The line between entertainment and advertising is like the one between all forms of art and communication: Fuzzier than ever, but not going anywhere. Creatives need lines to cross, blur and redraw. But should it be the content creator or the audience that defines it?
Accessible production tools means not only low budget admakers but anyone with an eye and an idea can be a director. When Steven Soderbergh shoots an entire movie on an iPhone he is shifting the line between high and low brow to suit his purpose.
Think of the modern jingle. What once was an annoying earworm is now Flaming Lips penning songs for Hyundai. Kinda turns that whole frustrated songwriter seeking any outlet on its head. But if it’s produced by an artist, doesn’t that make it art?
Galleries are brimming with unexpected inspo for graphic designers, from communist propaganda posters to entire schools of functional furniture and social housing. I’m sure there was a point even Le Corbusier needed to pay the rent. Modigliani kept himself in absinthe by selling his paintings as porn, the purest form of Parisian social currency.
Returning to humble beginnings for the cash was traditionally termed selling-out. We’ve come a long way since then. Big in Japan went even bigger when the internet leaked Leonardo DiCaprio’s “cool bourbon”. The world became a better place when Tommy Lee Jones turned out to be bossing it for Suntory.
Just last year the US repatriated Clooney’s Nespresso man, previously lurking on European screens since 2006. And about time. He and Malkovich already redrew the lines of the campaign by improvising their way out of a cliche in their genius b-roll right there on god’s sofa.
Because what is entertainment after all? It’s being caught off guard, captivated by a momentary loss of understanding. That desperate scramble within the rational mind to join the dots. Then, as with all good story arcs and music tracks, there’s a reveal. A drop. That’s where unexpected relevance lies.
Done right, this drop is the moment it all click into place and you throw your hands in the air. It’s found in surprising partnerships that make cultural sense to your audience. It’s when Netflix engineered a Reeboks X Ghostbusters collab for Stranger Things, and Universal briefed Central St Martins students with the Minions fashion collection.
Perhaps the first step on the path to achieving unexpected relevance is realising the line is not ours to draw. If we put the dots in places so wrong they’re right then the audience might just join them for us. And then join in.