Sunday, 22 August 2010

Ad Nauseam

Something troubling has occurred to me recently and I feel the need to share it with you. I understand this may come across as a theory born out of paranoia, but I think, no, I know, we’re all being brainwashed.

In the offices of advertising agencies all over the world, hoards of successful young people, with suits and  gelled hair and blackberries and such, are gathering around water coolers and PrĂȘt a Manger sandwiches in order to come up with subliminal messages, fabricated scientific facts and a seemingly never-ending amount of waimageys to pray on our insecurities in order to alter the way we think. They have the capacity to choose our underwear, our breakfast cereal and mouthwash; a power that in the wrong hands could prove fatal, or at the very least, slightly irritating. If they really wanted to, these people could alter our perception of anything from the meaning of life to the value of an orthopaedic shoe. Thankfully it’s not religious ideology these guys and girls are peddling, it’s most often a razor, or a weird bacterial yoghurt, or a sanitary towel that will allow you to menstruate without interfering with your plans to spend the weekend participating in extreme sports, as we are led to believe all women do three weeks out of the month.

The impact these people have on our day-to-day lives is incredible. For example, Apple® products are now so popular that people camp outside of retail stores so they can be the first to get their hands on the latest gadgets, imitating scenes that haven’t been seen since the last Harry Potter book was released. Steve Jobs is in fact now so ‘on-the-pulse’ he could probably market his own faecal matter as an i-Turd and have people cuing round the corner for it within seconds of its arrival. It’s not that I think Steve Jobs does particularly good poos, this is just an example of the power of good branding. So how are we made to believe that such things are necessary to our happiness? Well, it’s quite simple really. To every trade their are a few essential tricks, and here are the tricks of advertising.

Slogans

Slogans, as with jingles, are the quickest way to plant a simple idea into the minds of a simple society. As a person, I can testify that I like things I don’t have to put any effort into understanding. A few words highlighting the best feature of a product are enough for me to make a snap judgment as to whether or not I want it in or around my person. For example, Pringles are famous for their slogan “Once you pop, you can’t stop!” What this tells us is that Pringles are tasty and slightly addictive. If we look closely however, this Slogan can work equally as well as warning. What it really says is “There is a chance you will become addicted to our high-fat snack and die obese, lonely and gassy in your castle made of Pringle tubes, keeping only the company of a stray cat who has been unable to find the exit despite the fact you spent hours building that drawer-bridge and think you did a pretty good job.” Tasty, or deadly? You be the judge.

The point is that anything, with the help of right slogan, can be made to seem appealing. As an example let’s take another highly addictive substance, everyone’s favourite Class A narcotic, heroin. Look at this ad and tell me you’re not tempted to give it a whirl.
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Of course you are. I only made that ad a few minutes ago and already have a belt around my arm and am asking immediate members of my family for spare change.

The key then, to avoiding being suckered in by an advertising slogan, is to read between the lines. Allow me to show you some examples with my slogan translator:

British Army“Join the professionals.” Translates to:  British Army – “Get shot in the face.”
British Rail“We’re getting there.” Translates to:  British Rail – “We’re late again, stop tutting.”
Budweiser“When you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all.” Translates to:  Budweiser - “Get too drunk to talk.”
Burger King“It takes two hands to hold a whopper.” Translates to: Burger King - “Did you like our joke about cocks? Eat a burger.”
Co-op (1950’s) - “You can always get it at the co-op.” Translates to:  Co-op - “Our cashiers will probably shag you.”

Pray on insecurities

If sex sells then the opposite of sex sells equally as well. I’m not entirely sure what the opposite of sex is, although if I’d bothered to keep a diary during my teenage years I might be able to tell you. What I mean by this is that sex sells so well that if we think we’re at any point being unsexy, we are compelled to immediately run out and by a can of Lynx©, convinced that it will bring ladies flocking and not, as is the unfortunate truth, leave us smelling like the inside of a community college changing room. Advertising agents aren’t stupid, with the exception of the people behind the Halifax ads, but I’m all for equal opportunities employment so i won’t grumble. The majority of them are all too aware that we the public are essentially walking, talking, sinewy bundles of insecurity that expend an incredible amount of effort  keeping a smile plastered to our faces, that almost definitely aren’t as good at being faces as everyone else’s faces are because we’re just so bloody crap at things. Bearing this in mind, how many ads have you seen that start like this?

“Is trapped wind getting you down?”
“Do you have an embarrassing undercarriage?”
“Is acne ruining your life and blackmailing your family?”
“Does everyone hate your tits?”

