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Since the late 1970’s, requirements to have government health warnings on cigarette advertisements and restrictions by the Advertising Standards Authority on associating smoking with glamorous lifestyle, have been accompanied by the development of surrealist advertising, particularly by Gallaher with their Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges brands. This chapter proposes that elements of the tobacco industry, having long recognised the power of sexuality in advertising, have now tapped into the lure of Freud’s counterpoint to Eros – the death instinct, or Thanatos. Whether this happens consciously or unconsciously is of little consequence since the culture from which such advertising derives may be impaired in its capacity to be life-affirming and thus finds violation to be a source of entertainment. The issue therefore opens into questions of wider cultural psychopathology ranging from tobacco addiction to consumer addiction and the world ecological crisis. Psychological and spiritual mechanisms by which violative advertising might trigger deep necrophilic and sexually abusive motivations are discussed, as are the implications for therapeutic work at both individual and cultural levels, in political leadership and for health education. These include the need to sensitise people to the significance of violative imagery in advertising and its role in psychospiritual exploitation.
Surrealism in Advertising
In his First Manifesto of Surrealism, Andre Breton (1924) defined surrealism as being that, “by which one intends to express verbally, in writing or by any other method the real functioning of the mind.”
Any claim that a surrealist advertisement is meaningless ought to be treated with suspicion. All but the most crass advertisements are predicated on the recognition that rationality plays only a small role in behaviour. Deep seated emotions such as love, guilt and fear are what motivate. The successful advertisement revolves around association, metaphor and symbol. A symbol is a means of transforming reality and with it, behaviour. To be at its most effective, the symbol needs to be enshrouded in mystery, to be secret, to be consciously understood only to initiates if at all.
In 20th century advertising, and particularly that of the century’s second half, surrealism has been the veil behind which such “symbols of transformation” conceal their meaning. Most people do not expect to understand surrealism. Many people would dismiss attempts to interpret surrealist advertising as invalid because, “you can make whatever you want of it.” That is precisely the point. The symbols used in advertising are geared to manipulate our wants. Want itself is the motivating dynamic in consumer behaviour. The brand being advertised can be sold as a panacea because surrealism hooks into deep needs but mostly defies rationalisation. Those who find an advertisement powerful – attention grabbing, thought provoking or emotionally stirring – but fail to analyse what it is doing to them – these are the most vulnerable to being “taken in.”
Surrealist art is not new. “Primitive” art can be highly surreal. But you ask a Papua New Guinea artist about the meanings of the zigzag lines on a cooking pot, and he will typically reply, “Luk na bai yu save (look and you will know) (Dennet, 1986). The artist is initiated into a culturally appropriate and meaningful mode of perception. What distinguishes 20th century surrealism in the Western world, is that we look, but do not know. Thus, as C.G. Jung (1978, p. 84) says:
Modern man does not understand how much his ‘rationalism’ (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic ‘underworld.’ He has freed himself from ’superstition’ (or so he believes), but in the process he has lost his spiritual values to a positively dangerous degree. His moral and spiritual tradition has disintegrated, and he is now paying the price for this break-up in world-wide disorientation and dissociation.
Advertising as Motivational Manipulation
In 1957, Vance Packard published his classic book, The Hidden Persuaders. Modern marketing is a post-World War II phenomenon with roots in wartime propaganda. Techniques of mass persuasion have been around since at least Roman times as a tool of colonial policy (Thomson 1977) and has been closely linked to the rise of both advanced capitalism and patriarchy (Ewen 1977, Ewen and Ewen 1992). But the 1950’s, for the first time, saw the discipline of marketing rendered “scientific.” Insights into depth psychology developed by Freud, Jung, Adler, etc. for the purpose of healing were turned towards maximising market share by the agency “depth boys.” Packard records how leading ad agencies sent their creative staff to study psychiatry and sociology. Account executives’ desks would be piled high with books by Freud. There was “talk at management conventions of ‘the marketing revolution’ and considerable pondering on how best to ’stimulate’ consumer buying, by creating wants in people that they still didn’t realise existed” (op. cit., pp. 23 – 24). Ernest Dichter, the “father of modern advertising,” said as early as 1951 that the successful ad agency, “manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has at one time been unfamiliar – perhaps even undesirous of purchasing” (ibid. p. 29). Packard surmised (ibid. p. 37):
Thus it was that merchandisers of many different products began developing a startling new view of their prospective customers. People’s subsurface desires, needs, and drives were probed in order to find their points of vulnerability. Among the subsurface motivating factors found in the emotional profile of most of us, for example, were the drive to conformity, need for oral stimulation, yearning for security. Once these points of vulnerability were isolated, the psychological hooks were fashioned and baited and placed deep in the merchandising sea for unwary prospective customers.
