Exit through the gift shop
A couple weeks ago I took a long road trip through the mountains of California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. A few dozen hours in the car gives someone a lot of time to think as podcasts play and playlists cycle. Hundred-mile stretches start to feel like snacks as time blurs into a mix of headlights and road dashes and reddish formations of ancient earth.
I stayed with my brother in Denver, a city with a rich street art scene. We spent a couple hours one afternoon at Meow Wolf, an experiential art world. Between that, reading Major Labels, and continuing to plod away at learning to play the piano, I’ve become pretty obsessed with the brilliant things people create for the pure enjoyment of others. The joy I’ve gotten from diving into these spaces has been immeasurable.
Thinking about art in context of doing marketing work, it brought me back to Paul Feldwick’s “Why Does the Pedlar Sing,” which I read last summer.
Getting someone to like something and getting someone to pay for something are two very different things; at a 44% subscriber rate, Spotify is considerably better at getting people to pay for music than competitors. (How much they pay artists is the subject of a different discussion).
Spotify’s business — that of monetizing art — aims at one side of that equation. Advertising does it from another — by monetizing the attention art brings a brand.
Andy Warhol said that, “Being good at business is the most fascinating kind of art.”
Feldwick’s book is about making brands famous by consistently entertaining an audience. As he describes and seems to concur with Warhol, it’s incredibly hard:
“There is no simple recipe for creating fame, nor can it be done in a purely calculating or clinical way; it needs the energy, imagination, risk taking, and shameless braggadocio that street entertainers and charlatans have relied on in all ages.”
An idealistic take is clear: we should just pay for the art we want. Sure. But the success of models like cable TV (and even, well, Spotify) tells us that we love the perceived value of bundles. And Give models tell us that nudges help us do things we may have done otherwise, i.e., donate to the charity that comes with the sunglasses.
But that’s not a wold many of us live in, even if we could. Few people can afford even an accessibly-priced painting.
A subversive privilege of working in advertising, then, is the ability to patronize talented artists who might otherwise struggle to sell their work. Granted, their art is constrained by the business needs of a brand, but it’s also almost entirely guaranteed to be seen, heard, or felt by millions of people. Knowing brands benefit significantly from the entertainment that artists provide, the least we can do is support their imagination and risk-taking.