Thursday, June 3, 2010
fantasies for jaded grown ups
No one professes to watch commercials, and everyone asserts that they are “too smart” to be affected by them. Who is watching them, then? Why are we watching them? They are everywhere and cost a mint to make and to place in media culture. Online commercials alone are watched by millions. The current seductive power of consumer culture today works to make commercials that you WANT to watch.
The ad above is part of the new genre of commercials that speaks to the viewer as a clever 21st c subject who knows how ads work, who can read cultural meanings, who has agency, who is not a brainwashed dupe. It works on the level of story, buzz, and social media.
You watch this commercial, rather than skip it, delete, or move on. Why do you watch it? One of the reasons: you know it is a commercial for Adidas shoes, so you wonder, where do the shoes come in? So it speaks to you as a person who will help construct the meaning, help make this a cultural text.
This commercial does not need to persuade you. The makers know that you are inundated with messages trying to persuade you to buy their product or service. You are a savvy, hip consumer – or so you like to think of yourself as such. So, they take things in a new direction and persuade you by not persuading you. They seduce you through indirection.
Here’s how it works. You watch the commercial to find out where the shoes come in. The story seduces you to keep watching. It’s a contemporary fantasy made explicit. The makers know that consumers know that ads sell fantasies. So, they make a literal fantasy with an average (sexy) guy. You don’t need to be hit over the head to be reached. You watch. You look for the shoes, which are on the margins of the story.
This ad works on a visual story needing no text. The makers know you can make meanings and don’t need to be told. There are all sorts of cultural codes floating around in this visual drama. You watch it, continue to watch it, to see which ones you can figure out so you can make sense of the story. You wonder, what can I piece together from this to make sense of it? The soundtrack is contemporary quirky–unique. You feel like you’re watching a mini-movie.
Intertextually, this story calls up the mermaid mythology. But it also is very much a masculine fantasy. It calls up various scripts from the social narrative of bachelorhood/being single, commitment, marriage and/or relationship, heterosexuality, children, getting drowned by marriage/responsibility, boring middle-class leisure, needing to escape that reality, choices, needing to be independent, women will drown your dreams, and so on.
After watching this mini-story mini-drama to the end, it becomes part of your cultural archive, your cultural archive of visual images with which you make cultural stories. You tell your friends about it by sharing it via social networking/media. Buzz happens.
Like the walking billboards we have become and make our children into, we continue to do the work of advertising various companies' products. Online, rather than wear the product, we share the product -- like I have done.
This is the trick. Advertising is something we do willingly.
Telling you how great Adidas shoes are is not the point of this ad. The point is the word Adidas stays in your mind. The company name becomes part of your cultural archive. When you go to the mall and are confronted once again with the mind-boggling choice of shoes in the sports shop/shoe store, you pick up a pair of Adidas and try them on. You “free” yourself by “simply” “choosing” these shoes.