Interestingly, most of us who have been through business school are not taught these things. I have observed that they do, however, sometimes form part of business school staff consultancy. Typically students are told that marketing is about satisfying needs, not creating them. Accordingly, marketing is a discipline to feel proud of. All it does is to quantify market dynamics. The main way advertising works is by associating a product with particular lifestyles. It is about getting people to switch brands, not develop needs they did not previously have.
What, then, has happened to all the motivational psychological material of the 1950’s? In my view it went as far as it could at the time, and became internalised by society. As a young marketing executive with Distillers who was responsible for Gordons Gin once told me, You don t need all that psychological stuff. You just need to understand the image of the drink and how it fits the lifestyles wanted by the people you re targeting. However, there is a circular argument here. The “lifestyles” built on motivational manipulation in post-war years are now what we presume to be normal. The modern advertising executive therefore only needs to have a good feel for what the previous generation doing his job helped to create. She needs to embody it: since it is not the business of our understanding whether or not human sensibility or imagination can match what it conceives (Lyotard 1984, p. 80). A self-perpetuating virtual reality arises. And we think we re so clever, not being influenced by, say, the brand of a particular coffee advertisement. Yet because coffee culture or whatever has been reinforced, we still go for a cup of it whatever the brand, not thinking that advertising might have stimulated this need.
Of course, all this is not to deny that coffee, gin and perhaps even cigarettes may not be enjoyable in their own right. The problem only arises when we become driven by such products; when through addiction we become possessed by them. But whilst the ethical issue of promoting addictive behaviour may be fairly clear cut with tobacco, it is arguable that a much wider range of social and environmental ills can also be partly attributed to motivational manipulation through advertising culture. US Vice President Al Gore (1992) suggests that our whole pattern of lifestyle has become a form of addictive behaviour. His remarkable chapter on “Dysfunctional Civilisation” suggests that we are destroying the planet because we now consume the Earth itself. The leading consciousness psychologist, Charles Tart, suggests that a hypnotic-like societal “consensus trance” filters most people s perception of reality (Tart 1988). We perceive, value and aspire towards that which it is consensually agreed is normal. But such normal reality is built up by advertising, mass media images, educational structures and pressures to conform socially. If such analysis is valid, it brings to fruition the 1952 hope of an ad man writing in Advertising Agency that the new depth psychological techniques would be “ultimately for controlling their behaviour” (Packard, op cit., p. 29).
Case Studies in Surrealist British Cigarette Advertising
It is generally accepted that probably the two most successful advertising campaigns in modern British history are those for Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges. Both are owned by Gallaher and both pioneered surrealist imagery. A 1996 Cancer Research Campaign study on advertising recall revealed that:
The two most advertised brands, Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut, were the most frequently named. Silk Cut on its own was more frequently mentioned by girls who had never smoked before (von Radowitz, 1996).
Here I shall look at case studies of advertisements for each of these brands. I shall also briefly mention other brands and products to suggest that the phenomenon being addressed in this paper is not confined to Gallaher. In analysing this material I have spoken with a number of industry creative and account executives. In some cases it has been necessary to preserve anonymity.
1. Benson & Hedges (B & H)
In 1971 the British government introduced the requirement that cigarette ads should have health warnings printed on them). The Tobacco Manufacturers Association later came up with its own voluntary code (1995) to mitigate pressure for further legislative control. And the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) restricts associating cigarettes with an attractive lifestyle. These measures threw the industry into turmoil. As Colin Stockall, media services manager in Gallaher s corporate affairs department told me, It certainly stimulated the minds of the creative people by having to conform with images that conform to the government s guidelines.
Another industry source maintains that the breakthrough into surrealist advertising for B & H came in the mid-1970 s. One of the creative staff at the advertising agency, Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP), had been looking at a book of French surreal photography. Here shoes had been placed in unusual positions, such as outside a mousehole, or in a cage beside a caged bird. The CDP staffer adapted this idea, substituting the gold cigarette packet instead of the shoe.
