Commercial Analysis

Caricature of a Caricature

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Why would Gordon Ramsay make fun of himself? Isn’t he proud of his famously “terrifying” personality? Isn’t that the source of his success? The factor which separates him from all other chefs? The reason why – incidentally – he was able to land a tv show (a popular one, no less)? Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at, so are we to believe instead that he isn’t proud, and that it’s not the reason? That he is successful in spite of his temper, not because of it?

He can’t have it both ways, so if by appearing in this commercial he is actually saying that he could have become who he is in the food world, as well as in popular culture, without his temper, then why spend literally years acting unnecessarily mean? Why make yourself into someone you’re not – to the point where you’re notable to most because of something that’s not real, and not what you want to be known for (ie: your temper, instead of something particular about your food)? The reason he has acted this way over the years (at least to the degree that he has) is because in truth he actually is not worth watching (or, more precisely, not to the degree that he actually is), and that the only reason why his show is so popular is simply because America’s mixed economy gives the government the power (mostly through foreign policy and fiat currency) to paper over the disintegration of America’s real power which is currently taking place. Things are just bad enough that the public wishes to turn to garish television shows (even if they masquerade as educational) such as his to evade the truth, but not quite so bad that they can no longer afford to.

The way this commercial is expected to work is by helping the viewer evade all of that (ie: the true reason for their interest in television shows such as Ramsay’s). By backhandedly acknowledging that Ramsay’s (culinary) success is only partially – if at all – dependent upon his willingness to get exceptionally angry in order to uphold his standards (ie: that it’s actually partially – if not completely – an act meant to entertain his television viewers), it allows the television-watching public to feel as though they aren’t really watching such shows in order to avoid their problems. People are aware of the fact that if someone truly has a problem, he can’t even acknowledge that he does. They are counting on this awareness in order to lie to themselves. To tell themselves “I must be watching this show for some other reason than simply to avoid reality with my problems – because if I were, then I couldn’t even handle a comical commercial which suggests that I am. It must really be that I’m learning about the culinary world, and that this show really does consistently teach me about it (as opposed to that just being a pretext for displaying interpersonal drama).”

AT&T is hoping that the emotional tranquility which comes from “knowing” this becomes associated with this commercial in particular so that when it is disrupted – which it will be, since it’s based on a lie – people will think of it in order to reestablish said tranquility (and in doing so remember that it was an AT&T commercial, remember how they’re in the market for phone service, and look more closely at AT&T’s plans).

Such psychological manipulation is exactly what’s necessary for companies who operate in the very same mixed economy which, ironically, produces caricatures such as Ramsay.

Written by commercialanalysis

August 20, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Balm for a Guilty Conscience

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What does the phrase “It’s a German luxury sedan, but it’s still an Audi” mean? What does owning a German luxury sedan imply? How does owning one that’s an Audi make that implication not applicable? The first part of the phrase, “It’s a German luxury sedan…”, is an expression of the notion that, normatively, in order to acquire wealth, one has to forego morality. The second part, “…but it’s still an Audi”, is a way of claiming that even though one has acted immorally (and is therefore able to afford a German luxury sedan), one’s soul is still salvageable (ie: One is still able to atone for one’s guilt, through intentionally selfless acts, and the fact that one prefers an Audi is somehow proof of having retained this capacity. That one has at least not become selfish in spirit).

Why would such an absurd claim – that a preference for Audis or a preference for other German luxury brands indicates the state of a person’s soul – be expected by this commercial’s writers to work? It has to do with the fact that most people believe in the moral-practical dichotomy, and therefore allow themselves to engage in a degree of (at least what they believe to be is) immoral behavior. Because most people believe that moral imperfection is unavoidable, the question they ask themselves is not if one should be immoral, but simply by how much. How is one to determine how much? In such a cynical view of morality, where nature is held to necessarily lead man into contradiction, there is no objective standard to appeal to, so the only way to answer it is… arbitrarily. Randomly. Completely by whim. Why not, then, decide that a preference for Audi’s luxury sedans – rather than for Mercedes’ or BMW’s – indicates that one is still morally salvageable? It’s as good a measuring stick as anything else. The claim that the cut-off point for irredeemable evil is not merely the evil of having come to be able to afford a German luxury sedan, but rather to desire to own one that isn’t an Audi, is clearly capricious – but according to the cynical view of morality held by most people, that isn’t a problem.

This commercial conflates altruism with benevolence. The purpose of that conflation is to ameliorate whatever moral guilt a person who can afford a German luxury sedan likely feels as a result of his wealth. Subconsciously, such a person feels no guilt – which is why he has a personality that is able to consistently act towards the selfish goal of becoming wealthy – and therefore whatever “altruistic tendencies” he might have are actually just benevolence; but consciously (ie: upon reflection) he feels plenty.

