enough that I want to own it. Infotainment channels like Vice, Vox and Buzz Feed fill our social newsfeeds and daily routines. They report on niche ideas to the most life changing events - basically anything humans are interested in.
Brands who express real human cultural ideas, especially when they make something to express those ideas are part of this stream of sharing. Those who make ads about their products only are not.
The only difference between art and ads is the intent.
This is the ultimate point here, don’t save the great expressive work for the art world. Regardless of how we label it (ad or art) in every other way they can be the exact same thing.

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