Archive for November 2013
This commercial is an implicit admission on the part of One Direction that they don’t have any exceptional talent or artistic vision. That their music is interchangable with that of any of the dozens of other “boy bands”, past and present. That what makes them popular now is simply their embrace of trivial things such as fashionable hairstyles. Anyone can see that this is what this commercial is, so shouldn’t this lower the group’s popularity, not increase or maintain it?
The reason why it won’t is because One Direction’s fans already knew this about them. They knew it, and – in their better moments – they were ashamed that they had been taken in by it (and afraid – rightly so – that they will continue to be taken in by it because one’s emotional responses aren’t within one’s immediate control). What the admission in this commercial does is allow them a moment’s reprieve from those feelings by creating doubt about their legitimacy.
When someone who likes One Direction sees the guys of One Direction making fun of themselves for what everyone knows to be true, what she (or he?) feels is that maybe – just maybe – there’s another, respectable reason why they feel they feel those feelings of shame and fear. That they’re not really fans of One Direction for the reasons they chronically fear and suspect (but never explicitly admit) they are.
It’s what Hitler and Goebbles termed “the big lie.” A lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” In other words: when One Direction, as they do in this commercial, implicitly says that they’re not deserving of the fame and fortune they receive*, the effect is that they convince people that they actually do. That they actually are an exceptionally talented group with exceptionally good music and messages.
People see them admitting to their mediocrity and think “no group which depends upon other’s stupidity for their success would point it out so explicitly, there must be another reason why I like them.” This thought relieves the shame of being taken in by such a gimmicky entertainment act (and the fear that continuing to do so is a bad thing), and in the process – hopefully, from Macy’s perspective – reminds them of Macy’s.
Macy’s knows that that feeling of relief – because it is based upon a specious rationalization – will not last. They know that the people who accepted it will need to consciously revisit it in order to reinstate it (to ward off the bad feelings), and they hope that when they do, in addition to thinking of One Direction, and wigs, and silly behavior, they will also think about Macy’s and whatever the company happens to be selling.
*This is by no means to say that One Direction – simply because they’re commonplace – don’t deserve any reward for being entertainers, or that their music and message is automatically worthless or harmful (their music and image is actually quite positive, on the whole). It is simply to point out that a disproportionate interest in “boy bands” – and this boy band in particular (if you’re not a local fan) – is unhealthy; and that it’s that unhealthy interest which is the source of the vast majority of their commercial success.
The comedic premise underlying both of these commercials is that you, the viewer would never do such things. Or, if you did, and if you were about to be caught, at the very least you would confess to it. These commercials are targeted at people who do do things like that, and get away with them frequently (without a hint of suspicion – or at least not expressed suspicion). Campbell’s knows that such people, despite their “success”, (deservedly) feel guilt and self-contempt about it (despite their having most likely consciously accepted the moral-practical dichotomy), and that they will be receptive to any message which makes those feelings go away.
The message “if you were really bad, that is what you would do” provides a moment’s relief for them, and then itself goes away (because it is as specious the moral-practical dichotomy). Nevertheless, it remains as a message (if no longer a feeling) – ready to be used the next time such people do something “practical” (read: immoral), and end up feeling ashamed yet again. Campbell’s hopes that when that happens such people will remember what provoked the formation of that rationalization and, should they be hungry, or planning to go to the grocery store, or whatever, they will think of Campbell’s Soup too.
Evidently it’s not enough anymore for a for-profit company to simply count on the fact that it’s product satisfies an objective need or legitimate want, and that it’s advertising has adequately informed the consumer to the point that when it’s time to fulfill it, his rational mind will decide to make the purchase. Instead, because of today’s highly-regulated and taxed macroeconomic environment, where the long-term has to be sacrificed to the short-term, the only thing a company can do is whatever is necessary – no matter how pernicious and manipulative – to amass as much revenue as possible, as quickly as possible.
Why is the tiger in this commercial necessary? Couldn’t the same message have been communicated by having the male librarian react the way that he did merely to the fact that the female librarian was eating a spicy, exotic sandwich (or even just by showing her eating it, without him being present at all)? It couldn’t have – because the purpose of this commercial is to smuggle in a message that, if openly pushed, would be rejected.
Subway knows that despite people being (rightly) ashamed of it when it’s brought to their conscious attention, the rest of the time – when they’re out of focus and fueled solely by emotions – they really do desire to individuate themselves (or, more precisely, to feel individuated – by any means possible – even if really are not). However, Subway also knows that in order to exploit this ability for self-deception that people have, it has to be kept away from their conscious attention (in order to avoid iliciting people’s shame for being capable of settling for such a trivial, false form of “individuation”).
What this commercial is claiming – ostensibly in a tongue in cheek manner, but really quite literally – is that eating the advertised sandwich will make you (or at least will confirm that you are) a self-assertive, free-spirited, bold person. Obviously this is an absurd claim – it’s simply not a significant enough of a departure from convention (if it even is one at all, considering that spicy foods really are quite common in the contemporary American palate) – so the only way that Subway can make it is by pretending that it isn’t really making it. The tiger’s presence – and more importantly the female librarian’s indifference to it – allows Subway to claim that it realizes that such a claim is absurd (ie: because even a truly courageous, free-thinking, truly bold person would not be indifferent to a dangerous animal sitting right next to her) so that the company will have a way to escape the charge of exploiting people’s capacity for self-deception (even if it means exploiting their intellectual weakness in order to make such an escape).
