“You’re an advertising writer. So, you must be working on a book.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had this conversation, I could afford the much-needed plastic surgery to make me look like Brad Pitt.

People presume that I’m a tortured novelist, slaving away at a day job while working on my magnum opus at night. Truth is, advertising is the only creative outlet I need.

As a young ad man, I heard a quote that shaped my thinking for the future. It went something like, “Of course what we do is art. Future generations will remember us as the Advertists.” I have reveled in the pretentiousness ever since.

There are many great commercial communications that can be labeled as works of art. Here are a few that I would feature if I were curating the gallery…


Let’s take a journey back to 1959 and the Golden Age of Advertising. An agency called Doyle Dane Bernbach broke all the rules when they wrote the negative sounding headline ‘Think Small’ and showed a tiny picture of the product surrounded by acres of very expensive white space. But it worked. The Volkswagen has become one of the world’s most iconic automobiles and the ad ‘changed the very nature of advertising’ according to the Portland Business Journal.

Another piece of work that transformed the world of marketing was Apple’s ‘1984’ television commercial. It was a cinematic masterpiece condensed into 60 dramatic seconds. Created by Chiat/Day and directed by the legendary Ridley Scott, it was seriously stylized and focused on image building rather than stating product details. It aired just once on US national TV during the Super Bowl in 1984 but generated millions in subsequent media coverage.


‘Just Do It’ is a message that resonates both as an advertising slogan and as a call to action to get up and get going. Agency Wieden+Kennedy coined this internationally recognized catchphrase. Both simple and challenging, it first began taunting lazy slobs in 1988 with a commercial showing an 80-year-old jogger on his daily 17-mile run. For me, the messaging reached its climax when the campaign was well established and a simple type-only billboard appeared saying, ‘Yesterday you said tomorrow’. (PS. Legend has it that the inspiration for the line came from the last words of convicted serial killer Gary Gilmore.)


FCUK was a happy accident. A fax was sent from French Connection Hong Kong to the company’s office in the UK. It read, ‘To FCUK from FCHK’. The rest is history. Being honest, this isn’t so much about an individual ad but the branding as a whole. Consumers simply love the cool look and its inherent naughtiness.

The last piece I would like to share can be labeled as performance art. In 2012, Felix Baumgartner jumped from a height of 24 miles – reaching a speed of over 840 mph – as part of a Red Bull promotion. Not only did he break the sound barrier, he also set the internet on fire. Around 8 million people watched the event live and went crazy on social media. On Facebook alone, a picture of the daredevil was shared more than 29,000 times and generated nearly 216,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments. This was an advertising milestone as the commercial didn’t interrupt the program – it was the program.

The advertising and marketing industry has come a long way since the days when the press ad was king. There are countless canvases now available on which to create commercial art. Today, a branding company has to explore infinite possibilities to make an impact…

04 April 2015