The world of advertising is a strange one. Ah fuck it, I’m going to pull a made-up law out of my arse. Let’s call it Fortran’s Law: any sufficiently long-lived advertising campaign will forget what it’s actually advertising and why it even exists in the first place.
Here in the UK we have animated meerkats selling insurance.
It started as a pun (compare the market/compare the meerkat) but turned into a sort of soap opera about the lives and loves of these fucking meerkats. At the end, the TV ad says “oh, and you might want to buy some insurance or something.” The campaign has somehow got away from the people selling the actual insurance. For some reason, insurance advertising is particularly insane. The Gocompare campaign is based on the supposed backstory of a fake opera singer. “Backstory” doesn’t really do it justice. The advertising company has made up an entire insurance-based town in Wales for EXACTLY NO REASON. It’s the fake town the fake opera singer came from and we’re supposed to care about… well, not even the fake residents of the fake town based on the fake backstory of the fake opera singer. We’re supposed to care about the fake *tourists* fakely visiting this place. We’re supposed to identify with them, presumably. While we’re delving into stupid, the fake opera singer is actually a real opera singer.
As long as I’m ranting, I’ll take a little more time to get to my point. There’s another insurance ad – I think they’ve taken it off air now – where there’s a runaway car. It is (for unclear reasons) rolling down a hill smashing into other cars and posing a danger to pedestrians. But the guy with LV insurance doesn’t care about that. He has – for some reason – a magic button on his keyring. He presses that button and his car heals itself. He gives the camera a smug smile and goes back into his house, despite the fact that the runaway car is presumably still causing mayhem.
So, finally to my point. Advertising is usually about selling advertising services to companies, not about selling products to people. Generally, advertisers do every single thing they can to avoid mentioning the actual product. They’re selling a perceived lifestyle or inventing a goal that people will probably think they want to achieve, entirely regardless of whether the product will help that to happen or whether they actually wanted to achieve that goal in the first place. Those companies actually selling things are clearly bamboozled by advertisers. They seem to care more about their brand being recognised than anyone knowing what they actually sell. Do advertisers advertise? I doubt they need to.
In this context, it’s easy to see why companies like Intel and Mercedes react badly to issues that matter. They’ve – they as a corporation – have been trained to believe that the only thing that matters is the brand. Not, you know, what they actually do. I think the marketing department of Mercedes (which must have hundreds of people) have forgotten that they’re selling cars. I think Intel has forgotten that its customers are manufacturers…. or they’re trying to keep us terrified that we might have a slightly worse processor or graphics card than someone else.
This is the environment in which huge corporations endorse sexist bullshit advertising and clumsily not-pologise their way out of it. They’ve forgotten what they’re selling and who they’re selling it to.
We shouldn’t stand for this. If there’s anything we should be skeptical of, it’s people telling us what we should want.