“The Crossroads of Art & Commerce” by Jim Cousins

By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

“James,” John Cevette said to me, “the timing is off. Let’s take a moment and examine why this latest edit isn’t working.”

He chose a compact disc from the rack and placed it in the player (yes, this was the mid-nineties). He played a classical piece. It had a build and a reprieve, another build and reprieve, and, finally, the crescendo and resolution. This example was to convey that the same principles applied in the timing of the edit for the TV ad the agency was producing.

You see, great creativity in the Minneapolis ad scene is an artist-led craft. An important lesson I learned from John is that advertising is the cross between art and commerce. It harnesses the emotional power of art to deliver a specific message.

While interviewing with Cevette & Company, John asked me to join him while he presented a messaging strategy to the Minnesota Corn Growers. There must have been 40 farmers on that Board. These independent business owners who lived and died by the weather and commodity prices sought to build more value and security in their livelihood. John conducted quantitative research on the clean air benefits of ethanol and presented the results. It was masterful, and I, along with the room of farmers, were sold.

As consumers, we all have our favorite ads. Chewy is knocking it out of the park by their understanding of the ridiculous relationships we have with our dogs. Progressive Insurance’s “Unbecoming your parents” is a brilliant campaign with legs that could run forever.

Yet, as I write this essay, a TV ad comes on for Fisher Investments, seemingly a counterargument to my point. They make no effort to be interesting; there’s no genuine human connection. They simply state a misconception and make their opposing claim of the truth. There is no creativity. Zero art.

Choosing the easy road and leaving art behind appears to be the governing trend, where ‘content’ is king. The September issue of Harper’s Magazine defines it well: “Content, whatever else you may say of it, is not art. No one involved in its production, nor evidently in its consumption, appears to be interested in probing the depths of the self.”

The fact that our marketing industry embraces the term ‘content’ and doesn’t stand up for itself and its craft is a shame. Let’s not produce ‘content.’ Let’s inspire via brilliant strategy, well-written copy, intentional design, and exceptional storytelling. Our industry should not sell our art at the commodity price of ‘content.’

The temptation of the crossroads is that the fast lane of business looks like a smooth stretch of road. The danger is that we lose our humanity on that road. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t lose your art.

John Cevette passed away this weekend. He made his mark at the crossroads.


  1. Mark Hayden November 1, 2023

    Great piece. It’s a statement on society when focus group’s results can stifle some marvelously outlandish creative ideas from being displayed for others to just enjoy for their artistic merit.

    Sometimes forgetting that you’re selling anything can the map to the end of the rainbow.

    Sorry for your loss also.

  2. Sue Kruskopf November 7, 2023

    Hi Jim! How ironic I just read Doug’s piece and my comment there could apply here. This is so well written and Cevette was a pioneer.

    I agree with you that most ads have no soul, and are basically “content”.

    But I do relish the great ideas that do break through and that I remember.
    You just have to look a lot harder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *