“Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing. We are all capable of it. All of us.”

-Tom Hardy, in Nike’s “Find Your Greatness ad”

It was during the 2012 London Olympics when Nike launched an advertising campaign under the slogan “Find your greatness.” After the one-minute television showcase, Nike’s Youtube channel was bombarded with visitors. The campaign consisted of short, minute-long videos, featuring “everyday athletes” from all over the world including South Africa, Jamaica, China, and many more. According to the Mail Online, the most popular ad in the campaign, titled “The Jogger,” received close to one million hits.

Nike recruited sporty “Londoners” outside of England’s London (London in Ohio, East London in South Africa, Little London in Jamaica, etc) in order to fully expound the campaign’s London Olympics theme. Furthermore, the campaign ran in 25 countries, and the showcase coincided with the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Critics noted that “Nike’s campaign is clearly designed to cash in on Olympic fever and get one over on arch-rival Adidas, which has paid tens of millions of pounds to be an official London 2012 global sponsor” (Sweney). Surprisingly, however,  Nike was not chosen as the official sponsor for the 2012 London Olympics while its competitor, Adidas was.

Nike’s “Find your greatness” advertising campaign, tried to differentiate itself from Adidas by featuring amateur athletes as opposed to professional athletes. They aimed to suggest that the idea of “greatness” and other “achievements” were not necessarily “reserved for chosen few.” But rather,  it is something “we are all capable of”. Nonetheless, the target audience, Nike is trying to reach, ultimately coincides with viewers of Adidas advertisements; and this is perplexing because Nike is contradicting itself and the message they are trying to deliver.

On its official website, Nike,  quoted: “A powerful message to inspire anyone who wants to achieve their own moment of greatness in sport, launched just as the world focuses on the best of the best.” The quote encapsulated the core message of the campaign. The website further stated that not only “championship athletes” but also “everyday,” “amateur” athletes “can strive” and “achieve their own defining moment of greatness.” Nike is trying to deliver very hopeful messages to its viewers here; however, the advertisements do not seem to parallel such sentiments and meanings. We will be conducting “semiotic analysis” for two video advertisements (aired on television, released on Nike’s Youtube Channel) in order to better understand the basic structures and elements of the advertisement which will allow us to comprehend more concrete “functions” and “meanings” the campaign constitutes (Leiss et al. 164). There are 4 steps in the process we have to take: 1) identify signifiers 2) What are the signified? 3) What meanings does signifiers assign to the product? 3) What social norms and values does the ad promote? 4) Are there particular social groups the ad speaks to?

First ad is “The Jogger,” which was the most popular one for both regular viewers and media critics. We first have to identify “signifiers,” which are “the material vehicle of the meaning” (164). Some signifiers we can identify here include 1) Obese white boy jogging and sweating in athletic clothing 2) Narrative voice (by Tom Hardy) that recites “Greatness, It is just something we made up. Somehow we came to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for chosen few. For prodigies, for super stars, and rest of us can only stand by and watching. We can forget that. Greatness is not some rare DNA strand. It’s not some precious thing. Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing. WE are all capable of it. All of us.” 3)Early Morning 4) Empty Road 5) Nike Logo 6) Campaign slogan “Find Your Greatness.” Next step is to figure out “signified,” which is deriving “meaning” from the “signifiers” we just identified (164).  On the surface, the signifiers all suggest the “hopeful” messages Nike initially intended for the audiences. However, when we give ourselves more time to think about the signifiers they are a bit strange and unnatural in many ways. It becomes  more evident that the video was scripted and artificially crafted for the audience to brew sympathy for the jogger, who is an obese individual who is breathing heavily in order to achieve his goal. And frankly, such images are not very “usual” or “realistic.”

The jogger may not even be under the category of “amateur athlete” who we can encounter on the street or in the gym. Am I making false assumptions here that obese people do not go or are not allowed in the gym? Maybe. But it is something that I learned from our society. Our societal norm suggests us some skewed stereotypes about obese people that they do not exercise but all they do everyday is endlessly consuming. Some Youtube-users may agree with me on this since the video created responses such as:

(Screenshot of a Youtube comment http://ow.ly/l2AXD )

(Screenshot of a Youtube comment http://ow.ly/l2B0K )

And yet again, Nike’s “The Jogger” ad is subtly reminding us with such stereotypes by putting two seemingly “opposite” subjects together. The audience automatically will assume that the jogger is going through a tough time because he is overweight. And it is not only the jogger but also the place setting of the ad seems very odd and surreal. There is only one person (the jogger) that appears in the ad because he is the only person running on the road. Remembering our usual, everyday circumstances, there should be other people running or even walking pass by you. We would start to feel scared and anxious when we are the only ones walking on the street. So, Nike, by attaching  stereotypes to the obese protagonist, is actually contradicting its intended message that greatness does not belong to any specific group. “Greatness” shines even brighter when achieved by someone unexpected like the overweight jogger. Whether the advertisement was a success or not, Nike established a new cultural meaning in our society that obese people desire exercising and jogging. And this new cultural meaning adds a new “value” or “meaning” to Nike’s Swoosh “sign value,” which “establishes the relative value of a brand” and emphasizes “difference” in various brands where their products’ “functions difference…is minimal” (Goldman, Papson 84).

The signifiers in the second ad consists of: 1) Chinese teenager practicing Wushu (Chinese martial arts) along with some other Chinese kids 2) Tom Hardy’s narrative “If you’d like to tell the guy with the sword he’s not great because he’s not famous…be my guest.” 3) In China/Asia (there are Chinese characters written on the pillars in the gym) While the obese white boy joggs in Ohio and challenging himself to achieve greatness, his Chinese friend, again, practices his Wushu skills. Can this be the other way around? The Chinese boy is jogging and sweating in London, Ohio while the white boy practices Wushu.

    By coming up an Asian Wushu athlete, Nike have given efforts to bring in diversity to its ad campaign. And also diversity would have been a key factor since Nike initiated the campaign during the Olympics, an international event watched by people from all over the globe. However, we question ourselves again—“Would this be an incident of diversity representation or racial stereotypes?” Although, as trite as it sounds, not every Chinese/Asian person retain Kung-fu skills like Jackie Chan. However, it is also true that Jackie Chan is one of the most well-known figure with Asian ethnic background in the Western society that for some people, their very “first” exposure to Asians or Asian communities was via Rush Hour trilogy. And Jackie Chan, when he became famous, he also immediately became an attractive character for the advertisers that this Asian Kung-fu master character was forced to become the subject of commodification, which then created another stereotype for Asians. Consumer goods, being nonverbal communicators that reveal “status, roles, social mobility, social structures, lifestyle”, have always been a big part in building our popular culture that they consistently contribute in making and reinforcing cultural meanings in society (Leiss et al. 230). Then it is also the responsibility of advertisers and mass media participants to correct and construct new identities and meanings for various communities that are often targeted to become subjects of commodification. Therefore, recruiting  a different Asian amateur athlete that is not too stereotypical would have been more effective for Nike’s campaign  since “The Jogger” also offers a rather unexpected scene to its consumers.

 (An example of Jackie Chan merchandise that reveals a stereotype)

When most brands and companies dedicate a large chunk of their budget on TV ads and print ads, Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign depended heavily on social media and the Internet, which are usually peripheral part of most ad campaigns. Nike released the ad videos to the consumers via its Youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/nike) where the videos received million views and widespreaded. The videos themselves were produced to be very short (less than a minute), which was appropriate for fast-changing web communities and fast-clicking web users. Furthermore, Nike created a hashtag (#findgreatness) on Twitter “to ignite conversation around how athletes everywhere find their own greatness” and also to allow digital version of “words-of-mouth” marketing between Twitter-users. Utilization of social media, especially Twitter, allowed the campaign to be a big success since more global audiences paid attention to the campaign and were also allowed to participate in spreading the words using #findgreatness.

(Screenshot of Nike’s Youtube Channel)

(Screenshot of various Tweets on Twitter #findgreatness)

    Running and marketing the campaign through social media also made younger audience pay more attention to the campaign. Olympics, even though it is one of the biggest international event, is not the hottest, most popular topic for current generation. However, the youth generation has always been a crucial, attractive market for most consumer products due to 1) large amount of disposable income that can be spent 2) maintaining of customer loyalty 3) largely influenced by others (Klein 66, 81; Leiss et. al 478-479). However, the young audiences, also known as “Generation X,” are also conceived to be the most difficult market to reach to because they are “tech-savy,”  “alienated  spectator” who tend to get engaged in rather “anti-conventional, frame-breaking” type ads rather than traditional type ads (471, 483). Therefore, social media marketing for the campaign was most apt and efficient method to approach the young consumers that spend much of their time surfing around the Internet looking for something “cool.” Furthermore, Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” ad campaign visual ads (videos) featuring various amateur athletes from diverse backgrounds  which was also very appropriate for Gen X that tend to prefer  “heavily image-based advertising” that “specifically use freedom a theme in their depictions of diverse people” (484-485). The young audience’s attention and participation revealed through various creative “parody” videos that also got shared on Youtube.

(An example of a Parody Video on Youtube “Jogger”)

    In conclusion, Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” ad was very successful. The advertisements were unique in a sense that they retained high production values with occasionally having creative and novel subjects. Also, the marketing and distribution method of the campaign was also another creative side of the process where it showed the effectiveness of social media. However, what is worrisome for the me is that the campaign was still an advertisement that promotes consumerism in a “sneakily” and “unnoticeable” way that is hard for us to figure out. What Nike is ultimately promoting in their various encouraging messages is that all of us, even though we are not star players or champions, can achieve greatness but when only we purchase Nike sporting products. Therefore, the entire campaign can be a perfect example of therapeutic ethos: “to arouse consumer demand by associating products with imaginary states of well-being” (Leiss et al. 74). And also the campaign, while being creatively crafted, retains various negative cultural meanings and outdated stereotypes in our society and the campaign is targeting young audiences that are easily vulnerable to influences. The current generation is where we need to strive to start eradicating irrational stereotypes and societal meanings completely. We can not further instill and re-instill such ideals.

Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” declares that we all can achieve success and greatness even though we may consider ourselves as not as important or special than professional athletes. But we live in a society where societal barriers and stereotypes are constantly being reminded and projected to us by even an ad campaign that wants to overcome our weaknesses and achieve greatness. #findgreatness #contradiction

Works Cited

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” (1996): 82-98. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Chapter 3: Alt.Everything.” No Logo. New York: Picador USA, 2000. 63-85. Print.

Leiss, William, Jackie Botterill, Stephen Kline, and Sut Jhally. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

“Nike Launches “Find Your Greatness” Campaign.” NIKE, Inc. N.p., 2012. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://nikeinc.com/news/nike-launches-find-your-greatness-campaign-celebrating-inspiration-for-the-everyday-athlete&gt;.

“Revealed: The 200lb 12-year-old Star of Nike’s Controversial New Ad… and How He Is Now Hitting the Gym to Lose Weight.” Mail Online. N.p., 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 14 May 2013.

Sweney, Mark. “Olympics 2012: Nike Plots Ambush Ad Campaign.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 July 2012. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul/25/olympics-2012-nike-ambush-ad&gt;.


Ads are cultural intermediaries, which mediate between advertisers and consumers. They are concerned with the “representations of commodities” (Leiss 48). In other words, advertisers explain the meaning of their products through ads. The advertisers of Evian want to represent their water as one that can keep adults young at heart. They accomplish that by associating their ads with baby dances, which can symbolize energy and youthfulness at the same time. By focusing on that message, Evian brings its audience’s attention to a societal norm: everyone wants to become young again as they gradually grow old. In order to communicate the idea, Evian has made a series of advertisements on the theme of “Live Young”. Through the campaign, advertisers hope that their audience can learn the strategy of living young by consuming Evian water.

Throughout the campaign, computer technology played an important role in channeling its message to its audience. The campaign is a good example for illustrating producer-driven forces of advertising. This type of advertising is driven by “changes in the technology of industry” (Schudson 169). Evian’s YouTube Channel is its main channel for its promotion. Advertisers simply upload videos and ads to their channel without paying for it. The YouTube channel serves as the “television channel” for Evian, which can save Evian a great deal of money. What is more, YouTube can be accessible to people all over the world. All it requires is a stable web service.

Baby and Me:

In years 2009 and 2013, Evian produces two viral ads respectively: Roller Babies and Baby and Me, which were published on the YouTube channel of Evian. The Roller Babies ad features babies that are about one year old. They perform break dances throughout the ad to show the effect of Evian on the body. The Baby and Me ad features men and women of various ages and races, who dance in front of a mirror, which can show reflections of them as babies.

To start with, ads can be seen “as discourses that socially and culturally construct a world” (Goldman &Papson 95). In terms of “sociality”, babies and adults in both ads always appear in groups. The babies and the adults either dance together in groups or serve as other “performers’” audiences. Dance becomes a tool for social interaction which links people who do not know each other. As shown by the second ad, dancers are only pedestrians who walked past the mirror that a man is dancing in front of.  Dance is a universal communicative tool, which does not require verbal capabilities. Anyone who is willing to move in front of the mirror can become part of the small community that the pedestrians have established. In short, the dance links people of different ages, races and genders to form a community.

In addition, the ads also transmitted some cultural attitudes and beliefs to its audience. Before the release of the Evian campaign, audiences may already have some associations related to babies. They may describe babies with adjectives like cute, young and active. Evian advertisers created a connection between Evian and babies. The “Live Young” slogan was used to direct its audience to read the desired meaning of the babies, which is to be young. This quality of the babies can be transferred to the product through the ad. By joining a brand name product with specific meanings through the Roller Babies ad, a commodity sign can be formed, as shown by the formula “brand name commodity + meaning of image = commodity sign” (Goldman &Papson 81). In this case, Evian water has created a cultural meaning for its brand; the youthfulness of babies becomes a commodity sign for Evian.

Moreover, the advertisers want to convey that living young is not an exclusive right which can only be enjoyed by youths. The baby-reflection of adults in the Baby and Me ad highlighted the idea. Through the mirror, adults can instantly become babies. In other words, youthfulness is something that adults can aim to acquire. From their semi-formal outfits, it can be inferred that the actors that are chosen to feature in the ad are at least in their thirties. For them to dance in the city seems to symbolize that adults can also act according to their instincts when they put down the constraints set by society. In short, this ad wants to introduce a new idea to the present culture that living young is not defined by a person’s physical age, but by a person’s psychological state. Adults can also live young if they believe they can do so.

