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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).

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          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.

As many of our class discussions have touched upon, advertisements promote a normative vision of our world and relationships, especially when it comes to gender roles. They reflect and perpetuate the specific cultural meanings linked with femininity and masculinity circulating in society that have been ingrained into our minds from a young age. By not challenging the stereotypes that many already hold to be true, companies are attempting to create an environment that allows us to be comfortable with our consumption habits, so we are more willing to buy the product and, indirectly, buy into the ideology being presented. We have been taught that a certain set of associations and activities belong exclusively to each gender. Some traits inherently belong to girls that do not and should not be possessed by boys. For example, “…masculinity was defined as synonymous with the male breadwinner, in symmetrical relation to a conception of femininity grounded in the image of the suburban housewife” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1881). Those who do not adhere strictly to these socially constructed categories are quickly deemed as weird and indecent by the public. Although these standards have relaxed nowadays, gender stereotypes still manifest themselves in advertisements to attract as many consumers as possible by appealing to the large audience’s lowest common denominator.
PETA’s banned Super Bowl advertisement called “Veggie Love” speaks to the hegemonic notions of masculinity found in American culture in order to convince its targeted viewership to engage in a practice not normally deemed as manly: Going veg. “Men are supposed to have hearty, even voracious appetites,” which is why most media texts depict males’ meals as large meaty and fatty dishes usually cooked on an outdoor barbecue, such as buffalo wings and hamburgers (Bordo 108). By default, the opposite of these images, which includes dainty food items that are usually eaten with utensils like vegetables, are considered feminine and could never completely satisfy the insatiable appetite of a real man. Thus, being a vegetarian and participating in other dietary restrictions is seen as ladylike and males who follow these lifestyle trends are compromising their masculinity to an extent.
To ease these gender role fulfillment anxieties and recruit more males to join its cause, PETA employed common tropes of heterosexual masculinity in its advertisement, particularly through the use of “hotties”. During this controversial, half minute video, women regarded as sexy by American standards parade around in lingerie and fondle vegetables in a suggestive manner. PETA is appealing to the popular belief “that what men really want is (or at least titillation), a cold beer, and some laughs with the guys” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1890). The females’ main purpose is to be an erotic spectacle for the predominantly, heterosexual male audience (which is assumed since it was created to be televised during the Super Bowl) to fetishize and project their repressed desires onto their silent images. The viewer is asked to indirectly dominate the situation by envisioning himself as the produce these unattainable models are quickly surrendering themselves to since the women do not have much agency, a quality the gender is usually depicted as lacking. The “Average Joe” sitting on the couch reeking of alcohol with crumbs scattered all over his T-shirt is made to believe that he has won the fantasy girl because he changed his consumption practices, an outcome he will probably never experience in reality. Therefore, PETA is persuading the “loser” that if he does the unthinkable of doing something girlie like becoming vegetarian, he will be rewarded with the sexual ability he has always dreamed of. “These beautiful women serve as potential prizes for men’s victories and proper consumption choices” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1887). This unapologetic sexual voyeurism exploits men’s said ceaseless desire to be “good in bed” by aligning it with PETA’s objective to stop animal cruelty in the slogan “Studies show vegetarians have better sex. Go veg.” By utilizing these traditional stereotypes of mens’ roles in society, the advertisement seeks to prove that the normally non-manly activity of abstaining from meat does not mean one is giving up one’s masculinity. Instead, he is transcending his loser status and finally possessing the hottie out of his league.

Patrick’s post cleverly explores many of the concepts presented in class and the problems inherent to advertising, especially regarding the effectiveness of social media campaigns. After viewing the commercial, my impression is that Oreo is directing this advertisement to its “consumption community,” a group advertisers frequently attempt to create and address. Historian Daniel Boorstin describes this type of community as being bound together by “the relations people establish with one another through the insignia of mass consumption” (Schudson 159). He is speaking about the imagined sense of belonging that many feel when they purchase the same good or are loyal to the same brand. Although one may never meet the other members of the community due to geographic disparities or other obstacles, one imagines they exist. I agree with Boorstin that a group can form around consumption habits, despite some academics suggesting otherwise. With the shift from traditional society to consumer society, goods became the mode we employ to present where we socially belong. They act as communicators that convey messages and impart information to others about ourselves. “Communications among persons, in which individuals send ‘signals’ to others about their attitudes, expectations, their sense of identity, values, intentions, and aesthetic expression, are strongly associated with, and expressed through, patterns of ownership, preference, display, and use of things” (Leiss et al. 4). Consumption is our standard way of life and we are defined by what and how we choose to consume or not consume. Individuals part of these communities believe that those who make the same purchasing decisions share the same relationship with the corporation and share the same values. Thus, they understand each other as a result of this commonality.

