Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Arnold, Glenn, and Volvo

One of my personal heroes, Glenn Sacks, started a letter writing campaign a while back. It was directed at Volvo, asking them to choose a father-friendly ad agency. The story was broken in the industry media - which then caused spillage into the regular media.

As soon as I saw this getting play with both the general media and the industry rags alike, I knew this ONE campaign had more effect on men’s rights and awareness of misandry in society…there was no way for it not to be successful. This single, well-placed shot woke up a lot of people who control a lot of advertising….which anyone past 2nd year media studies can easily tell you GREATLY influences society.

Honestly, would a $6 Billion/year industry be built without delivering the intended results? Advertising influences not simply the brand retention (what name comes to mind when I say….”Bandages”….for example?), but the perception as well. Which car gets the best mileage? What kind of blank CD is best? Should I buy a Kodak digital camera or a Canon (both well known names with rock-solid reputations)? Why is one better than the other anyway - especially since this is the first one you ever bought (oh, the Holy Grail…the first time buyer)?

But advertising doesn’t influence shifts in society, right?

Well, without getting too in depth (mostly because my memory isn’t too good right now), advertising works on a couple basic principles. You want the customer to both remember the brand you are selling, and associate it with a feeling. Keep in mind here that we’re not talking “happiness” or somesuch…we’re talking about evoking emotion seemingly out of nowhere. There are plenty of products out there that sell based on disgust or fear (say…cleaning products or insurance), usually these products are presented as saviours, or safeguards. And of course the more commonly held notion of feel good association.

Much of the communication, as in life, is neither verbal nor written. No, the fact that it looks like that girl is giving head to a beer bottle in a bar scene is not an accident. No, the fact that this woman has a house as big as a stadium is not an accident - and neither is the lack of a wedding ring on the hand that is frequently shown. This isn’t subliminal advertising either, this is simple observation with a typical North American attention span. This suggests the overall emotional theme of the campaign, and all future ads will retain these same basic pieces of imagery - especially the subtle ones. Through repetition a person will begin to associate half-remembered details (along with the emotions associated along the way) of a brand with a feeling.

Trip the feeling the right way and now you have a customer.

Problem is, those same feeling associations (buy our product, it’ll make your life easier cleaning the house, you’re too busy as it is, and Lord knows HE’S not going to help) capitalized on to trigger the buying process are also creating “converts”. For example a previously happy wife spends all day at home, where the advertisements on TV predominantly capitalize on the resentment of single mothers on welfare(yes, that’s what it’s aimed at - as well as resentful stay at home mothers), and this person becomes more and more resentful herself. She doesn’t REALLY know why, she just is. their relationship is in a spiral, and divorce inevitable. A tragic feedback loop, or unintended consequences? Nope. Try Marketing Panacea. Ring the bells and haul out the promotions, you’ve just Created a Market!!!

And THAT is the ultimate goal of advertising - expansion or creation of markets. THAT is what the numbers presented in boardrooms to the beancounters present are. THAT is a damn big portion of the decision making process. So hell yes the people working in the industry are well aware of the man-bashing, they wouldn’t have a job otherwise. They’re aware of the social shift the advertising campaigns are causing - in fact it’s these very social shifts they are bragging to the CEO of XYZ Corp about. You know…the “created markets”? Unless they are a total moron, they ALL know…they just choose to couch things in a different phrase, water it down until it’s “just advertising” in their mind, and can then sleep at night. The human race has a long history of this type of behaviour, usually looked back on by people who say “How could anyone POSSIBLY not have known?”.

But the beauty of this story is this. An Industry Rag ™ prints a story about a private email campaign, which then gets picked up (to a limited extent) by the mainstream media, which sparks a LOT of debate in said media about men, fathers, men’s rights and public image. It’s snowballing, soon it’ll be accepted - or at least acceptable - as truth that men are not evil ne’er do wells. We may even actually attain legal equality someday.

And what I find ironic is the logical Scapegoat for the shock of mass realization is likely either going to be the Media, or Advertising. Tough to get the message out when the competition holds all the microphones though, so I’m going to bet the Media gets to be the one that was misled. And that means Advertising loses. So I guess Karma really IS a bitch.