Secondly, ads can be seen “as discourses that disguise and suppress its inequalities, injustices, irrationalities and contradictions” (Goldman &Papson 95-96). In both ads, babies and adults of different races are included. In particular, whites, African Americans and Latinos can be seen in the ads. In this instance, advertisers did not highlight the particular racial characteristics that distinguish each of them from the others. Rather, the advertisers seem to portray that each race is equally significant. The movements are exhibited at the same time, in front of the same mirror. All of the movements that are exhibited are respected and accepted by others. No one in the ad id judged how well or how bad are the dances performed.

The cohesion of the races in this ad illustrates the concept of consumer societies. This society can be characterized by “popular styles and expenditure patterns among consumers become a principle force for social cohesion” (Leiss 69). The ad shows the effect of Evian by showing people of different races, who can all become young after drinking Evian water, as suggested by the slogan of the brand. Although the adults belong to different racial groups, they can enjoy a commonality of living young, which can be done by buying Evian’s water. By consuming the same product and enjoying the same effect brought by the product, those characters can be considered as a consumer community, one that is formed through consumption. By portraying the harmony among people of different races, the idea of multiculturalism can be exemplified. It is a state when racial and ethnic variation is encouraged. This can be seen through the portrayal of a community among people of different races. The use of multiculturalism can appeal to people of different races. As the advertisers of a Hilfiger ad described, “by respecting one another we can reach all cultures and communities” (Klein 76). When various races are included, the ad can speak to global customers who are represented by the characters present in the ad. The harmonious picture also seems to suppress the unequal treatment towards African Americans in American history because they can dance together with the “whites”. By showing signs of equality among people of various races, Evian may be able to sell its product to a global audience. This is especially important when selling commodities that are applicable to people of all races, genders and ages, since water is a necessity to their survival.

Moreover, these two ads also suppress irrationality by using different advertising techniques. Both ads feature babies who can break dances. Ideally, brilliant babies may know how to walk in the ages of one or two. However, it will definitely be impossible for babies to break dance. The break dance moves can only be made possible by the use of computer software. Also, ordinary mirrors will not be able to reflect an image that differs from the original object. In other words, adults will not be able to see their reflections as babies. Given a number of irrationalities presented in the ads, Evian advertisers made use of two techniques to suppress them. First, the choice of babies works as a gimmick. In other words, since babies are cute and lovable, it is easier for the audiences to be fascinated by their movements. More importantly, advertisers tried to “disrupt and disturb audience expectations…to create bizarre messages” (Leiss 435). In other words, advertisers may purposefully make the ad so irrational and strange to a point that the image may seem humorous. With the combination of gimmicks and bizarreness in the ads, both serve to level out the other. In other words, the cute babies may make it easier for the audience to accept the irrationality in the ads. “Believing that curiosity [generated by bizarreness] stimulates attention, creative gave audiences images to puzzle over” (Leiss 435). By leading its audience to focus on the ad, it is hoped that they may be more likely to receive the branded message of the ad. Moreover, by using these techniques, advertisers can generate buzz by giving their audiences an intent to talk about the ad during conversations. By doing so, the message of the advertisers may be passed on through word of mouth, making the ad viral.

Thirdly, ads can be seen as “discourse that promotes a normative vision of our world and our relationships” (Goldman 96). The two ads promote the vision by reflecting a value of society. It shows the audiences the positive effects of living young. Through watching the ad, the audience may associate youth with many qualities of the youth, as represented by babies. The dances may symbolize that youth is active, flexible and energetic. Youths can also have smooth skin which is related to beauty. All of these positive characteristics point to the idea that youth is an ideal stage in life. On the other hand, aging is frequently associated with negative qualities, like sicknesses and physical deterioration. Given the negative impacts of aging, it is normal that people may want to value youth. The main selling point of the product – to live young – corresponds to the natural desires that adults may have, even though the aging process is inevitable.

Last, but not least, ads can be seen “as discourses that reflect the logic of capital” (Goldman &Papson96). In other words, they are discourses that can foster market transactions on consumer products, so as to sustain capitalism. The Evian ad fits into this ideology by making use of technique that Jackson Lears called therapeutic ethos. He introduced the concept during the transition from industrial to consumer society. In this period, there was a great deal of uncertainties brought by urbanization and the rise of industrial technologies. At that time, products are portrayed as things that can help to ease the uncertainty brought by the environment. Today, people are socialized to believe that aging is a problem due to the negative connotations connected to it. In the campaign, Evian water is presented as a product that can “solve” the problem of aging. The effect of Evian water is exaggerated by letting adults become babies again. It serves to “arouse consumer demand by associating the products with imaginary states of well-being” (Leiss 74). Evian encourages consumption by linking its water with babies, an ideal state of being in which people, especially adults, would want to return to. They suggest to them that by drinking Evian water, they may also be able to become, at least psychologically young again, due to the portrayal of babies in Evian ads.

Besides the two ads that are uploaded to Evian’s YouTube channel, Evian also put a “print ad” in different bus stops in Chicago. It is very innovative for Evian advertisers to incorporate touch-screen technology to replace traditional print ads posted on streets. Evian claims that it is the first brand to do that. Audiences may be curious about this new approach to presenting print ads. By interacting with the screen, they may be one of those who witnessed the technological development of the advertising industry. What is more, the technological innovation can make audience’s brand experience with Evian more memorable, because they have never interact with an ad like this.

By formatting the ad that way, the advertisers have made use of pull marketing. This is a technique in which audiences can “choose to click on the icon, whereupon a targeted message for a product is delivered” (Leiss 345). In this case, bus-waiters can decide whether they want to receive the advertising message or not. By allowing audiences to opt-in to the ad, advertisers can reduce audience’s resistance to the advertising message, possibly making the ad more effective. When audiences interact with the ad, they may not realize that Evian advertisers can use this new technology to test audience reception of the ad. By building an interactive device in the ad, Evian is able to come up with accurate statistical information on the amount of activations throughout the length of the four-week campaign.

Evian advertisers are very clever to put the ad inside different bus stops. People may easily get bored as they wait for their buses to come. The boredom may increase the possibility for them to be curious in the ad, increasing the chance for the ad to be tapped. When people actually tapped on the screen, a baby body dances according to the rhythm of a song, Wordy Rappinghood. When advertisers place the ad inside different bus stops, the space inside it can allow its audience to dance with the babies, increasing the level of interactivity with the ad. By including sound effects to the movements, not only could the opt-in audiences watch and interact with the ad, but those who are walking past the bus stops when the ad is airing may also be attracted to it. It is a human instinct to stop and find out what has happened when they suddenly hear a sound. As more and more people stopped and watched the ad, the crowd can generate even more audiences. As people see the crowd from faraway, they may want to join the crowd themselves in order to find out “what is happening over there”, to fulfill their sense of curiosity.

Due to the creation of commodity signs through the Roller Babies ad, advertisers can create accelerated meanings of the babies in other Evian ads that followed. When the online ad audience see Evian babies again in different bus stops, they will automatically be able to sense the meaning brought by the babies. This prevents the advertisers from repeatedly explaining the association between Evian water and the babies seen in the ads. The accelerated meaning of the babies is important to make intertextuality possible in the bus stop ads. It is a technique in which “ads refer to other ads” (Goldman &Papson 94). By referring their bus stop ads to their Roller Babies ad, advertisers can continue the spiral effect that was brought by the Roller Babies ad. Not only could advertisers remind the audiences of the baby moves presented in the previous Roller Babies ad, but the audience’s affection towards the babies can be reinforced and transferred to the bus stop ads.

Evian Baby Dance: Baby Dance

In addition to the bus stop ad, Evian also introduced a promotional event online: the Evian Baby Dance. This event plays into pull marketing because it requires the voluntary participation from its audience. Evian is basically asking its audience to create an Evian ad together. In order to participate, they need to choose a T-shirt among three, which are printed with African American, white, and Latino baby bodies. Afterwards, they have to turn on their webcams and take photos with the virtual shirt on. Evian would record those pictures and combine them to form a long Evian music video. Evian also required participants to enter their names and current locations along with their submissions. Although the event can encourage audience engagement with the brand, the interactive component of it can serve as a surveillance tool for the advertisers. As suggested by Andrejevic, viewer engagement is a way of “gathering detailed information about a desirable demographic” (Andrejevic 67). In this case, by participating in the baby dance, participant’s name, location, race, gender, age range will be revealed to the advertisers. In other words, this may become a resource for advertisers to learn about who exactly are the customers of Evian and who are interested in the “Live Young” ads. This information can be used as an audience reference when Evian plans for their next campaign. Advertisers may be able to tailor-make ads that may fit the interests of identified audience groups. To sum up, there is a “double role played by interactivity: as facilitator or both participation and surveillance” (Andrejevic 67).

Aside from introducing online promotions, Evian has also made use of unconventional marketing techniques to promote its water. Evian advertisers built an adult playground near London’s Canary Wharf Subway Station. When adults played with the Evian swings and seesaws, snow could be generated. In “Alt Everything”, Klein describes a set of techniques that are used by BMG, a music label, which “hires street crews” of urban black youth to talk-up hip albums in their communities and go out on guerilla style postering and stickering missions”  (Klein 75).Both Evian and BMG are using guerilla marketing as their promotional method. Instead of using mass media as their means of promotion, guerilla marketing is a technique that involves unexpected promotional events that aim to attract localized target demographic audiences at a specific geographic location. Not only could these events increase consumer involvement with the brand, consumers can also gain a memorable brand experience. Through the experience in the Evian playground, the participants may be able to feel the central idea of Evian – the importance of being young at heart. Due to its unexpectedness, participants or bystanders are likely to share the branded experience with their significant others, further spreading the brand message. In other words, Evian uses guerilla marketing to generate word (s) of mouth, in order to spread Evian’s brand message at a low cost.

Besides attracting the attention of participants, the event can also attract media attention. Playgrounds are traditionally recreational venues for children. By building an adult playground, Evian breaks a norm. However, by being special, Evian may be able to generate interest in local reporters in covering the story. This can serve as a free advertisement for Evian water, further saving their advertising cost. In short, this event helped Evian to reach a great deal of target audience at a low cost. If the participants react to the brand experience by actually consuming Evian water, Evian may be able make huge profits.

Evian Protection Water Institute: Evian Water Protection Institute

Aside from using guerilla marketing, Evian also practiced cause-related marketing. Cause-related marketing is a “strategy in which corporate brand identities and products are connected to charity or non-profit organizations, primarily through the sale of commercial products with a percentage of the profits being channeled to the good cause in question” (Littler 29). In the case of Evian, Evian established the Evian Protection Water Institute in 2007. The institute aims at protecting wetlands and promoting effective water management in third world countries. By being capable of teaching water management techniques to the people in third world countries, Evian presents itself as an expert in the field. The expertise can be transferred to Evian water, giving its customers an impression that Evian water is of high quality. This can be helpful for establishing a trust between the brand and its customers, which is essential for cultivating brand loyalty.

Evian’s association with the Institute can also let it be seen as a company which is willing to take its part in enacting social responsibility. By being involved in maintaining water quality in third world countries, “the West and the rest are presented as embracing on equal terms” (Littler 28). The west is often associated with wealth and sufficiency. On the other hand, the rest can include developing countries, which can be characterized as having insufficient capital and resources to develop. The imbalanced distribution of resources sustains a gap between the developed and the developing countries. This act of Evian can possibly reduce the gap and improve the quality of life for partnering third world countries. By doing so, Evian can be portrayed as the savior of selected third world countries. When customers know that part of Evian’s revenue will be allocated to help others, they may be less reluctant to purchase Evian water, even though Evian water is three times more expensive than other brands. In other words, by associating their brand with charity, Evian can give customers an alternative reason to buy their products, other than that of fulfilling a want or need. By working towards a cause, Evian can establish a brand image, one that does not only focus on generating revenue, but one that has contributed to solve social problems.

In conclusion, throughout the campaign, Evian has tried to establish a community among its audience, who can hopefully become customers. The Evian Roller Babies and the Baby and Me ads portray a global dancing community formed by people of different races, genders and ages. The Chicago bus stop ad and the Evian playground both build a community by letting them share the same brand experience by interacting with the Evian ads and events. The Baby Dance links global consumers by connecting their images to form a long Evian video. In both programs, Evian tried to maintain their current customers. Meanwhile, Evian is trying to recruit new ones, to inform them of the brand if they have not come across it before. The global community is reinforced by the operation of the Evian Protection Water Institute, making it possible for the west to help the rest, giving people a feeling of global togetherness.

After building a community through various components of the campaign, Evian wants to spread their message to the community. Evian wants to remind its audience, especially adults, to live young. The nature of its message is one that can possibly show Evian as a consumer-caring company. By using dancing babies in their ads, adults can be reminded of being active and energetic when they were young. The Evian playground arouses their memories of themselves playing in playgrounds when they were young. In short, Evian ads and events can initiate audience’s nostalgia towards their youth. This can create an emotional tie between the customers and the brand. The audiences of this campaign may appreciate Evian for giving them back their youth memories through watching or interacting with their branded message. The emotional ties between them may eventually become the reason for consumers to consume the product, given that Evian is more expensive than other water brands.

Works Cited Page

Andrejevic, Mark. “Productive Play 2.0: The Logic of In-Game Advertising.” Media International Australia 30 (2009): 67. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The

Consumer Society Reader. New York, NY: New, 2000: 81-96. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt.Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool.” No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Canada: Knopf Canada, Picador, 1999: 75-76. Print.

Leiss, William, and Jackie Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005: 48-435. Print.

Littler, Jo. “Cosmopolitan Caring.” Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: Open UP//McGraw-HillEducation, 2009: 28-29. Print.

Schudson, Michael. “Historical Roots of Consumer Culture.” Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion. The United States: Basic Books, 1986: 169. Print.

Ciroc’s advertising campaign uses the power of the brand ambassador in defining masculinity, in a way that taps into high class culture and what can be argued as a throwback to masculine leisure. This stems from the way that advertisers have always “provided consumers with advice about how to live and [provided] models for different styles of life”(Leiss et. Al, 414). However, through the use of “lifestyle branding,” advertisers were able to establish a “taste leadership” that constructed “a consumption-based masculine identity relevant to contemporary social conditions” through things like product placement, cultural coattails, and humor, which I will be discussing(Messner 1880). This is especially apparent in alcohol advertising, which, according to Messner, is where they “construct a ‘desirable lifestyle’ in relation to contemporary social conditions [and] construct a plausible and desirable world to consumers”(1880). According to Messner, liquor is a central player in “hegemonic masculinity”(1879).

