Commercial Analysis

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Archive for October 2013

Empathy Tastes Like Chicken

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This commercial is making the public aware of the existence of a new product. The ostensible selling point is the convenience that it’s newly designed container affords. However, at the same time, the commercial is dramatizing the quality of the food (ie: it’s so high that people will do extraordinary things just to consume it). It can’t be both (the veteran cop could have just as conveniently stolen the rookie cop’s soda from the car’s drink holder instead of his chicken, and he would have just as willingly stolen it from a bag left on the rookie cop’s seat if it was really that tempting), so which is it?

The answer is that it’s neither. What this commercial is really selling is KFC itself. KFC’s (alleged) take on the world. The kind of people that (allegedly) constitute this thing known as “KFC.”

This commercial is trying to endear the brand to the consumer by providing the consumer with something entirely different than objective claims about the product’s merit in this aspect or that. What it’s doing is providing a certain type of mentality with psychological visibility. KFC knows that there are many, many people out there who have no firm moral principles – and as a result, feel a great deal of resentment towards those who do. A police officer is the archetypal morally-principled human being – so if he doesn’t have any principles either, then those people feel a moment’s peace and comfort (because it relieves them of any guilt that they feel for not having principles, despite any conscious belief that they are pointless). Seeing a police officer violate his principles (or unwittingly confess that he never really has sincerely had any) allows them to feel as though they have been right all along – and that their lack of any comes not from a slow, gradual erosion of them (or a failure to acquire them in the first place), but from a conscious, sober, “realistic and mature” approach to reality. It flatters their nihilism, and KFC hopes that in the future, whenever such people think of the “reasons” for their rejection of moral principles (and the very concept of the need for them), they will automatically (to them, inexplicably) think of KFC too.

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Written by commercialanalysis

October 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Food and Drink

A Nod to Skepticism

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Even if this particular Audi did not run on diesel, and even if all of these people who, here, think it doesn’t knew that it didn’t, it still wouldn’t make their reactions appropriate. Their reactions are far too intense – more appropriate for trying to stop someone from unintentionally backing over a child, or causing a massive explosion – for trying to stop something relatively innocuous as someone putting the wrong kind of fuel in their car. What, then, is the comedic value of having them react as such? What is the object of the humor?

By equating an ignorance of the fact that there actually are some cars (as opposed to just trucks) that run on diesel with an emotional imbalance that produces disproportionate reactions to stimuli, the commercial is poking fun at a particular type of psycho-epistemology. Specifically, the conceptual type. A person who characteristically conceptualizes (ie: integrates) his experiences into usable knowledge has a conceptual psycho-epistemology. Why would anyone want to belittle that?

The reason is because in today’s cultural atmosphere, there are many, many people who regard integration of any kind – integration as such – as presumptuous and counter-productive. They are who this commercial is targeted at (because, not coincidentally, many of them are wealthy liberals. The type that can afford an Audi). Such people observe the fact that knowledge can be limited (ie: contextual – ie: always qualified with the implicit caveat “to the extent of my knowledge”), and conclude that knowledge as such is useless. But is it?

Consider, for example, someone raised in a small, all-white town in rural America. Someone who has never seen a non-white person before, and – if he has ever even heard of the existence of non-white people – been told negative things about them by the people he interacts with. Is this person’s negative reaction to the first non-white person he encounters inappropriate? It may certainly be unjust – the non-white person may very well be a worthwhile individual deserving of good will – but would that be the fault of the person who had the reaction? To his knowledge, such people didn’t exist – so when he encounters one it would actually be reasonable to react with suspicion and guardedness (just as one would react to the sight of a strange insect on one’s front porch). Or, if his knowledge extends to what others have told him about non-white people, and his reaction is outwardly hostile, would that not be reasonable also? The other people in his life have shown themselves to be trustworthy and objective about most other, simpler things (eg: the trash really was taken out, the tractor really does only need an oil change, etc), so would he have any reason to suspect them of dishonesty or poor judgment in this issue? They certainly are guilty of such things, but he doesn’t know that (and to suspect, without evidence, that they are is unreasonable).

Limited knowledge does not imply presumption – and it doesn’t even imply uncertainty. To the extent that someone can be reasonably excused for not knowing a given particular fact about reality (eg: that there are passenger cars that run on the same type of fuel that trucks do), even if he is wrong, he is certain. Not certain in the literal sense, but in the epistemological sense. Certainty doesn’t require omniscience, it simply requires a rational process of thought. Provided that his conclusion is capable of being amended in the presence of new evidence (as opposed to being arbitrary, and therefore incapable of being affected by evidence – even if the pronouncement happens to be literally true), there’s nothing wrong with living as if what he has concluded is true (because, as far as he knows, it is). Even with it’s vulnerabilities, that is a far, far far more effective way to go through life than operating under the premise that each and every particular thing is a unique and unprecedented event (which, ironically, is a conceptual integration itself – so the people who do believe this principle are committing the fallacy of self-exclusion).

Many people in contemporary society have only been exposed to the arbitrary passed off as certainty. They have then concluded that certainty is impossible, and sneer at any pronouncements or demonstrations of it. This commercial provides them with yet another outlet for their contempt (which may have been righteous at one point, but has now morphed into an all-encompassing, cynical skepticism – which is just as destructive as the method of “thinking” that they despise), and in the process (hopefully, from the advertiser’s perspective) endears Audi the car brand to them in a way that (apparently) the objective merits of the car never could.*

*Of course, it could be argued that the central message of the commercial is that this particular Audi runs on diesel fuel (ie: that it’s a presentation of one of it’s objective merits, and therefore a legitimate advertisement) – but that presupposes that the people who would find that feature appealing don’t already know about it. Of course they already know about it, because by the nature of the psycho-epistemology of such people, such things are always a possibility. Such people would never think to themselves “I wish cars ran on diesel”, and then only consider the possibility of buying one that did after they’ve had the “presumption” that none do corrected. Instead, they would think to themselves “I wish I had a car that ran on diesel – and even though I’ve never seen one or heard of one, there must be one out there”, and then proceed to go – blindly – to find one to purchase; never having seen this commercial. No, all this commercial boils down to is attempt to flatter people for being “honest” about the “limits of human reason”, and thereby seduce them into purchasing the particular diesel produced by Audi (or even just the particular car being advertised, regardless of if it’s a diesel or not).

