Let’s destroy the hierarchy of the art world for a moment and scuff the line between commercial and fine art. If it’s OK to love a TV show, it’s OK to love an ad, a 30-second film, a PSA, or even a bus wrap.
I’m dismayed that overall, ads are unfairly thrown into a lumpy lowbrow heap. Just as with the cheap lyrics and saccharine melodies of bad music, the advertising world has its own share of mistakes. The beloved studio audience infomercial. The local car dealership that can’t seem to locate their inside voice. The belligerent pop-up ad covering three-quarters of the article you’re trying to read. The billboard: a monument to capitalist society. Well hold on, humans have been selling stuff to each other for thousands of years. It’s perfectly natural.
With paid media forecasts looking sunny as ever, advertising is in a unique position to elevate itself and enrich our surroundings. Artificial intelligence is writing a new marketing playbook and promoting experimentation with new formats and mediums. In airports, ads will be programmed to recognize if a flight is filled with more tourists or commuters. Facial recognition and biometrics will tease out emotional context and dynamically adapt an ad in real-time, switching to a different tone of voiceover based on viewer preference. The modalities identifying our desires have become so sneakily precise, variations in style will become as tailored as the individual they’re targeting. It’s an exciting time to craft ads.
Dampening my enthusiasm is a concern that over-curation will fatigue our ability to make decisions and we’ll grow to resent such hyper-specificity. Humans want to be surprised. We recoil when categorized. We lead lives in endless whim, yearning for the view around the bend. So I temper that concern by refocusing on shared experiences and the quest for original style. For differentiation. Objective beauty from a variety of artistic disciplines must always coat the tip of the spear.
Remember that scene in Dumb & Dumber when Lloyd and Harry are wiping their tears and snot with dollar bills in an Aspen hotel room? And we find out all along they were fawning over a poignant commercial for a telephone company. It’s funny because it’s true. Ads can and should be entertaining, informative, or enlightening. They can serve a higher purpose beyond just selling shoes, like inspiring millions of women to pursue an athletic feat they were told was impossible. Or as simple as a car commercial matching metronomic wiper blades with street scenes passing by.
When our autonomous cars are wrapped in LED fabric, we’ll get micro-paid to briefly illuminate them in traffic to advertise something. That kind of future seems inescapable. In the spirit of never allowing ourselves to descend into branded dystopian madness, we owe it to the world to infuse artful ideas and expression into marketing.
We must help brands and organizations capture attention and most importantly, respect that attention. Attention is not something to fight for with volume and shrill visuals. We’re better than that.