A great example of lifestyle branding is an ad used in my previous post, “Luck Be A Lady”. In my post, I argue that it “associates this luxury, leisurely lifestyle with the product itself,” which stems from Thorstein Veblen’s “Conspicuous Consumption,” who argues that “esteem is awarded only on evidence,” which in this case, is Ciroc(Veblen, 24). The ad itself depicts the lifestyle of people who “work hard [and] play hard”. This specific style of ads date back to the mid-1970s, where “these ads began primarily to depict images of men drinking with other men in public spaces…as a pleasurable reward for a hard days’ work.”(Messner 1880-1881) This calling to this specific style serves almost as a nostalgia and a throwback to the days of hard work and rewarding oneself for that hard work. The fact that all of those in the ads are themselves people of social status and are respectable in their careers, whether it’s Aziz Ansari who’s known for his comedy, or Aaron Paul for his acting, it’s inherent and assumed that the audience knows who these people are and that they are hard workers, or else they wouldn’t be where they were now. It’s interesting to point out how the way that hard work was depicted in the 70s, which would usually be a middle class man coming home to a family, has been framed in this way, where celebrities now are the face of “hard work” rather than a working class family.

Positioning Itself as Timeless and Classic

One could argue that the reference to the Big Band Jazz style of the Rat Pack and the Frank Sinatra era is an example of “classicism” which Leiss refers to as the “creative output of the ancients,” that are “removed from history..timeless objects”(548). The use of the music could be seen as an attempt at associating the timelessness of Sinatra and the Rat Pack with Ciroc, making it timeless itself. This theme is recurring throughout some of the ads discussed, including the “Smooth Off” which serves a more humorous tone, but it’s a layer in meaning that is an interesting note on how they are positioning themselves, almost as the timeless archetype of high-class masculinity with an updated, modern look on it.

Defining Gentlemen/Masculinity through Leisure & High-Class

One popular video consists of P. Diddy throwing a house party. It shows snapshots of tons of up and coming artists and basically documents a day party for a basketball game and a boxing match, then converted into a club-like atmosphere. It’s very casual in nature and seems informal in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a “commercial” feel to it. There are quotes from Diddy like “Why do I need a club, I’ll turn my house into the real party” (2:43). Considering that this video, juxtaposed with videos like the “Luck Be A Lady” ad, is an example of how Ciroc is attempting to define high-class masculinity through leisure, which Veblen talks about as “evidence” for projecting “wealth and power”(Veblen 24).

The associations of a house party the way that P. Diddy throws one, with amazing food, a pool with a jacuzzi/bathtub, depicts that of a high-class house party, or at least, according to the video, “how a house party should be done” which points to how ads serve as cultural intermediaries in establishing social rules and practices(0:09). This high-class is apparent in Leiss’s analysis of Holt, in which Holt “believed those with higher levels of education, access to cultural institutions, professional parents, and higher income, would have distinctive consumption patterns”(Leiss et. Al, 519-520). Holt found that “those with high cultural capital, the cultural aspects of goods overrides their exchange value”(520). The cultural aspects then deals “support lifestyle construction and the articulation of taste” and that their “status and identity [are dependent on] social relationships and skill, not on their knowledge of goods”(520). As is akin to lifestyle branding, the product is not the main focus in these ads, the experience that is documented is. The informal setting also softens its high-classness in a way that seems much more attainable than the “Luck Be A Lady” ad.

Power of the Brand Ambassadors

The power of the brand ambassador is apparent in Ciroc’s Ad Campaign. Considering that Diddy himself is seen as a taste maker in one of the most influential genres of music, it wouldn’t be hard for him to get many more relevant, established tastemakers on board. And he has, with people like French Montana, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, Ray Jay, Funkmaster Flex who are all very influential in the rap and hip hop genre and even some great actors like Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and Michael K. Williams from The Wire making an appearance in the “Luck Be A Lady” commercial.

twitter ciroc

A great example of the use of the brand ambassador was the Twitter campaign “#CirocTheNewYear” where Ciroc worked with “lifestyle ambassadors that include world-renowned influencers like Sean Combs and DJ Khaled with strong Twitter followings” and targeted very specific Promoted Tweets to relevant interests (bars, nightlife, music, fashion) @TMZ, @rickyrozay, @NYMag).” According to Leiss, advertisers “shifted away from associating goods with the power of the economic realm, re-linking them instead to the ascendant media and cultural sphere” (Leiss et. Al, 552). This use of Twitter is a prime example of how advertising has focused on the value that cultural industries and media outlets can create through acquiring “cultural capital(552). There is influence from these outlets, and social media is a great platform for brand ambassadors.

Product Placement, Cultural Coattails

Rap and hip hop have been one of the “cultural coattails” that are “particularly popular with white males searching for a cultural meaning”(320). While before it used to be about “a particular ‘street cred [credibility],’ reflecting a touch machismo..and risky romanticism,” it has shifted to a more luxurious lifestyle and has even given a nod to high fashion. It is most apparent in a music video like “Diced Pineapples” by Rick Ross, Wale and Drake. For example, Rick Ross is quoted in saying “pop bottles, make love thug passion/red bottoms, moncler, high fashion”(“Diced Pineapples”).

In the video, there are around 19 shots of Ciroc(film shots, not alcohol) with about 10-15 of them being clear shots. Rick Ross also ends up even mentioning it in his lyrics, with “sex all night, couple shots of Ciroc/Crib on the water, got LeBron up the block”(“Diced Pineapples”). Rumor has it that Diddy pays “$25,000 for mentioning Ciroc on their album in a natural way”.

The idea of the brand ambassador stems from advertisers who have been interested in developing “relationships between program producers and advertisers” and “linking..lifestyle to celebrity culture”(Leiss et. Al 358-360). It came from the “desire to link brands directly to popular celebrities and programming, combined with the audience’s adept use of technology to avoid advertising”(358). Considering that Diddy and the Ciroc Boyz allow for a very powerful influence over a very influential genre results in a very manufactured way of “’taste’ leadership” (414).

Dual Purpose When Using Humor

Humor has served two purposes in this ad campaign. It first is used to break through the “clutter” that has plagued advertising for years and provide a sense of entertainment. This “clutter,” according to Leiss, has “been found to erode recall and brand recognition particularly those ads placed in the middle of the commercial period”(353). One example in which Ciroc uses humor would be the video of P Diddy curling:

This was part of a Twitter-introduced ad campaign for the Superbowl, which introduced 3 other videos with their accompanying hashtags and invited Twitter followers to vote for their favorite. Messner pointed out that there are websites out there who focus specifically on the ads and run polls to see “which ads were the most and least favorite”which would explain why these commercial spots would be very much in demand, since it gives brands the opportunity to stay in the minds of consumers after the game ends(Messner 1884). Some people wondered why these ads just weren’t run during the Superbowl. According to Aubrey Flynn, Brand Content Director at Blue Flame, it was a way to “convert passive TV audience into a more engaged online audience”. It was an attempt at “doing something different,” which was very successful in breaking through the clutter.

This link shows the other 3 videos

This definitely seems like a shift of focus from the high-class cultural capital that Ciroc and Diddy had spent so much time to set up. Keeping that in mind, though, Leiss asserts that when it comes to luxury and high-class culture, “advertisers re-wrote the narrative of luxury, poking fun at it or adding quirkiness to the objects of affluence” in order to keep people from being jaded from luxury items(Leiss et. Al, 532). According to Leiss, this serves “to scrub them of their seriousness and preciousness” and “it is possible to surround oneself with ostentation, but it must be done knowingly, tongue firmly planted in cheek”(533). There needs to be a self awareness put in place within the ads themselves, whether it be through the music used, the actors involved, and the actual setting. This is a result of people who saw luxury as “a bore” and possessed “jaded palates”(Leiss et. al, 530, 532). A great example of this tongue-in-cheek humor on high-class and luxury lifestyles include the Ciroc video – “Smooth Off.”

This depicts Aziz Ansari(Comedian) and Diddy meeting as nominees for Ciroc’s “Smoothest Man Of The Year” Award. This ad ends up poking fun at many of the tropes associated with high-class culture, specifically high-class masculinity, including a hilarious competition, called the “Smooth Off” which results in Ansari losing his exotic Italian girlfriend to Diddy. Already you can see that the actors chosen serve a very specific purpose, since it would be hard to take Aziz seriously in anything serious, and P Diddy, considering his surprisingly hilarious role in Get Him To The Greek, can also be depicted as pretty humorous. There is also a small jab at what one would call “traditional” masculinity, where P Diddy catches an arrow from behind. There is a primitive, raw masculinity seen through this gesture, one that signals(along with the music accompanied) towards a James Bond-esque persona. One can see the music as being a derivation of the James Bond theme music, which would only further enhance the humorous undertones. This has many of the aspects that Leiss points out, since, up until this point, there was a seriousness towards Ciroc’s campaign, and this humor does serve to “scrub them of their seriousness” (Leiss et. Al, 532). What is also different is the focus on getting the girl. According to Messner, in ads depicting masculinity, “these beautiful women serve as potential prizes for men’s victories and proper consumption choices, they sometimes serve to validate men’s masculinity, but their validating power also holds the potential(1887). This is very apparent in this ad, albeit in a humorous way, but the exoticism of the Italian woman along with the winning and losing her aspect is still something to point out in the underlying implications of the ad.

Works Cited

Leiss, William, and Jackie Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Messner, Michael A. “The Male Consumer as Loser: Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events.” Signs. N.p.: Research Library Core, 2005. N. pag. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. Conspicuous Consumption. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign was first introduced in 1997 featuring a father and son going to a baseball game. The phenomenally well-known commercial has its signature format – two or three tangible materials given a price (i.e. “one autographed baseball. $50.”) ending with one intangible satisfactory achievement (i.e. “real conversation with 11 year-old son. Priceless.”). At the end of each MasterCard commercial is the slogan, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.” By purchasing tangible products with the credit card, the consumer is ultimately able to reach the “priceless” moments that money cannot buy. MasterCard tackles our modern society’s belief that anything and everything is possible with money. However, as much as we are part of the consumer society, we know that there still exist more important values that cannot be obtained monetarily. By using MasterCard “for everything else,” we are able to experience the “priceless.”

Through a meticulously crafted advertisement format and slogan, MasterCard significantly influenced how consumers view the brand over time, for “in a consumer society such as our own, where private business firms are the predominant institutions in the marketplace, the transmission of social cues for consumption styles is generated by these firms’ wishes to deliver messages about products and services” (Leiss, et al., 89). The corporation successfully humanized itself and appealed to the audience as MasterCard was able to stand and compete against major credit card brands including Visa and American Express.

However, as “traditional cultures have been weakened and the field of satisfaction filled with an ever-changing variety of unfamiliar, mass-produced goods,” MasterCard expanded and upgraded its campaign as a new strategy to adapt to the consumer culture and distinguish its brand. The “Priceless Cities” campaign enables consumers to experience moments that are unique to each city. The campaign initially started off in New York and is continuing to grow ever since across different cities in the world. The ideology is “to connect people to their passions, whether that’s shopping, dining, sports, travel, theater or music” (Zmuda). The revival of the pre-existing and old “Priceless” campaign that has been embedded into people’s lives for a long period of time provides a new way for people to consume; the credit card itself becomes a commodity and good. The consumer is “channeled not only through the buying of objects, but experience” that can only be attained through MasterCard (Littler, 28). As MasterCard emphasizes on the experience that follows consumption, the brand recognizes and sells several factors.

MasterCard sells a lifestyle, “a unique way of life defined by its distinctive array of values, drives, beliefs, needs, dreams and special points of view” (Leiss, et al., 240). The brand isn’t selling any lifestyle but a global and classy one that stands out from the average, middle-class. It is evident that “under conditions of modernity some individuals and groups secured status not because of their income or family pedigree, but through their ‘style of life’” (Leiss, et al., 303). MasterCard recognizes the existence of a certain leisure class and taste culture that has the time and power to spare on luxury goods and pleasure. Then, the brand democratizes luxury by providing a chance for consumers to take part of the privileged group; the unaffordable and unusual becomes available to those who are MasterCard cardholders. As consumers, we want to experience special moments and share them with our close ones that aren’t allowed to everyone. MasterCard provides such chance of feeling selected and with pleasurable experiences come the status, lifestyle and identity of belonging to a higher class.

The recognition of our culture’s conspicuous consumption and a taste culture are shown through a vicarious experience of leisure activities. The commercials “A Tasting of New York City” and “A New York City Culinary Adventure” walk the audience through exploring food culture and night life in New York City. Friends and couples enjoy luxurious dinners and cocktails at restaurants and bars with one of the best views in the city. Each and every aspect of the commercial provides a vision of conspicuous leisure, which MasterCard helps the consumer achieve. “A life of leisure is the readiest and most conclusive evidence of pecuniary strength, and therefore of superior force; provided always that the gentleman of leisure can live in manifest ease and comfort” (Veblen, 25). Such desirable lifestyle is demonstrated as restaurant/bar managers, owners and chefs interview and narrate what they have to offer to the consumers who experience them with pleasure and happiness. While those interviewers are busy working, serving and explaining how they will bring specialty to their guests, we see the groups of friends and couples relaxing and receiving full service. The contrast between the guests and the laboring class clearly shows the “evidence of wealth” as a mark of “social standing” (Veblen, 27). Moreover, for the leisure class, “time is consumed non-productively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness” (Veblen, 28). MasterCard clearly position itself as a brand of leisure and luxury by providing images of pleasure and exclusiveness through shared experiences with food and friends.

As a member of the leisure class, one must “consume freely and of the best, in food, drink…services, ornaments, apparel…” (Veblen, 46). MasterCard distinguishes its brand by providing priceless moments achieved through expensive food, sports games and concerts, all of which are leisure activities appealing to certain groups. Along with the ideology of conspicuous leisure that MasterCard promotes comes the importance of taste. “Taste identifies the individual and their choices in relationship to the diverse and changing cultural field, and those with considerable cultural capital utilize its power to assure that their tastes are recognized as being superior” (Leiss, et al., 305). The importance of having good taste is emphasized in our culture and the definition of “taste” illustrated through the campaign. In the commercial, “A New York City Culinary Adventure,” three young foodies explore the tasting menus of three selected restaurants in New York. The commercial uses food, our daily need, to enhance much deeper meanings; the focus is less on the fact that we are eating to satisfy our hunger needs but we are having a shared experience and a communion by sharing a special moment, reminiscing our childhood and creating memories to look back and cherish. MasterCard cardholders know what it is like to have good taste as “taste classifies, and it classifies the classier” (Bourdieu, 6). The commercial further shows how consumers can use taste and eating habits to distinguish themselves as a different class. There is a clear difference between “the taste of necessity, which favors the most ‘filling’ and most economical foods, and the taste of liberty – or luxury – which shifts the emphasis to the manner (of presenting, serving, eating, etc.)” (Bourdieu, 6). People of the leisure class know how to appreciate the abstraction and meaning of food as an indicator of a luxurious lifestyle. They are able to choose to enjoy the expensive tasting menus of fine dining and prove that they have the acquired taste. MasterCard successfully appeals that such desirable lifestyle of leisure consumption is possible for its cardholders as they feel like a part of the exclusive class.