In modern America’s mixed economy, where long-term planning is difficult, doing something like using one’s hard-earned public voice to exascerbate the corruptions within people’s minds for the sake of selling more sandwiches makes good business sense. Companies have absolutely no incentive to take the “high road” (ie: to forego whatever immediate boost to sales such marketing tactics would produce, for the sake of having a sane – and therefore productive and monied – customer base long into the future). Of course, the biggest irony is that such behavior – typical of the opponents of capitalism – would be seen as inherent in capitalism
If Axe were to come right out and claim “if you use our product, women will automatically like you”, they would have very few (if any) sales. People wouldn’t believe it (simply because it is so absurd), and they may even come to resent the brand for making such a claim (making it more difficult to try get the public’s attention later on, should any attempt be made to discuss Axe Hair Styling’s actual merits). Axe knows this, so it doesn’t (explicitly) make that claim – but it also knows even though people may reject ideas consciously, subconsciously they may be accepting of them.
Whether out of desperation, or even a conscious belief that the irrational is possible, there are many people who are willing to try something to get what they desire simply because they believe it is better than doing nothing. All that an advertiser has to do is imply to such people that their product is that “something.” These commercials imply that using Axe Hair Styling alone will make women like you, and hide behind absurdist humor to do so. Clearly no one believes that any woman is going to do what these women do, so Axe is safe to retreat behind the excuse that they’re “just kidding” should they be charged with trying to exploit people’s mental frailties.
But isn’t that an apt charge? Isn’t that exactly what these commercials are trying to do? None of them discuss, in even the slightest detail, how the product works, how it is superior to competing products, evidence that shows that women respond to hair styled with “product”, or anything else along those lines. They simply assert women will like you if you style your hair, and then count on the customer’s ability to lie to himself (ie: tell himself it’s only a joke) should he feel silly later on for being taken in by such an empty, simplistic claim.
Capitalism is supposed to be about trade. Not trade in the superficial sense that goods are being exchanged, or in the subjectivist sense that both party’s desires (no matter how irrational and self-defeating they may be) are being fulfilled – but trade in the sense of mutual benefit. Of a true quid pro quo. Of an interaction where both parties come away truly better off than they were before.
Sadly, in today’s “capitalism”, such trades are becoming rarer and rarer. Because of the centrally-planned, and therefore unpredictable, nature of the macro-economy, the short-term is essentially all that matters to firms. Whereas in a truly capitalistic system most firms would sacrifice the short-term for the sake of the long-term (eg: Henry Ford famously refusing to sell Model T’s in any color but black, despite public demand for variety, so that he could give his company a solid foundation first; which in the long-run was of greater objective benefit to the car-consuming public), in today’s mixed economy of capitalism and socialism, firms have no choice but to either sacrifice the long-term to the short or to go out of business.
As a result, advertisements like these are produced. People are induced to make purchases based not upon a product’s objective merits (and in many cases, tragically, there are some – despite them being ignored), but based upon range-of-the-moment, emotional impulses that have nothing directly to do with the product. Ironically, in much the same way that a woman would decide to get to know a man just because his hair made her feel a certain way; without reference to any facts that may or may not support doing so.
Children, as everyone knows, are siginificantly more existentially limited than adults are (simply owing to the fact that they are dependent upon elders for the crucial aspects of their survival). Yet, paradoxically (?), in spite of it, they are not psychologically limited. Because they are young and untainted by prevailing, incorrect philosophical premises, they are able to approach the world with an enthusiastic curiosity and ambition that is more difficult to maintain in adulthood. More difficult to maintain, but not impossible. – as this commercial implies (well, without buying a Jeep, at least).
This commercial conflates being existentially limited with being psychologically limited – precisely so that people will conclude that being the latter is just as inevitable as experiencing the former. The purpose of this is to make people feel as if their own lives are necessarily incomplete (as opposed to them just incorrectly feeling that way) so that they will regard buying a Jeep not as a substitute for happiness, but as the means to it.
Jeep knows (or at least should know) that it’s vehicles cannot actually – automatically – provide people with happiness simply because it enables them to experience new things. It isn’t the novelty of experience that make children excited about life, but rather the possibilities their souls – untainted by incorrect philosophical premises – see in what’s around them. It’s the correct philosophical premises that their relatively simple experiences cannot help but subconsciously inculcate into them – almost as if by evolutionary momentum – that make them that way.
Most adults are vulnerable to the conflation between existential limitation and psychological limitation because they hold irrational, mystical metaphysical beliefs. They regard the law of identity as conditional; and therefore they regard the fact that reality doesn’t allow an adult (a self-sustaining human being) to behave like a child (a dependent human) as arbitrary. As not immutably true. As something that could be otherwise – and because it’s not otherwise in their time or place, it’s somehow unfair. It’s somehow “limiting.” But, alas, it is not limiting – so buying a Jeep and taking it to new places will not – for more than a few moments at least – make someone happy. He will still be who he is no matter where he is. There is just no place on Earth that is radically different enough from every other place to cause that to happen. There simply is no Garden of Eden.