“At first,” according to my informant, “we all thought it was crazy. But we went with it because we had no better ideas. By the end of the year it had become fashionable. The industry started awarding all sorts of prizes. It was seen as a brilliant, original campaign.”
So what have been the images involved? I can avoid selecting just those which fit my own case by taking the five B & H ads which were judged by a panel of 32 advertising industry men (and two women) as being amongst the top 100 advertising posters of all time (Morris & Watson, 1993). I will also include two more recent ones.
1. From 1977, the gold cigarette pack poised outside a mouse hole, looking like a mousetrap.
2. Also, 1977, the pyramids of Egypt, one of which is made from the B & H pack, in gold, with a golden sun shining through. This was similar to another B & H ad of around the same time, which showed the gold pack as a sarcophagus being excavated at a Pharaohonic archaeological site.
3. From 1978, the gold packet of cigarettes resting in blue water, looking like a tin of sardines. The key to the can has partially opened it to reveal the filter-headed contents lying in a row.
4. Also from 1978, a packet of B & H in a bird cage, alongside a bird, also caged.
5. From 1980, the cigarette packet being carried away by a hoard of ants.
6. 1994, Goodbye Gringo, giving the 7,4 crossword clue, Mexican Wave. Gringo could be seen as the gold cigarette pack about to be swamped as it is swept along on a colourful ocean of emotion.
7. 1995, a dentist with a perverse grin who has just pulled a gold tooth.
2. Silk Cut
Consider the following advertisements from Gallaher s Silk Cut. This is a campaign said to have been developed by Charles Saatchi, then of Saatchi and Saatchi and now of M & C Saatchi, who now hold the Silk Cut Account.
1. A 1983 poster showing a length of purple silk with a scissors slit or knife slash across it. In my anecdotal observations, this ad retains a high level of public recall. It was the ad which launched Silk Cut s campaign. It non-verbally says, “silk-cut” and thereby established a psychological imprint with which to interpret future advertisements in the series.
2. A later award winning poster, which showed a woman showering behind a silk curtain. The curtain is not cut. But the image invites one to think that it might become so.
3. From spring 1994, a Triffid-like Venus Fly Trap plant. An oversize leaf has reached out with its jaws to rip out the crotch from someone’s purple silk pants. The zip, the “fly,” hangs surrounded by shredded purple silk, part consumed by the plant. The plant is, of course, botanically named after the love goddess Venus for its vagina dentata-like characteristics. In nature, it slowly digests the trapped flies.
4. In the summer of 1994, what looked like an Anopheles mosquito made out of purple silk thread wound round a proboscis-like steel needle. This penetrates (cuts) the surface on which it rests.
5. 1994 – a mind over matter theme with the magician cutting silk by willpower.
6. 1994 – a sinister purple silk gloved hand cuts off a telephone. In 1995 the same ad reappears, but this time drained of its colour to a deathly near-white.
7. 1995 – a set of false teeth in water have leapt up and bitten a chunk out of the silk bedside lampshade.
8. 1995 saw two adverts featuring scissors. One has them dressed in silk petticoats as can-can dancers, the scissors being the women s legs. Another has an array of scissors, some surgical, lined up against a background suggestive of a concentration camp barb-wired brick wall or, perhaps, a musical score.
9. 1995 – a row of people (a single person in one version) lined up outside the toilet. They stand crouched up, dressed in purple silk with chess pawns as their heads. A knife hangs on the door. When I described it to an M & C Saatchi staff member as dying for a fag, he corrected me and said, dying for a slash.
10. 1996 – Edinburgh Festival. A field of haggis or sheep-like creatures made from bagpipes wandering around a field full of mantraps.
3. Other Cases
A number of other examples of advertising might be interpreted to support the case to be made in this paper.
1. Marlboro, featuring a motorway slipway in an arid New Mexico-type landscape. A prominent sign reads, “GO BACK you are going WRONG WAY.” A similar Marlboro ad suggests driving against a red light. An August 1996 Marlboro ad depicts the throttle of an airline with the cigarette pack resting on it. The plane is flying over a wasteland with a factory and what look like slurry settlement pools Somewhere in the middle of Marlboro Country. The image suggests both thrusting power and desolation.
