Art Schools Commerce

Art and artists and what are they doing and why? I could do that. My 3 year
old could do that. Why would anyone do that? Oh, that’s beautiful, that moves
me. I love that painting.

But we’re a design house, not a gallery, what does all this have to do with
that? Well, I love art and like to note where it influences the world around
us. What are artists doing? In one regard, think of Art as philosophy, where
every angle is to be investigated before deciding what’s worth more
investigation. To that end, artists are able to go all over the place whereas a
graphic designer is restrained by project briefs, deadlines and budgets.
They don’t have the time to go all over the place, hence it makes sense to let
the artists do their thing and then investigate their results for inspiration
regarding our visual language.

If you’ve seen The Devil Wear’s Prada, no, I haven’t read it, you may be
familiar with the following quote from Miranda Priestly, (Meryl Streep’s
take on Anna Wintour as written about by Lauren Weisberger.)

Miranda Priestly: ‘This… stuff’? Oh. OK. I see. You think this has nothing to
do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy
blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take
yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you
don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not
lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that
in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I
think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military
jackets? (I think we need a jacket here.) And then cerulean quickly showed up
in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down
through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic
Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.
However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s
sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you
from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was
selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

Now that’s a snarky take on the path of influence but it happens and it’s out
there as attested to by M.C. Escher and Giotto.

Infinite Branding

A picture is worth a thousand words but if the subject is infinite, how many
words do you need to describe it?

Here you see the original Droste Cacao tin from 1904 as designed by Jan
Misset. You can see the infinite branding? This recursive imagery is called
the Droste Effect.

Perhaps it’s easier to see here, on the Land O Lakes butter. The original was
painted in 1928 by Arthur C. Hanson. There have been updates since the
original, but the recursive aspect has remained intact, well, until the last re-design where they lost the repetition.

The effect is somewhat implied with the Morton Salt girl, where she adorns
the package but she’s holding the package so she must be on the package
she’s holding and so on.

Here, Pink Floyd takes some liberties with the Droste Effect through
photographic manipulation. The image is repeated for the most part, but
with band members changing positions for each successive stage.

But the Droste Effect was in effect before Droste Cacao even entered the
marketplace. Here is a 1320 triptych by Giotto. It is one of the earliest
known precursors of the Droste Effect or recursive imagery. If you look
closely, you’ll see Cardinal Giacomo Gaetani Stefaneschi  (center panel,
lower left, kneeling in white) offering the triptych itself, the one he’s
painted in, to St. Peter. So there was a Droste effect before there was Droste.

MC Escher knew of the Droste Effect and given his propensity for
architecture and landscapes, it’s no wonder he would investigate this
phenomenon. Try as he may, he was left challenged with the above image,
“Print Gallery,” from 1956.  You’ll notice that the center has been left blank
as Escher, apparently, just couldn’t figure this one out. It could also be that
to respectfully etch the remainder of the image it would become too
intricate or small to translate when printed. Later on, in 2003, a team of
mathematicians at University of Leiden solved the puzzle. You can see how
they account for the missing repeat here:

You may not know Escher by name but you’ve seen his work or influences
of his work. The movie, Inception, has a scene where Joshua Gordon-Levitt
and Ellen Page are walking up a staircase. They turn a corner and pass a
woman who has just dropped some papers. As they proceed up the
staircase and round another corner, the lady is there, still picking up her
papers. They are ever-ascending stairs but never going anywhere. This is a
cinematic interpretation of “Ascending and Descending,” an Escher piece
from 1960.

For the record, these are called Penrose Steps, as discovered by Lionel and
Roger Penrose. They were inspired by Escher’s work and almost
simultaneously discovered by both Escher and the Penrose’s.  That sounds
like an Escher word salad so check here for more on this aspect:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_stairs

That aside, it was Escher’s work that brought this illusion into the public
vernacular. This and other influences of Escher can be seen in movies such
as Labyrinth, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and, as mentioned, Inception.

Now I feel like I’ve taken the Penrose Steps, or at least the long way around
the barn to wrap this all up. Art influences culture, certainly, but here we’ve
seen how art can influence commerce as well. To be fair, rather than
coming full circle, this comes full spiral when commerce influences art.
Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and others may get credit for starting
the Pop Art movement of the 1950’s & ‘60’s, but Andy Warhol has certainly
been crowned king since he created the Brillo Boxes, Coca-Cola bottles and
of course, his Campbell Soup cans.

I can only suppose that the cycle will be complete when the paintings of commerce as art become the artistic labels for commerce but now, we’re entering the realm of the mobius strip…

Should Brands Be Pranking?

“Hey, your shoelace is untied,” is the classic April Fool’s joke. This basic
concept of setting someone up and then calling them out in front of others
has been a source of humor (both good and bad) since humankind started
wearing shoes.