MasterCard’s campaign is not limited to one component of good taste and leisure, but expands to larger scopes and categories available in different places. The commercial “James Morrison Live – Extended Cut,” recaptures the private performance of James Morrison for MasterCard cardholders. Cardholders are interviewed throughout the commercial, sharing their excitement for having such experience. 10 cardholders were invited backstage to personally meet James Morrison, in which MasterCard provides a once in a life time “priceless” moment. A cardholder who is interviewed and shown at the end of the commercial mentions that meeting James Morrison backstage is “something that money can’t buy, which is MasterCard.” These people who share the same music taste desire “freedom from the mundane and the everyday” (Leiss, et al., 484). Such leisure activity that is fun, exciting, lively and trendy sends the message that the consumer can not only have fun, but have experiences on a different level than others by implementing the privacy aspect to the party. Hence, MasterCard uses music to as an additional component to the leisure class and taste culture.

MasterCard Priceless Cities New York Campaign

“Check In to the Ball Game” Facebook campaign

MasterCard recognizes that “the world is changing. It’s a different place…Today, [MasterCard has] a new campaign that takes [us] from observing priceless moments to enabling priceless moments” (Zmuda). The most effective way to do so in today’s culture is through social media. MasterCard set up a Facebook campaign, “Check In to the Ball Game,” and used New York Yankees as the grand promotion of the “Priceless Cities” campaign. 20 seats from the Yankee stadium were located all across the city for consumers to find. Consumers who found the chairs could virtually check-in to the places in order to win VIP tickets to the Yankees game. The Facebook campaign shows the result of a close observation of “increasing detailed management of consumption and leisure time” (Manzerolle, 325). Spiking the interests of American baseball fans by presenting a prestigious opportunity related to sports definitely breaks through clutter and appeal to its audience, ultimately leading to more social awareness as the news is spread quickly across a social media platform. By accurately targeting a certain target, MasterCard was able to “both mirror the essence or will of the consumer and help create consumer wants and needs, thereby gaining market advantage over competitors” (Manzerolle, 325). In a culture full of good and commodities, “the goal is no longer simply to generate impressions but to foster engagement,” and MasterCard exactly does so by putting consumers into action (Andrejevic, 72). Through active engagement and feedback from media savvy consumers, MasterCard was able to not only create a new community that shared the same interests, but also cost efficiently advertise its brand’s benefits and collect data that they can incorporate for future campaigns. In return, MasterCard cardholders were specially rewarded with VIP treatments that classify them as a leisure class that knows how to follow the trend and live the moment by enjoying exclusive service. Because “participants are immersed in the narrative, they are distracted from the advertisement and therefore do not think critically” about the mechanism behind engaging social media as a way to launch the grand campaign of “Priceless Cities.”

While focusing on leisure activities, the “Priceless Cities” campaign spreads to different cities to show diverse for MasterCard cardholders to enjoy its benefits and rewards. “We find that advertisers preserve traces of the more stable formats inherited from the past, linking new goods and styles with traditional images of well-being,” such as “happiness of loved ones” and “good taste in judging fine foods, wines, and clothing” (Leiss, et al., 328). MasterCard has kept its original strategy of providing the “priceless” but added the upscale lifestyle to its new campaign. The expansion of the campaign to Toronto as shown through “Priceless Toronto: The Toronto Christmas Market” incorporation of Japanese culinary experiences in “A New York City Culinary Adventure” show the coming together of global cultures and concepts of “cosmopolitanism.” The kind of cosmopolitanism we see through the foodies who demonstrate the lifestyle of a leisure class “builds its ‘association of cosmopolitan globality with privilege’, and is organized around motifs such as ‘classy consumption’” (Littler, 27). Isao Yamada, the executive chef of Brushstroke, interviews in Japanese instead of English – the subtitles are provided on the commercial. Such purposeful format of the advertisement emphasizes the unique ethnic culture that follows the cuisine. Brining the Japanese culture into New York City provides the cultural experience without having to travel all the way. The culinary adventure in New York enables the consumer to become cosmopolitan, attaining knowledge of diverse cultures and engaging in classy consumption. In addition, Toronto’s Christmas market presents the “possibility of being both cosmopolitan and caring through consumption” (Littler, 23). The commercial features the holiday season, showing glimpses of the Christmas market where consumers purchase holiday goods with the MasterCard credit card. It focuses greatly on family and children as a way to remind us of the warm and joyful moments of Christmas. By associating with pleasant emotions and experiences, MasterCard establishes an approachable and humanizing identity while also implementing the cosmopolitan concept that MasterCard consumers can be “[citizens] of the world” (Littler, 23). The same experience of sharing priceless moments with loved ones can happen across cultures and cities in the world, thus allowing the coexistence of values and lifestyles.

“Advertising contributes to the creation of new symbols, and indeed, new ‘taste cultures’” (Leiss, et al., 482). What we consume, how we consume and why we consume create certain identities. The level of consumption and the quality of it determine our class, taste and lifestyle. It is evident that the exclusive offers and experiences provided by MasterCard are not everyday activities; they are special. The average person cannot afford to live such lifestyle – dine at fine restaurants, enjoy drinks at a table of a bar that overlooks Manhattan’s best views, watch live sports in VIP seating, meet a famous singer at the backstage of a concert and spend time with families on Christmas day filled with gifts. However, it is definitely a lifestyle everyone looks up to and secretly desires. Consumers of MasterCard receive unforgettable benefits for using the credit cards, living the life full of leisure and comfort. Thus, MasterCard successfully offers to bring in more “priceless” moments to the consumer’s life by breaking the restrictions of social class and  democratizing luxury, but only if the consumer is part of the “consumption community” (Leiss, et al., 69).

Work Cited

Andrejevic, Mark. “Productive Play 2.0: The Logic of In-Game Advertising.” Media International Australia 30 (2009): 66-76.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste.

Leiss, et al. Social Communication in Advertising Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Littler, Jo. “Cosmopolitan Caring.” Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: Open UP//McGraw-Hill Education, 2009. 23-49. Print.

Manzerolle, Vincent and Sandra Smeltzer. “Consumer Data Bases and the Commercial Mediation of Identity: A Medium Theory Analysis.” Surveillance and Society 8 (2011): 326. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Zmuda, Natalie. “Mastercard’s Priceless Evolution.” Advertising Age 11 Oct. 2012: n. pag. Web. <http://adage.com/article/special-report-ana-annual-meeting-2012/mastercards-priceless-evolution/237706/&gt;.

The image is taken from a screenshot of a sponsored advertisement found on the writer's Facebook news feed.

The image is taken from a screenshot of a sponsored advertisement found on the writer’s Facebook news feed.

           Formerly SeamlessWeb, Seamless is a leader in online food ordering and delivery service that allows customers to not only place their meal request with a few clicks of a mouse, but also to browse through the menus, reviews, and ratings of various restaurants in their vicinity. Designed to remedy the hassles that sometimes manifest while ordering over the phone, Seamless boasts about its accuracy, convenience and ability to provide a more informed purchase without making patrons open multiple accounts with separate businesses. Since its launch in 2000, it has partnered with over 12,000 restaurants and caters to thirteen large cities in the United States as well as London, United Kingdom. Due to its limited reach outside of urban areas, Seamless’ advertisement campaign seems to target a mentality that is often associated with big city living. It interpolates a consumer who is a young, well-educated and media-savvy professional with a comfortable salary and a liberal mindset. Although this audience appears to be every advertiser’s dream in theory, this market is also the most difficult to reach due to its jaded perspective on consumerism. Therefore, it is worthwhile to explore how Seamless successfully mobilizes this public to endorse its product.

164415_10151555206363816_679156630_n          Why would Seamless perceive these young adults as desirable targets? From an advertisers’ perspective, these consumers strike the perfect balance between youth and income stability. As part of the maturing generation, they hold a considerable amount of power within popular culture in terms of setting trends for other markets. In American society, youth is associated with positive ideals such as beauty, carefreeness and individualism, hearkening back to a time when everything felt possible. By oppositional nature, aging is held to be a negative process that no one wishes to endure. Therefore, those who can slow down their “decline” are seen as possessing more cultural value. “Youthfulness, or what might be labeled youngness—a nostalgic and fantasized state of looking and feeling young without having any of the cares and concerns that youth actually face—has a strong appeal for many older individuals” (Leiss et al. 319). Advertisers tap into this anxiety by employing youth as a selling point in their campaigns to capture those who long to be young again and who believe that lifestyle choices are a better indicator of age than a birth certificate. Consequently, if Seamless seeks to expand its target market in the future, it is best to first win over the youth as the other generations will likely follow suit in an attempt to relive their heyday.

about_seamless_couple          Advertisements often focus on professionals just entering into their careers because of their assumedly substantial amount of disposable income. “Forty-six million people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine years already had an annual collective spending power of $125 billion” (Turow 78). Those who fall into this age range normally are not expected to support families and thus have the luxury of dishing out their salary on commodities for reasons other than necessity. Raising children is an expensive endeavor that requires parents to budget their cash more closely in preparation for the future and to put their offsprings’ needs before their own. This lack of responsibility for young adult consumers, who are typically known for living in the present, allows them to base financial decisions solely on their own personal satisfaction, which may include acquiring an item for its newness or aesthetics as opposed to its practicality. There is not much tying these individuals down, so they can be flexible with their purse strings by experimenting with different products on whim. As a result, young professionals as a public set the trends for other markets and use their comfortable salary to fuel and indulge in them. They, “Who are for the most part, are so damn rich that they can afford to stay on top of all the coolest culture trends” (Klein 81). Aware of this audience’s influence and expendable cash, companies like Seamless seek to capitalize on this strong revenue stream as it provides a means to stay viable in a competitive economy and the potential to reach other generational groups.

578201_10151541370543816_774378496_n          Despite being a lucrative target, well-educated young adults, part of the broader marketing group Generation X, are very difficult to court because of their disbelief and resistance towards advertisements and consumerism in general. Having grown up in an age when consumption is understood as a way of life and television is a major source of information, these individuals have learned the tricks of the advertising trade and have become wary of companies’ ulterior motives. “They have been consuming media since they were born, and they are experts at it. It is almost impossible to fool them and they do not like to hype or succumb to it…They’ve seen through our little strategies and they know who pays our bills. They relish the fact that unlike previous generations, they recognize advertising for what it is—a grub-by sales pitch” (Leiss 471). Consumer culture attaches values and narratives to commodities that they do not intrinsically have, giving shoppers another reason to buy the items beyond their practicality (Marx 321). To differentiate themselves from other comparable products, brands constantly borrow messages commonplace in other contexts of society that enable brands to align themselves with associations already in circulation. For example, Seamless posted to its Facebook page an advertisement of a large piece of sushi being held up by two chopsticks reading “You know what they say about really big sushi…really big chopsticks”. The text alludes to the commonly used phrase “You know what they say about men with big feet…big socks”. By copying the formula of a well-known expression, Seamless helps the reader recognize the connection and therefore appreciate the joke. However, this “seemingly endless process of cannibalizing and lifting isolated images from previous media references and reassembling them in pastiche form” has caused a cultural crisis as the world became littered with superficial meanings that are too vague and oblique to be understood by consumers (Goldman and Papson 93). In addition, Generation X believes that advertisers are manipulative by instilling false needs that individuals do not actually have or want just to make money. Disgruntled by the system’s empty phrases and lack of concern for the consumer, the media-literate and media-saturated professionals adopted an “I’m over it; It is not going to work on me” attitude towards blatant promotional appeals. These alienated spectators are rightfully skeptical of consumerism and lack a connection with advertising, prompting Seamless and other brands to search for different message tactics to prove their trustworthiness to the public while still distinguishing themselves from competitors within the cluttered marketplace.

          Although services including Seamless recognize their target audience’s distrust of advertisements, they cannot completely turn away from consumption as it is the hegemonic ideology that pays their bills. Accordingly, Seamless has employed a form of hip consumerism, “Anti-advertising: a style which harnesses public mistrust of consumerism”, that recognizes the alienation and disgust people are feeling without rejecting the cultural order all together (Frank, “Cultural Criticism” 55). It channels the critique to encourage consumers to continue consuming despite being aware of all the contradictions the social system perpetuates. Within the framework that consumption can solve all maladies, the young professionals are asked to use commodities as an apparatus through which they implement the societal and political change they wish to see. To achieve this goal of “dissenting without subverting or questioning the cultural faiths of Western business”, Seamless applies humor to the cynicism found in their advertisements as a way to answer Generation X’s cry to be hailed differently than they have been historically (Frank, “Can’t Dissent” 44).

Seamless Valentine's Day Advertisement

Seamless Valentine’s Day Advertisement

Delivery.com Valentine's Day Advertisement

Delivery.com Valentine’s Day Advertisement

11630_10151618752193816_1465816367_n-1          Comedy is a technique often exercised to promote disposable products, especially in the over-saturated food and drink industry. Since many edibles do not differ much qualitatively from their competitors, it produces another reason to support a particular brand by appealing to the mindset of the targeted spectator. “In the hotly competitive advertising industry, advertisers struggle to differentiate their images…joining the meaning of a brand-name product to the meaning of a socially charged image” (Goldman and Papson 82). Grubhub and Delivery.com offer the same digital convenience as Seamless, but because Seamless engages its audience through its great sense of humor, consumers may be more inclined to use the site over the other “boring” choices. As a result, the humor becomes the selling point, placing the actual commodity on the back burner. In many cases, reference to the product may be completely absent from the advertisement as in a picture Seamless posted on its Facebook page of the new definition of girlfriend. Seamless’ logo is nowhere to be found and no mention is made of the food delivery service, allowing the advertisement to be associated with essentially any company if the context is not considered. “This decentering of the product is perhaps the most common way of presenting the brand in the Gen X as, for it is non-obtrusive and complimentary to its audience, addressing the new consumer’s desire for less hucksterism and a more useful, tasteful, and targeted promotional strategy” (Leiss 489). Young adult consumers feel less threatened by the brand as its motives appear more sincere and less commercially charged on the surface. Seamless’ employment of humor diverts the media-literate’s attention away from detecting the cultural contradictions that may be lurking within their campaign toward the feelings of authenticity and intellectuality, both highly regarded by the group, that typically arise from this technique.

