Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I almost forgot to blog this week, because I've spent hours on my latest project. (I might have gotten a little over-excited ... )
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I had one of those "Aha" moments when I sat down to watch this week's assigned youTube videos.
Monday, October 20, 2008
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 brandchannel.com. 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 brandchannel.com (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.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
1. What are some of the historical and cultural reasons why consumer culture has appeared and proliferated?
The use of advertising - which almost always incorporates visible rhetoric - has been a staple in the spread of consumerism. "Increased industrialization and bureaucratization in the late nineteenth century meant a decrease in the number of small entrepreneurs and an increase in large manufacturers ... " (191). People also began to do a lot more traveling, and more public places sprang up that could support commerce. In other words, increased competition and increased visible rhetoric are directly related. This phenomenon is occurring again with the rise of e-commerce and telemarketing (192). People can now participate as consumers without ever leaving their homes. It's easier than ever to be a consumer now - plus, the government encourages consumerism, especially now, in order to prop up our failing economy.
2. How did the rise of consumer society change homes? Change family relationships? Change the dynamics of the private and public spheres?
The consumer society discussed above brought with it a number of changes. Space for advertising is now available in the average American living room. Families gather around the television rather than talking over dinner. The public sphere continues to encroach upon - and sometimes masquerade as - the private sphere. The quote used below in question number 3 illustrates the extent to which this has occurred.
3. On page 193, the authors note that some media and cultural theorists have argued that "advertising replaced what had previously been the social fabric of communities, becoming, in effect, a central source of cultural values" (this is also an argument presented in Klein's and Holland's essays). Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?
While Sturken and Cartwright present this view as somewhat extremist, I think it's exactly right. That's not to say that all demographics have undergone this change, but I believe the average American is far more consumer-driven than anyone realizes. We live in world of needs that are really wants. Everything is marketed to us, from cars to food to nursing homes. Millions of people have spent hundreds of dollars for the social status of owning an iPod (see the dicussion of NIke on page 201), when a similar mP3 player is often half the price. The social makeup of our world is driven by advertising.
4. Think about your last visit to a local mall. What aspects of the design, layout, and visual elements of the mall lent themselves to shopping being constructed as a leisure activity? A pass-time? What design aspects contributed to the cultural ideological belief that shopping is expected of us? That consumerism is good?
The last mall I was at was White Oaks Mall in Springfield, which features a centralized design with spokes that contain larger chain stores at their ends. Stores are not grouped by category, but spread out so that a person on a mission for one thing will have to walk all over the mall, past all other kinds of stores, during their search. This layout also allows the mall to have more doors, and closer parking access, thus allowing people to easily return to their cars to leave their purchases and then go back into the mall to continue shopping. Recently, even more signals than usual have impinged upon the American consumer to fulfill the duty to spend money. This tax season, anyone filing was given about $600 in "free" money and encourage to pour it directly back into the ailing economy. Consumerism was framed as a healthy goal for the economy.
5. What's the difference between exchange value and use value? What examples do the authors use to articulate these concepts?
Both of these terms are dependent upon the society they are used in. Exchange value refers to what a products costs within that society, and use value is about the item's use in that society. Sturken and Cartwright suggest rice has a high use value - it can keep you alive - and a low exchange value - it's cheap. Perfume, on the other hand, has little use value, but often is quite expensive. Their best example, in my opinion, was comparing a Honda to a Mercedes-Benz. These items have exactly the same use value, but vastly different exchange values. (199)
6. What did the Frankfurt School theorists mean by the term pseudoindividuality? (See page 205.)
Pseudoindividuality is the idea of mass marketing based on individualism. The example given is of perfume. The mass marketing campaign says the perfume will smell different on everyone, thereby priveleging individuality even as the ad markets to the masses. This technique is quite popular today, with many ads encouraging people to "think outside the box" or "be different" and take a risk on this new product. Of course, if everyone does so, no one is different. That's where the "pseudo-" prefix comes in.
7. What would ads be like if they didn't work to create a sense of dissatisfaction? If they didn't prey on our anxieties and insecurities? If they didn't make us feel weak and needing?
I disagree with the basic assumption made by this question (and, at times, Sturken and Cartwright) that all ads do create a sense of dissatisfaction. I think there are a number of very positive ad campaigns that make a point not to prey on anxieties and insecurities, ads that try to promote a sense of power and confidence. These ads are often directed at women, a group that is perhaps the most in need of empowerment. While I know some would make the argument that these ads are the worst kind as far as playing on people's fears, I do not believe that is their intent. They do not "work to create" this strife.
Nevertheless, many ads do - and the world would be very different without them. A world without ads working for dissatisfaction would certainly not be so consumer-driven. Needs and wants would be much better delineated in the mind of the average person. There would also be a lot more space in which people could value other sorts of communication. At the same time, though, we could not live in a free market society if this were the case. A sense of dissatisfaction can be a very good, motivating thing. Without advertisers for motivation, we might not achieve as much. Frankly, the idea of a world without advertising playing on personal dissatisfaction is so far removed from reality that it is impossible for me to imagine.
8. What's the difference between bricolage and counter-bricolage? Can you think of an example of each?
Bricolage is when consumers (often youthful ones) appropriate a product and imbue it with a new meaning. This is often seen as very hip, forward-thinking, or individualistic. Counter-bricolage is when commercial culture takes that product or idea back and reconfigures it. The book's example is the advent of designer boxer shorts based on the fact that young men were wearing low-hanging pants (224). Another example would be the rise of rap music. Rap was born as a cry against hegemonic forces, but was promptly appropriate by suburbanites (bricolage). Now, rap artists have altered their message to appeal to those suburbanites and gain profit (counter-bricolage).
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
The day after the debate, I was working on putting together a national news page for the newspaper where I work. I picked out a story about the debate, then clicked to go to the accompanying photos. The first photo that popped up was a close-up of Palin’s legs from behind as she stood at the podium. (And, try as I might, I could not find any photos of Biden’s legs.) While I realize the photographer may have just been trying to make an interesting statement, there’s a whole brand of ethics involved that seem to have been pretty well glossed over.
Yes, Palin has shapely, womanly legs. Yes, that is part of the visible rhetoric through which we perceive her. But I don’t think a close-up view of those legs, sans any other body part, is a necessary or responsible visual message for the public. (Never mind that this photograph was taken from behind and below, in a very voyeuristic manner.) There are so many feminist arguments involving the use of women’s parts separate from their whole bodies that I can’t even risk going into that sort of analysis of visual culture for fear of overloading the blogspot server.
Prior to this discovery, I still found the debate to be one rich in visible rhetoric. There are obviously some laws of visible rhetoric that both candidates knew and followed. Both wore black, a neutral, professional color, with some accents. Biden wore a blue “power tie,” and a small flag pin (the same pin that caused an uproar earlier this election season between the Democratic contenders). Palin also wore the flag pin, and she used some other accents to break up the black theme, although her gender allowed her to be more creative. She used earrings, her now-famous glasses and her hairstyle – as well as having less black on by virtue of bare legs – to soften the severity of her all-black outfit. (It is interesting to note that moderator Gwen Ifill also obeyed these conventions.)
The fact that the debaters were of different genders was certainly a central factor, and I found myself siding with the majority: I felt more at ease with both candidates afterward, as did more than half of Americans, according to CBS polls. Both came off as polished and intelligent. Visible rhetoric is vitally important to politics in this manner, and this is precisely why candidates agree to such forums. Through TV and other media, candidates come right into our living rooms and we familiarize ourselves with their styles. Their features become familiar to us, and familiarity results in goodwill. This is an easy conclusion just based on my statement above that I liked both of them “better” afterward – because I’m not a fan of the politics of either of them.