Tagged: Advertising

The flaneur’s coda

Charles Baudelairer‘s character of the flaneur has been celebrated and vastly discussed as the archetype of Modern Media Man: he grazes the sights and sounds of the new urbanity, a casual consumer of the senses. He is somewhat disengaged, his focus meanders and samples. As a “Bourgeois dilettante,” he’s a no where man. While the flaneur has come to symbolize the rise of media in the 19th century, I also see him reasserting himself in today’s ads, mostly in the guise of the 20-something tech economy knowledge worker. Usually he drives a (new) car, letting his electronics extend his senses for him while he consumes the landscape like any other media experience. So rather than a pedestrian wandering the city, the new flaneur is guided by GPS and a smart phone that makes his appointments (he may even have an outsourced personal assistant in India handling ticket reservations and other mundane activities for him). So rather than roam the sensations, his technological devices browse for him.

The Verizon VCast ad featuring Led Zeppelin (screen grab above, link below) brings the flaneur back to the street, but this time he wanders a hybrid reality of magical dimensions. The music is not only a soundtrack but describes every scene change he encounters. Meanwhile Led Zep memorabilia and clues are planted through out his sojourn connecting the physicality with his media space, giving “Physical Graffiti” a literal existence. He no longer meanders the city but a videogame. The outside is in, the inside is out.

I have to admit that this character makes me really mad. He’s young, good looking, self-assured, disengaged, clueless and apparently rich enough to live in Manhattan. He doesn’t really give a crap about Led Zeppelin because if he did he’d be banging his head to John Bonham‘s beats. He’s so self-absosorbed he’s probably thinking about how his $60 American Apparel T-shirt will get him laid. Led Zep belongs to the throngs of insecure, sexually dysfunctional, pimple-faced youth. This is spin the bottle make-out music, not Bourgeois dilettante, phone status, ring-tone accessory bullshit. Sheesh. This cheap commercialization is far too casual for me to bear.

Video link.

(Article link (you may have to register to view it).

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Dying of boredom in the Information Age

“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?”

Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life

Funny how clever ads will make us forget about about their insidious messages. Repeating the conventional wisdom that time can be dissected into bits and pieces, and therefor is a thing that can be owned and sold, this ad makes it seem like down time is a droll activity only for losers who wear funny unitards in public. Vodafone would certainly love to carve up your day and bill all those moments that are not already being consumed by work or the Internet. If the Situationists argued that boredom was counterrevolutionary, Vodafone would contend that boredom should be reduced to a billable activity. I can’t wait for the moment when nanoseconds will be carved into subunits of the penny. Not even the blink of an eye should go without its billing cycle. 😉

Ads: should you be afraid?

Image by Antonio Lopez
I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with the Adrants. Their MO is to out-snark the snarkiest of marketers, but the unsettling thing is that Adrants is usually right. Below is a delightful little rant that buttresses my theory that marketing is so out of control that is ceases to be effective. This doesn’t mean I don’t think advertising’s overall impact on the human psyche is negative, but I also don’t believe the sky is falling. Alarmists ignore the important component that the individual still has control over the relationship with that which enters and exits the brain, 3,500 ads a day be damned.

Consumers Still Bombarded With Advertising, Ad Model Still Broken » Adrants:

With media fragmentation comes advertiser’s use of that fragmentation in the increasingly difficult war waged to win the valuable consumer eyeball. This fragmentation has given way to more unique forms of advertising that fall into the guerrilla marketing space but even these efforts are getting tired. Once novel, tactics such as forehead advertising, invertising, advergaming, dogvertising, adverblogging, blogvertising, bloodvertising and bravertising are now old hat. Other methods such as school bus, in-school and police car advertising are considered only out of financial desperation. Layer on top of that more recent whacked social media efforts like PayPerPost and clearly, the model is hurting.

Trust the art, not the artist


Absolute Vodka is running a campaign about what a more perfect world might be like. In this version Times Square is filled with paintings instead of ads. It’s easy to pick on Absolute because the subtext of most alcohol ads is that in a perfect world you are an alcoholic and no one will judge you for it (alcoholics, though a minority of the population, buy the most alcohol, so they are the primary demographic). This ad illustrates this principle perfectly because it is the bottle of Absolute that delivers us to this Utopic place. (Bag News Notes has more links to the other versions of the campaign)

More interesting to me is how the misperception that art and advertising inhabit different worlds is represented in the ad. It’s true that they are products of different micro systems of production, but art and advertising are similar in that they simultaneously promote particular worldviews. They are both the “propaganda” of their times. When Benjamin argued that mass media art lacked an “aura,” he saw potential for good and bad, the good being that aesthetics would be available to a wider audience, bad because of the potential for aesthetics to be in the service of war, as was the case with the Nazis. In any case, art historically is part of system of production and economics, and if not, it is in dialog with those forces. The Absolute ad appeals to a false sense of idealism that we would be better served by art than ads. I would like to agree with this sentiment, but after spending considerable time in the Vatican Museums, my sense is that in the old system of patronage, art served the vision of the Church, which to my cynical mind is a kind of business, too. Anything that involves the public is going to take money, and those who control the purse strings often will have the say as to what does and doesn’t get seen. In non-European systems, the situation is much different. If there is no word for art, for example, there is no concept of it in the sense that we think of art being separate from daily activity. Where did we make a wrong turn?

Not to generalize, but I think there are some examples of art that transcend economics. The few that come to mind are graffiti and street art, but even in those cases they can be a kind of advertising and branding, albeit for a different audience.