Alan Funt made a career of pranks with his TV Show, Candid Camera. It ran
in various forms from the late 1940s to the 1980s, verifying the very human
appeal of pranksterdom.

Picking up where Candid Camera left off, Johnny Brennan and Kamal
Ahmed, better know as The Jerky Boys, made a name for themselves by
making and recording raucous prank phone calls. Their homemade tapes
made their way onto the Howard Stern Show and eventually brought them
enough notoriety to have a series of their own. Their first three albums
went Platinum, Platinum and Gold respectively, again proving that we all
like a good joke – as long as it’s not on us.

With the onslaught of smart phones and social media it’s become easier
than ever to document and share pranks. One of the latest “innocent
pranks” that has been making the rounds is the “What The Fluff Challenge.”

It goes like this: you hold a blanket in front of you in a doorway, making
certain your dog has a clear view. Give the blanket 3 peek-a-boo lifts to
cover you completely before you drop the blanket and duck behind the
wall.  Hilarity ensues as we witness the bamboozled dog search for its
disappeared owner.

It seems inevitable that once something goes viral, marketing teams won’t
be far behind in an attempt to capitalize on the trend. But brand pranking,
like most things, is all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

On the fun side, much of this Prankvertising is done on April Fools’ Day,
when we’ve got a bit of a heads up that practical brand jokes may abound.

Lego jumped on this trend by announcing their Lego VacuSort, a
revolutionary brick-sorting vacuum. Hurray! It seemed the days of barefoot
Lego pain were gone for good. But alas, to many parents’ dismay, the
VacuSort was would not be arriving ever, let alone soon.

Doritos had some fun by promoting Bold water by Doritos. “You’re 60
percent water, make every drop of it bold.”

Pop Tarts even introduced a Limited Edition “Just the Crust” toaster pastry.

Snickers pranked themselves in 2015 when they ditched the name and kept
their iconic lettering to retitle their bars, “Cranky, Grouchy, Whiny,” and a
handful other adjectives describing how we are when we’re hungry.

Then there was the time, not so long ago, when IHOP changed its logo, and
ostensibly its name, to IHOb. International House of Burgers. Whether this
was to be an actual name change or intended as a short term joke doesn’t
matter. It got people talking, and hopefully considering IHOP/b for more
than just breakfast.

This may remind you of the Coca-Cola debacle of 1985 when Coke
introduced a new recipe for its cola only to change it back 3 months later.
Some believe this was all a planned publicity stunt, but Coke maintains that
it was a serious attempt to replace the original. It’s one thing to shake up
your brand but another to abandon it, and your audience, completely.

Why Brand Prank? You may as well ask, “Why advertise?” Brand pranking
seems like a new tool in an old chest. In this contemporary world, where
disruption is often the desired result, it’s easy to see how causing a ruckus
might bring some attention to your product or service; if you can make it
funny, even better.

We’ve all said something we wish we hadn’t. But as we know, once it’s
posted, there’s no taking it back. Pranksters beware: Pranks can go wrong
when the audience doesn’t feel like they’re in on the joke, so make certain
they don’t feel like the wool has been pulled over their eyes.

For instance, Taco Bell once declared it had bought the Liberty Bell in an
effort to take down the national debt. They would call it the Taco Liberty
Bell. Not many had connected April 1stwith this announcement in 1996 so
The National Park Service received thousands of callers in protest only to
learn they had been fooled, pranked. Taco Bell generated some buzz but not
everyone found the joke amusing.

The takeaway is that marketers are warping their brands in ways they may
not have dreamed of before, such as poking fun at themselves or
augmenting their brand entirely.

Consider these points before pranking your own brand:

  • Does humor align with who you are?
  • What is the best/worst possible outcome from pranking?
  • Are there double meanings or slang you may be referencing without knowing it?
  • Are there current events to play off of or stay away from?
  • How do you make certain your audience is in on the gag?
  • What do we do if something goes horribly, horribly wrong?

Perhaps it’s best to only augment your brand for special occasions.
Halloween and Christmas see plenty of packaging variations and by now,
you’ve most likely heard about International Women’s Day, where
McDonald’s turned their golden arch upside down to make a W. Brawny
featured a plaid-shirted woman on their paper towel packages declaring,
“Strength has no gender,” and Johnny Walker was replaced by Jane.

Just like many tune in for Super Bowl Ads, the brand prank could become
an event for fans to watch out for on April Fools’ Day. Or, it could fade into
another passé fad. Keep an eye on next years’ Women’s Day: what were
once novel statements may lead to a saturation of gender positioning that
reeks of marketing opportunism instead of sincerity.

Some of the best/worst marketing pranks of 2018 can be found here.

Keep your eyes out and let us know what pranks you see out there today.