Can ads be art if they aren’t political?

The jewel of television advertising is undoubtedly the Christmas ad, which is very representative over the wider Christmas period in that it generally leads to arguments. While families row over Aunt Janice’s timekeeping or What Sharon Did In ‘94, the marketing industry tends to argue about the quality and impact of the season’s TV ads. As soon as those ads become cinematic the argument became about which supermarket was being the subtlest about its commercialisation of Christmas, but now a few years have past there’s also an argument about whether 2019’s batch match the quality of the previous years. Truly, it’s a magical time of year.

2018’s Iceland’s ‘banned’ Rang-Tan ad, which wasn’t approved for broadcast by Clearcast due to being “directed towards a political end”, caused a lot of rows in its own right. The implication, helped along by savvy Iceland marketeers and some celebrities who were generically outraged, was that this advert with its subversive message about what’s really important at Christmas was somehow more genuine and deserving of an ad slot than those of rival supermarkets. Instead, obviously, it was an advertisement for the supermarket that had co-opted a campaign by Greenpeace, which went on to market the character in a number of ways.

No room for art. 

It was effectively an argument about Clearcast’s judgment about political ads on top of an argument about which Christmas ad was the best which was itself the extension of in-fighting among the supermarkets to see who could make the most money. Now I’d like to throw another argument on top of it, and question whether the fact that ads are banned from making political messages in certain mediums disqualifies ads from claiming to be art.

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