Category: Advertising

Frack me: Toys R Us ad is Pied Piper to eco-apocolypse

Busloads of kids get surprise trip to Toys”R”Us – YouTube.

The latest from the media gods, whose gifts keep on giving for all the wrong reasons. In the newest installment, this Toys R Us ad blows over all commons sense like a climate change induced hurricane. The ad depicts a busload of mostly kids of color who are being taken on a field trip to “nature” (I use quotation marks because it is ultimately a false distinction). It mocks environmental education by falsely depicting a boring, un-engaged presentation about oak leaves. Then suddenly the kids learn that they had been tricked and were actually going to Toys R Us. Like moths to a flame, they sprint ecstatically into a furnace of Chinese-manufactured toxins.*

The ad is wrong on so many levels, but let’s start with the demographic of the children. Urban kids of color have been shown to have “nature deficit” because of a lack of access to environmental education and “nature.” Under-served youths tend to live in cities and attend schools that don’t have the resources for environmental education. This problem is being addressed by the No Child Left Inside model, but there is a long way to go, and ads like this certainly don’t help the matter.

Toys R Us offers itself as a kind of WIllie Wonka of the consumer sublime, a concept developed by David Nye. Over the past hundred and fifty years or so as we have shifted into techno-scientific modernity, the sublime has transformed from an experience of awe of nature to awe of the technological cornucopia that surrounds us. The ad reinforces this by representing its toy store as a magical kingdom of discovery and amazement. But the ancient meaning of awe–“terror–comes closer to the reality behind Toys R Us, a kind of Lord of the Flies of globalization.

It just amazes me that the more we know about the state of our planetary ecological crisis, the more corporations shill denial. Also, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t made by The Onion.

PS Check out The Cobert Reports’ response.

* I’m not China bashing here, just drawing attention to where this crap is made. Just as the Colombians shouldn’t be blamed for our coke addiction, nor should we accuse the Chinese for our over-consumerism.

Facebook’s mistaken identity

Interesting ad from Facebook to commemorate its 1 billionth user (how is that possible?). Here there are many deep truths, and also some deep untruths. I believe the need to connect with others is the primary reason why we use media. We don’t like feeling alone. This sentiment is capture beautifully by the ad. However, Facebook’s suggestion that it’s like a doorbell, chair or bridge is completely disingenuous. Those are objects that lack a systemic, corporate agenda that tracks its users interests and then sells them as commodities. Imagine the chair you sit in monitors all the activities of the room you’re in and the conversations your having with your friends. The chair then compiles that information and sells it to other chairs so that when you enter into other spaces, the chair forces you to sit in a particular position so that you see ads or through a window that you had no intention of looking through. What if the chairs re-arranged themselves to encourage you to sit with particular people that you didn’t intend to sit with? I imagine that we wouldn’t like these chairs very much.

For more about the ad, check out this Ad Age article.

Chipotle grammy ad

[video link]

Just in case you didn’t watch the Grammy Awards (I didn’t either), it featured this commercial, which is a fairly good example of ecological communication. By explaining a complicated system with concrete symbolism, this is a good demonstration of how advertising techniques can promote positive thinking. Chipotle, which you may have seen featured in the documentary Food Inc., wants to highlight its “food with integrity” program that promotes the humane treatment of animals and a decentralized food system. The soundtrack features Willie Nelson covering Radiohead. Wow!

For more background info about the ad, Esquire provides in-depth coverage.

Here’s a bonus video. The following vid is the opening sequence for Food Inc. Notice how the narration and visuals are a kind of food media literacy.

[video link]

Lorax forced to shill for consumerism

If you can’t see this, please go to the link here.

Universal Pictures’s Lorax can’t get any love. First, grade schoolers attacked the film studio for a lack of environmental materials on its Web site, then Fox’s right-wing host Lou Dobbs accused it of conspiring to undermine capitalism, and now environmentalists are up in arms about the merchandise and commercial tie-ins associated with the film (including disposable diapers, Double Tree hotels and IHOP). As to be expected, Dobbs’s rant is rather juvenile compared to the sensible response of kids faced with living in Fox’s demented universe. As for the tie-ins, read on.

The latest outrage is the emergence of a “Truffula tree friendly” SUV ad for a Mazda (posted above).
In response, the best quip comes from Mediate: “Having The Lorax shill for a sport utility vehicle is like using clips of Requiem For A Dream to sell diet pills, it goes completely against the spirit of the source material!” Appropriately, Jason Bittel offered this little Dr. Seuss-esque ditty:

A Lorax-branded combustion engine? I mean, seriously?

Not a hydrogen? Not an electric?

Not even a Thneed-sponsored cross-breed?

Whoever is in charge of branding

For the Lorax’s mula-making machine –

Have you read the book you’re hijacking?

