Advertising is not Art

Once in a blue moon you will get a client who just wants to look fantastic, which gives creatives the opportunity they usually can only dream about. But however arty we get in advertising, what we produce is not art. For in advertising there is always that pesky overriding driver: to sell things.

Often what it appears we are selling is the idea of cool, or masculinity, or sexiness… but usually only in relation to an encounter with a product. Lynx adverts, of course, parody this wonderfully. The Lynx Effect, causes women to throw themselves at unlikely blokes simply because they have sprayed themselves with a frankly unappetising underarm deodorant.

Of course, artists have commissions. I expect even Michelangelo had to sign some dotted line for Pope Julius II before he did all the upside down stuff on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But ultimately a piece of art has only to sell itself.

In advertising we are charged to use artistic methods, techniques and so on to sell a product. This is why, for me, advertising can be artistic, but it can’t be art, however much we try to kid ourselves.

Guinness is a client who has a history of being artistic. Who can forget the advertising from the noughties of black and white waves with breakers containing wild white horses, to beats from ‘Phat Planet’ by Leftfield all in the business of selling a decent pint of porter?

It of course this wonderful advert gained some of its gravitas from geniune art. References to Ahab (who, lest we forget, was in search of the  White Whale in Melville’s Moby Dick).  For me it remains an outstanding TV advert, and one of the most artistic things ever to grace our screens.  Visually too, it takes its inspiration from Walter Crane’s Horses of Neptune – but there’s nothing wrong with that.

But was it art? No. Because you always have the ultimate bathos of it being about selling a glass of beer. Artistic adverts end in disappointment. And disappointment awaits creatives who fall in love with the art in their concepts. At the end of the day your work is always there to sell something. But, my God, it can be fun getting there…

Below Horses of Neptune, and one of my favourite TV adverts of all time.

About Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, plays, libretti, prose, journalism and so on. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.
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