25 September 2006

Advertising Is Dead

Advertising Is Dead
Advertising Is Dead: Long Live Advertising! is Tom Himpe's new survey of unconventional advertising campaigns. As Naomi Klein explained in No Logo, commercialism and branding are increasingly dominating every available surface area, and Himpe presents some of the most unusual and inventive examples of this visual space invasion. (Klein and Himpe are, of course, writing from opposite ideological positions: Klein condems branding, whereas Himpe actively promotes it.)

Himpe is an advertising copywriter, and his book is primarily a manual for other creatives on how to produce distinctive campaigns. For general readers outside the industry, the book's illustrations of specific adverts serve as the first detailed overview of this new field of graphic design.

Exactly how to label this new field is a matter of debate. 'Ambient advertising' suggests an encroachment into new territories and environments, as advertising appropriates non-traditional spaces (i.e., beyond billboards). 'Guerrilla advertising' implies a certain subterfuge or underhand unconventionality. Himpe cites both labels, and others, though doesn't settle for any of them as an umbrella term. (Tony Kaye's preferred term, 'hype art', is unfortunately not included.)

Advertising Is Dead's only serious rival is Guerrilla Advertising, from increasingly interesting art publisher Laurence King. However, its selection of examples is far less interesting than Himpe's (the only exception being Red Bull in Worms 3D, the first example of computer game product-placement, which is covered in Guerrilla Advertising though not by Himpe).

The book organises its examples into a series of fascinating categories, including Intrusion (unconventional spaces, such as the Hans Brinker hotel logo pinned to dog excrement on the street), Transformation (metamorphosis, for example the Volkswagen ice sculpture parked in London for a day), Installation (a huge pile of empty plastic bottles in Cape Town, resembling a scene from the Thai film Citizen Dog), Illusion (trompe l'oeil effects, such as a Nike poster whose perspective matches its surroundings), and Sensation (campaigns which interact with our senses, as in the cinema air-conditioner suffused with Panettone in Brazil).

Advertising Is Dead is not a definitive survey of ambient/guerrilla campaigns, though it is the first detailed study. The examples occupy the majority of the book, with little real analysis or history. (A comprehensive account is yet to be written; indeed, there has not yet been a comprehensive history of advertising in general published so far.) As a sourcebook of illustrations, it's unsurpassed, although my favourite example is sadly not included: the Puma contact-lenses worn by Linford Christie in 1996, surely the most ingenious instance of branded space.