I've spent the past couple of weeks renovating my portfolio website and haven't had much time to write anything in-depth. However, I do want to share this video because it's a total work of art:
The gender binary, though not as old as time, has been enforced long enough to have created a permanent furrow in society’s brow. But it’s not just tradition that enforces this — it’s advertising as well.
Advertising — as well as the research backing it — is notorious for continually enforcing and capitalizing on tired gender roles and stereotypes. During one particular college class of mine in 2014, J.J. Davis’s "Advertising Research: Theory and Practice" dug the gender binary even deeper. Davis lists and defines multiple types of questions used in advertising research — classifying gender as a “dichotomous question.” A dichotomous question, unlike its more lenient cousins, gives its survey participants only two choices in response to a question. Gender, however, is not dichotomous — but the academic side of advertising is lagging behind.
As I’ve said before, though — advertising is all about knowing the rules and breaking them anyway — which is exactly what CoverGirl is doing.
17-year-old James Charles, heralded as “CoverGirl’s first Coverboy” (AdWeek), is an Instagram-based beauty guru boasting a whopping 272K followers as of this blog’s posting. Like CoverGirl’s models before him, Charles is an expert in cosmetic beauty — so no un-sexist logic can justify disallowing him to grace CoverGirl’s ads. While the brand’s name still implies their products are strictly for cisgender women, New York creative agency Yard’s co-founder Ruth Bernstein says that “as androgyny and gender fluidity become the norm rather than the exception in today's cultural landscape, brands are faced with the challenge of tackling gender norms both in their advertising and the products they offer.” This being said, brands can’t uproot centuries of gender norms in one modeling deal — but it’s a start.
Thinx, a brand of underwear specifically designed for menstruation, is following suit. CEO Miki Agrawal says that, their product’s goal is “to reclaim the anxiety and shame surrounding your period” and that this isn’t an issue for exclusively cisgender women. Their print ads have featured transgender men in an effort to remind the public that some men menstruate, and some women do not.
Since having gender fluidity invalidated before me from the stage of a lecture hall in 2014, the media’s made strides in queer visibility. The impacts are being made — the second step is to normalize it.
Read more at:
Types of social research questions: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/questype.php
JJ Davis’s Ad Textbook: https://www.amazon.com/Advertising-Research-Theory-Practice-2nd/dp/0132128322
Ruby Rose on Gender Fluidity: http://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a28865/ruby-rose-oitnb/?src=spr_FBPAGE
Adweek on Throwing Out Gender Norms: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/brands-are-throwing-out-gender-norms-reflect-more-fluid-world-174070?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=AWK_NewDaily&utm_campaign=Adweek_Newsletter_2016001807
Pop-up shops are everywhere — “you can use a pop-up event in nearly any industry that will allow for creativity and has the budget to create a unique experience” according to event planning blogger Christina Green. Strategist Melissa Gonzalez’s book “The Pop-Up Paradigm” echoes this sentiment, spouting statistics that’ll make you want to run out and pitch a secret pop-up event to your favorite brand right away. Brands hosting successful pop-ups experience an average of a 35% increase in sales, with at least half of these being coupled by a 30% increase in social media interactions. From a marketing standpoint, this is a hard win backed by hard facts! How could it possibly be a bad idea?
Allow me to go off on a bit of a tangent here.
When I’m not creating GIFs or blogging about advertising that grinds my gears, I'm attending shows at Chicago's various underground DIY venues. These spaces book and host local musicians and artists their owners deem worthy of an audience - those that slip through the cracks of the bars and venues obligated to book larger acts for the sake of meeting marketing quotas. Most importantly, since the venue doubles as hosts' living spaces, they have no overhead fees to pay — 100% of profits from admission go toward paying performers. Oh yeah, and did I mention this is also mega illegal?
Because unlicensed entertainment venues are against the law (despite doing nothing unethical), hosts take extreme precautions to keep events under the radar while still pulling in a crowd. They don’t publicize their addresses. They don’t hang promotional posters around town. They don’t advertise. On the rare occasion bigger artists perform, they privatize the Facebook events to limit the event’s reach.
And somewhere along the line, the covertness they exercise for the sake of safety has become synonymous with mainstream coolness. What's regarded as “secret” reads as “exclusive" to those on the outside. And brands caught wind of this. Everyone wants a slice of the DIY pie — namely the hosts of branded secret shows and pop-up shops — and often for the wrong reasons.