I’m not trying to be a downer here, but trying to elucidate some of our contradictory beliefs concerning the difference between advertising and art. There is one huge distinction, though, and that is the intention behind the creation. If we want to get to the crux of the issue, I’d start there.

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A backdoor media literacy resource

Sometimes you have to thank the media gods for providing free resources to deconstruct their world. So welcome to Super Bowl Monday Planet: Firebrand, a ridiculously conceived Website that can be likened to a content-free television network, i.e. all ads, now shows. But if you are like me and are infinitely curious and attracted to ads like we are to a car wreck on the freeway, then Firebrand is pure unadulterated consumeristic voyeurism. Forget the strange premise that people will watch ads for entertainment value. We have a free media literacy download site!

You can download any commercials onto your computer and use them for teaching about media. Firebrand supports a number of formats, including iPod, iPhone, Windows Media and Quicktime.

OK media lit folks. Have at it!

From the Website:


We love commercials. We submit, with rare exception, that they?re the best stuff on TV. In under a minute you get the best directors, the sickest special effects, the funniest writers?what?s not to love?

We love commercials. 1984. Mean Joe Green. Whasssup? You know you love them, too. So let?s gather ?round the best of them. Sort them. Judge them. Share them. Love them.

We love commercials. The eye candy. The laugh out louds. The did-you-just-see-thats. The most loved, the most emailed, the ones we still talk about today. Let every day be Super Bowl Monday.

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Dove gets punk’d

Some of you may have been following the controversy about the Dove Onslaught ad which was designed to raise awareness of degrading body images in the media (click here to see my previous post). Some ingenious video editor decided to put the truth back into the ad by editing in scenes from sexist commercials for Axe, which is owned by Unilever, the same parent company of Dove. Nice work!

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Extraterrestrial Hummer

File this one under inexplicable partnerships. National Geographic has now branded a hydrogen powered Hummer. I have mixed feeling about this. National Geographic is generally considered a green brand, perhaps because of its global scope and efforts to document the vanishing human and natural world. Hummer, on the other hand, is the perfect symbol of the war economy, as a gas-guzzling behemoth, but also as a stand-in for the emasculated male member. I have long monitored Hummer ads and have seen a repeated message that we humans have become extraterrestrials. Forget spaceship earth, the Hummer is spaceship survival. With an absence of drivers in this ad, you get the sense that the Hummer is a borg, and we are simply its servomechanism. The quick cuts of the commercial also generates a discontinuous, disjointed relationship with place. We jumpcut around the globe as if the SUV will serve as our time-space machine.

Dove-olution? Updated

I admit that Dove’s first round of postironic anti-“beauty” beauty commercials rubbed me the wrong way. I posted that it was a little too close to the edge of self-promotion for a beauty supply company to market itself as the anti-product. But this one is pretty darn amazing, to be honest, and it really hit me viscerally because I have a young daughter. The advice is wise: we shouldn’t let media parent our children. So though there’s a tiny cynical voice inside me that decries this as an insidiously ploy cloaked inside the protein shell of a corporate virus, I believe the intention behind it is sincere. I believe this would be a good teaching tool, as long as it is presented within the context of other messages.


I just became aware that Dove’s parent company Unilever also makes Axe, which has one of the most heinous, misogynous marketing campaigns in the universe. It is so insidious and evil it almost nullifies all the good will that Dove creates with its ad. Because on the one hand, Dove is promoting the self-esteem of girls, but on the other, Axe not only promotes the degradation of girls, it creates the fantasy that women are just tools of male sexuality. It subtly promotes a rapist mentality by encouraging the belief that every woman’s goal is to rip off her clothes at the first sent of a boy using Axe. And if she doesn’t, what will he do with his false expectations? It is quite infuriating and disgusting.

You can send a letter of protest here:

From Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood:

Unilever says it wants to promote girls’ self-esteem. Its Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been lauded for challenging the standards of the beauty industry.

There’s just one problem: Unilever is the beauty industry. A manufacturer of diet aids, cosmetics, skin whiteners, and other beauty products, Unilever is responsible for much of the advertising it claims it wants to help girls resist. Unilever’s advertising for Axe grooming products – which appears frequently on MTV and other youth-oriented media – epitomizes the sexist and degrading marketing that can undermine girls’ healthy development.

If Unilever is serious about promoting girls well-being, they’ll start by looking in the mirror. Please take a moment to urge Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau to end the degrading Axe campaign.

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Militainment and Media War

These are a few videos a made a while back. The first started as a little experiment to see if I could splice the sound from one commercial to the visuals of another just to see what would happen. It actually began as an accident because I was in a class giving a talk about advertising when I ended up running a Navy and X Box ad at the same time. I noticed that they both had the same pacing so I combined them, and lo, look what happened. I extended the experiment to combine an Army and WWII movie ad, and so on. You can see all five of my experiments, one after another.

The second video was more intentional. I captured as much news footage as I could during the first couple of weeks of the US invasion of Iraq and then combined that with other programming from the same time period. The networks should be embarrassed by the Stalinist spectacle they constructed.

Citizen media critics

Recently I posted some video of Jean Kilbourne who’s a professor and book author talking about images of women in advertising. But what about normal girls? What do they have to say? A project of 3iYing, this site presents a series of young women giving straight-talk deconstructions of magazine ads. Makes me wonder if I should keep the shingle on the door and quit the media literacy biz altogether, because I think most people know by this point that these ads are a bunch of bull. But it’s nice to highlight just how wasteful and stupid the advertising biz really is. And please folks, stop being afraid. Ads are not going to ruin your mind, as these thoughtful citizen critics remind us.