Go Big or Go Home

The goal of any ad is to capture the attention of its audience; if it fails to do this, it has failed all together. However, in the the modern age where flashing lights and sounds constantly buzzing by the ear are the norm, people are inured to the traditional attention-grabbing techniques that advertisers might want to use. So, ads must adapt: today, that means that they must make use of the new medium–i.e., the internet–or they must use the old mediums in a new, interesting way.

This particular Dutch ad campaign for a job placement company is of the latter camp. They caught my eye because of their creative use of existing, previously ignored spaces. Their ads depict people working in exaggerated drudgery. For example, one ad on the side of a coffee vending machine seemingly shows the inner workings of the machine: a woman laboriously making coffee for the unsuspecting, uncaring consumer. At the bottom, in Dutch, reads “Life’s too short for the wrong job.”

Similar ads were posted on the sides of other common machines: ice cream machines, cigarette dispensers, jukeboxes, ATMs. The hyperbole is acknowledged; however, rather than allow the ridiculous to overshadow the message that the company wants to convey, it draws attention to real world dead-end jobs and spurs the audience to consider what the company has to offer.

The ads had enough shock value to generate wide interest, and ultimately the creators of the ads had in their grasp the holy grail, of sorts, of advertising–the consumers themselves were disseminating images of the ads online and telling their friends, family, and various audiences (even now, I continue the chain). The campaign had gone viral. Thus, having made use of both old and new mediums, the success of this campaign reflects the new standards necessary for modern advertising in a media-saturated world.

Michelle Chan


Really, It’s Electric?

I find this commercial hilarious, not just because the guy needs to go to the bathroom. While many commercials seem to communicate little about the product, there is a class of advertising that finds a way to package important information about the good in a funny way that people will remember. Back in 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith argued that businesses create their own demand rather than satisfying society’s by creating a feeling of discontent through advertising.  I do not want to disagree with his point in general, but would find it very interesting to develop a theory of when companies find it worthwhile to create new demand versus providing information through advertising.

By: Eric Sobel

“I am African”: The Visual Language of Racial Difference

On a descriptive (denotative) level this is an image of Lucy Liu, a Taiwanese-American actress, wearing an unusual beaded necklace with orange facepaint smudged around her eyes, forehead and chin. Her photograph is accompanied by the caption,“I am African.” On an interpretive (connotative) level, we associate the facepaint and necklace as representing the tribal, the primitive—here used as a signifier for the concept of Africa. Lucy Liu is regarded as one of the most visible Asian-American actresses in Hollywood. And in this advertisement, it is possible her image is used to connote “Asianness” or rather, a distinct (and distinctly non-African) phenotype. Her apparent non-Africanness is acknowledged through the caption, “I am African,” because the caption reveals that the audience must be told Lucy Liu is an African—implying it would never come to that conclusion on its own. 

The ad seeks to create the impression of a common bond between ‘Africa’—more accurately, those in Africa who suffer from AIDS and for whom Keep a Child Alive is admirably seeking to provide with ARV drugs—and between their presumably majority non-African audience of potential donors. This is done in order to spur philanthropic action. However, the visual language used to accomplish this aim has some unfortunate effects—some of which undermine the stated purpose of the campaign. The complex humanity of the diverse inhabitants of Africa has no real presence in this advertisement. Instead, they are reduced to superficial representations (like face paint) suggesting a monolithic continent characterized by the aforementioned tribalism and primitiveness.

The ad also activates the myth of race by superimposing the ‘African-ness’ of the brightly colored face paint onto the ‘Asian-ness’ implied by Lucy Liu’s image—suggesting that the two elements are contradictory on some obvious, perceptual level. Although the image-makers then seek to overturn the contradiction they have established by having Liu state, “I am African,” this statement is ineffective because the self-evidentiary nature of race, ethnicity and nationality has already been used as a basic premise—taken as fact. Thus, while the goal of the advertisement was to communicate the common humanity of non-African target audiences and AIDS patients in Africa, it succeeded only in underscoring racial difference and exoticizing the African continent.