Did you misinterpret what it means?

BMW masturbates male ego


Who needs Freud or Marx when BMW can cut to the chase: cars make good sexual partners with the male ego. Rather than stare into the soul of your partner, just stick yourself into metal and plastic and see your ego reflected back at you. Boy, these admen really need some Gaian therapy!

They might be giants (but not for long)

Judging from these ads I presume that Korean Air’s primary clientele are the Yuppie Gods of Mount Olympus. And it may be true, considering the increasing disparity of wealth between the “Globos,” those members of the global elite who jet to Paris for wine tasting on the weekend, and the rest of the world now clinging to the sinking lifeboats of transnational capitalism. The question remains, what happens to the Gods when the glaciers melt and they no longer have adequate water to drink? Cassandra, Pandora… where are you when we need you most?

Incidentally, without intending to do so, this is my Blog Action Day Post. This year’s theme is water. So while the giants are frolicking in the clouds, it might behoove them to consider the following facts (all are from the Blog Action Day Website):

A Human Right: In July, to address the water crisis, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right over. But we are far from implementing solutions to secure basic access to safe drinking water. More Info »

40 Billion Hours: African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink. More Info »

38,000 Children a Week: Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions. More Info »

Wars Over Water: Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa. More Info »

Cell Phones vs. Toilets: Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets, but many more have access to a cell phone. More Info »

Food Footprint: It takes 24 liters of water to produce one hamburger. That means it would take over 19.9 billion liters of water to make just one hamburger for every person in Europe. More Info »

Technology Footprint: The shiny new iPhone in your pocket requires half a liter of water to charge. That may not seem like much, but with over 80 million active iPhones in the world, that’s 40 million liters to charge those alone. More Info »

Fashion Footprint: That cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now took 1,514 liters of water to produce, and your jeans required an extra 6,813 liters. More Info »

Bottled Water Footprint: The US, Mexico and China lead the world in bottled water consumption, with people in the US drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86 percent of which will never be recycled. More Info »

Waste Overflow: Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities. More Info »

Polluted Oceans: Death and disease caused by polluted coastal waters costs the global economy $12.8 billion a year. More Info »

Uninhabitable Rivers: Today, 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. More Info »

Building Wells: Organizations like and charity: water are leading the charge in bringing fresh water to communities in the developing world. More Info »

Technology for Good: Do you want to measure how much water it took to make your favorite foods? There’s an app for that. More Info »

Conservation Starts at Home: The average person uses 465 liters of water per day. Find out how much you use and challenge your readers to do that same. More Info »

Keeping Rivers Clean: We can all take small steps to help keep pollution out of our rivers and streams, like correctly disposing of household wastes. More Info »

Drop the Bottle: Communities around the world are taking steps to reduce water bottle waste by eliminating bottled water. More Info »

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools: Students in developing countries lose 443 million school days each year due to diseases associated with the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene. Repeated episodes of diarrhea and worm infestations diminish a child’s ability to learn and impair cognitive development. More Info »

Truthiness in advertising



Wooster Collective posted these images from CNN’s ad campaign in Turkey, “Stories with the full background.” Aesthetically this is by far one of my favorite marketing stunts (see my book cover to understand why). The thing is, why don’t they run ads like this in the US? I think the answer is self-evident. The US press is generally chckenshit to be too honest at home, but will present a different face abroad in order to appease the generally oppositional view of the US overseas. This kind of two-faced approach is a disservice to the American public and also points to the ethically crippled state of corporate media.

World Cup and the anthropological object at play

Two different visions for the World Cup

Living in Italy it’s hard to ignore the World Cup. Everyday at the local market people want to know my opinion about the England-USA match-up on June 6. That’s fine by me. I’ve got the bug too.

What I find fascinating is how a single ball can so inspire the collective imagination, which is brilliantly captured in the above Nike ad (the first embedded video). Taking a page from Lost, the ad flashes sideways into alternate realities based on the results of the play. Aesthetically the ad captures the global zeitgeist of the World Cup’s fever dream.

Speaking of balls…

Using the soccer ball as a point of discussion, a section of Piere Levy’s Becoming Virtual explores the “anthropological object,” which highlights the possibility for using the World Cup’s gameplay as a visualization for a larger project: global ecology.

Building on French philosopher Michel Serres‘ work on “quasi-objects,” Levy draws on the image of a soccer match to concretize how collective intelligence can emerge around the movement of an “anthropological object,” the otherwise unspectacular soccer ball. There are different levels of engagement: the stadium and its spectators, who cannot directly act on the ball, but most certainly can charge the energetic field of the gamespace (as the general debate about the vuvuzelas testifies). On the field, there are the players, of course, who directly engage the ball. Then there are those of us with our nervous systems extending into the gamespace via the cameras that capture the action and transmit it through cyberspace, satellite and broadcast.

