Except sometimes, when it is.
The vaunted "1984," for example, with its riveting allegorical admonition about the surrender of intellectual independence, was a work of art. Years of McDonald's ads, plumbing the dynamics of the parent-child relationship, rise to the level of art-anyway, far more than the self-consciously arty work of so many advertisers (Infiniti, to name one) who have traded in pseudo-profundity or aesthetic beauty about nothing much at all.
So add to the brief list one more: the "True" campaign from Budweiser, which from the beginning has been a shrewd and trenchant observer of human behavior.
All right, "Richard III" it is not. How men relate to one another about sporting events ("Whassup") or take their romances for granted ("Greeting Card") are not exactly the Great Thoughts that have dominated literature since time immemorial. They are, however, universal experiences reflecting on the nature of the human soul, and if that isn't a good definition of "art," we'd like to know what is.
The latest entry from DDB, Chicago, is titled "Who would you?" It opens with a bunch of male co-workers having a beer after work, and speculating on which of the female colleagues they'd like to boink. Several names come up, and everybody is intrigued with the possibilities. Especially Vicky. "Vicky!" one guy agrees, to lascivious mutterings all around. Vicky! Yeah!
As if. The second part of the ad reveals the folly of such pathetic supposition, because when the women of the office consider the reverse side of the question, the answer, from Vicky herself, to the giggling amusement of her girlfriends, is "Nobody."
Because they are all, you know, dorks.
This spot isn't nearly as good as, say, "Greeting Card," which was a masterpiece of writing, acting, editing and direction in portraying a young woman agonizing over just the right Valentine for her guy-who, for his part, just grabbed whatever was at the supermarket checkout while buying a six-pack of Bud.
So downgrade the new one on style, but credit it for the same level of observation. Yes, men are indeed beasts, and vain, self-deluding ones at that.
You could also dismiss this as thematically tired. Linguist Deborah Tannen, pop psychologist John Gray, monologist Rob "Defending the Caveman" Becker and a thousand standup comics have been exploring le difference for ages. But so what? It's like criticizing a Madonna and child as derivative; the enduring resonance of the theme is part and parcel of its artistic relevance.
The object here is to connect Budweiser's allegedly "true" beer to all that is true in the preoccupations of its target audience. Others try to do so by obnoxiously trotting out silly adolescent fantasies and pretending the whole exercise is parody. But fake boobs have nothing on human truth. Portraying genuine frailties in an endearing way isn't just art.
It's also good advertising.
Bob Garfield's new book on advertising, "And Now a Few Words From Me," is available through McGraw-Hill/Ad Age Books at www.adage.com/garfield/.
DDB Worldwide, Chicago
Ad Review Rating: 3 stars