– Nima Hassan

Branded Spears

In these days of free content, crowdsources and piracy, record companies have seen their profits go down dramatically.  This reduction in sales has made both artists and record companies look for new ways to compensate the smaller numbers in their bank accounts.

Artists are now forced to increase the number of countries they visit when they go on tour, benefiting fans in developing countries who before the Web, had to settle with seeing their favorite stars live only on DVD.

Another visible trend is the increment in product placements in music videos.  Brands appear to be subsidizing the entire industry by carefully locating their products inside the video, on the wrist of the singer,  in the garage of the hero or the feet of the sexy model that will (at some point of the video) show his/her perfectly ripped body.

But how do brands benefit from such exposure:

  1. The artist (if famous enough) can almost guarantee a number of followers who will see the video online, and many of these viewers will also share it with their networks.  It is certain that many of these viewers are not and may not become users of the brands, but the value of global awareness is incalculable.
  2. The video will also be aired on MTV, VH1 and thousands of other channels who also can provide brands with good numbers in terms of awareness.
  3. If, overall, the artist generates good buzz for himself, the brand will also be benefited from this possitive buzz.

Video: Criminal

Artist: Britney Spears

Products: Radiance (Britney’s own fragrance), Swarovski and a car brand I haven’t identified yet.

Video: Telephone

Artist: Lady Gaga

Products: HeartBeats, Virgin Mobile, Diet Coca Cola, POF.com, Polaroid.

David Corzo for Vidalogo

@Ricorzo.  Ricorzo.com

Some blogs to love: Kiss My Black Ads, This Commercial Sucks, and Ads of the World

1.  Kiss My Black Ads.   shout-out to a cool website/blog which is  deconstructing criticizing advertising imagery around the DeBois’s fault line of the last century (and maybe this one) race…. AND functioning as an advertisement for their own graphic design advertising services that will get it right… so it’s simultaneously inside and outside the industry… interesting game they are playing.

2.  This Commercial Sucks.  A bit more straightforward title, and a provocative take-down of the State Farm ‘bring me a fantasy girlfriend immediately’ ad, where the magic of insurance provides hot girls. The black girl is an MTV vixen, the white girl is studying… hmmmm…… coincidence?  This Commercial Sucks thinks not.  You can read the whole post here.

3.  Ads of the World   Overwhelming inclusive great source for us of world advertising.  Still pondering a South African cell phone ad that blew me away, but in a very complicated and confusing way… will post on it later… meanwhile here’s a tv ad chosen at random from them, it’s from Japan and called Adizero vs. MiniSkirt (hello, weird east/west male/female power dynamic… calling Gloria Steinem… anyone?):

Can someone more web savvy than me do the mutual referral blog respect blogroll thing, and link us together?  (And please post on what you think of these provocative ads..would love to hear some reactions from folks from other backgrounds than me.) –by Bill Lattanzi


It’s always a great moment, that moment you’re wandering through the stacks unable to find what you’re looking for, and instead you stumble across something that’s far better.  I found this book Mesmerization by Gee Thompson,  in the MIT Hayden library, and it’s quite something.  Here’s what you see when you flip over the cover:

It’s about advertising, globalization and pop culture.  Also, check out their, er… mesmerizing website.  To say they take a dim view is an understatement.  The subtitle is:  The Spells That Control Us.  Why We Are Losing Our Minds to Global Culture.  They break down consumer desire into a bunch of categories, and itemize on each page the “spells” that determine our behavior.  It’s pretty specific and pretty all-inclusive from the usual suspects like cosmetics and the beauty industry, to the rebel stance of cultural studies folks like us.  We are all trying to fill, they say, what Sartre described as the “God-sized hole” in consciousness that the scientific revolution and industrialization brought along with it.  As a substitute we try clothes, rebellion, intellection, but nothing works.  It’s all endlessly unsatisfying.  Is there a way out?  Well, they argue, maybe understanding our enslavement is the first step to liberation.   Woah.

Meantime, the great publisher Thames and Hudson has put together another fabulous looking book that’s fun to hold in your hands and dig those crazy graphics… or am I just using books like these to fill up my God-sized hole?        by Bill Lattanzi

Exxon & Gasland: “The Way We’re Thinking About ‘em…”

Nice guy, nice smile, soft black and white lighting, the kind of guy who you’d know from church or youth soccer, the golf course maybe, always active in the community. He’s telling us something. He’s relaxed, but he has something to say. “A lot of times things are right underneath our feet, and all we need to do is to change the way we’re thinking about them.”

The gent turns out to be Erik Oswald, an Exxon-Mobil geologist, and he’s telling us about the rich new resources of gas found in America. What he’s alluding to every so obliquely as the ‘new way of thinking,’ is accessing previously unavailable gas trapped deep inside rocks in the earth through a new process called hydro-fracking: shooting water into the earth under high pressure, making a mini-earthquake and capturing the gas that’s released. This process is highly controversial, because it’s not easy to control where the newly released gas goes. The independent film, Gasland, shows a man living in a hydro-fracking area who can literally light his tap water on fire. A national movement to fight hydro-fracking is a new battle in the continuing war between environmentalists and big oil.

Here’s a quick look at how both sides sell their stories:

Exxon is selling myth, movement, the Great American Exception of innovation, enterprise. We have always overcome challenges with intelligence, and determination, and we didn’t let fear get in the way. We cut away from smiling Oswald to a color point of view of trees and the sun, natural as anything, drifting by from inside a fossil-fuel-burning automobile. It’s an image of health and green balance.

We come back to Oswald for “we didn’t even realize…” and now we pick up speed, as we whiz past a southwestern looking environment… a scrappy field with low mountains in the distance (nothing worth preserving here); a billboard flies by (echo of how we’ve built the environment up to now, perhaps). Now, we go to split screen and see: first, highly technical looking glowing red numbers and lights – then pan to an oil derrick tower lit up at night to look as majestic as the Eiffel Tower – a symbol of American grace. On Oswald’s words, “safely unlock” we see the Tower turn from a ‘real’ representative image, to a schematic on a computer screen, as a technician turns his head to the right… (one of Oswald’s concerned and kind colleagues at Exxon Mobil). And what is he looking toward? The comforting site of a white vinyl-sided (made from oil, saves money on paint) modern version of a traditional Colonial Style American home, at dusk. Any threat or danger sensed by the evening is dispelled by the warmly glowing (from their yellowish appearance, apparently energy-burning incandescents) outside lights. We come back to Oswald, tight enough in close-up to see some of the flaws in his skin, as he says evenly, “These deposits can provide us with fuel for 100 years.” We cut away now to a less subtle message: A spotlessly clean and shining small-town American Main Street, so full of warmth and red-white-and-blue bunting that nothing has been seen like it since the 1984 Ronald Reagan “It’s Morning in America” presidential campaign. As Oswald talks of “energy security,” two attractive apparently single young women walk by — a subconscious echo, maybe, of all those “protect the women” images from westward expansion stories that would have men urging suicide or actually slaughter ‘their’  women before allowing them to fall into “Injun” hands. Significantly, the biggest sign on the street is “Open”  – an open for business sign. We come back to the geologist for the finish: “It’s just takes somebody having the idea,” Oswald says, making a grasping motion with this hand, “and that’s where the discovery comes in.” All that other stuff… protests, objections, long-term considerations, amount to not very much… Once you have the idea, the ad suggests… ‘just do it.’   An equivalence is being made between fossil-fuel… and civilization.

Gasland, with far fewer resources, uses the tools of David to fight Goliath. The shaky camera, the poor video quality, the outsider’s camera angle, the executive walking out on the tough question… these we associate with another America, the America of the rebel, the people’s champion, fighting against overweening power.

And which best deals that other American demand, “Show Me”?  Well, without knowing anything else about the issue, no one could look at a man setting his water on fire and not want a little better explanation from Mr. Oswald and company as to how they know this procedure is safe.      —-  Bill Lattanzi