The whole purpose of ads, whether on TV, in papers/magazines, online, is to persuade us to buy something. It may be to buy into an idea, a style, a dream. It makes us want the best, latest, biggest, fastest, coolest thing, holiday, house, car, lifestyle. They have to be repetitious, by their very nature.
Others want us to feel guilty. Starving children, drought-stricken fields, filthy drinking water, abused children and neglected animals manipulate our emotions so that we feel compelled to give. Give to assuage our consciences, make up for what others have done, appease natural disasters.
It’s hard to opt out of them, whichever sort of ads they are, however they are manipulating us. It’s fertile ad ground at Christmas, of course. Even in the high streets, the Big Issue sellers or the charity chuggers with a good pitch, tug at our heart strings. It’s not easy to look away as you walk past.
The John Lewis Ad
Some ads are more successful at twisting our emotions than others. The 2011 Christmas ad from John Lewis has already become a classic of the genre. It was an instant hit on YouTube, racking up a million views within days of its launch on an episode of ITV1‘s The X Factor.
It’s going viral, a must-see advert, that’s already inspiring mock ads, spoofs. These are mash-ups, incorporating different elements of different genres. There is one based on The Shining and one on the movie Se7en, but with a different ending. The dad is given a box containing a human head!
Many adverts can’t be parodied because they are so awful in every respect. Others are seasonal ‘favourites’, like ‘you know it’s Christmas when the Coca Cola and santa ads start reappearing’, like the ghosts of Christmas past.
No strangers to controversial ads, Italian clothes company Benetton has produced another which their advisers believe will encourage sales. However, most of the media commentary has been hostile. Jena McGregor wrote, to take one example, in the Washington Post, that Benetton ads ‘could kiss customers goodbye, in an effort to reinvigorate its flagging brand.
Benetton Gets Desperate
She called it ‘a little sad’ how desperate the fashion company is to grab the spotlight’. These ads are a series of computer generated/manipulated images of various world leaders kissing each other. People and situations that would never happen; some might be deemed amusing, but most were offensive.
The one of the Pope kissing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, imam of the Al-Azhar mosque was withdrawn after protests from the Vatican on the grounds of the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality and the sensitivity of Christian/Islamic relations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being kissed by Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga’ Berlusconi; Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is with Mahmoud Abbas, Head of the Palestinian Authority, and US President Barack Obama is clinched with Hu Jintao, leader of the People’s Republic of China.
The ads all include the word, ‘unhate’, to promote Benetton’s UNHATE Foundation, which builds on their previous campaigns like ‘the united colours of Benetton’, demonstrating the diversity of global children. That was controversial in the 1980s. Now they plan educational tolerance programs and to fight poverty and human rights abuses where hatred has generated social injustice and conflict.
They said: ‘it’s not a cosmetic exercise, but a contribution that will have a real impact on the international community’. And you thought they were just selling clothes?
Shock advertising is not unusual now. Digital manipulation and people’s acceptance of more strangeness and reality distortions, mean that shock and sell is less effective than it was. Christine Odone writing in the Daily Telegraph (18 November 2011), illustrated the techniques: ‘outrage the public and they’ll beg for more’.
She said things like Big Brother and The Satanic Verses were popular because they deliberately courted offensive controversy. When songs are banned on TV or radio, that is frequently the perverse boost they need to sell more. When Absolute Radio 60s launched in November 2011, they declared it would be a Sir Cliff Richard-free zone as his music was not ‘cool enough’ to broadcast.
Members of The Who, Status Quo, Spandau Ballet, along with Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis and Esther Rantzen were first among celebs who leapt to the defence of one of the most successful music acts by any measure over 5 decades. Cliff himself told ITV1’s show Loose Women that the station was ‘just trying to drum up publicity. In a funny, strange way, they’re using me to advertise their station’.
That’s just the point. Funny, strange, all publicity is good publicity. Use technology to tell any story. That’s the name of the game. Are you more likely to buy something you have heard about (good, bad, outrageous, clever, funny, moving) than something from a company you know little of? Are you a manipulated customer?
Well, aren’t we all in one way or another?
Advertising Gets Really Personal.
Think Global, Think Viral in Business
Getting the Christmas Shopping All Wrapped Up.
Carrying Brand Loyalty Too Far?
Old Art, New Technology.
If the Medium is the Message, What is it Saying?
As the Internet Grows, What Price Does ‘Traditional’ Shopping Pay?
Photo: Magnus Karlsson