The beginning of my Advertising and Branding module has been quite enlightening – one of the things I’ve found most interesting so far is something that I think we all know, but don’t really think about too much – that things are advertised based on their benefits, and not what the item actually is, the “why” rather than the “what”. Most of us probably understand that owning a certain car won’t necessarily make you a cooler or more fun person, and eating a certain cereal won’t generally make you slim and cheerful, but if you take lots of advertising at face value that’s what you might begin to think.
For example, this advert for Alpen cereal isn’t really selling cereal. It’s selling the benefits of eating said cereal, the ideal of a healthy lifestyle. It’s saying “you could eat this cereal which means that you’ll be healthy and happy and desirable”. And good at stretching and looking pretty in meadows. These things appeal to the irrational side of people rather than the rational, whereas you could advertise the same cereal by talking about the taste, nutritional information, and ingredients (only 170Kcal per 45g serving, only 0.12g of salt per 45g serving, high in fibre, made with wholegrain wheat and rolled oats, contains raisins and hazelnuts, etc.). Rationally, you’ll buy your cereal because it tastes nice, has decent ingredients, isn’t too bad for you; irrationally, you’ll buy it because eating it will make you healthy and fit and slim.
Here’s a photo of a magazine advert for some hair product, “texturizing salt spray” more specifically. Aside from the shot of the product bottle, the ad doesn’t really give us much information. “Make waves; get tousled” and “your style, un-styled” are quick and snappy tag lines, giving a cool, young, to-the-point feel to the advert. The model with fabulous hair is somewhat exposed and looking at us straight-on, giving the impression of confidence. “You mess with my head,” is a slogan that implies having such fabulous hair could somehow confuse people and “mess with their heads”, and it implies that you will be tempting and desirable. It’s saying “you could use this hair product which means that you’ll have textured hair and be desirable like this model. Rationally, you will buy this product to style your hair with; irrationally, you will buy it because you feel that when your hair is styled in a particular way it will make you more attractive and confident.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. We buy based on the benefits of a product; rational benefits like “I need a computer to do my work” and “it has specifications that meet my needs” and “the operating system is intuitive to use”, and irrational ones like “a silver, flashy one will make me look like I know what I’m doing” and “it’s a souped-up version of the one my friend has”. This is something worth thinking about next time I do any shopping – do I really want this exact item for x purpose, or am I buying it over the competition because I think it’ll somehow make me better?
Advertising is serious business. You can’t just show a picture of your product, you have to sell the scene, the lifestyle. Use this deodorant and women will find you irresistible, use this perfume and men will think you’re sexy, feed your kids this juice and they’ll be healthy and happy. Product advertisement is often stuff you can tune out – it’s just the nonsense that pops up in between segments of Criminal Minds. Advertising for causes is a different story though, and is often quite provocative and challenging; check out this collection (from 2010) of extreme ads, notably those from Amnesty International, the RSPCA, RSF, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The workshop I took part in this week has worked to make me aware of a lot of advertising tricks – show a happy family to sell your soft drink (healthy, fun), show “the great outdoors” to sell your washing powder (fresh, clean, bright), et cetera.
During the workshop my team was given this image, and asked what we thought about it – what was the feel of the image, what does it portray, what’s the main theme of the image and what props does it use, what might it be advertising? (Okay, we weren’t asked the advertising question, but all of the images used in the workshop were advertisements (with any text and brand logos removed), some more obvious than others.)
What do you think? My quickly-scribbled notes for this image look like this (but in barely-legible handscribbles): sexy knitwear, Armani-ish?, intimate, loving, black & white – romantic, distinguished, elicit, clandestine (we thought these two might be having an extra-marital affair!), mysterious, black/white clothes, opposites attract, and sophisticated. One good key word for this image shouted out by another team was “luxury”.
It’s actually an advertisement for a mink coat. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to guess that, but it probably would have been a while. We were thinking something along the lines of perfumes and chocolates!
We were given the task of hitting the streets and asking Real People (not art/design students) for their thoughts on the picture. It was a bit of a scary thought, approaching people on the street, but I think Kristen, Stephanie, Sheila, and I took it in our strides. Luckily for the rest of us, Sheila had the confidence to do most of the actual people-approaching.
First we asked a porter in the Dundee University Dalhousie building (where the workshop had taken place – start with an easy one!), a 62 year old male, who straight away spotted that it was an ad for a fur coat, which led me to believe he’d done this before! He said that the ad was obviously about the lady, and the man seemed a bit pointless, really. The ad trying to sell “the finer things in life”, and “a man loves a lady who wears a fur coat.” Next we spoke to three male students in their late teens, who noted the feeling of closeness and intimacy in the picture, and they thought it might be advertising perfume or jewellery (the lady’s bracelets in the forefront). They didn’t seem especially surprised when we revealed the purpose of the ad, as they had expected it to be something somewhat luxurious or “high-end”, although I suppose we aren’t really exposed to advertising for furs nowadays. Lastly we spoke to a female student who I thought to be about 20. She thought the image was possibly for a fashion campaign, and noted that it was trying to show love and a caring attitude, like the man really cared for the lady and is “a really nice guy”. She also thought it seemed quite posed, or fake. When we revealed that it was a fur coat ad, she was quite happy to have guessed at fashion campaign.
This was quite a fun exercise in the end, and I wonder what other opinions we’d have gathered if we could have found more people willing to stand in the cold with us for a minute or two. I would have especially liked to hear more female opinions, to get a more balanced view. It seems that in general people are actually quite good at deciphering scenes and images, when we take a few seconds to analyse them. I guess that also means that advertisers have to be quite clever!
Having thought about it a bit, I think people probably would be more likely to buy washing powder with an image depicting freshness, outdoorsiness (totes a word), and “summer breezes”, rather than a picture of some clean clothes, which is quite funny really, since that’s what you’re going to get out of using washing powder. I’m looking forward to learning more about “what images mean” and doing this kind of exercise again to a higher degree in preparation for our next assignment.