Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Art vs Advertising: What Fluid Hair Salon didn't know...
The uproar has been deafening. People's social media feeds have been flooded by the debacle. Fluid Salon in Edmonton produced the above ad, and it has caught the eyes and ires of people across the country.
I don't need to discuss whether the ad was good or bad, appropriate or not. The people have already spoken on that one. You can see the creators' defenses here and here and Ryan Jespersen's incredibly well written response here. There have been a number of PR professionals who have used this as an opportunity to share conflict management strategies. (Namely, accept that people got offended, apologize and make good. Simple. Reminds me of another mess with an Edmonton actor at last year's Fringe festival.) There has also been a lot of anger.
The ad has been defended as art. That there is perhaps more going on than the obvious interpretation. But there's a problem with that. There's a logo. There's a tagline. It's not art, it's advertising. Although I believe that there is artistry in creating ads, advertising and art are not interchangeable words.
I'm not going to try to define "art." Philosophers have been struggling with that one for centuries. But I am going to distinguish it from advertising.
Art is meant to be dissected. Discussed. Unpacked. Pondered. Ruminated upon. Advertising is meant to be instantly meaningful. Straightforward. The smart advertisers tap into the skills of excellent creatives to manufacture powerful images. Images that tell compelling stories in as short and efficient a time as possible. Stories in seconds. No time to look for hidden meanings below the surface. An ad can make you think, but the first conclusion people come to had damn well better be the right one or you're sunk. What you get at first look needs to be the intent of the ad.
A first look at the Fluid ad is pretty clear. "Abuse is fine as long as you look good, and we'll help you look good." That's it. And that's all anyone can be expected to take away from it because it's an advertisement.
All ads operate a certain way, whether they are effective or not. An ad conveys a businesses beliefs and values, and promises an emotional benefit. Ads are supposed to resonate with those who share those values and beliefs, and who crave that emotional benefit. What does the Fluid ad say about what the salon values? What is the emotional benefit promised by this ad?
Jef I. Richards, an advertising professor, made an interesting distinction when he said, "Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.'" One has to ask Fluid what their strategy was. I think they didn't have a solid one, and are now suffering the backlash.
An excellent post by Fiona Farrell of Donovan Creative draws attention to the fact that ads are also a request for business. Fluid wants your money. That's fair, every business that places an ad wants the same thing. But by using domestic violence to ask for it, they imply that they believe domestic violence is a way to get your money.
I know that's not what they were trying to do. But advertising isn't about intent. It's about effect. The road to hell, you know. And there's a lot of amateur creatives at the end of that road.
This is your brand people. Your identity. What you are asking people to believe of you. Your brand is the emotional mythology of your company. There are some messed up emotions tied into that ad. And the biggest surprise? The people most likely to be offended by the image are the heart of Fluid's target market.
I don't think any of them knew that the target would be their right eye.