          As a generation that is deemed to have been “baby-sat” by television, it is no wonder that young professionals respond positively to advertisements that amuse them (Leiss 471). Highly attuned to entertainment and popular culture, they are familiar with the puffery that is in circulation and distrust it. Longing for authenticity, they seek refuge in humor and straight talk, the powerful tools they implement to communicate with their friends. Therefore, advertisers tap into this avenue acting as consumers’ confidantes to regain this group’s trust. As in the “One Flaw” advertisement, Seamless’ Sir Pancake Benedict speaks to viewers in their own words by dramatically enacting a review posted by a real user on their website. If the brand can successfully channel the values praised by the group, the brand is believed to have deserved their loyalty. “Entertaining presentations, then, produced on the Xers own terms, proved to be the olive branch marketers needed to gain legitimacy. According to one youth marketer, ‘Xers are willing to strike a pact with us, and that pact is, if creatives humor and entertain the Gen X viewer then they will stay, watch, and even actively engage with the ad” (Leiss 482).

Seamless Referring to the Viral Youtube Video of Sweet Brown

Seamless Referring to the Viral Youtube Video of Sweet Brown

          Seamless speaks to the audience as comrades by poking fun at current cultural events, which helps it gain authenticity and their trust. In general, friends are believed to be less likely to take advantage of friends. By “talking with” as opposed to “talking at” the audience, Seamless seems less likely to pursue the selfish manipulation expected of businesses in America. To remain in conversation with the media-savvy, Seamless’ advertising must “draw upon audiences’ stocked knowledge of popular codes to present visual puns” (Leiss 483). For example, the digital service capitalizes on memes and viral videos to appeal to these alienated spectators. By identifying Seamless’ reference to Sweet Brown and other social media phenomena, the media-savvy youths are expected mentally say to themselves, “Hey, remember that funny song on Youtube ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’ your friend showed you the other day? Seamless watched it too. It gets us, so you should check the company out because it is one of us.” Combating the pervasive portrayal of businesses being solely money-hungry powerhouses, Seamless attempts to gain the young professionals’ trust by positioning itself through humor as “…not an oppressor but a sponsor of fun, provider of lifestyle accoutrements, facilitator of carnival, our slang speaking partner in the quest for that ever-more apocalyptic orgasm” (Frank, “Can’t Dissent” 34).


          In the same vein, Seamless draws on humor to cleverly appeal to the intellect of the well-educated professionals. More so than other generational groups, the young adult consumers living in urban areas have “higher levels of education, wider access to cultural institutions, and higher income” on average (Leiss 519-520). Therefore, they appreciate when advertisers acknowledge that they are too smart to fall into the traditional trappings of commercialism. Seamless addresses the audience as a smart consumers by requiring the reader to piece together the cultural clues on their own in order to understand the joke. By not spelling out the punchline, advertisers are gaining their respect and attention since, “Self generated resolution to the ambiguity and incongruity of the message may enhance favorable brand attitudes, because in solving the symbolic puzzle, the subject is able to congratulate himself on his astuteness” (Leiss 503-504). Seamless’ Watergate ad attempts to appeal to an educated consumer with this historical reference. To be “in” on the pun demands the reader to possess a working knowledge of the political scandal involving Richard Nixon in the 1970s. “They are able to comprehend and find pleasure in texts complicated by ironic, cynical, double meanings and intertextuality…” (Leiss 517). The alienated spectators value companies that do not treat them as mindless clones who are just another cog in Corporate America’s machine.

          Through humor, Seamless seeks to have its cake and eat it too while targeting the most influential, but simultaneously the most jaded audience. Urban, young professionals possess a substantial amount of disposable income that lures advertisers to them. However, due to their proficiency in the inner workings of consumerism, they are immune to the conventional advertising tactics of consumer opulence. To engage these alienated individuals, Seamless “speaks to them in their language and on their own terms…” by satisfying their desire to be entertained and hailed as cultural critic (Goldman and Papson 91).

Work Cited

Frank, Thomas. “Advertising as Cultural Criticism: Bill Bernbach Versus the Mass Society.” The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1997. 52-73. Print.

—. “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent.” Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler. New York: Norton, 1997. 31-45. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The Consumer Society Reader. New York, NY: New, 2000. 81-97. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt.Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool.” No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Canada: Knopf Canada, Picador, 1999. 63-85. Print.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.” Capital. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952. 319-29. Print.

Turow, Joseph. “Mapping A Fractured Society.” Breaking up America: Advertisers and the New Media World. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1997. 55-89. Print.

Jen Kattar

Tide “Loads of Hope” Campaign Analysis

         On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans with devastation. Claiming over a thousand lives and causing massive destruction, Katrina has been called “one of the deadliest hurricanes ever to hit the United States” (Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage and Aftermath). After weakening, the storm eventually moved into Mississippi, showing the state far more mercy than it had shown Louisiana. In the wake of the aftermath, many in New Orleans were left facing incredible loss-death and injury of friends and loved ones, damage to property, and even destruction of homes entirely. In this time, Tide took action with a “Loads of Hope” event, funded by their context-relevant campaign . Claiming that “like clothes, hope comes in all sizes”, Tide provided a mobile laundromat for those in need after Katrina, consisting of 32 energy-efficient washers and dryers capable of doing over 300 loads of laundry per day, as well as workers and volunteers that would sort, wash, dry, fold, and package Katrina’s victim’s clothing. But Tide’s contribution to charity doesn’t end there; Tide has also provided mobile “Loads of Hope” laundromats and products for victims of the wildfires in San Diego, CA in 2008, Hurricane Gustav in Baton Rouge, LA in 2008, and Hurricane Sandy in NY and NJ in 2012, as well as those affected by many other natural disasters. In order to provide this help, though, Tide relies on the profits from their customers of “Loads of Hope” products, which  are marketed through a carefully constructed, cause-related campaign.

         In “Cosmopolitan Caring: Globalization, Charity and the Activist Consumer”, Littler discusses cause-related marketing and the consequences that rise out of it. It is a practice that seems to defy the very goal it sets out to achieve. “First, causes are selected in terms of how they will provide added value to the brand “ (Littler 31). This means that even organizations that provide an incredible amount of aid will not be considered if they are not in public interest or non-profit. In this way, cause-related marketing commodifies charity, making it marketable and available to capitalize on, and altruism becomes and experience that can be bought and displayed for others to see. Companies spend an immense amount of money to advertise for cause-related campaigns, when, if the company was truly concerned with the well-being of victims rather than making a profit, donating that money instead would clearly be a more efficient act. Additionally, Tide’s cause-related campaign targets “symptoms rather than core problems” (Littler 31). For example, instead of providing aid to return running water and rebuild homes (in order to make clean laundry a possibility for everyone), Tide provides a temporary patch for a symptom. This cause-related campaign is constructed  in a number of ways.

         First and foremost, Tide establishes a product identity for their cause-related campaign, and I think a “Loads of Hope” commercial released directly after hurricane Katrina illustrates this nicely.

          Leiss points out four ways in which product identity is constructed.. First, Tide has a slogan: “Loads of Hope”. This is witty, charming, and a play on words. Additionally, “hope” is a fantastic example of words being used as anchors, in which “mobile and playful words…[call] attention to themselves as signs in their own right” (Goldman and Papson 29). This entire campaign, amplifying the effect that clean laundry can have on a natural disaster survivor. “Hope” serves as an anchor for the consumer to dream up a future for any victim; this survivor could regain his life and become something great. It prompts the consumer to think of dreams, strength, and perseverance as being related to freshness and cleanliness, which stands in stark contrast to the visuals of debris, dirt, and destruction in this ad. Secondly, Tide establishes its product identity through association. “Loads of Hope” is closely tied to thoughts of relief, help, and altruism, and every consumer will feel great about their selfless contribution. This is supported with testimonials in the commercial, both by victims that express gratefulness at the help that Loads of Hope has provided, but also from volunteers who are proud to help. However, the campaign as a whole suggests you, the viewer at home, can be appreciated just as much as the volunteers on site by purchasing the Loads of Hope products, perpetuating the idea that charity can purchased, rather than performed personally. Third, Tide uses contiguity by making known their partnership with the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross is already a company that is seen as respectable and charitable, and therefore serves as a kind of source of authority and testimonial to the consumer, who is urged to trust Tide since the American Red Cross does. Lastly, Tide uses testimonials from both volunteers and victims, which I’ve just mentioned. The volunteers speak about being committed to their work and being proud to be helping such a great cause, and the victims express gratefulness at the altruism of the volunteers, Tide, and everyone who has helped. This soothes consumers’ possible fears about the actual impact of their contribution, and establishes Tide as a company that will spend consumer’s money wisely in charitable events.

         I believe that the Loads of Hope truck is a kind of crystallization of this identity, in itself.

Photo from Zimbio.com

          The fact that Tide is not discreetly and humbly traveling to the sites of these disasters to help says something very important. Rather, they arrive in a large, orange truck with orange vans. Their logo is printed on everything. The truck takes on a personification, capturing the identity of the brand and appearing as a kind of savior (perhaps even more of a hero than the actual volunteers working at the trucks) for both victims and spectators of the situation.

Photo from Medianewsandviews.com

         By establishing an identity for their “Loads of Hope” products, Tide has captured a following who exist within an imagined “consumption community” (Leiss 69) of “ethical consumerism” (Littler 29). They are the “cosmopolitan consumers” (Littler 23), those who have the money and free time to travel and learn about and experience different cultures and lifestyles. They are open-minded and care about humanity as well as the environment (Tide boasts energy efficient washers/dryers that speak to environmentally concerned consumers). In this way, they hold a kind of “cultural capital” (Bourdieu xx) in purchasing “Loads of Hope” products.  The distinctive yellow cap of “Loads of Hope” detergent makes the product a positional good, serving as not only an eye-catcher for those around the consumer, and therefore as a tool to carry out conspicuous consumption (Veblen), but as an obstacle for the consumer as well. Anyone who wants to contribute to the cause must specifically choose the bottle with the yellow cap, and this association with being an active consumer only amplifies the consumer’s self-identity as an active member of the cause.


Photo from Mandersonalumni.org                                                                                        Photo from Activerain.com

          “Loads of Hope” purchasable t-shirts serve as positional goods, as well, telling those around the consumer just how to relate to him and where to place him in society. In this case, the consumer is positioned as caring, socially aware, and a critical thinker. In this way, the products serve as “cultural intermediaries” (Leiss 47), associating the product with the altruistic way of life. Marx calls this “commodity fetishism”, for we attach meanings (in this case, altruism) to products that are not intrinsically there. Although detergent simply cleans the clothes we wear, Tide has become associated with charity, as well as national and global concern, even though these meanings aren’t inherent in the products, themselves. Additionally, Tide gets these meanings across fairly quickly in its ads through what Goldman and Papson call “accelerated meaning”. This is accomplished by constructing socially understood frameworks within which we can decode the meanings, and “once the commercial narrative framework is accepted as unproblematic, we are able to routinely decipher and evaluate the combination of meanings that commercials advance as potential sign currency” (Goldman and Papson 1-2). Tide doesn’t explain how their product works in their “Loads of Hope” campaign. They are assuming the consumer already knows how to use their product, but that isn’t enough to get a potential consumer to buy it. A story needs to be painted fairly quickly, whether its in the 30-second spot of a commercial or the quick glimpse of a print ad. Tide’s ads being context-relevant work well for getting meanings across quickly. Chances are, consumers already know about devastating incidents worldwide. They are already feeling shocked, sad, and obligated to help. All Tide needs to do is tap into those pre-existing feelings.

         This imagined community, whose members can immediately be identified by the t-shirts or yellow-capped detergents, leads to a world that is “socially constructed” (Goldman and Papson 18), which is just the first of four ways in which ads are ideological, according to Goldman and Papson. I believe that one of the “Loads of Hope awareness” commercials best illustrates this, and I refer to it as an “awareness” commercial simply because it does not focus on any one instance of aid it has given, but spreads awareness of the campaign in general.

          In this world, survivors of the disaster have an enormously increased chance of getting their lives back together and being happy again because their laundry is being done. This is addressed in the very first line of the commercial: “Laundry is more than fabric”. Here, words are used as anchors to show what laundry is. Laundry is home, comfort, family, and hope, just to name a few. As I’ve said, these words are anchored to strong feelings of empathy. Disasters destroy homes and comfort is ripped away, families are separated and hope can seem sparse. These words compel the viewer to feel obligated to help restore these things by purchasing the Loads of Hope products. Additionally, Tide fits into this world as a company that is not concerned at all with profit, but with the well being of families. Secondly, ads are ideological by “[disguising]… inequalities, injustices…and contradictions” (Goldman and Papson 18). This campaign entirely ignores the vast amount of people who cannot afford to wash their clothes regardless of natural disasters. Third, a normative view of the world is promoted in a couple of ways. In a “normative vision of our world” (Goldman and Papson 18), having a well-groomed exterior and looking “put together” reflects having a life that is also put together, and cleanliness is associated with respectability. This particular commercial states multiple times that “Tide is renewing hope by providing clean clothes”, and sentence alone exemplifies the connection between looking admirable and having an admirable lifestyle. Also, the word “families” is emphasized throughout this campaign and especially within this commercial, but in this normative world, the family is heterosexual with one or two kids, and this is precisely what Tide portrays in this ad. In fact, this commercial is opened with and based around a small child being lovingly held and played with by his heterosexual parents, evoking a “what if” situation in the viewer, as in: “what if this child needed my help?” or “what if the children that are victims to these disasters don’t have anyone to care for them like this?” Lastly, Tide ads are ideological in their reflection of the “logic of capital” (Goldman and Papson 18). Consumption is portrayed as a solution to problems, and people feel compelled to help, not by going to the locations, but by purchasing Tide’s detergent at their local supermarket.

          Having provided aid in New York, New Jersey, Los Angelos, California, and countless other locations, Tide’s “Loads of Hope” campaign has built a platform of positive credibility and reliability. Although I am a bit skeptical and critical of the values the campaign promises to hold, I do believe that Tide has effectively constructed an identity and campaign for their “Loads of Hope” products. And while I can appreciate the construction of their identity, I think it is important to keep in mind with this campaign and any campaign, for that matter, that identity, values, associated consumer communities are just that: constructions.

Works cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Paris: Routledge, 1984. Print.