Written by commercialanalysis

October 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

Filling the Unfillable Void?

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“What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

“Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice – which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction – which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

“Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar [as an act of benevolence; a kind of karmic investment]. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: ‘No.’ Altruism says: ‘Yes.'” -Ayn Rand

Is this commercial the enshrinement of altruism? It’s not easy to say. The truly crippled man is the other men’s friend, so it’s possible that they spend time with him in this way simply because the value of his company outweighs the drawback of having to play basketball in wheelchairs instead of on foot. However it’s also possible that these men would prefer to play basketball in the traditional way, but they do this instead because they know it’s altruistic. Since this commercial is a study in “character”, and since it does nothing to suggest that the wheelchair-bound man is better than the rest of them in any significant way, it’s likely that the correct explanation is the second one (the implication being that despite – presumably – being fair-minded, self-supporting individuals, these men are not moral individuals until and unless they behave altruistically).

The related issue is what – if anything – any of this has to do with Guinness beer. It could be argued that Guinness is attempting to conflate one’s choice in beers with one’s moral choices (ie: that Guinness drinkers are moral people, while others are not), but that’s stretching it. More likely what Guinness wants to do with this ad is remind people that morality matters (since most people, being altruists, are constantly riddled with guilt about being preoccupied with pursuing their own interests), and then – incredibly – think of Guinness whenever they do. It’s basically like – and no better than – using an attractive woman in a bikini to sell beer, but instead of using that irresistible force, they use the (if you’re an altruist) unquenchable desire for moral uprightness to draw attention to theirs.

Written by commercialanalysis

October 20, 2013 at 5:52 am

Posted in Food and Drink

Evasion Through Hyperbole (Yet again).

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“If you play video games to the point that it interferes with your life, because it doesn’t interfere with your life this much, it isn’t really interfering with your life. Therefore, continue to play video games.”

This is evasion through hyperbole

Written by commercialanalysis

October 20, 2013 at 4:48 am

“In order to deprive us of honor, that you may then deprive us of our wealth…”

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This series of commercials panders to the popular notion that capitalists are primarily concerned, not with bettering their own lives through the creation and trade of economic values, but simply with being better than their competition (even if that means harming themselves). The left Twix and the right Twix are, as everyone knows, indistinguishable from one another. Everyone except money-grubbing capitalist fat cats, that is. That’s the implication at least. Only a money-grubbing capitalist would be so petty, so narcissistic, so Napoleonic that they truly believe that a completely indentical product is fundamentally different simply because he produced it.

This is an effective smear – and Twix may very well endear itself to a great part of the anti-capitalist public for doing it – but it doesn’t change the fact that it is precisely this type of mentality that capitalism’s competitive pressure prevents, rather than enables. Under capitalism each man is, by definition, responsible for his own existence. He is still responsible for discovering what profits himself the most, whether that be acting alone or in cooperation with others. He is not dogmatically beholden to either method. From Harry Binswanger:

Note that in sports, the main purpose is to win, to outscore rivals; the margin of victory is of only secondary concern. In business competition, the reverse is true: what counts is the amount of profit earned; whether one makes more or less profit than a competitor is of secondary, or tertiary concern. If the New York Yankees could choose between winning by a score of 2 to 1 or losing by a score of 9 to 10, they would unhesitatingly choose winning, even though it means scoring fewer runs. But if a business had to choose between “winning” (being the market leader in sales) with profits of $2 million or “losing” (being second, third, or lower in sales) with profits of $9 million, they would unhesitatingly choose “losing.” Profits, not market share, are what owners demand.

In baseball, the runs’ value is relative to the goal of winning. After one has a secure lead, extra runs have little value. In business, the score (profits) is everything, and “winning” per se has little value…

Accordingly, despite popular assumptions to the contrary, businesses are not primarily concerned with besting their competitors. The firm’s primary focus is on profits, not on whether it is gaining on or falling behind the performance of other firms. A CEO whose firm has earned a 90 percent market share does not lie awake at night thinking about how to get the other 10 percent… Rather, he lies awake thinking of ways to improve HIS enterprise, because the market gives him daily or hourly reminders that only constant improvement can even maintain, let alone increase, his firm’s profitability.

That excerpt is from a discussion on antitrust, so it’s focus is economic and not psychological, but it touches on the kind of mentality that flourishes – and the kind of mentality that stagnates – in a truly capitalistic system (which is most definitely not what America has today). The fact that in today’s economy there actually are more of the latter type of mentality – and that they are the ones who are flourishing – does not say anything about capitalism per se, but rather is a damning indictment of the semi-capitalist, semi-socialist mixed economy that currently exists.

As a capitalist enterprise, Twix should be ashamed of itself for pandering to the twisted anti-capitalist sentiments so much of the public possesses. If it wishes to remain in business over the long-term, it should put aside the petty concerns of the short-term (ie: the need to make a profit right now, by whatever means necessary), and use it’s public forum to clarify – rather than to further twist – the public’s thinking on capitalism. In other words, it should stop being exactly the sort of “capitalists” that these commercials lampoon.

Written by commercialanalysis

October 15, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Food and Drink