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What Happens When Ads Are Stripped of Their Logos?

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Is it possible for ads to be so arresting and beautiful that they mimic art?

That was the theme of Le Communique Art Show, an exhibit that displays ads -- stripped of their logos -- as pieces capable of moving people, not just product.

The exhibit, developed by Leo Burnett creative director Nuno Ferreira and associate creative director Ryan Wolin, was the winner of The 4A's TruthBrief Competition, which asked creatives to improve advertising's image in order to attract more talent to the industry. The stunt caught attendees by surprise as it was displayed as an "art show" on a college campus in May. Each ad was stripped of markers identifying it as as such, and the audiences weren't told the origins of the pieces.

Leo Burnett created a video showing the reactions of the students to the "art," with one student commenting on the incorporation of "sculpture" into the piece, and another talking about how it makes her feel. At the end of the show, a final canvas was unveiled. It read: "All the pieces you saw today were ads. Join the most creative community in the world."

Positioning ads as art is a similar tactic Selfridges employed earlier this year (albeit with a little less subterfuge) with "The Quiet Shop." The British retailer took packages of famous brands -- Heinz, Creme de La Mer -- and stripped it of logos and other identifying markers, then sold them.

The TruthBrief Competition, which was introduced by the 4A's at its annual conference in partnership with McCann Erickson, was borne out of a study conducted in March 2013. Dubbed "The Truth About Advertising," the study found that four of 10 consumers "loved" advertising, and 69% of them thought advertising could make the world a better place.

However, those inside the industry really didn't like advertising very much -- 56% thought people in advertising wished they were doing something more creative. And a huge majority -- 70% -- thought the heyday of advertising was behind them.

The competition challenged the industry to do something about this by coming up with a creative idea that promoted the industry to a broader audience. "In order to attract younger talent to this industry, we felt it was better to show them the real creativity in advertising rather than tell them," said Mr. Ferreira of Leo Burnett in a statement.

Nancy Hill, president-CEO of the trade group for agencies, the 4A's, said of the winning idea: "It will get students as well as the public at large to see our industry through a very different lens," adding that "It will make the industry feel proud of the work they do and the profession they have chosen." The 4A's plans to implement the campaign around the country, via a toolkit that it will provide to its member agencies.

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