Goldman, Robert and Stephen Papson. Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning. New York: Guilford Press, 1996. Print

“Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage and Aftermath.” Livescience. Kim Ann Zimmermann. 20 August 2012.

Leiss, William, et al. Social Communication in Advertising. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Littler, Jo. Radical consumption: Shopping for change in contemporary culture. England: McGraw-Hill Education, 2009. Print.

Marx, Karl. The Fetishism of Commodities.  1867. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. Conspicuous Consumption. New York: Penguin Books, 2005 Print.

To celebrate the hundredth year anniversary of the Converse sneaker, Converse launched its global “Connectivity” campaign in 2008.  This particular campaign was in celebration of the heritage of the brand and how the meaning behind the Converse shoe had transformed over the course of a century, while the design of the shoe stayed relatively the same.  The Connectivity campaign used black and white print advertisements, outdoor images, digital media, and even an original song and music video to reach out to the young, edgy demographic that Converse targets.  The campaign used images of influential musicians from past decades that wore Converse as well as more contemporary artists that wear Converse to emphasize a feeling of connectedness between the past and the present. The campaign’s mission was to “provoke” or encourage youth to break away from the mainstream and to be unique.

The original Converse All Star shoe was created in the early 1900’s as a shoe for basketball players.  In the 1920’s Chuck Taylor became the spokesperson for Converse and for the next few decades the Converse sneaker was the leading sneaker in basketball.  During the 1960’s and 1970’s the sneaker began to shift from sports footwear to casual footwear and became a symbol for the punk and grunge subcultures. Most notably, the Converse shoe was worn by the band, The Ramones as well as by Kurt Kobain from Nirvana. Jack Boys, Converse CEO, stated, “Converse is the footwear company that was first in sports and first in rock ‘n’ roll, and we will continue to be the brand that inspires originality for the next 100 years.” The Converse brand wanted to celebrate its rich heritage through the Connectivity campaign. The Executive Creative Director at Anomaly, Mike Byrne, described the campaign, “We’re celebrating 100 years of Converse and the people who disturbed the status quo; they’re all connected via the Chuck Taylor. It gets back to the idea that every artist is connected to everyone else.” This global Connectivity campaign hit over seventy five countries and the advertisements were customized for specific geographical regions.  Different celebrity icons were used in different countries in order to best appeal to the people of that specific region.  The CMO of Converse, Geoff Cottrill, sums up the campaign, “Our whole mission is to inspire originality and be an advocate and catalyst for creativity.”

The imagery used within the Converse advertisements is extremely important in that it allows consumers to make sense of the product within the context of our society.  All advertisements act as cultural intermediaries or in other words, help to connect people with goods and allow them to make sense of these goods within their culture. In this day and age, consumers are bombarded with so many advertisements that it must be made easy for them to interpret meaning from the images they are presented with, quickly and efficiently.  According to Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, “Celebrities are usually sought because they have high potential sign value…In recent years advertising has appropriated nostalgia, hip-hop music, grunge, and feminist sensibilities” (Goldman & Papson, 88). The Converse Connectivity campaign based most of its advertisements around celebrity musicians, which allowed consumers to quickly understand what the Converse brand and the campaign itself was all about.  Celebrities are often used to endorse products because consumers are generally more willing to buy a product that their favorite celebrity has.

For example, we can look at two print advertisements that Converse used for the campaign featuring Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and Ian Curtis from Joy Division.  The Sex Pistols initiated the punk movement in the United Kingdom, while Joy Division led the post-punk movement of the late 1970’s.

sid ian

Both Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis are iconic rock ‘n’ roll musicians that rebelled against the mainstream and inspired millions of people with their music.  These two artists encompass the qualities that Converse believes their consumers should strive to have. The text next to the image of Ian Curtis reads, “Joy Division singer. Inspired by the menace and music of influential punks, before becoming one himself.” They make it obvious that these two icons are rebellious rock stars from the punk era.  Goldman and Papson write, “Advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value” (Goldman & Papson, 81). This is the case in the Connectivity campaign because by placing these well known images in the advertisements, the consumer can easily take away the meaning behind the Converse brand just by looking at the images for a few seconds.

The way in which Converse used posthumous images of these icons for the campaign can be considered “cultural cannibalism,” which is when well known cultural images are integrated into advertising to easily communicate a message (Goldman & Papson).  While the obvious, surface level meaning is that Converse are edgy, alternative sneakers worn by punk rockers, when taking a deeper look at the lives of both Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis, one would quickly find out that they both ended up committing suicide.  This makes them considerably bold choices for these ads, whether or not it was consciously taken into consideration how they died.  Regardless, it further emphasizes the type of person who Converse is targeting with their ads, which may be an antiestablishment or counterculture young adult who does not necessarily follow the rules.

When a consumer buys any product, especially a pair of Converse, they are choosing to buy into that specific brand, which in turn communicates a specific message about themselves to the rest of society.  In “Consumption is Good for Thinking,” García Canclini writes, “We should acknowledge that consumption contributes to the integrative and communicative rationality of society” (Canclini, 40). In other words, consumption itself has an extreme communicative power.  Choosing to buy Converse sneakers allows the consumer to communicate specific messages about him or herself to society. For example, by wearing Converse sneakers the consumer is conveying a message that he or she thinks outside the box, is creative, and artistic.  More specifically that he or she is connected to these iconic musicians, even if it is just by wearing the same brand of sneakers.

Looking further into the idea of connectedness through the Converse sneaker, we can look at a billboard that was featured during the campaign in Berlin, Germany.


The billboard shows celebrities from the past and present all lined up, wearing Converse shoes, with their feet overlapping.  The celebrities include, Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday, Joan Jett, James Dean, Sid Vicious, and more. This billboard shows the literal “connecting” of the artists through the overlapping of their shoes.  Through this ad, Converse is creating a sense of community that transcends time; all of these icons from different eras are linked together, literally and figuratively.

According to William Leiss and others, advertisements usually fall within one of four formats. The Converse Connectivity campaign best illustrates the personalized format.  This format emphasizes who uses the product and how it is used. All of the icons used in this campaign represent the “type” of person that would buy Converse sneakers.  Leiss and others write, “A person’s role, or even just fame, provides the connection between the product and its recommendation” (Leiss, et al., 186). The Connectivity campaign illustrates how influential musicians used the sneaker to differentiate themselves from the mainstream. The consumer may believe that since all these influential icons have worn or do wear Converse, he or she should as well.

For the most part, the Connectivity campaign targets a younger demographic.  Advertising to a youth market is different than it has ever been in the past because today’s youth have grown up being bombarded with advertising and have become somewhat savvy or even resistant to some advertising. They want what is “cool” or the next big thing, which makes them a very profitable demographic yet, a demographic that is hard to keep up with.  A large portion of the Connectivity campaign is the use of subcultures of the past to appeal to the edgy youth market of today.  Leiss describes what has become popular for youth markets today and writes, “The raw, authentic feel and look of the street and the margins became new sources of style innovation” (Leiss, 318).  Converse seems to be tapping into this look in order to target youth with the message that being different is something to strive for.  Decades ago, the idea of a subculture was a group of youth rebelling against the establishment, whereas subcultures today are very much aware that they are technically buying into an image.  In no way were subcultures of the past targeted by marketers as they are today. Klein writes, “Selling out is not only accepted, it’s considered hip” (Klein, 65).  Youth today may have a better acceptance of advertising and understand that the consumer culture that we live in is inevitable.

According to Klein,  “Cool, alternative, young, hip — whatever you want to call it — was the perfect identity for product-driven companies looking to become transcendent image-based brands” (Klein, 68).  Converse uses this very tactic to target youths by being alternative and edgy. Though, since many companies have branded themselves as edgy, Converse wanted to take it a step further placing a huge emphasis on music in the Connectivity campaign.  Not only did they use iconic musicians in many of their ads but one crucial aspect of the Connectivity campaign that set Converse apart from other advertising campaigns, was their creation of an original song and music video.  The song “My Drive Thru” was a collaboration between Santogold, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), and Pharrell Williams and was written specifically for the Connectivity Campaign.

The song is catchy, upbeat, and is accompanied by a music video, which features all three of the artists wearing Converse sneakers. The song is about having fun and dancing in the summer. The video is all black and white, which reinforces the Connectivity campaign’s emphasis on the past.  By adding music as an integral part of the campaign, it amplified the message by associating a song with the Converse brand.  The lyrics include lines that emphasize independence and free-thinking like, “Don’t hate me, you know they got you wired. You’d better short circuit, be your own program.” A free download of the song was offered on the Converse website, which made this accessible to anyone with internet access.  In recent years, music has really becoming an innovative way to advertise; it is especially effective because people easily associate music with emotions and memories and in this case, a brand. Furthermore, having three artists of different genres create a song together supports the overarching theme of the Connectivity campaign in its mix of celebrities from different time periods and genres of music.

In order to further the interactive experience between the consumer and the product, the Connectivity campaign created a unique web experience for their customers.  Digital agency, Perfect Fools, launched an interactive social networking website in Amsterdam for Converse that targeted music festival attendees. The site enabled music lovers to share their experiences, photos, and videos from different music festivals throughout the summer for others to view, through the Converse website.


This form of digital advertising speaks to Daniel Bornstein’s concept of “consumption communities” (Leiss, et al, 69).  A consumption community is a group of people who share similar taste preferences or consume similar goods. Converse aimed to bring consumers together on a global scale through the internet on the basis of their similar tastes in shoes as well as music, which “connected” people in a way that transcended the barriers of geography. Much advertising is moving in this direction because it is easier to target more specific audiences online and in this case, people can choose whether they would like to take part or not.

Converse’s 2008 Connectivity campaign used innovative strategies to appeal to an edgy, youthful demographic.  By using images of rebellious icons of past decades and past subcultures alongside icons of today, the campaign emphasized the longevity of the Converse brand.  They created a sense of community between their consumers through their interactive online sites as well as original music and traditional print ads. In celebration of one hundred years, Converse encourages pushing boundaries and going against the grain just like all of the Converse wearers of the past.  Converse would agree that in order to evoke change in the world, you may need to bend the rules and think outside the box.

Works Cited

Canclini, García. “Consumption Is Good For Thinking.” Consumers and Citizens. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 37-97. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The Consumer Society Reader (1996): 81-98. Web.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt. Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool.” No Logo (2000): 63-85. Web.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising. Third ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Brittany Welch

      7 For All Mankind (or 7FAM, for short), is a high-end denim retailer based in Southern California.  Since the company launched in the Fall of 2000, 7FAM has strived to establish itself as a brand worn by the rich and famous—or at least anyone who wants to be perceived as such.  Using its proximity to the Hollywood Hills to the company’s advantage, 7FAM has succeeded in tapping into (and manufacturing) a lifestyle of Los Angeles leisure.  One that might entail, for example, throwing on a pair of 7 Bootcut’s to dash to the nearest Coffee Bean, and spotting Jessica Alba as she orders a skim milk latte in her Classic Straight Leg 7’s (Celebrities! They’re just like us). 

       Now, thirteen years later, 7FAM continues on a tradition of mainlining Hollywood glamour with their Spring/Summer ’13 campaign, entitled “A Beautiful Odyssey”. 

Image       This campaign marks the company’s second, highly publicized endeavor with actor/writer/jack-of-all-media-trades James Franco.  The project relies heavily on an Internet presence, with some print ads to supplement.  “A Beautiful Odyssey” is at its core an interactive, social media film experiment self-described as a “… film envisioned by James Franco, inspired by the poetry of William Blake.”  The story follows two denim-clad lovers on their way to the altar, as they must overcome an obstacle and either reconcile or be torn apart—a fate that was left to be determined by voters via Facebook.  The campaign launched in March, culminating in two mini-films that debuted a month later, on April 25th, 2013.  Through a thorough examination of 7FAM’s S/S ’13 campaign, I will illustrate how “A Beautiful Odyssey” is a carefully crafted example of “marketing that thinks it is culture” (Klein, 66), that strives to cash in on cultural capital and interpellate its audience through heavily coded messages.  

 Image(James Franco, from Interview magazine)

       The most integral part of properly contextualizing this campaign hinges upon an understanding of how advertisements can be viewed as cultural texts.  Unlike some of Franco’s other films, “A Beautiful Odyssey” requires a more critical viewing than, say, Pineapple Express”.  A Hollywood blockbuster might certainly be trying to sell an audience on products besides the film itself, but the ultimate goal of filmmaking is to produce entertainment for consumption.  Franco’s mini-films for 7FAM have reverse objectives: sell jeans first and entertain second.  Viewers play an important role in the process of interpreting and assigning meaning to advertisements.  The ways in which they do this can be broken down through modes of analysis, perhaps most suitably by semiotic analysis.  This theory suggests that “…we are not mere bystanders in the advertising process, but participants in creating a code that unites the designer and reader…if we are not adequately aware of the relevant referent system, we will not be able to decode the message” (Leiss, et. al, 164). 

       Indeed, decoding the trailer for “A Beautiful Odyssey” reveals a system of signs that will only resonate with a viewer in the intended way if he or she is familiar with the set of cultural values and trends being transmitted.  The video opens on a grainy shot of two young lovers canoodling happily, as the text “A Beautiful Odyssey” lays over them. 

Image(still of film trailer, from 7FAM YouTube channel)

       A nostalgic synthpop melody plays in the background, while a collection of clips flashes across the screen in an accelerated sequence (similar to something one might observe while watching a music video).  Everything about the stylistic elements are consistent with the retro vibes and quirks that have come to define contemporary commercialized indie culture.  A quick trip to any Urban Outfitters should suffice as evidence.  While the process of reaching this conclusion might seem intuitive, it actually requires an active engagement with the signs of the video.  For example, if we take the background song as a sign, we understand that at its basic signifier level, it is a song being used to provide a soundtrack for the film.  What is being signified depends on the viewer’s knowledge of the song, but perhaps they might recognize that it is “Cherry” by the Chromatics, and then recall that the Chromatics are a synthpop band from Portland (aka indie Mecca), and/or perhaps even associate them with that time they saw them at Pitchfork’s Music Festival, or some other indie music fest.  All of these potential associations are what we can call the signified, and they are very much intentional.  As Barthes writes in his seminal text, The Rhetoric of the Image, “…in advertising the signification of the image is undoubtedly intentional; the signifieds of the advertising message are formed a priori by certain attributes of the product and these signifieds have to be transmitted as clearly as possible” (15).  Of course, in his discussion Barthes is referring to still images, which are more constrained than the moving images of this video.  However, the interaction of the aforementioned song and the images of the film trailer are clearly being used to transmit signified messages, making Barthes’ argument relevant to this discussion.   The process of identifying the signifier and the signified illuminates how meanings and cultural values are projected onto a product.  In this case, 7FAM’s “A Beautiful Odyssey” trailer is loaded with signs that signify indie-ness/hipness, with the intention of projecting traits that are associated with that subculture onto their product, in order to appeal to a demographic that identifies with (or wishes to identify with) that particular subculture.   As with all advertisements, everything is constructed in the hopes of one ultimate goal: interpellating viewers to gain customers.