The attitude featured in this commercial is not selflessness. Instead, it is the positive, open, benevolent attitude which – contrary to the doctrine of altruism – is actually only possible to the truly selfish person. Nothing that the man in this commercial does is necessarily self-sacrificial. Each action could be – and actually often is – in a man’s rational self-interest. Simply because the actions seem blatantly selfless (and certainly can be) – and therefore flatter an altruist’s conscious convictions – doesn’t necessarily make them so. Even the subconsciously (ie: spiritually)-selfish, but consciously-selfless upholder of altruism senses this – and that’s precisely what bothers him. He worries that he may be selfish in spirit. Audi, with this commercial, is attempting to exploit that worry.

Because, in practice, benevolent acts are so often identical to altruistic acts, it is impossible for someone who consciously holds altruism as the moral ideal to know which motivation is causing his actions. There simply is no distinguishing factor. This commercial says that there is. What is it? It isn’t one’s motivation, but rather simply which brand of German luxury sedan one prefers. If one prefers another brand, then one is selfish in spirit (and therefore he will be completely unable to curtail his predatory tendencies – as dramatized by the BWM-driving person* who doesn’t just decline to pay a stranger’s toll, or stop to give directions, or yield the right of way, but who also fails to slow down for a puddle, and in doing so actively harms others by getting them wet). If one prefers an Audi, however, then one automatically knows that one is selfless in spirit. That preference tells one what one’s true motivation for doing such things is (ie: self-sacrifice, not benevolence). This absurd claim – that a preference for a particular brand of luxury sedan indicates motivation (let alone contradicts evidence to the contrary) – is only meant to appear to be absurd. In truth, precisely because it is so absurd, it is expected to work. Because “some explanation is better than no explanation” [a common, if unspoken, sentiment], it will finally give people who want to be altruistic – but who know they are merely benevolent – “proof” that their behavior has been altruistic all along. A sense of moral uprightness is a fundamental human need, and is therefore profoundly gratifying when experienced. Audi, with this commercial, hopes that by providing the viewer with it, the company will endear itself to the viewer.

Written by commercialanalysis

August 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Durable Goods

What Happens There, Stays Here.

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The “champions” in this commercial are men who are pretending to be something they’re not. By carrying around their “trophy”, people believe that they’re members of an athletic team who are in Las Vegas to celebrate their victory – or something like that. This isn’t true, of course – their “trophy” is just a plant holder they found in the hallway of their hotel – but it’s okay to get all kinds of rewards one wouldn’t otherwise be able to get because, after all, “what happens here, stays here.” That’s the joke, at least.

The effectiveness of this commercial comes from the fact that while many people who visit Las Vegas actually do engage in behavior that they wouldn’t engage in elsewhere, they don’t engage in behavior that is that extreme while they’re in Vegas. This recognition helps people to rationalize the behavior which they do engage in. It helps them to tell themselves: “I don’t do that, so therefore what I actually do isn’t so harmful that it needs to ‘stay in Vegas’ (ie: be kept secret or unacknowledged).”

This begs a question, however: if what people do while in Vegas isn’t so bad that it needs to “stay in Vegas”, then why does such an idea even need to be joked about? Why does such behavior need to be rationalized away via commercials like these? Why can’t it just be openly, explicitly talked about and celebrated? The answer: because what people do in Las Vegas actually is bad. Because it actually is harmful their values and virtues and interests – and therefore the only way they are able to go through with engaging in it (ie: visiting Vegas) is if they lie to themselves via evasion through hyperbole.

It isn’t surprising that a place like Las Vegas – which owes it’s existence to a widespread and perverse view of money – would employ an advertising technique such as this one, but it is disturbing that it is able to do so so openly and on such a large scale. What does that say about the true health of the culture and economy?

Written by commercialanalysis

August 10, 2014 at 6:58 am

Anti-Epiphany

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If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it. But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values — and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.) -Ayn Rand

The apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, true or not, is (or is at least believed to be) the defining moment in his life (and indeed, because it dealt with such an important physical truth, one of the defining moments in the history of Western Civilization itself). Obviously, because such profound epiphanies do not actually occur (or at least are not caused by being literally hit in the head), the actual historical incident (if true) is of little consequence. In other words, if Isaac Newton actually was hit in the head by a falling apple, and if instead of it inspiring him to formulate his theory of gravity it made him desire an apple-flavored ale, it would be of no importance. The fact that Isaac Newton, just like everyone else, drank alcohol doesn’t in any way detract from his status as a giant of history. Of course he drank ale! He was, after all, a man.

