Media: Surrealism became a new genre in adland - thanks to tobacco

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The Independent Culture
The ad world, for all its perceived superficiality, is a wonderful reservoir of closet intellectuals, artistic talent and clever writers. Just check out the famous writers, painters and film makers who've escaped it - Puttnam, Parker, Deighton, Rushdie etc...

My own interest in the arts, and how they're used in advertising, rarely collided. Even with years of beer, whisky, car, brandy and travel ads, all conceived with much enthusiasm and a little bit of style.

But, after years of carefully crafted ads extolling the virtues of "finely rolled Virginia tobacco that gives complete satisfaction", somebody in the distant corridors of power chucked it. A book of rules appeared. No more hyperbole. No more glamour. No more sex. No green fields. No more lifestyle. No nothing.

We advertisers of tobacco - as discussed in tonight's Tobacco Wars on BBC1 - were well and truly locked up in our cage. But somebody had left the key in the lock. There was one area left to pillage, the sacred world of art.

With an insensitivity that would make George Melly cringe, I mentally plundered the world of Magritte, Dali, de Chirico. Nobody escaped, not even Duchamp. I sensed that this last flurry of tobacco ads would probably be the closest I would ever get to allowing ads to imitate art. Oh dear! What a hornets' nest I stirred up.

The new surreal campaign was blazing away on the largest canvasses in the country, the street hoardings. I stood there puffing on my cigarette, glowing with pride. But the so-called surreal Benson & Hedges campaign has remained steadfastly unconsidered and undiscussed in the art world - totally ignored by critics.

Fortunately, the campaign was much admired in the hard-working, commercially- aware, tawdry business of advertising - not least, in the market place.

It inspired a whole load of imitators, starting its own genre.

Alan Waldie is former creative director of ad agency CDP.

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