Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Manipulative advertising ... when it's good

I saw this ad posted on a blog I follow:

I kind of love it, but here’s what’s wrong with it:

  • It tacitly endorses surveillance culture.
  • It nakedly panders to our sense of ourselves as, variously, quirky, likable, generous, and virtuous.
  • All of this behavior is explicitly tied to drinking Coke.
  • I’m reasonably sure the Coca-Cola company cares little about how quirky, likable, generous, or virtuous I am so long as I buy their product. If it became clear tomorrow that pedophiles and serial killers were the most reliable and numerous consumers of soft drinks, Coke would find a way of pandering to them.

That being said, you have to appreciate the ways in which the ad’s makers push our buttons. Advertising, after all, is the art of making us feel at the expense of making us think. You come out of watching the ad slightly more optimistic about the human race, if not genuinely happy. People are amazing! Look, we have footage! And they drink Coke!

Ads like this always make me very conflicted. On one hand, I love watching all that found footage. Whenever I’m starting to feel really cynical about life, I’ll usually be turned around by some random act of kindness I witness or experience. People are amazing—and here’s the video footage to prove that.

But I’m also always aware of why and how these images are being deployed when I see them in advertising. Not that it makes a big difference for me: I really only ever drink pop these days as a hangover cure, and then I’m hardly brand loyal (“Coke, please.” “Pepsi OK?” “Whatever. Just give it to me NOW.”) So what do I care? Possibly because I resent having my emotions manipulated in the name of branding … but then, with actual TV ads, at least there’s the understanding of what they’re after. I find ads infinitely less annoying than when characters on a TV show I’m watching start expounding on the virtues of the Ford Focus and its onboard GPS.

Plus, there’s the fact that some ads are just good at what they do … even when their manipulation of your emotions is so cynical that it’s quite breathtaking. Exhibit A on this front has to be the following Bell ad:

This ad doesn’t make me tear up so much as it makes me sob. Seriously. It doesn’t make me want to switch my phone service back to Bell, mind you, so I suppose that it’s a failure there. But it does absolutely punch a handful of my personal buttons, given that I am (a) a WWII history buff; (b) so very proud of Canada’s military history; and (c) generally anxious about what happens when we lose that living link to such an important part of our past.

I know everything wrong with the ad, but I love it nevertheless.

I’m curious to hear other peoples’s thoughts. What advertising functions for you as ambivalent pleasures?


Kim from Milwaukee said...

That is a very moving Bell ad. With the advent of the dvr I seldom watch commercials anymore, maybe because I feel manipulated emotionally by them.

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