However, if Newton wasn’t actually hit by an apple (or at least if it’s unverifiable), and therefore the legend (as it actually is) is simply a subliminal way to communicate the integrated nature of mind and matter (ie: that “fortune favors the prepared mind”), and therefore it’s purpose is to inspire people to be rational and to study sciences (so that they too may be able to “accidentally” make a profound discovery) – then to artistically emphasize the fact that Newton, when hit on the head, may have just as likely been inspired to have a particular flavor of ale is “a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on [intelligence], on all values.”

The purpose of this commercial is to inculcate and/or exploit whatever nihilism it’s viewers might possess. Because Western culture is no longer predominantly rational, enough hopelessness has seeped it’s way into people that this commercial will not be offensive, but comforting. It’s subliminal message is the following: “Even Isaac Newton was a man – and therefore he was also idiot, so it’s okay for you to be one too. Yes, he did happen to discover a fundamental physical truth which has shaped, does shape, and will continue to shape human existence no matter what, but he could have just as easily been provoked (by a falling fruit) to desire an apple-flavored beer. He was just lucky a lucky idiot – and you’re not one, so lighten up, stop aspiring to greatness, and make the best of how life really is (ie: enjoy a cheap little indulgence, such as a beer, since that’s the closest to happiness that you – a member of a pathetic little class of creature known as ‘humans’ – are going to get).”

Western culture is at a point where the consistent, conscientious rationality which was the true cause of Newton’s achievement (and all others like it) is needed the most. It was the only cause of it’s existence, and it is it’s only hope for survival – but because of the mixed economy, capitalist enterprises (organizations which are ironically derivative of, and completely dependent upon, the existence of a rationality-revering culture) would rather take whatever emotional impulses (ie: anxiety and guilt) which could provoke people to think about what they’re subconsciously aware of, and manipulatively redirect them not into saving the culture, but into the same sort of nihilistic irrationality which is destroying it (ie: which makes such pragmatic business tactics appear necessary in the first place). This commercial is a particularly glaring example of that.

Written by commercialanalysis

August 1, 2014 at 7:05 am

Posted in Food and Drink

Fiesta. Not Forever.

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“Fiesta” is simply the Spanish word for festival or party. There is nothing inherently more fun about a “fiesta” (ie: a party taking place within a Spanish-speaking culture) than a “party” (ie: one taking place in a culture that predominantly speaks English). Why, then, would this commercial have a Caucasian man with an American accent – obviously someone who’s primary culture is English-speaking – refer to parties as “fiestas”? The answer – and indeed the first part of the commercial’s subliminal message – is that he couldn’t help it. That the “tropical” tastes of the Lime-a-Rita line of Bud Light made his party a fiesta.

Rational people do not consciously thinks that a fiesta is more fun than a party. When such people, if they’re of a predominantly English-speaking culture, call a party a fiesta, they do so simply to perpetuate (or at least introduce) levity and amusement into a social situation. The desire to do such a thing indicates that a good time is being had (or at least will be had – if, for example, they are inviting someone to the gathering when they call it a fiesta). There is nothing wrong with being in that mood, of course, but only provided that it’s sincere.

Does the fact that a beer has an exotic flavor automatically make consuming it a (psychologically) healthy decision? Is it automatically just about sampling the flavors, and not simply drinking beer for the same reason many people do (ie: to escape from reality – to evade problems and failures – rather than to embrace it and to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments)? Of course not, so why is the claim that a given beer will produce a “fiesta” any more honest than the claim that it will produce a party (a claim that is widely – and correctly – understood to be merely a rationalization for overindulging in alcohol)?

The reason why this commercial has to appear to be tongue in cheek is because if it openly claimed that drinking is okay (ie: indicative of a positive mindset) simply because the beer has exotic flavorings, it would be obvious that Bud Light was trying to exploit something negative within people, and anyone with even a sliver of self-respect would be insulted. The commercial must appear to be simply joking about putting forth that message, precisely to be able to do so.

The fact of the matter is that people who habitually abuse alcohol do rationalize it through dubious excuses such as that they’re just trying out new flavors. Such people do go through the motions of being in a light-hearted mood (eg: calling a party a “fiesta”), in order to give themselves permission to overindulge. Simply because they don’t do it in such an explicit, over-the-top sort of way – where it is explicitly, albeit humorously demonstrated that the mere presence of alcohol will create a good time – doesn’t mean that that’s not in effect what often happens.

The first part of this commercial’s subliminal message is that it’s obvious message couldn’t be serious – and then once that’s established, the second part is that it’s okay to do what the obvious message advises; precisely because one doesn’t explicitly believe what the people in the commercial are shown to believe.