“RSVP to attend”
Recently, I received an E-mail with an event invite sprinkled with these terms - terms implying that the event was exclusive, and that we were extra special for being lucky enough to get invited. But this event wasn’t illegal — it was paid. It was licensed. it was sponsored by Jack Daniel's and The Fader. None of these brands had anything to gain from such exclusiveness. It was simply an appropriation of the secrecy that DIY venues need to stay alive.
It's not just Jack Daniel's who's guilty of the commodification of secrecy - this is an epidemic common in everything from newly-minted brands to large booking companies and celebrities at Austin's South by Southwest:
What brands get wrong is the core motive of low-key events — DIY venues don’t privatize events to make attendees feel special — they do it to keep their audience, performers and venue safe. But brands, being on the outside of the underground music sphere, see this secrecy as an effort to seem “cool” and “exclusive” while also giving attendees a chance to feel better than the people around them.
Don’t get me wrong — from a marketing perspective, secret pop-up events have the power to bring in a heck of an audience. I attended the Jack Daniel's pop-up event, which boasted fun photo booths and complimentary whiskey cocktails to which I’ll never say no — but I’d be lying if I wasn’t just a little bit disgusted that it’s capitalizing on an exclusivity I wish wasn’t necessary for the underground venues I know and love to survive.
Read more at:
This is Nick Fisher.
Nick Fisher, alias Sick Fisher, is a Chicago street artist and painter. His distinct art style plasters the walls of tons of music and arts hotspots in the city, such as Bric-a-Brac Records, the Observatory Gallery and Bite Cafe. In his free time, Fisher repurposes his leftover materials to create smaller pieces - which he hides around town for his fans to find.
I’d never heard of Fisher until last night. My roommate, also a local painter, told me Fisher had hidden a piece of art in the park near our house. Despite it being far past sundown, two of my housemates and I headed out to Humboldt Park in the dark to scour the park for Fisher’s artwork. After nearly two hours trolling through the park, we found Fisher’s painting buried deep within one particular thicket.
Because Fisher’s art is primarily physical rather than digital, its initial reach is very limited. Typically, it’s tough transposing physical art into interactive content — but Fisher does it flawlessly! By turning his art into a scavenger hunt and advertising it on social media, dispensing clues via Facebook and Instagram, he hyped his art and grew his audience in the same breath.
University curriculums were recently subject to scrutiny usually unseen outside Tumblr’s city limits. This semester, experts questioned whether trigger warnings are necessary for the well-being of students taking classes containing emotionally daunting material.
For those unfamiliar with “trigger warnings,” Buzzfeed defines this as “a bold introductory statement alerting readers that unsettling content follows.” This is not a new concept, but merely an extension of the courtesies we afford to victims of war trauma to include victims of all traumas. Just as many veterans suffer from shell shock and in turn avert themselves from war films and fireworks, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, too, often tend to avoid forms of entertainment graphically detailing events similar to their experiences.
In short, these warnings are very helpful for victims of traumatic events who feel uncomfortable facing sensitive situations.
So, how does the debate over the necessity of trigger warnings affect how we advertise?
In continuing to exist, advertising has a few responsibilities in compromising with a society that despises it:
- It has to be quick
- It has to be concise.
- It has to make an impact.
And more often than not, to make an impact, ads shock or surprise their audience. Check out McCann Paris’s bone-chilling PSA for Le Mouvement de Nid, a French organization devoted to promoting awareness of violence against unlicensed female sex workers:
This web-based promotion masquerades as a just another website for “meeting women” called “Girls of Paradise.” Unsuspecting clients visit the website and are met with multiple profiles of beautiful women with whom they can converse via phone or web chat. However, upon initiating conversation, the client is not greeted by the person they expect, but are instead “shown photos of the woman, beat up and bloody, or simply told that she isn't available tonight because she was killed in a manner most grisly” (Adweek).
Girls of Paradise “brutally breaks the fourth wall of fantasy and drives cold, ugly reality into clients' faces” (Adweek) and scores a gold Clio as a result. However, suppose a victim of sexual violence unknowingly wandered onto this website - would it trigger them? And should ad agencies care?
To answer this question, there are two factors to consider:
Bulletpoint A: Is a racist ad directed toward a white audience ethical? Of course not. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes for the sake of eliciting a cheap laugh. Likewise, is it worth it to surprise one demographic for a second or two at the expense of their not-so-neurotypical counterparts?
