Picked up a copy of “Wall and Piece”, the book about Banksy’s street art, on my way home the other day. One of his opening statements about his artwork relates to advertising. In essence, ‘one man’s advertising is another man’s graffiti’. He raises and interesting point, why is it that ad men are allowed to invade our social settings with their messages, yet for him to do so would be seen as a crime? Define art, in this instance.
Now a quick wander down most streets, I am always offended at the poor taste in the quality of creative in relation to the signs hanging over most shops. Only when you are in a listed area, do the adverts calling people from the pavement remain sympathetic to their surroundings. Mostly it is garish and fighting for attention with the next shop. Overall, it offends my aesthetic sensibilities of my design background and often wonders why town councils do not enforce some kind of stipulation on creativity. Occasionally you do a see a sign, a reminder from the turn of the century and now faded by time, of when sign-writing was pure art. Illustrious typography, painted directly on brick. It always captures my imagination and appreciation of the sheer patience and talent, often now lost by modern methods relying on cheap tricks. That is to say nothing of many modern posters and billboard creative’s that litter our city landscapes.
Now compare these socially offensive pieces with the humour and political attire in the statements by Banksy. This is not your casual spray-painted scrawl across walls. This is statement artwork, often appreciatively representative to the surroundings and designed to take the viewer on a journey into questioning the motive and meaning. Final execution has been forced to be fast, yet the preparation behind the scenes is meticulous and patient. This is modern brand awareness at its finest; socially, environmentally and politically aware. The guy is a genius.
I find his style akin to that of design guru Neville Brody. A guy with the formality of typographical design, yet with inspirational pieces that often appears random at first glance – it is where fine art meets commercial brand statements. He manages to bring visual communication on paper to almost origami proportions, yet often still within two-dimensions. Graphic design at its finest and inspirational reference material for any would-be creativologist.
Both are assaults on the rules. Carefully engineered and thought out creative structured behind the scenes, then deliberately altering them in final execution stage to capture your attention away from the norm. It is the pure essence of great design – have rules, but do not be bound by them. They appreciate context and then deliberately alter it, offering us a rung on a ladder in a journey into their statement beliefs. This is the heart of brand building.
What about M.C. Escher, fusing architectural engineering expertise with observational designed to offend the sensibilities of the mind, or the surrealists such as Salvador Dali taking you into a sub-conscious journey into an imaginative co-reality?
I am sure each of the above would take a degree of offense in discussing them in relation to advertising, let alone digital advertising. But they each offer us a lot to learn from in terms of great creativity that can be harnessed and utilised on screen.
Advertising is designed to be intrusive. Distract me from my every day circumstances and lead me into a thought process about something for commercial benefit. Connect me as a consumer with your client, and provoke us into conversation. That is the pure goal, not to be confused with any other kind of call-to-action objective, such as a click.
As a child my mother used to reward me for my creative efforts, often with the ‘that’s nice dear’ upon presentation of my pieces. I remember the pain, having spent 16 hours on a typographical piece at Design College in Australia, of my mentor scribbling red pen over my artwork, showing me improvements. I think I was near to tears at such defacement at the time. He taught me a valuable lesson I have never forgotten; ‘get over yourself, it is not art for art’s sake – it is commercial art, and a process – if it doesn’t work for the end user, it needs to be re-worked and re-worked until it can make its mark’. I never forgot such valuable advice.
Very often in digital design circles we have gotten too used to applauding creativity for art’s sake, and I wonder if my mother is on the judging panel? We award for pushing boundaries on technological and creative development, which I agree can be key, but we must not and cannot lose sight of we are here to deliver against objectives. The question should always be ‘what are these objectives?’ I would argue most of the time, it is about how to change perceptions in people’s minds – not about what technology can do per se – but how it can and does achieve real goals for clients, over time.
As an industry we have hit puberty. A time of uncertainty about who and what we are. Now is the time to cut the apron strings from the past and learn to stand on our own two feet as a mature influencer, challenging the very notion of advertising design through the ages. Consumers have changed as a result of technology, we must do too.
No longer can we look to digital to just provide a means for an immediate direct response – and any historic measurements that have become conditional for that. We need to show the value at altering someone’s confined reality exactly where they are. We must show the impact of brand, sometimes through repetition. Digital does not need to be always interactive in order to earn its stripes – just relevant and sympathetic. It does need to create stand out. We have proven time and again the means of breaking technological constraints of devices and those seemingly limiting technical specifications. Now we must show how to break free from always looking for an ‘immediate response’ and instead look to how we can instigate conversations between a consumer and the client – wherever and however.
I need to see more digital Bansky’s, more digital Brody’s. Read the specs, then break them and change my world as I browse past the virtual walls of a website. So what if I don’t click – did I notice? Did I stop and think – and if so, for how long? Did I do something – maybe nothing immediate – as a result? Bear in mind that if I end up in a shop on a street as a result, or even Amazon online, or maybe in a discussion on Facebook, you won’t see me tracked on any post impression… and so what if I didn’t – did I notice and am I left now favourably inclined?!
Digital has to grow up and fast.
You can’t rely on just digitising something to be effective. It’s not always the answer and should never be an excuse. The dazzling signage in Time Square and Piccadilly Circus may draw us like moths to a light bulb, but sometimes I feel raped and assaulted by such advertising every time I wander through New York. Digital advertising is no solution in this instance at creating stand-out against its traditional peers. Mostly I find it over-bearing and too much. I simply can’t focus – and therefore I wonder what the point is – what have we achieved? I wonder if others do too. I would argue here, less is definitely more.
It is always about understanding the environment, then altering reality whilst breaking confinements – in the craziest ways, in the most unexpected of places. How does this work online or on those digital walls? Yes, there are some examples – consider the creative for Adidas from Spain and a Cannes Gold Lion award winner – this does it for me. But these are often isolated executions and flashes of inspiration. Short of Jakob Nielsen, I am left floundering at naming a key digital designer who understands alternate realities for brand-building online and continues to deliver time and time again. I so want to see one emerge.
I would love to see how Banksy would utilise the web or digital signage for his purposes. Perhaps I will call him – let him loose in Time Square – and then invite him to speak at the next digital advertising awards… can you imagine him on the award panel alongside Brody?
Think we all would learn a lot.