…is about ideas. Ideas that make people think, make people smile, make people laugh, make people change the way they behave. It’s about creativity. Creativity in advertising and design. Creativity in the field of poetry, literature and screenplays. It’s about art. Sharing it, discovering it. Trying to understand it. It’s about getting things done. Not waiting for someone else to do it, or relying on someone else to get it done for you. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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Modern Advertising – A Child of Surrealism


I watched a brilliant series recently called Modern Masters on BBC 2. Each episode featured the work of artists: Dali, Matisse, Warhol and Picasso. Presented by art critic Alastair Sooke, he demonstrates how each artist’s work has influenced modern society. From fashion design to product design, architecture to, yes, advertising.

But not in the way I’m proposing.

After seeing the episode on Dali it made me think that advertising creatives often work in a similar way. We try to connect things that don’t belong together, to dramatise a benefit. Take this example from Ikea. It looks surreal to me. Cupboard drawers on the outside of an apartment block. If it didn’t have the Ikea logo on one of the drawers it could easily sit as an installation in the Tate Modern.

Obviously, not all advertising is created in this way. Take, Volkswagen’s Surprisingly Ordinary prices campaign a few years back. Nothing surreal about that. It was just new. It had never been done before. Job done. Economist ads aren’t surreal, just very clever.

The surreal tends to make an appearance when a product doesn’t have much to say for itself so ventures into the realms of analogy. Homes + wardrobes = drawers on block of flats. (I only wish it was that easy.)

I’m not trying to argue that advertising is art. Only that some of the skills used in the surrealist movement are used today in mass communication – usually for the sake of impact.

Another example that springs to mind is an old Volvo 48 sheet with a boy lying horizontally wrapped up in a huge sheet of cotton wool. The image is quite surreal don’t you think? It is only with the accompanying headline: ‘Or buy a Volvo’, that the consumer completes the circle and is rewarded with a product benefit – a reason for the surrealism.

But true surrealism defies logic. Why a lobster on a telephone? Why not? There is no reward. No completion of circles. Nothing to ‘get’. Just art.

Other surreal ads: Tony Kaye’s Dunlop ad, (or rather, AMV’s Dunlop ad); Orange man Tango ad by HHCL; Cadbury’s Gorilla by Fallon…

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