The arts section in the Sunday edition of The New York Times seems to be getting thicker. Meanwhile, the business section is noticeably thinner. They seem to have given up printing graphs with lines that are spiralling earthwards.
If there was a graph for the performance of the arts during these tricky times, then it would be nicely designed with a vertical line breaking into the editorial. Sure, Broadway shows are closing (but if they're poor, they do anyway). Bad ideas generally don't work and, in a recession, they're less likely to. The consumers want to spend their money on something they know they're going to get some reward from. They begin to question spending their hard-earned money on formulas, things they've seen or heard before.
Underground theatres are prospering in New York and not just because tickets are cheaper. I spotted a good review for a show that had a cast of just one guy and a dead horse on stage. The show was sold out for a while, proof that bold creative ideas can prosper during adversity.
I include the ad industry in the arts. After all, it was originally an art form and still is at its best. Channel-flicking a few nights ago, I was pleasantly surprised by how many commercials in the US are actually quite artistic. It depends on what channel, of course. There are more than 800 of them; however, art and advertising in America haven't always gone together. Historically, we've been tortured by violent gags in beer commercials, like a man falling off of a roof while he's mending his TV antenna or a group of guys being chased by a grizzly bear.
I didn't notice an artfully done beer commercial, but I did spot some beautiful animation for a finance company and a very intelligent and vibrantly bold animated piece for an internet and phone company, which, unless I was imagining things, didn't have the company logo at the end, just its name. It then crossed my mind that perhaps brands have decided not to talk to the consumer in such an aggressive manner.
I was jolted back into reality, however, by a spot for kitchen bin bags. A voice shouts "STINKY, STINKY, STINKY", closely followed by the words "HEFTY, HEFTY, HEFTY" - testimony to the strength of the bags. This commercial has had a lasting effect on my family. The children cleverly use the words "STINKY, STINKY, STINKY" at the appropriate times; inappropriately, and even more annoying, my wife went out and bought them. So much for bad ideas not working.
The performance graph may have dipped drastically with the "HEFTY" commercial, but it bounced back immediately with an elegantly shot spot for a car brand that, for once, didn't have the car on show for 29 seconds of the ad. I quit while I was ahead and switched off the TV.
- Andrew Clarke is the executive creative director at JWT New York.