Perspectives

Great Advertising
Is Art

Great Advertising
Is Art

By Joe Sabia

Great art inspires people.
Great ads should too.

The next time you’re at a traditional Western art museum looking at sculptures, paintings and thousands of depictions of the birth of Jesus, consider that you’re looking at the most famous and oldest form of advertising: advertising for the Christian Church. For each gem of an ad (artwork), a company (the Church) with cash (ad dollars) commissioned artists (ad agencies) to depict and promulgate faith (ad campaigns).

Renaissance art is precious for awakening mankind’s creative soul, but who in their right mind defines Renaissance painting or sculpture as “advertising”? We say it’s “art,” right? Never mind that most masterpieces were bankrolled by deep-pocketed religious types with their own agendas.

Fast forward to ad ads. You know, the ones from Ford, Gillette, McDonalds, etc. Advertising, as opposed to art, is all about the involuntary experience of companies disrupting our space and time. Ads disrupt entertainment (TV); ads disrupt local environments (billboards); ads even disrupt the dietary habits of fictional characters in movies sometimes.

Consumers are often deeply
suspicious that everyone is
trying to sell them something.
What’s an advertiser to do?

It’s Google flashing its technology through a gorgeous music video for Arcade Fire.

It’s Google flashing its technology through a gorgeous music video for Arcade Fire.

Renaissance art is precious for awakening mankind’s creative soul, but who in their right mind defines Renaissance painting or sculpture as “advertising”? We say it’s “art,” right? Never mind that most masterpieces were bankrolled by deep-pocketed religious types with their own agendas.

It’s BMW driving cars through a giant glass apple.

Fast forward to ad ads. You know, the ones from Ford, Gillette, McDonalds, etc. Advertising, as opposed to art, is all about the involuntary experience of companies disrupting our space and time. Ads disrupt entertainment (TV); ads disrupt local environments (billboards); ads even disrupt the dietary habits of fictional characters in movies sometimes.

But good advertising really is art. And the people who craft it well are amazing artists. That ad design you see may have been crafted by the Michelangelo of Adobe Illustrator and the copy penned by the Shakespeare of copywriting. A musical jingle you hear could be from the Beethoven of commercial scoring. Creative minds abound in advertising. These people focus their time and energy to craft something expressive and beautiful. The ads we see today just happen to have been shaped by corporate influence (the church?) and feature a logo (the cross?).

It’s BMW driving cars through a giant glass apple.

It’s Toshiba sending the first chair to space attached to a weather balloon.

It’s Toshiba sending the first chair to space attached to a weather balloon.

The world we live in today is completely mediated. As a result, consumers are often deeply suspicious that everyone is trying to sell them something. What’s an advertiser to do? Well, it’s easy to not like ads. But it’s harder to not like good art. Any marketing department has a lot to learn from the modern-day Caravaggios and Berninis of the world, employed by ad agencies or not. The whole industry needs its own revolution in making its consumers feel inspired — not sold to.

If a company blows a consumer’s mind, the consumer will forget it’s an ad. The creator will innovate artistically. And the company? Maybe it will earn the respect that comes with the title patron.

Joe Sabia gave a TED Talk in 2011 on the topic of storytelling and acts as the co-curator of Boing Boing TV on all Virgin America flights.