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March 18, 2013 By

Art, Copy & Code – Art and Advertising in a Digital Age

Art, Copy & Code – Art and Advertising in a Digital Age
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Last year, Google undertook a project which saw advertisers and digital creatives work together to “re-imagine how brands tell stories in a connected world”. They sought to recreate some of the more memorable ad campaigns - such as the 1970s Coca Cola adverts – using the latest technology. Now, Google have expanded on this by kick-starting a new project which demonstrates that technology and creativity can combine to create exciting new ad campaigns for the next generation.

There is a concern here that an appropriation by Google of past meaningful, passionate, and artistic ad campaigns underlines the enterprise, and in turn offers up a talking shoe, and further additions to the vast amount of spurious social engagement tools already available.

The theory is sound; art can have an invigorating impact on an otherwise mundane aspect of our daily life (consider the proportion of advertising which may be classed as instantly forgettable).

Part of the Art Copy & Code manifesto states:

What hasn’t changed is the need for human insights, breakthrough ideas and emotional stories. Code facilitates new kinds of experiences, but it doesn’t replace the storytelling skills the advertising industry has honed over the past fifty years. Our connected world is giving brands more dimensions and touch points, but they still need something compelling to offer in order to create a real connection.

I get the feeling that's what's missing in this case.

Viewing the Art, Copy & Code promo film, it all looks very impressive. What you're left with however, is a jumble of buzz words and buzz phrases about new ideas and “telling personal stories with data”, along with a distinct lack of reasoning. Why are these “experiments” being carried out? Why do we need an app that allows us to make virtual pizza? How does this solve a problem?

That technology has outstripped human requirement is nothing new, such discourse has long been a core tenet of modern thinking, from Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, through to the dystopian visions of post-war modern art. A brief celebration of the machine took place in the years leading up to WW1 (most notably by Marinetti's Futurists), but quickly diminished in the face of the atomic bomb and mass inner city destruction by tanks and war-planes.

What has changed is the desire to voraciously market any new piece of technological detritus that promises to bring us closer together, integrate the physical and digital worlds, and further personalise our virtual experience.

Take the new Volkswagen Smileage app, powered by Google, for example, promoted through the search engine's latest creative experiment project: Art, Copy & Code. It is billed as:

The first social app made to maximise fun on every drive...

The core facets of the app allow users (car drivers with an Android phone, Google+ account, willingness to have a Google+ account, friends with Google+ accounts, and a desire to share their every move with as many “friends” as possible) to track their route, share memorable moments as they're happening, and tag fellow passengers.

Where has this been all my life? How did I ever function without it? But more importantly, what has art got to do with it?

Past collaborations between art and advertisers have given us some of the most iconic ads (if not imagery) of the 19th and 20th century. From Toulouse Lautrec's Moulin Rouge posters through Norman Rockwell's contributions to the sale of war bonds in the 1940s, and right up to the use of Lucio Fontana's slashed canvases as part of Saatchi & Saatchi's Silk Cut ad campaign, artists and art have had a major impact on our collective advertising experience.

The latter, in its combination of artistic inspiration, humour and brand iconography, is a great example of a memorable collaboration between art and advertising.

Silk Cut Advert

Saatchi & Saatchi are perhaps the names at the centre of the art/advertising relationship. Always one to straddle the divisions between art, advertising and propaganda, Charles Saatchi's involvement in the 1979 Conservative election campaign - with the iconic “Labour Isn't Working” posters - was pivotal in the subsequent Tory success.

Labour Isn't Working - Tory Election Poster

Lee Sharrock, Global Creative PR for Saatchi & Saatchi, provides a concise summation of the common goals of artist and advertiser when she says:

Artists and advertising creatives alike are in the business of translating their view of the world into their chosen art form, and this view could either be an extension of real life, or a Utopian view of what a perfect life could be.

Google and Volkswagen have attempted to offer both. There is an attempt to persuade us that their app provides both an answer to real life concerns, and an upgrade to a more desirable, utopian lifestyle.

This is a common issue in much of what new technology purports to offer. Numerous video and TV advertisements portray a seamless operation, in which function, design, and lifestyle synchronise in complete harmony (the Google Chrome TV ads are a good example).

Real life can take a back seat in this new world, and pesky factors such as network signal, presence of mind, and technological capability are summarily dismissed in an attempt to instil a belief in the ultimate authority of technological advance. At any cost. For any reason.

When we compare this new ad campaign with the See Britain (or Scotland) By Train posters of the early to mid 20th century, we get a sense of how, while some core aspects remain (the promise of a more enjoyable life, the offer of escapism), the overall focus is altogether different.

While the VW app ad hones in on the product and its capacity to “enhance” the driving experience, and as a result potentially relegating the traditionally enjoyed elements of the drive itself (exploring new places, the sense of spontaneity and discovery, the destination), the rail posters follow a hierarchy which is quite the reverse.

The destinations are the focal point; the real life, face to face interactions come to the fore, with the mode of transport playing a subsidiary role as – quite literally – the vehicle through which this better life may be arrived at.

See Scotland by Train

Not only do we have an advertising campaign with true social values at heart (not to be mistaken with number of Facebook likes, Re-tweets and +1's), but we have fantastic examples of art and advertising collaboration.

What we have with the Art, Copy & Code initiative is not an example of art invigorating advertising, but rather a very well designed, and highly polished means of selling incremental technological advances, disguised as manifestations of genius in a digital age.

Blog header image courtesy of Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Published under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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