2. In their “Black on White” theme, John Players’ JPS features four black crows on a perch. They are reacting in alarm to a white dove alighting assertively between them. The imagery has Biblical undertones (descent of the Holy Spirit, etc.). The caption reads “Black is also available in White.” This invites the imagination to consider to consider a crow landing amongst doves.
3. Non-tobacco products of interest include Smirnoff vodka. One advert shows a swarm of hornets which turn into Vietnam-style combat helicopters when viewed through the bottle; another depicts angels which turn into a Hells angel through the bottle. Scottish Widows life assurance use an attractive young widow dressed in black. In one TV advert she walks seductively through a garden inhabited by a gargoyle statue. (These items not illustrated here).
Benson & Hedges – Precious Entrapment?
What are B & H trying to say? Their consistent symbol is gold. What does gold mean? Arguably, the company would like us to think in terms of precious luxury. The pack is gold because the contents are like gold: desirable like cheese in a mousetrap; as priceless as the gold in the tombs of the pyramids; worth keeping captive, like a rare and beautiful caged bird; nourishment preserved in a classy can, like the best sardines; so delectable that even the ants would carry it off; etc..
But a different consistent theme can also be read. When these ads first came out one of their most striking features was that the only words were the government health warning. Looked at without the knowledge that the tobacco companies were up to something clever, they could have been seen as anti-smoking propaganda. The mousetrap pack poised outside the hole, will tempt and kill you; as dead as the Pharaohs in the pyramids; entrapped through addiction like a caged bird; pickled as the canned sardines; rendered fit to be carried off as by ants … so Goodbye Gringo! Not even the gold in your mouth is safe.
Such potential irony was not missed by the Scottish Health Education Unit. In 1978 they attempted to turn the image on itself (Taylor 1985, pp. 38-39). A set of a graveyard was built in a London studio and used to photograph a golden cigarette packet with the health warning on the side, being lowered into the ground. The original caption was meant to be, Some people have been known to die in the search for gold. The campaign was a closely guarded secret, but Gallaher found out. They complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it was a pastiche of their brand. The original posters had to be shredded. A substitute was made where the coffin was pinewood. Gallaher s gold remained untarnished. Shortly it became Britain s best-selling brand for four years running.
Silk Cut? Not Moron, but Wife
What does cut silk say? Opulence to the point that you can afford to destroy it; opulence you can send up in smoke? And what else?
In their book of the top 100 advertising posters of all time, Morris & Watson (1993) wrote of the 1983 slashed silk image described above:
This poster is proof that simple ideas are the strongest and that powerful branding comes out of the size of your idea, not the size of your logo. As David Ogilvy once said, ‘The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife’.
Verging as it does on the phallic, such language fits a campaign which, with its vaginal slit and purple labial folds has been dubbed by some in the industry as “Silk Cunt” (Collier 1995, pers. com.) and caricatured as Silk Slut.
Sex and cigarettes. The Freudian Eros. We can mostly spot it coming, handle it, enjoy the “smart Alex surrealism” of recognising which brand each nameless ad is for, and keep things in proportion … even old Uncle Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
But the fascination of these ads cuts deep. People stand and stare at them. Are we talking sex and just sex here, or is there more to them than what we would normally imagine?
The shower curtain advertisement was proposed for a poster advertising industry award. A advertising executive who held one of the presiding roles at the event told me, “Everyone was unanimous that it was the best ad of the year. But I felt distinctly uncomfortable. You knew that the scene was Hitchcock’s Psycho. The woman was about to be raped and killed.”
Gallaher s media services manager, Colin Stockall, says of the alleged Psycho overtones, Well I know some people interpret it that way but I can t say that s our view of it. He added (pers. com. 16-8-96) that Silk Cut constitutes, The most successful advertising of its age. Still don t think it compares with the B & H ads of the 70s. I think they were in a class of their own. As for psychological interpretations, You re reading more into this than me, quite honestly. I just regard them as images, and the fine images that they are.
But what sort of mind sees them as such? Martin Casson of M & C Saatchi created Silk Cut s bagpipe ad. I phoned him and asked what he made of the shower curtain one. He contradicted Stockall, saying: People recognise the connection between the advertisement and Psycho, the thriller, so people think they re quite clever. It s smart arse. It affirms their intelligence and their wittiness. It strikes a chord with them.
Silk Cut and Thrust
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