Bulletpoint B: Fortunately, unlike racist ads, triggering ads aren’t so black-and-white (no pun intended). Victims of trauma don’t ask that all pertinent material be hidden away and burned Fahrenheit 451-style, but rather ask only that a message precede their engagement and warn them of what’s to come. Chicago educator Brad Akin issued this statement in regards to school curriculums: “Trigger warnings help people suffering from PTSD navigate potentially triggering material so that they CAN engage, not so they can disengage.” Likewise, Girls of Paradise could potentially educate its audience just as effectively by warning them of graphic content prior to engagement without losing their viewership and risking negative affect.
Trigger warnings won’t dampen an ad’s potential impact - they’ll simply broaden your organization’s positive affect and impact without throwing your more sensitive audience members under the bus in an attempt to do so.
Read more at:
Shocking Advertising: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gyro/2012/07/17/the-ethics-and-efficacy-of-shock-ads/#4b4b2504100c
Trigger Warnings: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/inside_higher_ed/2015/12/trigger_warning_debate_some_professors_say_they_build_trust_others_say_they.html
Brad’s Statement: https://www.facebook.com/bsakin/posts/10154508806079337?hc_location=ufi
In September 1997, TWBA/Chiat/Day introduced Gidget, whom you may know better as “the Taco Bell chihuahua.”
Their 30-second TV spots opened to show Gidget making a mad dash through various parts of the city, seemingly toward a female chihuahua perceived to be his girlfriend. Toward the end, it’s revealed that Gidget isn’t actually running for the girl, but for the Taco Bell nearby.
Gidget became an instant star, and his one-liner an instant catchphrase among Americans. He plastered billboards, T-shirts, news inserts and toy shelves - if it could be manufactured, Gidget’s face was on it. Was there anything Gidget couldn’t do?
In fact, there was - despite being “'one of the best advertising icons in recent memory” according to TWBA/Chiat/Day president Tom Carroll, his presence failed to increase overall sales. Taco Bell dropped the agency and went on to pursue other advertising strategies with FCB Southern California.
However, just because Gidget’s career ended abruptly doesn’t mean his legacy didn’t endure — for better or for worse.
Shortly after Gidget’s TV stardom came to a halt, many popular female celebrities began toting chihuahuas. At the same time, chihuahuas began arriving en masse at animal shelters. They quickly became one of the most populous breeds within these shelters — second only to pit bulls. This epidemic was especially prevalent in the Los Angeles metropolis — which happens to be where both Taco Bell’s headquarters and Hollywood are located.
The Guardian refers to the homeless chihuahua epidemic as “Paris Hilton Syndrome” — a problem so distinct that the west-coast canines were shipped in droves to shelters across the country to alleviate their overflow. Less than half of the dogs in shelters make it out alive, and a whopping third of some shelters are comprised of chihuahuas.
Solid causation is impossible to determine due to lack of bookkeeping in many animal shelters, I’ve developed a few hypotheses supported loosely by chronological data:
A) Gidget’s stardom led to rising demand of chihuahuas as pets. Seeing a market for the pups, many chihuahua puppy mills sprung up.
B) American celebrities were quietly recruited to “advertise” chihuahuas to encourage fans to adopt the rising numbers of chihuahuas in shelters. Movies such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Legally Blonde followed suit.
C) Owners who adopted only because their favorite stars did soon realized they could not care for chihuahuas and returned them to shelters - thus repeating the cycle.
This is important for two reasons:
A) Unlike celebrities who fade after a few years in the spotlight, chihuahuas are dependent on others to stay alive after the hype fades. TWBA/Chiat/Day probably didn’t anticipate this.
B) Ad agencies can, however, learn from this. Because it’s possible Taco Bell helped spur the chihuahua influx, it’s important to consider this when bringing specific breeds and animals into the spotlight.
Taco Bell’s sales may have suffered — but their losses pale in comparison to the mass amounts of chihuahuas euthanized since the end of their campaign.
But surely it won’t happen again. We don't really hype any particular breed the way we hyped chihuahuas over a decade ago...right?
