Who are the Ad Wizards?

Knowing How To Be A Real Man

April 29, 2010
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It took many hours of clipping, splitting, and repositioning, and even more hours watching educational films, and their inherent unintentional comedy, but here it is – my social commentary on what we think it takes to be a real man, and how we were thought to think that way. In the process of putting this video together, it dawned on me as to how the messages of misogyny, homophobia and sexism were embedded in the Super Bowl commercials. At first, I assumed the spots were continuing old stereotypes. But after paying close attention to the content of the educational films, I realized the ads were hyperbolic and ironic messages echoing from America’s “golden age.”  In some cases, the traditional role of a man is set to the extreme to give adequate attention to what men “really” go through. In others, gender roles are flipped which then causes anger and strife. Using a series of vignettes, I tried to depict the hyperbole and irony within the  expectations and roles of men in certain situations.

Here’s a brief breakdown on the semiotic properties found within each vignette.

Knowing how to fit in.

The story begins with Ralph talking to his father about being unable to fit in his new school. To add an element of tension within the audience the footage is distorted, and then the voiceover explains to us that Ralph suffers from the “sickness” of homosexuality. Ralph’s father, either unaware of his son’s illness or actively ignoring it, decides to give him some cryptic advice. The audience is then allowed to see the father’s actions are less than “manly,” but get the job done.

Knowing how to pick a date.

With the knowledge that homosexuality is a sickness, we are told that picking a date is about choosing someone who’s company we would enjoy. Ironically we are told this while seeing two men practically kiss. The voiceover then explains that looks is a good way to pick a date. Images of women depicted in recent Super Bowl commercials is interrupted by what we are told is a pretty girl from the 1960s. The differences are obvious, but the message remains the same; looks are important. The voiceover then explains that even good looking girls can be uppity, and could cause a man to have a bad time. This is juxtaposed with a scene from a modern date, where the man has fallen victim to the temptress who doesn’t know what men need to have a good time.

Knowing how to be agreeable.

Young men were being taught to be agreeable for their own benefit and for those around them. But what happens when being agreeable goes too far? In this vignette, the tension builds as scenes switch back and forth from women being agreeable to the wishes of their men and men being agreeable to the wishes of their women. The scenes depict happiness when women are subservient, and anger when men are placed in that role. The vignette culminates in a montage of juxtaposed images of men in traditional roles, and how those roles are depicted in modern time. Set to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” the message is intended to remind the audience that while certain themes are prevalent in today’s media, it isn’t a recent epidemic. They have been ingrained in the American male for quite some time, and it may take some time before those ideals are altered or expunged.


Miles Away from Fair

April 28, 2010
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In this spot for Corona, a man ogles a bikini-cladded woman as she passes by him and his assumed girlfriend. In retribution for his actions, his girlfriend squirts the lime from his Corona in his face.

Recently, Corona has rolled out a complementary spot to this one. Unfortunately, I can’t find it online. But the commercial follows the same premise as the spot above, but instead of a blond bombshell gracing the screen, its a shirtless male with all the requisite muscles and definition. As the woman in the beach chair gazes at the beefcake, her presumed boyfriend reaches over and shakes up her Corona bottle. But instead of being hosed down in beer, the girl picks up her boyfriend’s beer and opens it. Thus foiling his plan for vindication.

Visually, both spots are very much in-line with the simplistic though exotic look of the Miles Away from Ordinary ad campaign created by The Richards Group and Cramer-Krasselt. The deadpan humor and comedic timing work great, especially when you consider no words are uttered in either case.

What strikes me as odd is that in both situations the male plays the role of the fool. It’s a common role for men in commercials. But in a culture where women are often subjugated, objectified and rendered to be little more than a piece of art; why are men often the victim or the punished? Granted, the frequency of women being objectified is much greater than that of men being victimized. But from my own recollection,the occasions in which men are the patsy outweighs the times women are found in that role.

Even when I create a TV or radio spot, I often use a male actor to be the funny and a female to play the straight “guy.” I think I do it because, from a comedic standpoint, it’s just not as funny when women are penalized for their actions. Maybe, with many women activist groups and other watchdogs keeping an alert eye on how women are depicted, the chances of an outcry would be greater.

One episode from Family Guy, The Simpsons, Home Improvement, or I Dream of Genie, and you can see it’s having leading men play the buffoon has been popular for years. Maybe it stems from a feeling of guilt. Most of the writers on those shows are male. So, maybe the thinking is,”It’s bad enough we have them walking around half naked, we shouldn’t humiliate them too.”

In any case. and especially since I just wrote a radio commercial where a man is publicly criticized for not knowing his wife’s favorite perfume, the tradition of a man being a fool is here to stay.

