The Fine Line

Advertising exists in this weird place. The way I see it, it’s art, but within boundaries. The boundaries can limit one’s artistic expression, but can also create brilliantly simple artistic work. 

It is short form media. Save for the intentionally higher-minded ads like those of The Economist, advertising also needs to be understood on a much more universal scale. These are restrictions that other forms of art do not need to abide by. A great film or novel can take its time to explore one or multiple ideas. They can also be much more esoteric or difficult for the average viewer to engage with.

Speaking with a friend this weekend about this idea, I brought up one of my favourite novels, A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir. It’s an autobiographical story of de Beauvoir’s experience of her mother’s death. The majority of the book is her processing the experience in an intellectual, almost detached way. However, as the events unfold, this existentialist perspective becomes overtaken by raw emotion. In the conversation with my friend, I initially was saying that an advert could never reach the same level of depth, but the more we spoke the more I realised that a brilliant advert is still able to distill the core idea behind such a novel and communicate it in a fraction of the time. The art of advertising is in that distillation.

One thing that I’m still trying to find my way around at SCA is that idea of distillation. Before SCA I was studying in film school, where my main focus was in writing. I was also only interested in English and writing courses when I was in high school. I’m used to exploring ideas in longer forms of media. As well, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t as concerned with making things that would appeal to wider audiences. I just wanted to make stuff that I would like to see/read if I was consuming it. Both of these things have caused me to fall into some traps while creating adverts.

My favourite ads are the ones that make you pause and have to decode the idea behind the work. Essentially like a visual riddle. A good example of these are Alexandra Taylor’s adverts for Parkinson’s UK. You have to take a moment to (literally) piece them together before the idea clicks. Speaking with her last week, she told me that the ads were primarily put up on the tube, so that people could take more time to process them. However, as long as someone has any knowledge of Parkinson’s disease, they should be able to understand the idea of the adverts. The pitfalls I’ve fallen into from time to time with some of my work so far is that the idea behind the ads I write are too buried and do not express the idea clearly enough. I don’t have the same freedom of time/pages in my previous experiences with writing.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m too smart for advertising.

But seriously, that ability to distill a big idea into something universally intelligible takes real smarts. I’ve been able to pull it off occasionally and have faith that the more time I spend at SCA, the better I’ll become at mastering it.


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