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Life imitating Ads, Ads imitating Art


04052017

Oscar Wilde wrote in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” in an effort to explain a phenomenon perceived by him and his contemporaries in which Art was viewed as an illuminating way to see the world.

Now, in 2017, we see the occurrence of a different phenomenon where Advertising, Art, Media and Life seem to have become interlinked.

Recent examples of this include the recent “Pass the Heinz” campaign originally created in the AMC television show Mad Men and the potential reviving of the 1990’s McDonald’s Szechuan sauce in the third season of Adult Swim’s show Rick & Morty.

These intriguing crossovers of fictional worlds with real brands have created fantastic reach and engagement, with coverage far beyond that of past film-product crossovers and tie-ins. Though in a certain sense they can be viewed simply as an extension of product placement, the way in which social media and information outlets have engaged with each scenario has been impressive; with discourse including fans of either show, the brands and production companies themselves and those within the advertising industry.

In the instance of the Mad Men/Heinz crossover a connection was already established between the staff of the AMC show and Heinz but the execution allowed the brand placement and subsequent campaign to go ahead with no compromise to the show’s integrity and even perpetuating a continuity to the fictional world of Mad Men. Heinz did not credit AMC or the creators of Mad Men for the campaign but instead the fictional firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. With this synergy of Ads, Art and Life it seems new boundaries are being explored and new doors opened for creativity in advertising.

The Rick and Morty/McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce example is a little different. Originally released as a tie in with the 1998 Disney movie Mulan, and only available for a limited time, the sauce seemed forgotten about until now. Rick and Morty’s creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s inclusion of a substantial reference to the 1990’s dipping sauce came as a surprise to all.

Interestingly, as it is allowed under satire laws they did not need to seek approval for the placement of the product and, as far as sources suggest, had no contact with McDonald’s prior to the airing of the episode. Considering how anticipated the premiere of the third season was and its timely release on April Fool’s Day, it came as no surprise when social media caught on. What was surprising, however was McDonald’s direct response to a tweet by the show’s creators and the discourse following suggesting a potential re-release of the sauce to coincide with the release of Disney’s live action remake of Mulan.

These kinds of creative inclusions and interactions between entertainment media, art, brands and advertising have existed for some time in the form of tie-in products but this is surely the first time it has been executed in such ways. With consumer trust and sensitivity to conventional advertising methods and decreasing engagement with television and web advertising it seems that creative pathways like this may be a template of what we can expect in the future.

How can you apply or expand on these methods in relation to your own Brand?
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