Art meets advertising: Y&R commissions LA artist for new Blunt campaign

The debate as to whether advertising is art isn’t new. The lines between these two disciplines are so blurred that Proctor and Gamble has donated over 5,000 of its advertisements (dating back to 1882) to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

And now, Y&R NZ has further contributed to the conflation of these disparate worlds by commissioning well-known and well-moustached LA artist Michael C Hsiung to illustrate the imagery for a new range of posters for a Blunt Umbrellas campaign.

The result of this collaboration is a series of three posters that depict different cartoon characters being protected by an umbrella from the things that scare them. 

A walking doughnut is safely sheltered from hungry stoners, fat policemen, and chubby children. A stick of dynamite takes shelter from objects that could light his fuse and end his days. And a nonchalant hippy takes refuge from animal furs, shaving cream, and pesky job applications.

Hsiung, whose quirky style is evident throughout the illustrations on each poster, views the collaboration between advertisers and brands as a positive thing.

“I think a lot of companies have now actually taken an interest in art,” says Hsiung in a video about his involvement in the project. “It’s not as strange to see major companies working with artists. [This is] probably my first sort of major job doing it for an advertising business, and I’ve been really excited to do it. Making sure I get it done correctly in the time frames has been a great experience. It’s really pushed me …  It’s going to be gratifying to see it when it’s done, and to see it up and stuff like that. I think that’s really the payoff.”

Y&R associate creative director Tom Paine was particularly complimentary when talking about the opportunity to work with the artist.      

“Michael is a disturbingly talented illustrator that I’ve wanted to work with for many years,” he said in a release. “The planets aligned on this one, and we’re looking forward to the next.”      

Although such collaborations have occurred regularly throughout history, there are still some traditionalists who argue that advertising isn’t art on the basis that its objective is to make money rather than to give an aesthetic expression. And while there is some truth to such sentiments, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that an artist as celebrated as Andy Warhol owes at least some of his fame to the branding on soup cans.   

And this trend also works in the reverse, in the sense that many recognised artists have contributed to the canon of advertising imagery throughout history. Take for example, Dick Frizzell’s illustration of the Four Square mascot Charlie, an image that has endured since the 1950s and continues to feature prominently on the branding on the chain.

Interestingly, we can expect more art to be added to the advertising canon in the near future, because Y&R NZ has announced that it plans to continue the series by collaborating with other artists, designers, and innovators in the future.   


Executive creative director: Josh Moore
Creative director: Tom Paine
Creative: Tom Paine
Creative: Carlos Savage
Production company: Mcdermott Management
Agency Producer: Christina Hazard
Illustrator: Michael Hsiung
Head of design: Musonda Katongo
Designer: James Wendelborn
General manager: Abbe Hale
Senior account manager: Mike Keen
Blunt managing director: Scott Kington
Blunt design director: Greig Brebner
Blunt global brand manager: Josh Page

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