Read more at:
Taco Bell drops TBWA/Chiat/Day: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/07/19/business/media-business-advertising-taco-bell-abruptly-drops-agency-that-created-its.html
Common Shelter Breeds: http://articles.barkpost.com/most-common-breeds-in-shelters-2015/
Loose Shelter Statistics: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/10/local/la-me-chihuahuas10-2009dec10
Paris Hilton Syndrome: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/10/chihuahuas-paris-hilton-syndrome
Chihuahuas as a Fashion Accessory: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/02/14/10401067-yesterdays-fashion-todays-surplus-chihuahuas
Cross-Country Chihuahua Exports: http://cronkitenewsonline.com/2014/04/with-overabundance-of-chihuahuas-in-shelters-groups-exporting-them/
Gidget history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taco_Bell_chihuahua
The most unfortunate truism of our time is that my generation lives most of its life on the Internet. We get our news, our entertainment and our party invitations all in the same place. Never in history have we been able to so carefully curate how folks in our network perceive us. So naturally, this is the most ideal place for advertisers to find us, right?
One of advertising’s golden rules tells us to cut through rather than contribute to existing media clutter. However, this is easier said than done — today’s innovations are tomorrow’s clichés Take the Internet, for example — despite all the academic hours we invested in webvertising when the idea was shiny and new, it’s nothing novel to digital natives.
These digital natives are near-unanimously equipped with what Luke Sullivan calls “The Wall.” In his 2012 manifesto “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This,” he defines The Wall as the “perceptual filter that consumers put up to protect themselves from this tsunami of product information.” And rightfully so — this demographic sifts through more spam E-mail and pop-up ads than any other generation at any point in time. This is why E-mail filters and AdBlock exist — and the fact that so many natives utilize these widgets should be proof enough that webvertising no longer classifies as “cutting through the clutter,” but rather as “building up The Wall.”
So, how do we target a generation that lives on the Internet without using the Internet?
It’s simple: catch them where they least expect it.
Sarpino’s Pizzeria frequently sends me postcards in the mail saying, “We miss you, Mattie!” It plays into the whole millennial “pizza is my boyfriend” kitsch, and it’s hilarious to me. I’ve taken photos of this card and shared it with friends, joking about how I “ordered Sarpino’s one time and now they’re obsessed with me.” Meanwhile, various ads for other pizza parlors pop up in my Facebook feed every single day — and I don’t remember anything about them.
Whether intentional or not, Sarpino’s has made itself top-of-mind by catching us off-guard in a medium usually reserved for bills and cell phone companies. Before E-mail, direct mail was a source of clutter. But direct mail built up our parents’ Walls, not ours. Just as it feels novel to read a book rather than an online article or listen to a record rather than Spotify, receiving a postcard is so much more interesting to digital natives than a pile of online spam — even if it’s from a restaurant.
This doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t utilize the Internet at all — it’s simply a matter of what point in the interaction the web usage takes place. Sarpino’s pizza can be ordered online, and a postcard may remind them to do so. While millennials will almost definitely ignore your initial Internet outreach, they’ll contact you if given an incentive.
Just because your target market spends ample time on Facebook doesn’t make it a viable advertising platform. The knife that’s used the least is often the sharpest — and the most ideal for cutting through the clutter.
Read more at:
“Originality is dead,” thus saith modern-day philosophers. All’s been said, all’s been done. All possible paintings have been painted, songs written, ideas devised - as young professionals, they tell us, there’s nothing original left to contribute.
Yet our generation, ironically, prides itself on originality. And that’s where the concept of “meta” comes in. “Meta” is defined by UrbanDictionary as “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.” This definition is vague, so let’s put it into context. Glimpse Collective’s latest campaign — or anti-campaign — exemplifies exactly what “meta” means.
This campaign is a nod to the 9-5 millennial worker’s stereotypical work ethic, punctuated by procrastination and cat videos. Procatinator.com is dedicated to this exact thing. Like cat videos cut through the clutter of office monotony, this 68-piece cat splash throughout the UK subway tunnels distracted passersby from their commutes. It’s absurd. It’s seemingly nonsensical. It caught your eye, didn’t it?
But the thing is, it’s still an ad. It’s an ad about how ads are boring. This convoluted reach for your attention is the definition of meta.
Not only that, but this anti-ad is actually an advertisement for Battersea Animal Rescue. And whether it convinces you to bring home a cat or not, you noticed the cats while waiting for the train. And that’s all Glimpse wanted you to do.
“Originality is dead,” thus saith modern-day philosophers. But they’re wrong; it’s merely evolved.