With the scene set we can see that though the ball is itself an artifact in its own right, once it goes into play it becomes a point of relations, propelling collective intelligence into action. No single player can pick up the ball and puncture it or run away with it. The ball becomes a tool for which we can think with and respond to in relation to other people. In play it is collectively conceived, a fulcrum for a billion people to relate to and with each other.

Now, imagine if that kind of collective action revolved around the most important ball of all: Earth.

Certainly the commercial, creative and civic energies that go into the World Cup are not currently directed towards our blue ball in space. Yet, as Levy wholeheartedly wants to do with this particular thought exercise, we can humanize/eco-ize the virtuality experiment that we as a global society are engaged in. He suggests that cyberspace can be such an object to think with, one that offers the pedagogical potential for engaging us in building intelligent communities. Obviously at this current moment the BPs of the world are firmly entrenched in the political, military and financial matrix of global power, but they are not poised for the necessary intelligent response to what the ecosphere, and humanity, is calling for. The Greenpeace ad (the second embedded video) is a step in this direction.

Of course, unlike a soccer ball, we don’t need to kick Earth around any more. In Levy’s words:

“Technology virtualizes action and organic functions. Yet the tool, the artifact, are not merely efficient things. Technological objects are passed from hand to hand, body to body, like a baton in a relay. They create shared uses, become vectors of knowledge, messengers of collective memory, catalysts of cooperation.” (p.165)

Not too challenging: freedom is slavery and other ironies

Is Challenger the official car of the Tea Party? Here Dodge is desperately pandering to the extreme right, an indicator that American corporations have no scruples when it comes to salvaging its business model. Indeed, this is a zeitgeist ad for the American political landscape: a failed ideology can only salvage itself through the appeal of fascist aesthetics.

Indeed, muscle cars are like tea Partiers on steroids, trouncing the landscape as they chase off the foreign occupiers with a false sense of self-confidence. Sorry to say this folks, but the Brits have you by the balls right now. BP will gladly fuel your Challenger for you at a special discounted rate of specially repurposed Gulf oil.

George Orwell, Walter Benjamin and George Washington are somewhere shaking their heads right now while chasing quaaludes with a stiff brandy.

So much for freedom.

Super Bowl 2010: Meme police

This year’s slate of Super Bowl ads indicate two trends: 1) a continued lack of imagination among the highest paid “creatives” in the world, and 2) a backlash against environmental activism. These Super Bowl ads were decidedly conservative by recycling standard demographic tropes to shore up the shrinking ego of the persecuted male species. This has been the long-standing approach of torch-bearer Bud Light, which perfected the art of celebrating the isolated, addicted male in defiance of the over-bearing power of women and community. What is new this year is transmuting this “abusive authority” into the guise of ecological consciousness.

Case study number one is the “Green Police” ads by Audio, which couches its anti-PC message in ironic humor, thereby softening the seriousness of its subtext. It confirms the fears that environmental regulation will result in a police state, and turns anyone who cares about the environment into a potential fascist. While we may laugh at such cartoony fears (it’s only a joke, right?), the Rush Limbaugh crowd takes them very seriously.

(It’s not an illegitimate protest. From an eco-justice point of view, the threat of global regulations forced upon local populations is real, but in the latter case the concern is that corporate interests will hijack environmental rhetoric in the service of obliterating local autonomy in the same way that trade liberalization promoted by the WTO has done.)

Here Audi defends the rich white male’s perceived loss of autonomy and his right to be a jerk. My particular peeve against Audi is based on personal experience in Europe where Audi drivers across the board are the most arrogant and dangerous exemplars of the tragedy of commons (for example, watch this ad). On highways one must be in constant alert of Audis rushing at jet fighter speed, lest your leisurely Sunday afternoon drive through the Tuscan countryside ends in a pile of crushed steel, bones and shattered glass.

The paranoia exhibited by Audi plays into the general meme that government regulation of corporate abuses will translate into socialist totalitarianism. Say “Green Police” ten times fast and you may end up with “Greenpeace.”

Call this a backlash shot across the bough of environmental activism. Green consciousness becomes the work of thought police.

You can see more “Green Police” ads and PSAs here.

Case study number two comes from Bud Lite, which (yawn) sticks to its failsafe storyline. In it Bud Lite’s primary target audience (those possessed by an inner 13-year-old “mook“) must retreat to their boys-only (stripper exception clause allowed) playhouse to take cover from moralistic authorities (women) who condemn their innocent behavior. But now the right to secrecy, addiction and misogyny is threatened by ecological activism. In this ad, rather than a house being built of recycled beer cans (which excites a young female foil), its owners have constructed a living refrigerator, without realizing, however, that symbolically it’s also a morgue.

