Dark and Light in Advertising

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

The above passage from the Tao offers a simple but profound wisdom. Contrasts – and polarities – are part of the creative process. Without contrast there is no emphasis, no clear outline. When we confirm what we don’t want, we know better what we want. The Italians during the Renaissance called this “chiaroscuro” – dark/light. Outlines, shadows, depth – are created by this contrast.

There is something to play with here when it comes to presenting a brand, developing an advertising campaign or even a single ad. Is there contrast or depth, or is it flat and one-dimensional? Is there a problem, challenge or question that the brand is the unequivocal answer to? Is there an enemy to which this brand is the hero? What is the before, and what is the after that characterizes the story of the brand?

An iconic example is the famed “1984” spot that catapulted Apple into our collective imagination. Rows of poor white collar drones sit in a gloomy barron room while being subjected to the harangue of a demagogue on the big screen before them. Darkness and despair. Then, from the back of the room a woman appears. She’s dressed in colour and has hair, visibly different from the borg-like populace. She runs up the aisle, and hurls a sledgehammer at the screen. The screen shatters and a bright explosion seems to awaken the people stuck in their robotic trance. An announcer reads “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” Then the colourful Apple logo appears. Dark and light.