How Relational Aesthetics, a concept issued from Contemporary Art, can open up a new way of thinking Advertising.
Years after my Art studies, I saw one of my former university lecturers again. She told me she had followed my first steps into the Art world, and didn't understand how I got "lost" into the Adland.
I explained to her that on many levels, mechanisms at work in both fields are the same. That's why I never felt lost at all.
In fact I believe that the mutations that happened in the Art world during the last few decades can help to better understand those that brands have to face today.
A theory in particular, called "Relational Aesthetics", seems highly relevant to decrypt the advertising in the digital era. This concept could serve both as a method and an evaluation grid for almost everything we produce for brands.
Originally, "Relational Aesthetics" (or Relational Art) is a theory defined by French critic Nicolas Bourriaud in 1995. He describes this approach as an "aesthetic theory consisting in judging artworks on the basis of interpersonal relations they are supposed to reveal, produce or arouse".
In Relational Art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, Relational Art produces inter-subjective encounters. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption.
I believe it echoes perfectly with the changes that the Advertising industry has experienced since the rise of digital media.
The brand has become a "relational object", enriching itself with each interaction it generates.
The purpose of all these interactions and exchanges is not only to gain "free media", as some prehistoric agencies (and advertisers, unfortunately) seem to think. It creates a relational circumstance; and it's the experience of the constructed relational environment that becomes the real advertising.
The role of the different stuff we produce (videos, images, events, apps, platforms, connected objects, etc.) is to become a conduit for this relational experience.
That‘s why for a few years now, there has been a surge of convivial, user-friendly, festive, collective and participatory projects initiated by brands, exploring the varied potentials in the relationship to the other.
For example Nike has successfully reinvented itself with innovative digital services, such as NikeFuel.
It would be a mistake to see it as a gimmick, or mere opportunism: these connected services enable Nike to build a deep and long-term relationship with people, but also to foster a link between them.
In a completely different sector, Pampers distinguished itself from its competitors by becoming the baby expert, and providing both advice and means of exchange between young parents. In this period of uncertainty and doubts for any mother or father, what kind of relation to a brand could be more valuable?
With these initiatives, Nike and Pampers do not just sell products: they become part of people's lives in a significant way. Thereby their presence is not considered a nuisance, but instead, an enrichment.
It is this way of thinking that has animated our agency when we designed Melotweet, our latest project for Evian.
Melotweet is a Twitter client, which transforms the feeds of its users into a musical and playful experience.
Thus, with this application, the brand allows to feel the "Live Young" spirit which animates it, without producing any content, but by transforming interpersonal exchanges.
Of course, Relational Aesthetics does not apply only to services that brands can provide. Any brand content should have the potential to become relational, by becoming a conversation topic.
This is what Dove achieved with « Dove Evolution »: they initiated a debate about the standards of beauty in our society, in a powerful and unexpected way for this kind of brand (more accustomed to a very superficial approach).
Even though the campaign was criticized on the grounds that Unilever also markets Axe, where overtly sexualized women are its campaigning staple, this brand initiative was precursory.
The consumer of the digital era decodes every marketing message, and knows all the traditional advertising tricks. That’s why brands today have to create encounters or moments of sociability within ‘communication zones’, for scripted and non-scripted social interactions.
It's a profound change in the way we have to conceive « advertising campaigns ».
For example: anyone who has worked with Procter & Gamble knows that they have a very sophisticated marketing technique, almost scientific. Everything must be tested.
The problem with testing is that it aims to determine which film, or which visual, will generate the highest level of agreement. Not which one will generate the highest rate of conversation… But I bet they’ll find a way to evaluate that very soon.
In the meantime, it will take bold agencies and advertisers to produce campaigns that create the debate, and services that will change the consumers’ lives.