Sunday, 29 April 2012

Surrealism and advertising

Hello again, blogosphere, I've missed you. The Cardiff culture blogging will resume shortly, but in the mean time, I thought I'd share something I love with you. Browsing just now, I came across Bibble Babble's (@sighnomoree) collection of the Best of Fast Food Advertising. I've always been a huge fan of clever adverts, especially those that show some knowledge of art history. My favourite of all are those inspired by surrealism.

Surrealism and advertising's love-affair is a long one. Surrealists, especially writers like André Breton and Louis Aragon, liked to incorporate real-life adverts into their work, for example this picture in Breton's Nadja: 

Beyond incorporating advertisements into their work, surrealists also profited from advertising, and no-one more so than Salvador Dalí. Breton famously remarked that 'Avida Dollars' (avida meaning eager or greedy for in Spanish) was a fitting anagram of Dalí's name. 

His advertising legacy lives on in the Chupa Chups logo, but perhaps my favourite example of Dalí's willingness to give up his integrity for advertising dollars is this TV spot for Lanvin chocolate:

Dalí wasn't alone, of course. If you go to any Spanish high-street, for example, you'll spot the logo for La Caixa bank, designed by Miró.

Beau comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie: Surrealist concepts in modern advertising
Moving towards today, it's clear that advertising executives have studied their art history, especially those who worked in the tobacco market. Obviously I don't condone smoking, and especially not trying to make cigarettes attractive, but they did make some brilliant adverts.

In the 1970s Benson & Hedges campaign, for example, all the surrealist staples are present, from Dalí's ants to the guiding principle that bringing two incongruous things together will create something beautiful.

Other adverts also followed the surrealists in their obsession with and exploration of Eros and Thanatos (Freud's sex and death drives). Particularly striking is the 1980s Silk Cuts campaign.

This brings me to my favourite advert of all time (although the Compare the Meerkat series do come close ;) )  I remember seeing this on TV years and years ago, and it's stuck with me, even though it never seems to appear on Best Ever Adverts lists. I'm surprised it didn't give me nightmares! I love that it's so magnificently weird, referencing classic moments from Dalí and Buñuel's L'Age d'or and Un Chien Andalou, among other early surrealist films, from the eggs and the ants to the clouds cutting across the moon.


More recently, the 2007 Gorilla marketing (hehe, pun!) campaign that saved Cadbury's once again brought surrealist principles to the small screen. The gorilla on the drums was as unexpected and beautiful 'as the encounter between a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table'.

These are just a few examples of recent surrealist advertising, but I'd love to see more. Please comment with your favourites!

PS: I love how surrealist works are put on just about everything to make money. This is one of my favourites:
Ceci n'est pas un Powerbook.


  1. My favourite 'weird' advert? The 'Hate Something, Change Something', Honda Campaign. I had the pleasure of meeting the creators of the ad at an advertising seminar and it just made me love it even more seeing how many incarnations it had been through before reaching the one they went with! It's so strange, but I love it!

    1. Thanks Amanda. I do love Honda adverts, they always seem to put so much effort in.

      A big thank you to Phil Bloomfield too, who sent this beautifully strange collection of adverts for Panda Cheese via Twitter. I might have panda nightmares now: