20
Jan
12

Marketer in the Mirror: Branding for an Audience of One

[January 20, 2011]

[This post reflects the state of the sites discussed at the time. The issues raised are still relevant to the discussion of manipulative branding practices.]

One of the most mystifying things I know is the fantasy-reality paradox that advertising continues to evoke. Starting from the logical premise that it’s useful to anchor a brand in the real world—if only to show it solves real-world problems—most branded communication proceeds to place its product in an unrealistic, fantasy version of that world.

The idea, of course, is that the idealized images in advertising are simply meant to convey the positive vibe the brand would like to be associated with. “The XYZ2011 will make you feel like a million bucks” says the subliminal subtext, overstated in such explicit terms that it ceases to function.

Why? Because, believe it or not, people have seen advertising before. Oceans of it. That’s why the threat of the TV mute button to advertisers has been grossly exaggerated.

See a car commercial with the sound off? If you can find a sucker, bet him 1000 to one the ad says, in essence, “You’re gonna love this car.” You’ll clean up. Same goes for those Applebee’s ads that say “Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood.” The only lingering ambiguity is whether the featured personae are also “Lovin’ It,” or just on their way to a Justin Timberlake concert.

So if people get it already—about every product on Earth for the next 17 generations—what’s an understaffed big name agency going to do? Clearly, the answer is “Amp it up.” It’s easy to understand why. Now that our perception of reality is engulfed in a multimedia Purple Haze denser than anything imagined 45 years ago, the only way to reach an audience is by making everything bigger, faster and, ultimately, further removed from realistic expectations.

“…who’s the most over-empowered one of all?”
Into this crazed promotional environment step electronics manufacturers, people so desperate for a Bono endorsement they’ll say anything. Anything, that is, to imply their products endow you with super powers. That’s right. Now that the claim “Our Product Can Do Everything” has lost its luster, a brand’s only recourse is to assert “You Can Do Everything” once you plunk down the cash. Terms and Restrictions Apply.

Just listen to the iPad’s creators hawk the product online:

When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical. And that’s exactly what an iPad is. It’s hard to see how something so simple, so thin and so light could possibly be so capable…It’s going to change the way we do the things we do every day.

OK, just give me a second to shake the vomit out of my shoes.

The hype about “the magic” is so heavy at apple.com, I’m surprised they haven’t already merged with Disney—though maybe the latter’s long-time association with the phrase “poison apple” is just too much of a buzz kill. And yet, as they reach for an 11 on a narcissism scale of 10, Apple probably feels The Evil Queen has no mirror as enchanting as the one they gaze into hour by hour. I mean, does hers have a Glee app?

Joining the league of extraordinary touch screens.
Not that other contenders for the hot-as-Beyoncé tablet market are any less starved for Messianic acclaim. The lengths Samsung goes to pitch the Galaxy Tab are only slightly less demoralizing. The series of videos on its Web site begins with a lackluster effort to equate owning a Galaxy Tab to running a successful small business.

Filmed in a washed out imitation of the Monkee’s washed out imitation of Hard Day’s Night, and accompanied by standard-issue stock pop from the “Late Beatles” rack, these almost-to-the-point videos (hosted on YouTube to lock in the virus), are soon superseded by a micro-mini-series of Lost parodies that quickly lose interest. Buy one of these tablets, you learn, and it will change the way you waste your time forever.

For more of the same, this time buried under a barrage of tech-magazine reviews and including the revolutionary phrases “best in class features,” and “breathtaking multimedia,” visit the Blackberry PlayBook video pod—where you’ll learn, among other things, how PlayBook will help you train for the National Jump Rope Competition.

“You can do anything, be anything with our magic wand,” promise these frenzied brands. With such egomaniacal messaging seeping into the collective consciousness, is it any wonder we live in an era dominated by the self-centered roll back of social responsibility? We now even have instances of people dressing up like superheroes, trying to make good on that promise.

And while there are many other things besides a magic touch screen that can make real people act like narcissistic idiots, I can’t help seeing the implied claims of electronic device manufacturers as fanning the flames of a deeply troubling trend in our culture.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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