Response to Klein, Holland, Sullivan

Klein, “Truth in Advertising”

1. Klein sarcastically responds in the article, to companies’ apparent brand identities–that Nike, for instance, is not selling shoes, but instead communicating “notions of transcendence.” Take a look at the front/main pages of these three web sites:

2. What is the outer truth visible here (e.g., what’s being sold)? What is the “inner truth” identified here?

On Hummer’s site, I think freedom is the equivalent of Nike’s transcendental offer. The Hummer at the top plowing through water lets viewers imagine themselves in exotic places doing exciting things. In reality, GM is selling a car, a means of transportation to and from work and other daily chores.

The Agent Provocateur site was the most interesting of the three – it played to a sense of adventure as well as to freedom. I found it intriguing that it offered two main possibilities: shop or explore. This is an interesting way to back up the claim to being more than just commercial. But, when it comes down to it, prices and products are listed in a catalog-like format.

Microsoft is known as one of the most successful companies in the world, and its marketing is direct. Before a consumer can even visit this page, a pop-up ad intervenes, offering a new software to make the Internet experience better. Once on the page, consumers get an appeal to fear (Protect yourself from phishing!) and an appeal to modernity (Get the latest version!) right away. The main panel is about the Mojave Experiment, in which testers renamed Windows Vista and had people try it again – and ended up with a higher approval rating. This is probably in response to the bad reviews Vista has gotten recently, so it also is a direct appeal to consumers to keep buying.

3. Find an example of “anti-brand activism.” How does what you’ve found work to break the hold of “broken promises” and “unfulfilled desires” perpetuated by brand campaigns?

The first Web site that popped up on my “anti-brand” Google search was I’m not sure I would actually classify it as anti-brand, but it’s certainly interesting, and it could potentially be anti-brand. The Web site focuses on demystifying brand identities. For example, a multiple choice question on its front page asks audiences a trivia question: Which brand says the environment is part of its DNA? In doing so, it also asks consumers to evaluate whether or not this claim is true. Is this an example of a broken promise? An unfulfilled desire? I actually find (which bills itself as the world’s only online exchange about branding) to be a far more socially responsible movement than the anti-brand movement. It opens up discussion for anyone to participate in (see the site’s “debate” section) rather than simply replacing one dominant view with another.

Holland, “Keeping Promises: The Impact of Brands on Society”

1. How does Holland explain the rise of brands? The “void” that brands fill in our society?

Holland says branding filled the void when Americans became disillusioned with religion and other social interactions like clubs. She even says the move away from the nuclear family has contributed to this shift. I would argue, additionally, that the Internet age has both caused this shift by increasing the amount of time a person spends “alone” (e.g. at a computer or television, with access to the world at her fingertips) and by providing a new way for brands to reach consumers. As our society increasingly produces people who live and work with less and less face-to-face social interaction, branding will continue to become a more and more powerful influence.

2. Take a look again at the three sites listed above. What identity does each brand offer us? Promise us?

Hummer promises adventure as well as comfort and luxury. Based on the exchange value of the Hummer, it also likely offers a certain amount of prestige. The site says: Anyone who owns a Hummer must be part of a group that is adventurous as well as wealthy.

The Agent Provacateur site offers beauty and sexual freedom. It shows attractive models with mainstream body types, but it puts them in an atmosphere that is not mainstream (at least not for the U.S., although the site is European). The implication is that anyone can look like those models if they wear this lingerie. The site also offers a section for “exploring,” which leads into a soft-core, choose-your-own-ending sort of sequence. This emphasizes sexual freedom and the ability of the woman (the intended viewer) to choose her partner and preference.

Micrsoft’s Web site welcomes viewers into the club of professionals. It offers sleek, easy-to-use software and implies that those who use Microsoft products will be in good company. It also is the most direct in terms of framing the viewer as consumer – a good consumer, it says, it up-to-date. The Microsoft viewer is someone who is willing to spend the money to have the most current technology.

3. What strategies does Holland suggest for not underestimating your own power? For researching and being an activist in the face of corporate identity strategies?

Holland suggests using the very power that companies are after when they create brands: the power of the consumer. The opinion of the consumer – whether expressed through oral statements, written letters, protests, or simply purchasing power – is our most powerful weapon in shaping the paths taken by companies.

Awareness is the major requirement for being an activist. Research is vital to understanding how companies work, and self-reflection will help consumers decide how to use their power in terms of supporting or not supporting those companies. For graphic designers working in the advertising industry, Holland suggests taking a step back to think about if you would be proud to see a newspaper story on your recent work. Holland also suggests perusing the annual report of a company you’re interested in.

Sullivan, “Flogging Underwear: The New Raunchiness of American Advertising”

1. What’s the deal? How come men are being sold products with male sexuality? How is it that “male bimbos” in ads work to convince men to purchase a variety of products?

Sullivan says at one point that most of the sexuality implicit in these images is narcissistic. The male model is “in love” with himself; thus, male viewers may construe this fabrication as a message that if they use Product X, they, too, will love themselves. More likely, I think, is Sullivan’s argument that women buy most of men’s stuff. The makers of the Hom ad, for example, said the ad was directed at women because it is women who buy most men’s underwear. There are also two other possibilities that Sullivan glosses: the rise of metrosexuality (and, by extension, the rising acceptance of homosexuality) and fact that ads showing the “male bimbo” simply attract attention. On page 209, Sullivan notes that what kind of attention an ad attracts doesn’t matter because viewers tend to disassociate the message from the sponsor rather quickly. What is important is getting them to see that corporate logo in the first place.

2. What does Sullivan accuse today’s fashion photography of lacking? Do you agree, disagree? Explain.

Sullivan says today’s photography lacks creativity as well as a connection between personality and product. The new wave of consumers are defined by their “denial of individuality” (210). Sullivan describes several ads which depict young, beautiful people doing absolutely nothing. They’re not active, they’re not communicating, they’re not even looking at each other or anything else. They’re just … there. These ads incorporate little creativity and no personality, according to Sullivan. I disagree. I do think these ads are creative, to some extent. I think, in many cases, they represent the disillusionment of young generations with the messages preached by their predecessors. This denial of individuality could be interpreted as an expression of oppression. However, I think Sullivan is correct in saying these ads do not display a connection between personality and product – rather, they display a connection between consumer and brand. And that, today, is all a company needs.


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