I want to start this with the offer that any new music or arts blog which runs my banner ad for the duration of my project will get a free commission. Email me or leave a comment if you run it.
I emailed three different blogs asking about advertising. Two did not write back. The third one decided to stay ad-free.
Some of you who know me from California are probably remembering a few of my anti-advertising rants. Is advertising inherently bad? If not, when is it bad and when is it ok?
One day, when I was still a dot com worker, I was driving some of my 80 kM commute (160 kM per day, every work day, in a small car) and I saw that a new sign had gone up over the freeway. There is no shortage of advertising signs, but this one was one of the more dangerous, new, traffic-jam causing variety. It was a gigantic flat screen monitor, several meters across. Drivers stare at the moving pictures. They slow down to watch. Or they run into something from the distraction. I looked up at the sign.
It was showing an photo of a tropical flower, rendered in millions of colors and luminous over the traffic. I felt profoundly disturbed. It was the only beautiful thing that I had seen that day. I have woken up in the morning, driven 80 km to an office building, in a heavily polluted area, sat inside my beige cubicle, staring at my computer screen, gotten back into my car and driven 40 km back towards my house. It was already dark outside.
But there, thousands of times larger than life, there was a beautiful flower. I felt like crying. The next week, the flower still remained but with the text "your ad here" at the bottom. The week after that, I was informed of a 10% discount on new tires for sale at a nearby store.
Around that time, I went to an exhibit at the SF MOMA. It was about packaging and design. I had finally escaped from my corporate work week to go spend Sunday at a museum and it was full of advertisements and product packaging. I had been telling everyone around me how this experience with the billboard had shown me that there was no art in my life. But then the MOMA argued with me. There IS art in my life, it's just corporate art. Corporate designers are still artists, but with a different purpose.
the purpose of art is ethereal and may differ from artist to artist or from piece to piece. The point of corporate art is to get you to buy something. So is it bad because it has a crass purpose? Are aesthetics part of a gestalt or can they be separated from economic purposes? How much does commercial intent color a work? Is there a moral difference between a cereal box or an advertisement poster for a concert?
Some concert posters and some album coverts are high art. But they're advertising target is art. Does that change their moral stance? Ironically, my day job was in marketing. To prepare me for the shift from engineer to marketing, I was given a book to read. It said the role of advertising was to inform people of things that are available to them. So when somebody puts a flyer for an upcoming new music concert in my mailbox, that's an advertisement. When somebody puts a flyer for a sale on pork cutlets in my mailbox, that's also an advertisement.
So some of the judgement about advertising, for me, at least, is connected to how well targeted it is. I want to know about concerts. I don't want to know about supermarket sales. Some is about how obtrusive it is. I don't want advertising to get in the way of other information that I'm seeking. Some of it is the appropriateness of the context. I don't want to see advertising in a museum - exhibits about same possibly excepted. I also don't want advertising to mislead, lie, or pass itself off as something other than an ad.
Therefore, the primary issue is context. Do ads belong in metro stations? No! Maybe. Yes? When I lived in Paris, I saw on a metro ad that the Ensemble Contemporaine was doing a series of music by John Cage and Pierre Boulez. Interesting. I also saw that Bang on a Can was playing. I also saw Naiomi Campbel in skimpy gold lamé posed on a chair that looked like a hamburger bun. I don't want to pass judgement, because all I can say is that I care more about musical announcements than I do for department store ads. Visually, the gold lamé and tiny dog were far more striking than the concert announcements.
I put a banner ad up on this blog about four years ago. It was for Dennis Kucinich, who should have gotten the Democratic nomination to run against Bush (yeah, well, Kerry lost anyway and the debates would have been a lot more interesting and actually talked about healthcare and peace and women's rights and other things that you won't hear discussed if you go for loser "safe" bets . . . anyway). I didn't get anything in return for running it. Is it "right" for me to run ads or ask others to do so? Well, ads aren't inherently wrong, so that depends. I don't know if my answers are as satisfying as I'd like, but I feel some truthiness around this. I don't think my banner ads contribute to the corporatization of the world. They're not beautiful by any means, but I can only hope people care about music.
I had an idea, back when I was doing my overly long commute, to do a visual project. I wanted to rent billboard space and commission artists to do mural installations. My conspirators and I had extra ideas like running a tiny FM station from the billboard, playing music, like some car billboards broadcast car commercials over a short range. I wanted other commuters to see something beautiful in their day. To experience public outdoor art with an ethereal purpose, not trying to sell them anything at all.