I saw this advertisement on Youtube several months ago, and it still resonates within me as much now as it did then. It is one of the most unique and ingenious forms of advertising I have yet to come across, not only because of its sheer creativity, but because it depicts the drastic shift in cultural thinking that we have reached since the dawn of “Generation X” in the late twentieth century.  In their Social Communication in Advertising, authors William Leiss et al. discuss how targeted messaging became a major challenge for advertisers in the age Gen X because this rising cohort of young people “rejected conventional media forms and its members were more likely to zap and tune out a media presentation than older generations” (Leiss, Kline, Jhally, Botterill, 2005). This individualism and selective participation in media is what has driven marketers to launch innovative, fresh, and “cool” campaigns that directly appeal to their target market. This kind of advertising must therefore be unexpected and unpredictable; in this case, the Dermablend advertisement made waves by featuring a male model covered entirely in tattoos for their beauty campaign.

In the commercial, a techno beat begins to play, as the question “How do you judge a book?” fades onto the screen. The scene then cuts to a white male, staring intently, almost fiercely into the camera. He removes his t-shirt, pausing between each action for dramatic effect, to reveal clear, milky white skin. As he begins to scrub away at his body with a wet washcloth, we see ink patterns begin to form underneath his skin, and soon realize that his entire body is covered in tattoos. The product being advertised to us is the makeup that makes his transformation possible, forcing us to revisit the earlier question posed at us about looking “beyond the cover” and see the model with new eyes.

Based on these denotative observations, it is clear from the first few seconds of the advertisement that certain tactics are employed that are geared specifically towards “Generation X.” Authors Goldman and Papson (1994, 22-23) describe trending elements that are characteristic of ads in this generation, trends that are clearly present in the Dermablend commercial, as well. One of these elements is “intense emotional appeals,” which according to Goldman and Papson involve a “heightened sense, sensuality, excitement, and risk through taking the camera where it has not been before…and gritty, real gestures through carefully crafted narratives…a stylized form of cultural noise and abstract editing.”

These elements represent something more than mere aesthetic enhancements; they symbolize a revolt against the norm, one that is not simply waged against prior social constructions, but against predated advertisements that were no longer capturing our immediate attention. Leiss et al. note that “one of the most powerful strategies to authenticate Gen X ad presentations is to use narratives that underscore individual emancipation and empowerment” (485).  This idea holds true for “Beyond the Cover;” the very notion of going beyond to reveal what is inside echoes a break from the norm and a freedom of true expression. The model in the advertisement, also known as “Zombie Boy,” is symbolic of the fearless, unapologetic rebellion that members of Generation X aspire to embody.

This ad campaign is especially successful because its creators have gone beyond their role as producers (users of codes/symbols that are familiar to us), to employ the “shock factor” and intrigue us beyond our conventions of normalcy. For example, we associate foundation or “cover-up” as a means to hide small blemishes and scars, but seldom do we apply that concept to such a drastic visual depiction as “Zombie Boy” in this commercial. Thus, the advertisement attempts to not only convince its audience of the effectiveness of its product, but tries to impart a new social ideology which forces us to look “beyond the cover” and into the auras, bodies, and minds of those different from us.