Making Rubbish..

Or Art? Picture via Baz_in_Moroland. Usual rules apply.

This post is a bit of a fusion of all of the thinking which has been floating about the wider ad community for a little while (and perhaps beyond – so it’s not too much of an echo chamber post, honest).

It relates to one of my cardinal rules about working in this business. Essentially, ads are no longer seen as a novelty, something to be admired and held in a state of wonderment when they are particularly good. But, often, we’re making rubbish.

Deeply thought about rubbish, with all of the faux, cod science levered in, but still rubbish. And of course, with all of the recent discussion about the Cadbury’s Gorilla, something occurs to me. Advertising seems to be going through a post Enlightenment phase.

Bit of a poncy way to begin a week, but bear with me. We’ve had the intellectualising of the discipline (say from the birth of planning to about 2004), and now there seems to be a high/low culture (click the link, it’s fascinating) debate going on. Matthew Arnold would be pleased.

What’s rubbish (‘low’ advertising) and great (‘high’ advertising, with an obvious logical product link, it would seem) is now of great concern. And it’s not just the Cadbury’s Gorilla who has led to this concern, oh no. That ad is just a trigger, and I believe it belies some of the basic fear around in the industry.

Yes, fear. Fear that we are actually helping kill the planet (a bit overdone, but hell, with all the greenwashing about at the moment, it fits), and fear we’re actually wasting our time doing this (and should be doing something great and good, like teaching today’s youth, working in the charity sector or defending people’s rights).

And things like the ban on outdoor advertising in Sao Paulo only adds fuel to this flame. Well, what’s to be done about this dilemma?

I’ve already written about why I’m not, as a planner, overly worried about the Cadbury’s Gorilla ad – indeed, in impromptu qual studies down the pub, it was the only ad which was talked about at great length (the recall was off the charts, by any ad tracking service’s quantitative measuring). I don’t think many other brands will be able to pull it off, but I don’t have a problem with it existing – like I said before, it’ll boil down to the sales figures (or the fact that everyone seems to have forgotten any chocolate related scandal) ultimately.

Bluntly, I don’t care if the ads I make are rooted in a solid planning foundation, or if they are a lot more sensorial. Oh no. I care that they shift product. Hell, I like the music of both Mozart and Alkaline Trio, after all.

But the initial point about rubbish is very very important. Though great advertising can come close to being ‘art’ in one sense, I’ve never really viewed it as that. Some may disagree, of course – the fact that I have a simplistic grasp of the art world probably shines through in that comment. No, it’s a sales technique that can entertain at the same time. I’d rather it did the former than the latter, to be honest. But anything which keeps it from being rubbish is very important.

When you make advertising, you are adding to the background noise in people’s lives, forcing them to process another message. So, if this post makes any point, it’s to say that clients and agencies need to make damn sure that any ad they make is relevant to people’s lives. Above all, keep it from being another discarded, disused, non processed piece of crap that seems to adorn billboards, TVs and cityscapes around the world.