Contemporary Trends in Video Advertisement: An Art Historian’s Perspective

Video ads are an inconvenience to most of us, which is understandable – loud music, flashing letters, vapid scenes, and the shoving down of X product down our throats before we get to our video or film. While YouTube and Netflix are not the only websites that rely on marketing and advertising partnerships for revenue, billions of people use them around the world and know what to expect when they are not paying to go ad-free.

For me, some YouTube ads may be annoying but I still watch most of them because they are telling me something else. First, they tell me how the ad industry is being informed by contemporary art practices and vice versa. They also show me the ways in which the ad industry is using the elements of art and design, music, fashion, politics, and multicultural influences to get their point across. As an art historian, these things are not to be dismissed… most of the time. (I also like to catch the latest movie trailers because Wonder Woman!)

About three to five years ago an ad trend that’s picked up is the storytelling type. These storytelling formats have been in existence since the 80s but were not as common as the “IN YOUR FACE!” type of advertising preferred by companies. Echoing the narrative propaganda humans have responded well to since we started drawing on caves, these brands are confident enough to move focus away from their product and tell a story, something to connect with all people, something we all feel, wish for or admire. Tugging at heartstrings, our conscience, our regrets and desires, they successfully remind audiences of their brand but through a subtler approach… a way that humanizes and makes us believe that these brands actually care for more than their capital success and understand their customers at an emotional level.

I have enjoyed and teared up at ads that empower women. It’s not only the feminist viewpoint that touches me. The soundtracks stir memories of similar experiences and recognizable self-doubts. Here are some of my favorites (bring out your art critic eye and pay close attention - notice patterns? styles? music choices? colors? angles? what do you think?):

Curve Power

Mother E

Dove - Beautiful | Average

Nike - Greatest Athlete Ever

Some of these ads have a high cinematographic caliber and extend into short films that cement a brand's social standing or showcase the audience they are targeting or the people they want their audiences to emulate. We are primates after all.

The Gentleman's Wager

The Gentleman’s Wager II

Some of these ads really bring out the human condition, its pathos and beauty, so far away from the brand itself that only reaching out for some metaphorical theories explain why they relate to each other.

For instance Ray Ban's series of social experiment ads. Just like glasses give us clarity or blur our reality, so can our emotions and experiences.   

Ray Ban - Sound of Sorry and Eye to Eye

“The golden age of advertising may be coming to a close, but the golden age of storytelling is just getting started. Don't skip it.” Scott Donaton

A. Iaroc