Highlighting your insecurities in a bid to get you to change is exactly the kind of technique empty-eyed, flannel-shirt-wearing cultists use to recruit members. Most often found hanging out at bus stops, they will strike up a conversation with a line like, “Are you unhappy? God you look unhappy. Why are you so unhappy? Do you want to come back to my house, which by the way is made entirely of hemp, and let me tell you everything that’s wrong with you?” And then you end up drinking Kool Aid and dying. 

I think I may have digressed a little here, but what I’m trying to say is don’t believe a word of it. your undercarriage is no more embarrassing than anyone else’s. Probably.

Slant

A lot of advertising is about the way in which we perceive a product’s use. For instance, think about stairs. You thinking about them? Good, boring aren’t they? But, by looking at them in a slightly different way we can make your average staircase appeal to every teenage girl who’s spent their weekend getting drunk in a park with her boyfriend and using mars bar wrappers as a makeshift contraceptives.

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Obviously there are numerous people this product could be marketed at; Trophy wives sick of the limited effects of pushing their aged husbands over in a bungalow; Dr Who fans living in fear of Daleks, or possibly even people looking to travel between the upper and lower levels of their abode. The slant, you will find, is key. 

Here comes the science bit

I have no proof that acia berries aren’t good for my hair. I also have no proof that not having any legs would make me a worse dancer, but I have a suspicion both of these things are true. The bullshit science monologue is most often included about half-way through an advert for a hair product that claims to have the world’s best scientist working on a way to make you look like Jennifer Aniston. Reassuring isn’t it? If the world’s greatest scientific minds are to be put to use doing anything, then making hair shiny is exactly what i want them doing. Some people may think that a cancer cure or aids research would be a priority, but no one listens to these people. You know why? That’s right, because they have greasy hair.

“Does your hair not shine as if it’s been lit by a dozen stage lights and then highlighted using Adobe After Effects? What the hell is wrong with you? You should try our shampoo for men, Manpoo. Our secret formula, containing Crapodiaxochewbackerlaquer, will allow you to play Frisbee on the beach with lots of other attractive people whilst smiling cheekily for the camera. Also, extracts taken from the bonsai tree featured briefly in The Karate kid 2 will make you hair so awesome that other people will want to be your friend. You do want friends don’t you?

Here’s a diagram that explains nothing about our product but will nevertheless be impressive and look great in HD.”

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repetition

“We buy any car. We buy any car. We by any car…ad nauseam.”

It’s long been proven by scientist and unruly four year olds alike, that repetition is not only incredibly annoying but also a good way to get something stuck in your head, and in advertising this is half the battle.
Bearing this in mind I would like to spend the next paragraph sending a personal message to Chris Martin of Coldplay:

Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs. Stop recording songs.

The narrative advert

Those of you old enough to wish you were younger may remember the ads for Nescafe’s Gold Blend, featuring national institution Anthony Head. Essentially a drawn-out soap opera, the minute long snippets showed Head quite unsubtly trying to get into the pants of his eager-yet-classy next door neighbour, who, luck would have it, happened to share his love for instant freeze-dried coffee. I can’t remember how the ads ended but let’s just assume they stayed up for four days straight banging away like a pair of over-caffeinated rabbits. These type of narrative ads manage to involve audiences in a way quite unlike any other, making them emotionally invested in the characters and therefore developing a subliminal kind of brand loyalty.

Recently BT have jumped on the narrative bandwagon with a series of adverts featuring Chris Marshall as a loveable rogue who finds himself cast as the stepdad in an oh-so-modern family. A fortnight or so ago a eureka moment in advertising led to the audience having an opportunity to alter the future of the leading couple. The people of Britain were given the chance to decide whether Chris’s squeeze should be pregnant or not via an internet vote, thus insuring their attachment to the story and quite possibly selling quite a lot of phone lines. Unfortunately the options were limited to, ‘yes – she’s preggers’ and ‘no – she was just rubbing her tummy because she had gas.’ This ruled out the two plot twists I spent the entirety of my weekend writing treatments for. So, seeing as BT aren’t interested, I’m going to pretend you are. The first involved Mrs BT giving birth to a Satan incarnate who spent the next few ads crawling on all fours nibbling through phone lines. Be a brilliant ad for wireless, no?

DEVIL BABY crawls around the house looking for a wire to chew. Chris Marshall stands with his hands on his hips, looking smug. He’s just turned the whole house WIRELESS!
CHRIS: Ha, what are you going to eat now, Devil Baby?
(BEAT)
Oh, my heart? God, I wish I was still on My Family.”
The second idea was that Mrs BT breaks up with Chris because he never stops talking about his bloody broadband. The boring sod.
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And there you have it. You’re now fully equipped to pursue a career in advertising. I will be taking 10% of your income as standard. Now stop staring at me and get to work.