Having worked in the advertising industry for more than two decades, I have formed strong opinions about ad professionals that rank art above commerce. I believe ad agencies are hired to make their clients more profitable by helping them sell more products. Clients are not art patrons put on earth to help wannabee artists or filmmakers use advertising as an outlet for their artistic endeavors. While great advertising can be great art, there are too many people in the advertising profession that create work simply to win awards or help them get their next job, as opposed to helping the client progress their business.
And perhaps the product category that receives the most “art as advertising” abuse is the car industry. For some reason, most agencies that create car advertising have an enormous aversion to simply showing consumers the car. Instead, we get long-lens shots of barely recognizable vehicles tearing down a curvy road, where we see more dust than car. Or we get close-ups of a shiny rear view mirror with a passing reflection of a hip driver. There is seldom any description of the many features most vehicles now sport, and the camera pans the car so quickly that it is impossible to determine if you even like it. One current television campaign for a very interesting car concentrates on the antics of digital aliens that have hijacked the vehicle, as opposed to showing us the many features of the automobile.
After not setting foot in a car dealership for a long time, I’ve actually done a significant amount of car shopping over the last year, and one of the biggest things I have noticed is that cars are much more interesting than the advertising that supports them. One of the reasons that the car industry is enjoying a great resurgence is that most of the cars on the market are terrific; beautiful, dependable machines laden with interesting features and new safety devices. People shopping for cars would like to see them, and if you have not shopped for a car in a few years the many features now available on even entry-level models is fairly stunning. Potential buyers would appreciate detailed descriptions and demonstrations of all the new technology that is transforming the automotive industry, as opposed to mildly clever alien cartoons.
In the end, consumers want to be sold. Certainly a car is an emotional purchase, and great branding will sell more cars. But consumers also want to see the vehicle, and understand all the features and benefits that make that particular car ideal for them.