I love this new ad from Canon Pixma, which is the result of an unexpected combination of paint, sound, and a macro lens. It almost feels like peering into a magical world: The slow speed and tight focus allow us to see transient sculptures that would just be a mess of splatters to the unaided eye. It’s also an intriguingly experimental approach. I feel like there is a rising trend lately towards experimentation in ads, events, and art pieces; people set up systems of conditions and allow unpredictable variation to determine the results. Mother’s ad for IKEA is a recent example, where cats, with all their mercurial whims, were released into the store to see what interactions might occur. As in this case, the “making of” video is as significant as the final result — the process is as joyful as the outcome. The work of design shifts from creating a beautiful thing to orchestrating a beautiful system, from controlling variability to modulating it.
The ad first caught my eye as a possible example of joywashing. I did an interview the other day during which I was asked to talk a bit about the concept, so it’s been top of mind. I said that joywashing itself isn’t harmful — more aesthetics of joy in the world is hardly a bad thing — but that it bothers me to see advertising that puts a chipper veneer on an ordinary product and claims it will make you happy. I’d rather see the design of the product reflect the emotional claim. If the product fails to deliver on the joyful promise, then it’s joywashing. But seeing this ad makes me want to refine that statement a bit.
I have no idea if the Pixma printer is a good one or not, whether it produces dazzling color or only so-so color, whether a print it makes is any more likely to cause delight than a print from any other printer. So on those grounds this ad would be suspect in my book. But I think this marketing effort transcends joywashing because the ad itself is truly joyful. In contrast to most ads, which say their brand is joyful (usually they shout it at you), this ad instead offers a brief experience of joy. Through an artful experiment full of delightful aesthetics, it creates a minute-long immersion into a surreal, uplifting world. I found myself spellbound by the ethereal forms and celebratory movements — it’s a great illustration of just how emotionally evocative abstraction can be.
I hope the product delivers on the tagline: Bring color to life. But even if it doesn’t, the ad doesn’t feel like joywashing because it can be appreciated and enjoyed all on its own. If the product doesn’t live up to the promise, I’ll buy something else, but at least I can appreciate the fact that the company has invested in creativity, and has chosen to put something inspiring out there, instead of insincerity, hoodwinking, and self-congratulation. I’d love to see the creativity and joyful spirit of the ad spark user’s creativity in similarly delightful ways. Even better would be if Canon had an events program up its sleeve, like Levi’s Workshops, for example, that will teach people ways to “bring color to life.” In this case, the ad, events, and products would all be parts of the Pixma experience, and the brand’s delivery against the promise of delight.