How do you break down cinematic codes? Just do it.

April 22, 2010
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A few weeks ago, while discussing Laura Mulvey’s essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, we came across this passage

… the voyeuristic-scopophilic look that is a crucial part of traditional filmic pleasure can itself be broken down. There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and thos the characters at east other within the screen illusion.

Part of the essay’s message was that before sexism and racism can be corrected in film, film must be first broken down to its core elements. In these core elements, we can discover where and how these themes are created.  Mulvey’s claims that since the camera remains hidden to the audience, it helps to create a “gaze, a world and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire.” So to combat this, the audience must be made aware of the camera. One way to do this is telling the story from the first person point-of-view.

In Nike’s new soccer spots,  Wieden+Kennedy tells the story of an unnamed young soccer player as he begins his assent into fame and soccer glory…

While this is certainly not a proper example of not objectifying women (see :51 – :57), it is good example of breaking down the cinematic code of keeping the camera hidden from the audience. From the start, the audience isn’t just a bystander to this soccer player’s story. The audience is, in effect, the soccer player.

In comparison, here’s Nike’s Tiger Woods commercial from about 3 years ago (well before the womanizing and multiple affairs were public)

Showtime Has Found Jesus

April 8, 2010

As I was walking through the New York City subway corridors a few weeks ago, I noticed these posters for Showtime’s shows. There were about 20 posters hung up. Each poster alternated between promoting The United States of Tara and Nurse Jackie. As I was walking by, I couldn’t help but notice something about the Nurse Jackie posters. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something seemed very recognizable. Since I have never seen the show, my first assumption was by recollection stemmed from my recognition of Eddie Falco. But there was something more.  Why was she holding that Rx bottle like that? Why do those pills, syringes and other medical supplies encircle her head? What does “Holy Shift” have to do with it, besides the allusion to a cuss?

Then it hit me…

How could I have missed that? If any of my religion teachers from my 16 years of Catholic schooling saw me struggling to recognize the classic Sacred Heart of Jesus pose, they probably would have given me a demerit or told me to write a paper on why Jesus died for our sins.

I started to think, this is what we advertisers strive for. For an unassuming potential customer to be intrigued by an ad, but not be exactly sure why. Now, I’m not about to argue the morality of using an obvious allegory of a religious figure to promote a dark comedy about a flawed emergency nurse. The fact of the matter is that it worked. I remembered the poster, and more importantly, I remembered what it was advertising. Showtime’s ad men did a great job of employing intertexuality, and got me to interact with their work.

Since the show is a dark comedy, the ad men were probably hoping for some backlash. The thinking being, maybe this sacrilegious act will get certain church groups up in arms, and then become a source of conversation. The conversation then will pique some people’s interest, and ratings will go up. This type of advertising obviously runs the risk of putting the topic in such a bad light, it cannot emerge from the  controversy. But it also runs the risk of not causing a big enough stir to see a boost in ratings. As of right now, I couldn’t find any group or individual on the Internet that found offense with the poster.

So Showtime, you get an A+ from me on intertextuality, and apparently apathy from the religious watchdog groups.


April 1, 2010

Back in high school, when I had dreams of entering the movie business, I dabbled in editing. For my US History class during my junior year, I created a 10 minute video montage of still images, videos and music from the 1950s. And though I did create something new, I still considered it more of an editing process. Since all the material was already there, I just put in an order that did not exist before.

Our next assignment for visual rhetoric has us remixing educational films from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s with commercials from this past Super Bowl. And though some may argue that remixing is a new way to say editing, it does encompass a bit more than the traditional sense of editing. In remixing, the artist is looking to create new meaning by combining multiple media. An editor, on the other hand, is looking to keep a consistent message with the source material. In both cases, I consider the work an art form. It takes a special talent to patchwork together images, sounds and music from different sources and create a message.

An added wrinkle to our assignment is to create a mashup video that also has makes a social commentary. Since it’s mostly males, between the ages of 18 and 55, watching the Super Bowl, the majority of the commercials have a particular message to their audience, “this is what it means to be a man.”  With undertones of misogyny, homophobia and sexism throughout many of the spots, I intend to highlight these themes were being thought to men in the 1950s – the golden age of misogyny, homophobia and sexism.

With help from educational films about overcoming shyness, what it means to be popular and dating, I hope to showcase some overriding themes found in commercials from CareerBuilder, Dockers, Dove, FloTV, and Snickers.

I was able to get an A by putting together my 1950s montage with borrowed video tapes from the county library, two VCRs and a CD player. I can only imagine how much better I can do with the power of computers and the internet.

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