Advertising can be punk rock in the way poetry can be frank. 

Poetry is often seen as a fluffy,  ladened with metaphor, roundabout way to demonstrate an idea or feeling. Edgar Allen Poe surely could have explored more of earth had he not spent his life exploring how elaborately he can communicate the depth of which he felt his longing for connection. He possibly could have truly been loved in his aliveness had he succinctly said “I want to be loved” instead of writing thousands of pages that boil down to that singular point. A summary or shortened version would be more traditionally straightforward; but there’s a precision in communicating a simple idea with details and storytelling that makes a poem truly frank. The poet is more frank because we can understand them more clearly through the simulation within a stanza than in a singular, cut-to-the-chase sentence. 

For your consideration:

           I did a lot today and feel tired. 


           I began early,
           the early where the sun is still shining
           it’s buttery hue bounces off the beads of dew
           from one blade of grass to another.

           I started my quest,
           feeling welcomed by each flashing “OPEN”
           just passing through but taking with me something new
           dozens of exit signs gone under.

           I checked the last box,
           the one, final box
           yet an orange light’s cue prompted one more to-do
           twelve gallons pumped.

           I arrived at home,
           pedaled feet longing for a moments rest
           a warm blanket in view, Netflix ready to queue
           when my stomach growled for some food.

While the singular sentence gives us perhaps all we need to understand, the poem offers an experience that builds a deeper understanding; a door to empathy. We can understand more legitimately the exhaustion because we have context and emotion. Its frankness lies in its sincerity rather than its structure.

What is within it, not what it is.
The journey it takes us on, not the “point”.

Advertising can be punk in a similarly roundabout way. Punk culture questions and fights the system, the machine, the big man, and the corporation. Advertising exists on behalf of some big man or corporation or financial profit. Ads usually do reflect or tap into a system and known way of living; a structure. They often feel familiar in some way; whether in humor or dialect or emotion or scene. What we already know and agree on is hardly punk. But, an advertisement always suggests something different about this familiar thing. A rebellion against the way we currently do things; even in the slightest way. For example, say I’m having a cool experience. Here’s how four brands may suggest they become a part of the moment.

In these situations, the product or brand takes part and joins us in something we are familiar with. It proposes an alteration to something we already experience or builds excitement for something we wish to experience. We are presented with not necessarily a complete alternative, but something of a change in the way we do things.

So ads suggest we make a change to our known experience. We’re getting somewhere. But like a concluding statement, or the four ads above, a bad ad just states it’s “point” to us:

Prior to this hypothetical cool moment, had I drank a coffee, I would feel more energized. Sure. 
Definitely not punk.

A great ad suggests I consider if this point, the alteration to my experience, matters to me. A great ad uses storytelling and brand building to relate. If I relate, then it means something to me. I really get it. No “sure” or “fair”. If I don’t relate, then at least I can say “no”. I’m not apathetic or indifferent. Bad ads make you feel indifferent. Indifference is the opposite of punk.

To be punk is to choose and commit fully to a side of tension.
To be a great ad is to choose and commit fully to a side of tension.

A great ad doesn’t tell me, or even necessarily suggest anything to me. It is itself. It shows me something, and I make it personal. For example, Illy espresso runs a campaign that makes fun of the people of today’s highly complicated and non-traditional coffee orders. Hey! I like the occasional 20 oz almond milk banana bread latte. How dare you spend money seemingly just to make fun of me. I HATE THIS AD! By now, I’ve scrolled down or walked away from the ad, but the wheels remain turning. With tension comes truth on both sides, and I can, and here, admit that my 20 oz almond milk banana bread latte is 16 oz of non-dairy sugar milk and 4 oz of espresso. But I like it.

I’m defending the validity of my joys to myself, in my head. I’d remember Illy coffee the next time I saw it in a store. 
And maybe I’d buy it just to make a 20 oz almond milk banana bread latte with it.

Many people don’t entertain or connect with Poe’s prose. Regardless, I would venture to guess most people would say “sure” if he simply said “we all want to be truly loved”. Great ads, and poems alike, tell us stories that can invite us in or push us away. The best ads are honest and confident, asking us to like or even dislike them. They harness tension. They welcome skepticism and force us to make a personal choice about their tone and practices and service. Having the option to be informed, creatively while sincerely -- but still be able to reject, is punk. Great advertising is exactly that.

I want to make great ads: ads that invite a connection, or create a disconnection, and therefore cultivate a perspective and opinion. A bit unexpected while familiar and human. 


*This is an opinion piece, i.e., not factual. I remain open-minded. Relish this opportunity! Should you disagree, or otherwise have something to contribute, I would love to read it. Click “write me” below to... write me. You may use a fake email address if you prefer your anonymity. or whatever feels right.