From the beautiful Ted McKnight Kauffer pre-war posters for London Transport to the Honda "cog" and Sony Bravia TV spots, there have been some remarkable blends of art and commercialism. But, as one top creative director remarked about agencies' TV output: "We're not in the business of making sponsored short films."
Advertising and the arts have long fed off each other, and there's no doubt the industry has helped sustain Britain's artistic life.Yet there's no escaping the fact that advertising's raison d'etre is to sell things. Which may help explain why it always seems like an afterthought whenever the Government talks about stimulating the creative industries. A recent Treasury report on the subject referred to music, design and fashion, but made no mention of advertising.
The perception that the Government neither understands nor cares very much about the industry is increasingly provoking strident comment in adland. Why should it perpetually be made to feel ashamed of itself, the hawks ask.
At the moment, the industry is opting for quiet diplomacy to get what it wants. But there's little doubt the hawks will grow more hawkish and numerous should the Government's upcoming strategy document on expanding the creative industries reduce advertising to bit-part status.
If ministers really care about preserving UK advertising's world-leading reputation, now is the chance to prove it.
That said, it will be hard for adland to put much faith in Gordon Brown's assurances about its importance to the economy when Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, goes on Radio 4's Any Questions? to blame "awful things like advertising" when asked why so many young people are depressed.
There is little point in a strategy document that says all the right things about the industry if those in the Government remain disunited in their support of it.