       The speed at which these messages can be transmitted effectively to viewers is absolutely crucial to the success of the campaign, especially in the digital/modern age.   With “A Beautiful Odyssey”, 7FAM is attempting to cut through the noise of the overcrowded and inundated modern advertising landscape, by using James Franco as a brand ambassador and a pseudo indie-film format to formulate a commodity narrative.  Franco’s celebrity status and iconography is easily identifiable, and works to create a powerful commodity sign for the 7FAM brand.  This is by virtue of the fact that, “…advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value: brand-name commodity + meaning of = a commodity sign” (Goldman and Papson, 81).   By marketing “A Beautiful Odyssey” as a film project by James Franco, 7FAM have provided viewers who are familiar with the Franco brand a hefty incentive to watch the mini-film saga unfold.  Furthermore, those who follow his career will have noticed his detour from the mainstream and temporary retreat into the indie film world with projects like Howl.  In other words, through a process which Goldman and Papson refer to as “cultural cannibalism” (88), Franco brings instant indie cred and socio-cultural value to the 7FAM campaign, making him an ideal commodity sign and celebrity spokesperson.   

       In order to keep viewers attention, the campaign calls upon audience participation, and uses a voter-driven format, beginning with Chapter One of the mini-film installment.  Here we are given more information about the couple in question, and asked to decide which “obstacle” the two altar-bound lovers will have to face. 

Image(still of Chapter One video, from 7FAM YouTube Channel)

       The first video was released in early March, and asked voters to pick between two options: either the couple gets torn apart by pre-wedding jitters, or by the resurfacing of a past lover (to be played by former hockey player turned fashion icon, Sean Avery).  Unsurprisingly, viewers selected the option with rock-hard abs.  The “dark secret love” portion of the campaign, as 7FAM referred to Avery’s role, was also supported by a sprawling print ad that ran in fashion magazines targeted at a young hip demographic, such as Nylon.  The composition, which ran in the 2013 March issue, features two very similar, simplistic ads, with one enormous fold-out in between. 

Image(photo of Nylon ad by Nicolette Harris)

       The middle ad is printed on thick cardstock, and features a shirtless Sean Avery on one side, and several photos of the film shoot on the other.  This print ad is, in a word, a spectacle.  It is impossible to ignore, and easily the most eye-catching one of the magazine, which is quite a feat considering the types of ads that run in Nylon.  Goldman and Papson write, “Where advertisers once sought to maximize the transparency of the framework, they now try to jar viewers into interpretive quandaries as a way of keeping them engaged in ads” (83).  Certainly, this opulent and jarring ad is doing everything it can to make itself known, without regard for transparency.  It’s a veritable sign and signifier frenzy.  The gaudy print ad and interactive social media elements of the campaign are clear illustrations of how 7FAM is trying to fully engage viewers at any expense. 

       Moreover, it is interesting to consider the audience participation element of “A Beautiful Odyssey”, specifically within the framework of the digital age of information, and advertiser’s use of data collection via “veiled third parties”, as Manzerolle and Smeltzer discuss in their analysis of consumer sovereignty.  They state in their piece, “A consumer’s profile now substitutes for the real embodied individual at the commercial level, elevating it ‘to the rank of superhuman authority through forgetting or rendering irrelevant its human, all too human origins, together with the string of human actions that led to its appearance…’ (Bauman 2007, 14)” (326).  It stands to reason that, knowing this on some level, consumers might feel they have suffered a loss of agency.  By calling for audience participation on Facebook, 7FAM is perhaps trying to make consumers feel like they can regain control of how they express taste preferences, and add some clarity to the data collection process.  Additionally, 7FAM encouraged conservation about the campaign on both their Twitter and Instagram platforms. 

Image(still of Twitter ad, from 7FAM Instagram)

       Here we see an ad inviting consumers to join in a “twitter party”, to discuss the progress of the campaign’s journey.  In keeping with the film format, the ad is styled similarly to a film poster, or perhaps a TV ad urging viewers to tune into a program (catch Franco on channel 7!). 

       The final installment of the campaign premiered on April 25th, and consisted of two mini-films: one crafted using audience input from the Facebook polls, the other a “director’s cut” of solely Franco’s vision.

Image(still of final Audience Cut, from 7FAM Facebook)

       Aside from dressing the actors in head-to-toe 7FAM brand clothing, there are no obvious brands or logos featured in the film.  As is the case with every other facet of the film installments featured in the campaign, it relies entirely on the sign currency of James Franco, heavily coded messages to appeal to indie youth, and its pure entertainment value.  It is well known that, “…advertising appropriates cultural symbols and then repossesses and disseminates those symbols back to society in new ways, usually in very creative but often quickly forgotten message packages…ads in and of themselves must be integral in the meaning generating system of popular culture” (Leiss, et. al, 482).  Ultimately, “A Beautiful Odyssey” follows in the footsteps of Gen X marketing strategies, and attempts to present itself as a culture producing machine.  This of course is problematic, considering that the “film” was produced with the intent of selling more jeans, as much as it tries to masquerade as art.  If we accept, as Klein writes, that “…generational identity had largely been a pre-packaged good and for whom the search for self had always been shaped by marketing hype” (66), then perhaps for contemporary audiences it is not problematic at all for a blatantly corporate sponsored film to promote itself as an indie project—it’s welcomed and expected.




 Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Rhetoric of the Image.” Studying culture: an introductory reader.     2nd ed. London: E. Arnold ;, 1993. 15. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated         Meaning.” Sign wars: the cluttered landscape of advertising. New York: Guilford Press, 1996. 81, 83, 88. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt. Everything.” No space, no choice, no jobs, no logo: taking aim at the    brand bullies. New York: Picador USA, 2000. 66. Print.

Leiss, William, Jackie Botterill, Stephen  Kline, and Sut  Jhally. Social Communication in    Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Manzerolle, Vincent and Sandra Smeltzer. “Consumer Data Bases and the Commercial        Mediation of Identity.” Surveillance and Society 8 (2011): 326. Print.

In the early 1980s, Toyota chairman Eija Toyoda believed it was time for the successful automaker to produce a luxury automobile.  Toyoda projected the idea that this new vehicle would be the “finest luxury car in the world,” as it would offer “speed, safety, comfort, elegance, dignity and beauty” (Lexus).  He also conveyed how this vehicle “had to be accompanied by unprecedented levels of customer service that greatly exceeded the expectations of current luxury car buyers” (Lexus).  This flagship automobile was finally released in 1989, under the brand name Lexus.  According to Lexus, the LS400 has “set new standards for luxury cars around the world” (Lexus).  Nearly twenty-five years later, Lexus has certainly proven itself to be a first-rate luxury auto manufacturer, as it is consistently ranked as one of the most reliable brands, and awarded with having some of the safest luxury cars available.  Although it seems as if Eija Toyoda’s dream has come true, Lexus sometimes appears to struggle with its brand identity. Throughout the years, Lexus has been viewed as the safe, reliable, and even boring choice amongst luxury car brands, which doesn’t offer much soul or passion.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss explains how the core of any advertising campaign is “giving a clear identity to a branded product,” as it makes the brand “stand out from others in this increasingly cluttered” world (Leiss 138).  In an attempt to alter its brand image, Lexus recently launched a multi-faceted marketing campaign, for the car that started it all, the LS.  Released in Fall 2012, this campaign injected some much need passion and soul into Lexus, in hope that consumers would associate new meanings with their automobiles.  By focusing on high taste, style, travel, and sex appeal, this campaign projects Lexus as an automobile company filled with intense emotion and successful consumers, who are not so boring, after all.

One of the main ideas projected in this 2012 marketing campaign is that of the worldly, or cosmopolitan consumer.  In “Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture,” Jo Littler delves into this idea of cosmopolitanism, and how it is appropriated to sell products to consumers.  Littler states how the “term ‘cosmopolitanism,’ derived from the Greek words for ‘world’ and citizen,’ was a phrase developed by the Greek Stoic philosophers, one reworked in the eighteenth century by Kant to evoke an idea of a global community and to gesture, with Enlightenment optimism, towards how it might be  possible to imagine oneself as a citizen of the world” (Littler 24).  She goes on to state how “recently – particularly over the past decade – ‘cosmopolitanism’ has been revisited as an idea in the humanities and social sciences as a way to think about how global forms of connection, sociality and belonging might function in a contemporary context” (Littler 24).  Littler explains how cosmopolitanism “offers an additional and different focus from that of the perpetually exploitative dynamics of ‘imperialism’ or ‘colonialism’, and from a different angle to the existing set of debates implied by the term ‘globalisation’” (Littler 24).  Essentially, cosmopolitanism is now “attractive because it offers what Raymond Williams once termed ‘resources of hope’: because it appears to open up a different kind of imaginative space by gesturing towards ways of thinking about how we might be able to have a positive and dynamic relationship to other people” (Littler 24).

Lexus knew it was time to take advantage of these recently new found meanings and notions surrounding this idea of cosmopolitanism.  In almost every commercial created for the 2012 Lexus LS marketing campaign, well groomed couples can be seen jet-setting all over the world.  The commercial titled “Everything” sets the tone for worldly individuals, as it opens with images of a private plane floating on a body of water.  Seconds later, the commercial cuts to images of people cruising in a speedboat near a place resembling the coast of Europe, particularly the Mediterranean Sea, which is also highlighted in the commercial “Paddleshifters.”  Throughout much of these commercials, couples can be seen traveling at high speeds in the Lexus LS through major cities, like San Francisco, which connotes a fast-paced and exciting life; one typically associated with cosmopolitan individuals.  They can also be seen lounging next to pools, attending fashion shows, and partying at clubs and bars, featuring live music, which signifies interest in the arts and culture.  Doing this aligns Lexus consumers as socially and culturally aware individuals, who take interest in different lifestyles.  It also creates the idea that cosmopolitan individuals have “a positive and dynamic relationship” with others, as these consumers are seen enjoying the company of different peoples and races (Littler 24).  Perhaps the most significant image placed throughout these commercials is that of the passport, however, which appears in the commercial “Flashbulbs.”  Emphasizing a passport, especially while being stamped, solidifies the notion that people seen in these productions are interested in travel, experiencing an array of culture, and most importantly, being a “citizen of the world” (Littler 24).  It creates this idea that consumers who purchase products derived from Lexus are progressive, and one could even say ‘up with the times.’



While these commercials display consumers filled with worldly intent, they also project the idea of conspicuous consumption.  After all, this campaign focuses heavily on excessive travel and leisure time.  In the book “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” author Thorstein Veblen analyzes how society has come to be obsessed with acquiring and displaying goods as a means to show off social status.  One of Veblen’s main ideas is that people who consume valuable goods are conveying how they have a substantial amount of leisure time available to them.  Veblen states how “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.  As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method.  The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments” (Veblen 47).  This conveys how in order to display wealth, one must purchase goods and have the assistance of others to showcase their grand lifestyle.

This 2012 advertising campaign successfully plays into the notions of conspicuous consumption by projecting images of successful couples traveling the world and attending lavish events.  The commercial titled “Flashbulbs” demonstrates this concept most effectively, perhaps.  Opening with a head-on shot of the 2013 LS, sets the tone, as it places the viewer’s attention solely on the car.  Doing this effectively displays the car’s strong design features and prominent style, particularly the eye-catching LED headlights.  This not only creates the notion that the LS is an attractive automobile, but also that it will demand attention.  Moments later, the commercial cuts to a fashion show, being held at quite an extravagant and lavish venue, featuring grand columns and detailed architecture.  This directly connects to Veblen’s idea that “consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure” (Veblen 47).  Displaying individuals at a fashion show connotes that Lexus consumers have the time, capital, and proper relations to attend such high profile events.  It not only signifies that such consumers have the means to keep up with trends, but also have the time to stay in touch with such interests.


In fact, having surplus time seems to be the one of the main themes of this campaign, as consumers can be seen galavanting throughout the world.  As mentioned before, these particular commercials focus heavily on imagery of couples traveling via private planes, lounging at plush pools, attending nightclubs and parties, and simply driving the car.  While doing so, these actors can be seen wearing fashionable clothing and accessories, and living in lavish houses, which signifies wealth and success.  Perhaps the most significant portion of this content, however, is the last scene in the commercial titled “Flashbulbs,” which displays a couple pulling up in the Lexus LS to an event with many photographers.  Creating this scenario finishes off the idea that the LS is a stylish and eye-catching car worthy of driving, as it is photographed alongside the couple.  The decision to produce such elaborate content fashions the idea that people who purchase the LS are wealthy individuals, with important lives and high taste, who will be recognized as being so through purchasing this automobile.

As mentioned, high taste and style are very much apparent throughout this campaign.  This idea of taste is touched upon by scholar Pierre Bourdieu, in his work titled “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.”  One of Bourdieu’s main concepts is that a person’s social social class or upbringing generally determines their interests, likes, and dislikes, or tastes.  Bourdieu states how “cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices (museum visits, concert-going, reading, etc) and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely linked to education level” (Bourdieu 1).  Further on, he contests that there is a “hierarchy of consumers” and that such a thing “predisposes tastes to function as markers of class” (Bourdieu 2).  Knowing this, one could assess that individuals who consume products built by Lexus are of high class.  One of the main indicators of high class consumers is that of the fashion show, as it conveys an interest in and knowledge of high fashion and design.  Typically, people who attend fashion events come from privileged backgrounds, as they are able to afford expensive clothing, and simply have time to ponder over their unique design.  High fashion is full and center in the commercial titled “Walk the Walk,” which features a model slowly walking down a sidewalk, while it’s snowing.  This particular model can be seen wearing a stylish black dress, a fur shawl, long diamond earrings, and stilettos.  Wearing such articles of clothing signifies high taste in clothing, and the ability to afford such things, as these products are typically associated with high class individuals.