Why does a company as large and as highly-leveraged as Anheuser-Busch is resort to such devious psychological manipulation in order to sell it’s products? It’s products have objective merit – it is appropriate to consume them under certain circumstances and to a certain degree – so why not create commercials which simply announce the existence of a product and/or promote it’s merits? The answer is that in today’s highly-regulated, over-taxed business environment, doing what is objectively best for the consumer is not an option. Often such a tactic means foregoing short-term benefits for the sake of long-term ones. America’s mixed economy doesn’t allow for such strategies. Companies’ profits – and often their very existences – are at the mercy of politics much more than they were the immutable laws of economics, so they are going to do whatever is necessary to make as much as they can as quick as they can. Most would say that manipulative, dishonorable commercials such as this one are the result of too much capitalism. The truth is that they are the result of not enough of it.

Written by commercialanalysis

July 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

In the Name of the Worst Within You… Again

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The comedic element in this commercial is, obviously, the fact that the phrase “pull one off” is an (unintentional) allusion to masturbation. The commercial is funny because even though technically it’s completely legitimate to use that phrase in regards to how the advertised product is consumed, provided that there are adequate alternatives, it’s one that shouldn’t be used because of it’s similarity to a vulgar slang term. That begs the question, however: why, exactly, is that particular phenomenon considered funny. The answer can be found here, in an analysis of another commercial which has a similar object of humor.

Written by commercialanalysis

July 16, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

Too Little Too Late?

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The power that determines the establishment, the changes, the evolution, and the destruction of social systems is philosophy. The role of chance, accident, or tradition, in this context, is the same as their role in the life of an individual: their power stands in inverse ratio to the power of a culture’s (or an individual’s) philosophical equipment, and grows as philosophy collapses. It is, therefore, by reference to philosophy that the character of a social system has to be defined and evaluated. – Ayn Rand

At a glance, this commercial seems to be rather innocuous and forgettable. An acknowledgement of a obviously implicit part of any activity within a capitalist social system: that failure is always a possibility. What’s interesting about this commercial, however, is the fact that such a (very public) acknowledgement was thought necessary. What is it about today’s social system that makes a company like Domino’s – which is about as mainstream as a company can be – and therefore has the least amount of incentive to do or say anything controversial – to even obliquely endorse the capitalist system (ie: by pointing out that without economic freedom – including the freedom to fail – there would be no progress)? For such a commercial to be produced and aired, things must be extremely precarious – and indeed they are.

Given how much the precautionary principle dominates today’s social and economic policy, and assuming things continue on their present trend, it is not unlikely that within a decade or two certain elements of American culture will begin to seriously advocate for direct government oversight of business decisions. Arguments for such power – based on the premise that bad business decisions cost people their jobs as well as their retirement security (ie: falling stock prices) – are not too far of a stretch from the kinds of arguments currently made to defend already-existing government involvement in the economy (eg: minimum wage laws, antitrust regulations, labor standards and union power, etc). Unlike today’s government meddling, however, that degree of involvement would have consequences that even ardent “fence sitters” can not ignore. Perhaps that is why even a mainstream company such as Domino’s – one of the biggest beneficiaries of today’s pseudo-capitalist economy – would feel it necessary to preemptively attack such a notion (by using it’s access to the public’s attention to help subtly (re?)inculcate an appreciation for free markets).

America’s economic picture has reached the point that it has precisely because those who have benefited the most from it’s (relatively more) capitalist past have been able to afford to ignore it’s mutation into something less capitalist. They have long been able to forego defending capitalism on principle, and to instead write off it’s anti-capitalist trends as “chance” or “accident.” Have we reached a point where that is no longer possible? Where the threats to the very foundations of not only one’s short-term interests, but also one’s long-term success, have become so large that not even the most non-intellectual, pragmatic of Americans can no longer ignore them? This commercial’s endorsement of capitalism is timid, to be sure, but it could also be praised as cunning and deft (the benefits of capitalism obviously need to be induced – rather than just dogmatically asserted – in order for a pro-capitalist sentiment to truly take hold). The bottom line, however, is that it’s good to see a private, for-profit organization – in times of peril – at least toying with the idea of defending capitalism itself, instead of doing what it has always done: ignoring the peril, innovating around it, and hoping it will just go away. One just hopes this attempt to provide the public with a bit of “philosophical equipment” is not too little, too late.

Update: below is a commercial by beer maker Heineken which, although it deals with a more general concept freedom than capitalism does (personal freedom, instead of strictly economic freedom), is perhaps the result of the same sense of urgency that provoked Domino’s to make the ad that it did.

Written by commercialanalysis

July 16, 2014 at 3:56 am

Posted in Food and Drink

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