And why not? Advertising is a $300 billion industry. It's the driving force behind what we watch on TV (and why it comes on when it does), what we see on billboards as we drive through the city, what we have to click through while we surf the web, what we hear during the breaks in our Internet radio stations, and what we have to avoid accidentally hitting with our thumbs while we use our mobile phones. It determines pop-cultural phenomena and, whether we like to admit it or not, seriously impacts our actions.
You hear it all the time: advertising is manipulation. But doesn't advertising make use of art (and creativity)? And isn't it true that all art is manipulation - of the mechanisms which trigger human emotion, (to paraphrase Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder)? But in advertising all that artistic and creative energy is used with the express purpose of supporting the machine of capitalism. Does that preclude advertising from being considered as a true art form? Probably. Does it make ads in themselves any less creative? Not in the slightest.
"If it doesn't sell, it's not creative."
|I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE ADS|
My favorite ads are those that act as standalone short movies. The ones with an effective joke or that tell a story. The ones with impressive production value or that are visually dynamic. The ones where the actual brand is more of an afterthought than a focal point. Because when I watch TV, I'm looking to be entertained, not to research various products and services to buy. So I naturally gravitate towards the most entertaining ads rather than the most informative or the ones that carry the most effective brand message. Thus the ones that you'd expect a client to be unhappy with...
Advertising and Brands: A Match Made in Capitalism
Without brands, advertising would be severely limited as a medium. Sure, advertising can be purely informational, such as spreading awareness of a certain issue (mostly in the form of PSA's). But the information contained in ads is most effective and dynamic when it's trying to convince consumers to choose between two different versions of a similar product. Sometimes a particular brand has specific functional advantages over its competitors, and a good advertiser will make sure to highlight them. But sometimes sellers depend on the creativity and ingenuity of their agency to help consumers associate their unspectacular brand with memorable and exciting images.
"Brand" has become somewhat of a dirty word among independent-minded thinkers who don't like to be classified or limited or stuck within a box. Maybe it's because of the negative connotations associated with the word, such as when cattle are branded to show that they belong to a certain rancher's herd. But I, for one, see no problem with the concept of branding. I look at a brand as cultural shorthand for the way an entity wants to be perceived by the people it wishes to influence. When a writer tries to find his own unique voice or an architect struggles to perfect her style - these are both (somewhat highbrow) instances of branding.
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Films are made to make money and prestige for themselves and those involved in the production. Ads, however, in addition to the above, are made to make money for a third party's company. Something that's not creative might not sell, but if it comes down to one or the other, it's no secret that most agencies and clients would choose what sells. And although I am a dedicated consumer and a functional (if somewhat reluctant) member of a capitalistic system, I will always prefer a creative ad to one that sells. But, then again, I think I watch ads for a very different reason than agencies and clients want me to watch them...