Friday, September 28, 2007

Deconstructing Tube Ads - 2: Nokia

There's a poster in the tube showing a phone, or something. And a slogan at the bottom that reads "Be more Nokia".

I have a Nokia phone, as it happens. I am happy with it. I require nothing else from the company. I have not the slightest intention of being "more Nokia". Assuming that what they really mean is "Buy more Nokia", then this ad will reduce the probability of my so doing.

We are people (even those of who have to commute using the tube). We are not brands. We do not aspire to be brands.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tube English 2

When trains are running late, and platforms are crowded (as they were today thanks to the stupid walk-out by drivers on the Circle and District lines), station announcers like to tell us to "Use all available doors". If I was an elementary particle or photon, capable of simultaneously passing through multiple locations (or in some versions of quantum mechanics, theoretically capable of being anywhere in the universe until the collapse of the probability wave function brought about by interaction with another particle or photon), then yes I could indeed aspire to using all available doors. But I am composed of billions upon billions of elementary particles, the probability that I occupy just one position in space-time is overwhelmingly huge and consequently I can use only one door at a time. And so can everyone else. So being told to do something impossible does make the announcers appear to inhabit some parallel universe of their own.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The mind of an Adman

Regular readers will know my dislike of advertising. It is unavoidable when travelling on the Underground, in the form of posters at the stations and placards on the inside of the trains. And any insight into the mindset of those who create this stuff is helpful, in making it easier to resist the endless lies.

So here is an extract from an interview in The Guardian a few days ago with Chamath Palilhapitiya, the VP of product marketing and operations of Facebook.

“We honestly believe if we make advertising more compelling and more socially relevant, we can have significantly less but it being more valuable…the thing is not to have as many ads as possible but to make them as essential and necessary as possible. And then it is not viewed as advertising but as content” (source:

Whoops, what a giveaway. Leaving aside the wonderful idea that there are things that the VP dishonestly believes, he has laid bare the essence of what admen believe – that their products are essential, that we actually need them, that they are as, if not more, relevant than the actual content of the website (TV programme, newspaper…) that we have chosen to read or watch or listen to.

So let me, as VP for plain speaking of Ramblings, make clear – adverts are not essential. They are basically lies. They distort reality. They purport to provide information, but by only giving us information that the admen wishes us to have, and by suppressing anything that the admen consider may be detrimental to their products, in reality they bamboozle and confuse us. And the idea that adverts will come to be considered on the same level of content is really frightening. It means that Facebook users will be unable to distinguish genuine friends and contacts from people trying to sell them something. There will be no distinction between people doing things because of a mutual interest, and people who care only about the money they can make out of you. Ultimately no distinction between truth and lies.

Do I protest too much? Remember the decades in which tobacco manufacturers assured us that smoking was good for us? And those in which we were told about how alcoholic drinks were good for us? The cosmetics firms that cruelly use animals for testing? The cosmetics firms that today sell water and vegetable oils mixed into “creams” to “reduce the signs of ageing”? The airlines who claim to fly to certain cities when in reality they fly to airports many miles from those cities? The ads that claim “Everyone’s talking about…” a brand new product that nobody has ever heard of before? And so on, endlessly, on and on.

No, I protest too little.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Deconstructing tube ads - 1: Coke

I'm bemused* by a poster at Baker Street, on the southbound Bakerloo. It shows a variety of cartoonish images with a sort of 1960s pop music theme. On one side the silhouette of a male, the other a female. They are surrounded by some cliches of musicians (saxophonist bending double, someone swinging a microphone), images of LPs (Long Playing records: Ed) and cassettes, including a "Dansette" type record player (I had one in 1964), a cassette with the word "Love" handwritten on its label, lots of stars and explosions and clutter, and the odd coke bottle. And surrounding the whole charming scene, two sets of audio leads, one male one female, about to be joined together. I don't know how much more suggestive an ad can be. But trying to understand its underlying message is really tough.

You see, all the clobber depicted is old. It was ok stuff when I was young. It has no meaning at all today except as an exercise in nostalgia. So are Coca-Cola trying to reach my generation in order to market their ghastly oversweet rubbish? Hardly. Consider again the meaning of the two about-to-copulate sound leads. Presumably the subliminal message is "Drink this crap and you'll score". But that would aim this ad at young, and fairly dumb, people, who would hardly relate to the rest of the images.

Anyway, I've stared at this ad for a number of days, whilst waiting for a train; as the Bakerloo is such a good service I have never had more than a minute or so. My studies are by no means complete. I think there may be a quite different layer of meaning waiting to be unearthed. Though whether it is "Your parents drank coke so why don't you?" or "Coke, it tastes as bad as the noises depicted", I am not sure.

* This should now read "I was bemused" because the ad is no longer there, having been pasted over by something so ludicrous I may have to comment on it in a new posting