Friday, February 23, 2007

Shock and Awe Advertising

Advertising, along with other forms of popular culture, promotes public discussion. The Super Bowl ads that were perceived by some viewers as anti-gay, anti-restaurant worker, and pro-suicide took a lot of heat in the public forum; so much heat that the ads were pulled from rotation. Suicide apparently has become a theme in contemporary advertising as the GM robot's demise was followed by a Volkswagon spot that featured a depressed man teetering on the ledge of a building. Then there is a Washington Mutual bank ad that also depicts a man who threatens to jump off a roof if the bank doesn’t stop offering free checking, and there is a current spot that depicts office workers diving off a cliff. That’s a lot of suicide, don’t you think? And, no doubt the various groups out there concerned with the prevention of suicide have advertisers directly in their sights. What’s going on in these ads must be more than “shock and awe,” a trend we have seen of late: you know those VW ads where two guys are driving down the street and suddenly a car crashes into them? The ads are meant to demonstrate the automobile's ability to withstand such a crash, but the startling way the advertiser accomplishes it is a little over the top for some. I suggest that these “suicide” ads may also be considered within this current trend, but they are much more. As I wrote about in a previous post, ads that get talked about are considered successful. And, in advertising as in show business, it’s not what they are saying about you that matters, but that they are saying anything about you at all. In an world of multi-tasking and inattentiveness to advertising, ads that get talked about are those with which we are engaged. Conversation extends the life of the ads. It is in this way that such extended conversations make advertising a part of participatory culture. But participatory advertising is such that meanings are extended beyond the advertiser's intended message through public discourse and individual deliberation of the rightness or wrongness of such depictions. This is high risk business on the part of the advertiser; somewhat calculated, however. But this newer leap--excuse the pun--into the dark side of life raises the question what is advertising today competing against? Are ads like this necessary to distract people from real events, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? As a spectacle advertising does draw our attention from the important and redirects it to the less important aspects of life. I guess talking about two men kissing while eating a Snickers or watching a group of people jump off a cliff (especially when you know it isn’t real) provides a diversion from all the misery of daily life. Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh what a relief it is! Advertising, that is.


Emma Staley said...

This so-called "new leap into the dark side of life" does raise many questions about American culture. I don't think ads like this are necessary to get peoples attention--especially because we know they aren't real (in the advertisement that is) I think advertisers are trying to think of innovative ways to get our attention however sometimes in more shocking ways than others. I think part of the problem is that advertisers are lacking the creativity or the drive to really think up of something genious--not people jumping off a cliff or two guys kissing....which only raises ethical questions, not "buzz" about something really thought out.

Adriana Marino said...

I find that this "new leap into the dark side" does raise many questions about our culture. It is almost obsurd to think that advertisers are willing to go so extreme as to use suicide as a means to get people's attention. As we learned from the video, The Persuaders, advertising is no longer, simply stating what the product is, and what it does. Now, advertisers have to come up with something conceptual and/or emotional to draw in the consumers... so now, has advertising reached the point that the only new things advertisers can use is suicide and this "dark side of life?"

aebergmann said...

While these recent ads do raise ethical questions since they are showcasing things such as suicide, I think people often have to remember that they are only advertisements, and it is not really happening, only scripted. I agree with the fact that this is probably not the best way to advertise and there are probably better means which do not raise ethical questions. However, if the groups that spoke out against the ads did so in order to cause a scene, get attention, and be heard. While there is a serious issue at hand, I feel that people sometimes take it a little too seriously.