I have to warn, whilst I might be physically quite young, I am a grumpy old man when it comes to Television advertising. Call me a contradiction, but this company CEO is a bit of a socialist and holds some ideals about social justice and honesty, and a lot of advertising offends my sensibilities.
Case in point, a male perfume advert I just saw on TV. It was a simple rousing voice-over to a series of emotion stirring abstract aspiration sequences. It went as follows:
Advert saidWho's going to tell me when to stop.
Who's right, or wrong.
Who's gonna judge me.
Only The brave.
The new fragrance, by Diesel.
I am roughly the target market for this product: the young aspirational individualistic single male. Fortunately I can see right through it due to being a member of the programmer's school of logical dissection, and through my past career in the marketing industry.
The advert is essentially a sequence of obvious platitudes alluding to life ideals of young rebellious individualists.
I could paraphrase it:
Paraphrased saidYou don't like people telling you what to do?
You subscribe to the ideal of being an individual?
You think you're great?
Then do what we say and buy our products.
The hypocrisy of people who buy into it would astound me if I didn't see this kind of thing so often and if the thinking was not so ingrained into Western culture. To be clear on my point: how can people fall into patterns of consumption that other people define, yet think they are acting as individuals?
So that's the hypocrisy element. Next there's the whole lowering the social bar, by the shallow notion that somehow if you buy a certain product, you can be labelled as 'brave'. What does this say about our society, when people are labelled terms that belong to the services and local heros, are banded about to anybody who will cash in to buy a product?
One final stab I have to make is at the creative expression of this, or just about any other advert I see. I so often see 'creative' advertising that is just a re-hash of styles seen so many times before. I'm not saying the makers of this advert would claim it's the bees knees creatively, but it's giving a special message to the viewer in a way that is meant to connect to them deeply, and to do that there's an implicit need for it to be uniquely expressive. Creatively, however, it's almost a set of clichés, direct out of the proverbial book of "method X of rousing the emotions of target Y". I'm not an expert of TV ads, so I couldn't tell you other specific examples of very similar adverts, but I know there'll be dozens. I've said this about the websites of many 'creative agencies' too – in the case of creative agency websites, I have seen isometric computer game like art so many times I feel sick (if people want to use in-vogue styles that's fine, but please don't then say how creative you are).
Unfortunately audiences are largely passive and therefore do not really notice that so much is recycled and repackaged.
I've personally been involved in some high profile campaigns in the past myself (as I've mentioned, I worked in marketing for a period of my life). I have always tried to take an honest approach though. Whilst all advertising seeks to manipulate, I think it should pose a proposition and set of arguments that are sound and reasonable, never dishonest or shallow. Then again, I'm not trying to sell fragrances (and wouldn't want to), so perhaps my approach could not work here.
I hope one day the viewers in TV land will wake up to the manipulations they receive – and force adverts to be more about educating about options than trying to manipulate the audience. Unfortunately, I think human nature stands in the way (many people tend to sit themselves on the 'path of least resistance' rather than strive for perfection).