Oreo assumes that the viewers of this advertisement already buy its product. Only those who have eaten the cookie would understand the humor of the debate over which is the best part escalating in such a manner. Among Oreo lovers, there is a distinct divide between those who prefer the cream and those who prefer the cookie. Both sides are adamant about their position. Almost no one states that the combination of the two ingredients is their favorite. I believe Oreo is attempting to have fun with its consumer community by recognizing and dramatizing this longstanding dispute.

Although Patrick makes a valid point towards the end of his post about the uncertainty in measuring the economic success of advertising and social media, I do not believe that the main function of this advertisement was to boost sales in Oreos. If this was the case, the business would not have been targeting an audience who already buys the product. Sure, it would be great if these individuals bought more Oreos, but I think the company’s central goal for the advertisement was to humanize itself. In general, corporations are “…deemed greedy, inhuman, and uncaring” (Leiss et al. 75). By interacting with its consumption community and participating in the joke, Oreo shows that it values its customers. It presents itself as one of them and not as a faceless, money-hungry monster. Consumers enjoy knowing that they are appreciated and treasure the personal attention that their daily interactions increasingly lack. They are aware that many big businesses seek to take advantage of them for their own economic prosperity. Oreo is attempting to generate a trust with its consumers by engaging in activities that they already partake in like Instagramming to exhibit that the relationship is not only one way and that Oreo is listening to them. This advertisement humanizes and personalizes an abstract corporation whose massive scale and power may have worried consumers (Leiss et al. 74). As a result, Oreo eaters may be more likely to be loyal to the brand and its larger umbrella company, Kraft Foods. Although the ad did not make some people run out and buy Oreos immediately, the next time they are food shopping for cookies, they may choose Oreos over another brand because they know the company understands and values them.

 

Advertisements go beyond what they are selling by sometimes reflecting and perpetuating popular narratives of identity circulating in society. Advertisers use meanings that their target markets already know and associate with certain situations to promote their clients’ products. They understand that advertisements belong to a larger media landscape and feed off this knowledge to connect the product to other aspects of life. This form of cultural cannibalism allows brands to add another layer of significance onto the product, giving consumers another reason to buy it. “Stripped of its glamour, advertising is a kind of cultural mechanics for constructing commodity signs. Advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and value…” (Goldman & Papson 81). Since the assumed shared worldview is implicitly presented, the task for consumers is to interpret the meaning of symbols and images in advertisements to understand the intended message.

One analytic approach that identifies these signals and how social values are communicated to the audience is semiotics. The “science of the sign” studies the relationship between a sign and its intended meaning, uncovering the deeper conventions at work (Leiss et al. 164). “Semiotics can provide an answer to some very basic questions concerning meaning: How do ads work?” (Leiss et al. 164). It breaks down an advertisement into its smallest components, such as an image or graphic, and derives the specific points trying to be conveyed. A sign in an advertisement has two parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the sign itself, which can be an image, sound, or object, and the signified is the concept the signifier represents. Attached to this first level of signification is a sign’s connotation. It is the evoked ideas automatically associated with a given word and is greatly dependent on a culture’s ideology and social conventions. “If we are not adequately aware of the relevant referent system, we will not be able to decode the message” (Leiss et al.164).

For example, in American media, hair color is a common sign manipulated to symbolize a certain personality, especially concerning women. Brunettes are usually the nerdy, sensible, and conservative characters, while blondes are considered the fun-loving, ignorant, attractive brats. The Vonage television commercial that aired in 2006 called “Dolphins” reinforces the relationship between blonde hair and its connotations as suggested by American ideology to promote its phone service. The main actress takes up her stereotype by mistaking the fins she spots circling in the ocean water as belonging to dolphins as opposed to sharks. Most viewers will immediately associate the moving fins (signifier) as dangerous (signified) due to the prolific appearance of shark attacks in films and television programs, such Jaws and The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week. These platforms present the creature’s fin peaking above the surface of water to chilling background music (another signifier) moments before it feeds on its prey. The blonde actress is considered dumb to the audience for not making the connection. Instead of running away from the risky situation, she runs towards it excitedly as if these menacing animals are only going to want to play with her. In this case, the image of the hair is one signifier and it refers to the personality adjectives used to describe the hair color, such as naive and ditzy.

Through the blonde’s actions, Vonage seeks to depict itself as “a smart decision among many, many stupid ones.” Although the main actress makes this painfully obvious mistake, she also can appreciate the value of Vonage. Therefore, if she can see its advantages, then the intended, brighter audience should recognize them and want the product too. The advertisement rides on the cultural coattails of widely circulated portrayals of blondexs and sharks that their target audience already believes in. No where in the advertisement does it specifically say for them to recall Jaws or blonde portrayals in culture. The viewers make the link themselves. Would the message be as clear if a brunette actress was casted instead? Probably not. Thus, those who are not familiar with these mainly American representations will not make the connection between Vonage being the smart choice in phone service. The storyline of the advertisement would not make sense to them. Instead, they would possibly believe the animals swimming around were dolphins just as the blonde did and not realize why going to play with them would be a “stupid choice”.