This commercial, in particular, also speaks to the ‘culturati’, or consumers with high cultural capital.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss explains how “for those with high cultural capital, the cultural aspects of goods overrides their exchange value” (Leiss 520).  Dressing in perhaps a not so practical, but striking dress, signifies that this model is willing to express herself, and has the ability to take take chances as well as understand the cultural aspects of the dress.  Doing this should resonate with the ‘culturati’ as they are keen on purchasing goods which serve as a “form of self expression” and whose creativity can be contemplated with (Leiss 521).  Leiss also conveys how those with high cultural capital assert “a sense of innate ‘good taste’” (Leiss 305).  By placing this stylish and unique female in the commercial, this ad alludes to the idea that the Lexus LS is in ‘good taste’, as well.  Overall, this commercials speaks to high class consumers, as well as those who simply have a strong interest in expressing themselves through fashion.

Along with emphasizing a strong sense of style and taste, this 2012 marketing campaign also garners a fair amount of sex appeal, particularly in its print content, in order to lure consumers in.  The print ad titled “Memorable Performance” exemplifies this sexualized nature, as it showcases a highly attractive couple walking away from their LS.  Although this image may appear to be rather innocent, if one looks closely, some deeper meanings should appear, which can be explained through semiotics.  In Social Communication in Advertising, Leiss states how “Since the 1970s the study of advertising has been heavily influenced by semiotics,” or “the science of the sign” (Leiss 164).  He goes on to explain how the concept of the sign can be separated into two components, “the signifier” and “the signified” (Leiss 164).  While “The signifier is its ‘concrete’ dimension; the signified is its ‘abstract’ side” (Leiss 164). In this specific advertisement, a female can be seen wearing a tight dress, which emphasizes her figure.  Doing this can easily signify sex as well as femininity, however, the female’s position and posture are what’s most important.  This female can be seen staring at the male figure, while standing ever so slightly behind him.  Positioning the female this way signifies strong sexual attraction and even subservience to her male partner.  Perhaps the most interesting portion of this print ad is the text, itself, however.  Highlighting the worlds “Memorable Performance” in bold print can signify that this couple was recently engaged in sexual relations.  This can be reenforced through the female’s overall stance and stare, as well as the male’s seemingly confident strut, which could be a result from having sex with his female companion.


The advertisement described above is only a portion of the content which relies of sex appeal, however.  A form of marketing which relies even more heavily on sex appeal is a photography exhibit held in San Francisco, called “Lexus: Laws of Attraction” (Paula).  During this event, fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth “snapped prominent couples posing with the cars” (Paula).  Many of the photographs were released on the Internet, which created significant buzz.  Perhaps the most sexualized image from this exhibit is that featuring Devon Aoki and James Bailey.  In this particular photo, actress Devon Aoki can be seen sitting on the hood of the LS, while wearing a playful looking dress.  Aoki seems to be reeling her boyfriend in, as she has her shawl around his neck.  Placing this actress upon the automobile not only signifies that the LS is playful and fun, it also sexualizes its nature.  It creates the notion that this female is a sexual object, which can be toyed around with, like the LS.  Such content can relate to Goldman and Papson’s work regarding advertising titled “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.”  In their work, the authors state how ads have the ability to “socially and culturally construct a world” as well as “promote a normative vision of our world and our relationships” (Goldman & Papson Ch 6.).  This advertisement not only promotes the vision that heterosexual couples are always full and center in media and advertising, it also constructs a world where women are sexual objects, who should be subservient to men.


As one can see, the 2012 Lexus LS marketing campaign effectively makes use of fashion forward consumers, beautiful imagery, high style, and sex appeal to make a new mark in the highly competitive luxury car segment.  Through well produced commercial spots, and high quality print ads and photographs, Lexus successfully shifts their image from the safe, reliable, and even boring car company, to one with great passion and emotion.

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. New York: Harvard University Press, 1984. 1-7. Web.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” Consumer Society Reader. n. page. Web. 14 May. 2013.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising. 3rd. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.


Littler, Jo. Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. New York: Open University Press, 2009. 23-25. Web.

Paula, Matthew de. “Lexus Pursues Hipper Crowd With New Ads For Its LS Sedan.” Forbes. Forbes, 31 10 2012. Web. 14 May 2013.

Thorstein, Veblen. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 43-47. Web.

Uniqlo’s new UT 2013 Truckshop Pop-up campaign is analogous to their iconic T-shirt designs: simple on the outside, but tactful and complex in conception. The Japanese retail giants, who pride their designs as “more than a T-shirt,” are proving their inventive marketing methods are more than a conventional campaign. The latest initiative for their Spring/Summer 2013 T-shirt line features an LED-lit “pop-up” clothing truck, surprise musical performances around New York City, and an implementation of new online media for consumer interactivity. Through nabbing local NYC celebrities to front the brand and commoditizing NYC street artists on their apparel, Uniqlo has become the nexus of cool. Their newest campaign proves that the company is staying on the cutting edge of a modish lifestyle, creating new tastes for the NYC youth and tapping into the zeitgeist of online culture.

While Uniqlo is investing in several different media channels to carry their campaign to consumers, their most efficient initiative has been the mobile Pop-Up shop.


[Image via Complex]

Decorated in a sheet of colorful lights, the official UT “Truckshop” is a trailer-sized truck that drives around the city, parking in various hot spots (like Astor Place, Meatpacking, etc) to allow local pedestrians to venture inside and shop. The truck features two walls of their new men and women’s T-shirt designs, friendly retail associates for assistance, and a “gif station” to create looped videos of you and your friends in Uniqlo gear. On top of the truck is a mini stage—complete with speakers, DJ turntables, et al—for surprise musical performances. The truck not only hosts a special shopping experience for passer-bys, but creates an entire aural environment around the truck itself. While sociologists Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson claim advertisements call on the consumer to participate, Uniqlo’s pop-up truck literally hails us, inviting us in to participate in the campaign’s narrative to create a relationship with the company. “Interpreting the stories that ad tells is always conditional on how they address, or “hail” us—how we are positioned, how the commodity is positioned,” the two authors write. “When ads hail us, they appellate us, naming us and inviting us to take up a position in relation to the advertisements. Consumer ads greet us as individual viewers with what seem to be our own (already) ideological assumptions and personalities (Goldman & Papson, p. 82).” Uniqlo’s innovative modes of advertising are able to break through the clutter of everyday mediated campaigns to physically engage with the public’s consumption practices.

The flashy truck proves that lived experiences can be commoditized for a generational population. In Naomi Klein’s essay, “Alt. Everything,” the author attempts to understand what marketers understand about the youth culture and the marketing of cool. Compared to the generation of Woodstock, the generations thereafter are inundated with stimulating media, sponsorship and merchandising, and they’re not resisting. Quoting Advertising Age reporter Jeff Jenson, Kelin writes, “’Selling out is not only accepted, it’s considered hip. To object would be, well, unhip (Klein, p. 65).” And cool-hunting companies like Uniqlo have come to understand this very clearly. “For the most part, branding’s insatiable cultural thirst just creates more marketing. Marketing that think it is culture (Klein, p. 66).” When you maneuver through the cute, boxy Uniqlo store-on-wheels, allow their staff to take a snapshot of you in their tees, and enjoy the live concert outside the space, you are experiencing “culture” through a corporate lens. Uniqlo’s marketing team has compiled the ingredients to cultivate a niche youthful lifestyle around their graphic T-shirts—street-chic tees that also have stains of commodification, that is.

Uniqlo’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection consists of collaborative efforts between local little-known artists and the corporate chain store. Designers like Celia Birtwell, a clothing designer who Uniqlo dubs “an iconic figure on the global arts scene, lent her signature designs to be plastered across Uniqlo’s cotton T’s. As “iconic” as Celia Birtwell may be sold by the company, her fame only resonates among the indie circuit in fashion. This might appear to be backwards thinking for big companies who’d want to align themselves with other big-leaguers, but Klein believes that tapping into the youth market means masquerading a huge corporation under pretense of an indie image. “Being a huge corporation might sell on Wall Street, but as the brands soon learned on their cool hunt, ‘indie’ was the pitch on Cool Street (Klein, p. 77),” Klein writes, arguing that even Coke, “the most recognizable brand name on earth, has tried to go underground” for a fear that teenagers might reject the multi-billion dollar business for being too established. Uniqlo has conspicuously caught onto this idea, bringing an indie-level designer like Celia Birtwell into its corporate identity.

But as cool as this collaboration may read for the indie population, the company aimed to address the other fragments of their youth audience by introducing the local designer through an ambiguous commercial.

The minute-long advertisement features two young white models teasing the camera with coy poses in what we’ll assume to be Celia Birtwell’s colorful T-shirts against a colorful wallpaper backdrop. As simple as this video with no dialogue may appear, the short snapshots are packaged with sign values that communicate certain cultural nuances to the consumer. “The competition to build images that stand out in the media markets is based on a process of routinely unhinging signifiers from signifieds so that new signifier-signified relationships can be fashioned (Goldman & Papson, p. 85).” Although the Uniqlo commercial is wildly vague, it suggests that the subtle signifiers are to signify to a tasteful, conspicuous audience who can read the subtlety. Bourdieu, a French philosopher, believed that the distinction between aesthetic taste is based on “the capacity to see (voir)” and “a function of the knowledge (savoir).” In his essay “Introduction to Distinction,” Bourdieu identifies the value of taste by explaining that “a work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded (Bourdieu, p. 2).” For Uniqlo’s segmented campaign commercial, the models’ playful gestures and the intentional juxtaposition of clashing patterns are used as sign vehicles to craft an artistic perception for someone “who possesses the cultural competence.”

Competently and conspicuously representing brands is a hip hop staple—at least in commercial hip hop. For marketers, hip hop culture is emblematic of cool, or rather having the ability to be the first to “embrace a designer or a major label” and “blow it up,” according to Klein. Uniqlo has taken a few pages out of that research by securing four local celebrities to front their brand, and carefully selecting voices to speak to these communities. One of the UT 2013 campaign spokespeople is Miss Info, a famous hip hop blogger and Hot 97 radio deejay.

Miss Info is not a nationally recognized celebrity, but among true hip hop heads, she is worshipped for her cool, blasé attitude and rich knowledge of music. Uniqlo purposefully did not nab the biggest or hottest hip hop star to entice their consumer, but strategically chose a relative celebrity to align themselves with a niche hip hop audience in New York.  To truly sell this idea, Uniqlo artfully put together a minute-long stop motion bio on Miss Info, where she does not make one mention of the brand or the product, but speaks about growing up in Southside Chicago and becoming “that good girl gone bad.” Uniqlo’s approach to bringing Miss Info onboard was not only to sell some T-shirts, but build an entire stylized lifestyle around them. Similar to the Tommy Hilfiger approach in the 90s, Klein says urban culture—which, to marketers, grew synonymous with black culture—became an entity that could be purchased and branded. “Once Tommy was firmly established as a ghetto thing, the real selling could begin—not just to the comparatively poor inner-city youth but to the much larger market of middle-class white and Asian kids who mimic black style in everything from lingo to sports to music (Klein, p. 76).” Miss Info’s public image is not “ghetto” or “inner-city” by any means, but she herself is emblematic of a new hip hop image. As a Korean-American “born into a toy store,” she conspicuously lives the urban lifestyle by conspicuously consuming it, thereby cultivating a distinct taste in this space. “An art which ever increasingly contains reference to its own history demands to be perceived historically; it asks to be referred not to an external referent, the represented or designated ‘reality,’ but to the universe of past and present works of art. Like artistic production, in that it is generated in a field, aesthetic perception is necessarily historical, inasmuch as it is differential, relational, attentive to the deviations (écarts) which make styles (Bourdieu, p. 4).” Uniqlo tapped into the fetishizing of the urban lifestyle, and their T-shirts (donned by hip hop’s faces) began to symbolize cultural currency during the modern era. “Advertising provided a means for acquiring cultural capital without entering the store,” writes authors William Leiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill in their novel Social Communication in Advertising. “The lifestyles of the urban American, as we shall see were fatefully integrated with media and advertising cycles. Individuals turned to the expanded field of the sign economy to secure status (Leiss, et al, p. 307).”

To slightly counterbalance the niche signifier Miss Info embodied, Uniqlo also created short narrative videos for their mainstreaming celebrity spokesman and Hollywood actor Michael Kenneth Williams. Most known for his role in the show The Wire, Williams is a nationally recognized talent, but still manages to maintain a subcultural level of superstardom. “Celebrities are usually sought because they have high potential sign value. The referent systems that can pay off most handsomely when properly appropriated involve lifestyle and subcultures (Goldman & Papson, p. 88).” Selecting Williams meant selecting the markers and style that would create buzz in its potential market value. In Williams’ “Life In A Minute” biographical video, the actor speaks rather reluctantly about his “dark” past and being granted a second wind of life through his acting gigs. Uniqlo chose to highlight this particular facet of his personal life to humanize Williams, and in turn, effectively humanizing the Uniqlo image. These newly branded messages work in tandem with ideologies that have already been circulating. “Because sign values are constructed out of meaning, they must be articulated with reference to another system of value—a meaning system that is external to, and different from, the product. More and more frequently the referent system that is cannibalized to construct a new image comes from the land of television itself (Goldman & Papson, p. 89).”

But perhaps Uniqlo’s most unique tactic to addressing a cool, young, media-savvy generation was through their “gif” initiative on social media. Gifs are the capstone to this modern era, and Uniqlo is creatively capitalizing on the phenomenon. On every pitstop of the Pop-Up Truck tour around New York City, Uniqlo asks shoppers and browsers to put on their shirts and pose in the trucks in for their special “UT” Camera. These snapshots get made into fast-looped gif files that eventually get plastered on a mural of thousands of other gifs. (As a courtesy and thank you for voluntarily participating in their campaign, Uniqlo sends you a link via Twitter to share your spontaneous experiences with your network. Free, easy guerilla marketing.)

[Gifs via Uniqlo.com]

The company’s awareness of budding online cultures in conjunction with effectively addressing the modern youth market makes their latest campaign a successful cool-hunting venture. “The act of target marketing seeks to simplify and crystallize an entire sub-set of the population as a ‘group of individuals who share a central ethos, or a set of values and common understandings about how these shared values will be enacted in attitudes and behaviors’ towards a product, a brand, or an advertising message (Leiss, et al, p. 470).” Through their technologically innovative tactics, strategic market segmentation (as represented by their celebrity endorsements), and subtle social signifiers, Uniqlo is as cool as a commoditized cucumber.


  • Naomi Klein, “Alt. Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool”
  • Pierre Bourdieu, “Introduction to Distinction”
  • Robert Goldman & Stephen Papson, “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning”
  • William Leiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, Jacqueline Botterill, Social Communication in Advertising, 2005