The fact that as a person ages his interests and options narrow is not a cosmic injustice (or a violation of God’s wish for man to be ignorantly, aimlessly, lazily blissful and secure in perpetuity). It is simply a metaphysical requirement, inherent in his nature, that he must accept if he wishes to continue to live. If a person accepts this fact, his psychology remains healthy (ie: his enthusiasm for his own interests ironically remains high, despite their narrowing) – and if he does not, his psychology suffers. Jeep, in this commercial, is pandering this philosophically-induced psychological problem. It’s subliminally forgiving those who have it for having it, and even complimenting them for it (ie: that their misplaced, foggy, microscopic desire to enjoy life – left over from childhood – is somehow an accomplishment) – all in the hopes that whenever those feelings arise in the future (which they will), such people will be reminded of the Jeep brand of vehicles (instead of, say, thinking through their philosophical errors and discovering the wonder that’s right in front of their noses).
This kind of sinister psychological manipulation is par for the course in today’s hamstrung, over-taxed and over-regulated, short-sighted “capitalism.” It’s what companies must do if they wish to be successful – even if it means imperiling their longer-term interests (because, ironically, it’s the same corrupt philosophical premises that commercials like this one pander to that created – and will continue to deepen – the sorry state of contemporary “capitalism”).
People like Rick and Allison, deservedly so, feel a certain amount of shame and self-contempt for being less than “great.” Less than the best they can be (or at least could have been). To alleviate that emotional suffering, such people will rationalize it away any way that they can. Pizza Hut knows this, and with this advertising campaign, has chosen to give them a way to do so. By conflating the decision to purchase Pizza Hut’s 3 Cheese Stuffed Pizza with the exceptionally good decision to speak one’s mind honestly, or to make one’s feelings known to a romantic interest, it lessens the pain people feel for other, poorer decisions (ie: to squander opportunities for self-improvement by goofing off at work or to get a meaningless tattoo on one’s back). It makes them feel as though their correct decisions are the only decisions that matter (ie: the only decisions that define who they are), and that somehow their incorrect ones have no effect on their lives (even though, ironically, if they didn’t then this advertising trick wouldn’t work).
This advertising trick works because people are not simply their good decisions or their bad decisions, but the sum total of the two. If someone is a mixture of both good and bad decisions, then doing something marginally good like not settling for “boring pizza” feels like a moral achievement. What these commercials do is flatter the philosophical premises of people who know themselves to be morally mixed, but who are convinced that that’s the best they could have ever been expected to be. People who think that it’s naive and silly to not compromise, so if you’re not going to, it’s best to not do so only about silly things like the type of crust you want on your pizza. That that’s about as “great” as it’s going to get in this life.
These commercials are a subtle, subliminal commiseration with those who hold the malevolent universe premise, with the hope that whenever such people acutely experience it again in the future (which they will, since it is a fundamental philosophical issue) they will be reminded of Pizza Hut.
A well known advertising technique is to exploit people’s dissatisfaction with their own lives. Either by explicitly stating that one’s product will make their lives radically better, or by implying it (through association with wealthy/successful/attractive people, exciting events and experiences, etc). However, because this technique is so well known, it only works some of the time. The rest of the time people are aware that that’s what’s being attempted, and they come away feeling insulted rather than envious and desiring the advertised product.
In order to combat this, advertisers have two options: either they can present the objective features of the product (and hope that it sells on it’s own merits), or they can do the same thing discussed above – but without making it appear that that’s what they’re doing. This particular commercial does the latter.
GEICO’S superior method of making adjustment appointments (which, as an aside, may not even be superior, because if it were, then it probably wouldn’t be advertised in this way) is obviously not enough of an added value to the consumer’s life that it is going to change it in such a radical way so as to, for example, get him a new girlfriend. Certainly not if he also happens to be a pig. No woman is ever going to dump a man for a pig – no matter how superior the pig’s car insurance might be – and to claim that any woman would is very obviously absurd. In other words, GEICO is making the absurd claim that their product will magically cause radical changes in your life (akin to being able to get a man’s beautiful girlfriend to leave him for you, despite you being a pig), but without having to come right out and make that claim. GEICO knows that should it be confronted with the accusation that that’s what it’s doing, it can claim that it’s obviously not seriously doing that by pointing to the fact that it was using a pig. If it’s not doing that “seriously”, then why do it at all? Blank out.
What’s really happening in this commercial is that the advertisers are counting on the emotional effect of the technique of dissatisfaction-exploitation to occur (ie: creating envy), without having to deal with any blow back as result of people understanding that that’s what they’re doing (ie: resentment for having done it). They’re trying to exploit people’s lack of intellectual sophistication (ie: their inability to see that that’s what’s happening nevertheless), and hoping to be able to take advantage of their good nature in order to get away with it (ie: the thought that no advertiser would really be that manipulative. That this commercial must really just be a silly, attention-getting joke – as it purports to be).