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The Harte Hanks Blog

Make Art, Not Ads

A visit to an Austin art gallery brought to light something I’ve been thinking about lately. The line between art and advertising—when done right—can be nonexistent. Replace the artist’s signature with a tasteful logo, and with the best ads, the difference is negligible. The most compelling pieces shared a theme: They were unexpected. They had a twist that challenged what I thought I already knew. How can we use this to make art, not ads? Here are some places to start.

Is It Wall-Worthy?

Is it aesthetically pleasing? Does it look like a piece of art you might hang in your home? Lego and Penguin Audiobooks both mastered the art of wall-worthiness with these visually powerful campaigns. No words are included, simply because none are necessary.

Blattner Brunner for Lego:



McCann Worldgroup, Mumbai, India, for Penguin Audiobooks:


Play With Mediums

Change the way a platform is normally used. See everything as a potential canvas. Dana Tanamachi has created a niche for herself making beautiful chalk art for a range of brands, including Burton Snowboards and Nike. You’re not supposed to play with your food, but in this case, Target does it—tastefully. French agency June21 transformed a common bus stop billboard—first into a recycling center, then into a beautiful art display.

Dana Tanamachi for Burton Snowboards:



Allan Peters for Target:

Make People Feel

Advertising doesn’t go viral because people are indifferent about it. It goes viral because it forces people to get something out of it: a laugh, a cry, an inspiration, a new perspective. No one is better at this art than viral king Casey Neistat. In another example, shot on a mere $1,300 budget, this provocative, heartwarming video surpassed 75 million views. The train system in Melbourne, Australia, could have created yet another dull (and ignored) safety video, but instead, took this satisfyingly dark humor approach.

Casey Niestat for Nike:


McCann Melbourne for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia:

Have an Opinion

Don’t be afraid to stand for something. Google got major props when it expressed its “difference in opinion” over Russia’s intolerance of gay rights during the Sochi Olympics. Based on taking a stand for women, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which recently turned 10, has been well-received—and shared—time and time again.

Cynthia Wade for Dove:

What do you think makes advertising art? Leave a comment below so we can discuss it further.

Recent research by the Harvard Business Review proves that artistic value in advertising does in fact have a positive impact on its effectiveness to drive conversion. Download the Creativity in Advertising: When It Works and When It Doesn’t report to learn more.

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