Case Study number three is the Budweiser bridge. The only thing surprising about this ad is how it blatantly demeans humans as mere slaves to their corporate overlord. In this case, people are willing to let the truck (a symbolic container of the Budweiser corporate brand) drive over their backs. So while the previous ads play into people’s fears of losing individual freedom to ethical constraints, here people voluntarily become the servomechanism of corporate power and control. How’s that for ironic Super Bowl humor!

Bonus footage: Go here to see a hilarious Daily Show deconstruction of Super Bowl ads from 2004.

Hard to digest commercial filet

I’m having a hard time digesting this ad. First off, it draws upon McDonald’s marketing brilliance which relies upon a mnemonic memory device— a simple melodic jingle–to program our memory. The song is catchy and weird, perfect for the Gen X ironic set.

But then the creepiness factor sets it.

How do we reconcile the cute animated fish with the factory-processed soma sandwich it wishes to consume? This has always baffled me: why does the Pollo Loco place have a guy in a dirty chicken outfit outside its restaurant advertising cooked members of its species inside? Or any food product that portrays animals as funny cartoons when in fact the product being sold is something from a house of animal horrors? I guess I answered my own question. It seems as if the talking, cute animal characters of the food industry are meant to create a bit of cognitive dissonance regarding what we eat so as to distance the food’s reality from having any meaningful spiritual connection to our bodies.

Michael at writes:

Fast food advertising traditionally attempts to divorce the food from the animal and factory farm source and make it seem as though it had grown on trees (quite literally in the case of past McDonald’s efforts which have included artificial trees with plastic hamburgers growing on them in children’s play areas). In this case, however, McDonald’s alludes to the true source of the sandwich, fishing (massive, destructive overfishing in fact), but then turns the idea into a dark comedy, asking the viewer to laugh off the absurdity of how a complex organism like a fish (in this case an intelligent, singing one) could have become the “delicious” friend brown rectangle they are pushing into their mouths.

Unfortunately, this fish is viral.

Cellphones don’t break reality wall– future not distributed equally

The original

The Palestinian response


Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

JERUSALEM (IPS) – Beneath the towering eight-metre concrete slabs, an army jeep patrols the Israeli side of the ‘security wall’ that cuts through Palestinian territory, dividing the occupied West Bank from Israel.

Suddenly, a soccer ball flies over the wall and lands on the roof of the jeep. The soldiers kick it back. The ball comes flying back. The soldiers get on their mobile phones and several more jeeps arrive. With women soldiers in the role of cheerleaders, a bizarre game kicks off against invisible players – presumably Palestinians on the other side of the wall.

This TV ad for an Israeli cell-phone company has become the talk of the country. For all the jolly impression, Israelis are mostly oblivious to the less- than-cheerful reality on the other side of the wall.

Israeli political cartoonist Amos Biderman draws starkly what his countrymen can’t see, choose not to see: in his cartoon, the ball kicked by the soldiers crashes over the wall into a large group of Palestinians – men, women and children – lining up at a checkpoint behind barbed wires before being searched by Israeli soldiers, guns at the ready. Back on the Israeli side, the soccer-playing soldiers chant, “Everything’s Cool”.

“Israelis aren’t paying any price for the injustice of occupation,” says columnist Gideon Levy, a vigorous critic of Israeli policy. “Life in Israel is just peachy. Cafes are bustling. Restaurants are packed. People are vacationing. Who wants to think about peace, negotiations, withdrawals – the ‘price’ we might have to pay. The summer of 2009 is wonderful. Why change anything?”

Israelis take the security wall for granted. Most believe it essential – and effective – in keeping bombers out of their cities and separating the Palestinians physically from them.

Not unexpectedly the Palestinians have a different read on the wall. Pure and simple, they want it demolished. According to a report in the Tel Aviv tabloid Ma’ariv, they have asked the U.S. to press Israel to tear it down, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reportedly arguing that since the security situation in the West Bank has improved dramatically, Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians have abated.

Thanks Todd!

It takes a fake to know one

The first ad is the latest from Barclay’s Bank which seeks to distinguish itself from the financial fakers. Ironically, though, they seem to have aligned themselves with all the other sci-fi genre films dealing with false realities (such as Dark City, also posted above– see also The Matrix and Truman Show). The troubling thing for Barclay’s is that in all these dystopic scenarios, the only ones who have a grip on reality are the aliens, TV producers and machines with artificial intelligence. I guess this puts Barclay’s in like-minded company.

Food porn

Sometimes it’s hard to make the case that most chow advertisements are a kind of food porn, but then the advertising gods deliver us something like this to make our point a little easier.