Great Advertising Is Art

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If Boticelli were alive today he'd be working for Vogue. - Peter Ustinov, Actor

The next time you're at a classic 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 by the Church. In each gem of an ad, there was a company (the Church) with cash (ad dollars), commissioning 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 Art as ads? 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.

But I'd argue that advertising really is art. And those 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, focusing their time and energy to craft something expressive and beautiful. The ads we see today just happen to have been shaped by a little by a corporate influence (the Church?) with a logo (the Cross?) on it.

The world we live in today is completely mediated. As a result, consumers are often deeply suspicious that everyone is simply trying to sell us something. What's an advertiser to do? Well, it's easy to not like ads. But it's harder to not like good art. And any marketing department has a lot to learn from the 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.

Fortunately there are those few trendsetters, refusing to trade good art for ads:

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

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

It's Target putting on LED light shows on the side of the NYC Standard Hotel.

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

It's Honda turning its car parts into a complex Rube Goldberg machine.

And so many more.

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 they'll 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.