Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Ads Nauseam

From zitty to pretty Recently, I was struck by a busstop billboard for a well-known teenage brand, stating that using its product will help you go ‘from zitty to pretty’ and be ‘clear-skin gorgeous in only four hours’. There’s no hidden meaning, it’s a simple message: if you have spots, even the slightest pimple, then […]

June 1, 2007
4 min read

From zitty to pretty

Recently, I was struck by a busstop billboard for a well-known teenage brand, stating that using its product will help you go ‘from zitty to pretty’ and be ‘clear-skin gorgeous in only four hours’. There’s no hidden meaning, it’s a simple message: if you have spots, even the slightest pimple, then you are a drop-dead ugly loser in the teen stakes.

Sophisticated consumers

You might not need to be Barthes to interpret ‘zitty to pretty’ but most postmodern advertising is about riding the zeitgeist of kids too cynical, sophisticated and savvy to fall for a simple sales pitch. It’s not the company sponsoring Coronation Street or even product placement you need to worry about (invasive as they are), but where advertisers are disguising their sales messages by becoming the film and game makers, editors, novelists – and even your best mate.

This is advertising that plays on our cynicism and panders to our familiarity with advertising techniques. They deconstruct their own message, use stealth pitches to blur lines between entertainment and marketing and are now appropriating new media at an alarming rate.

Anti-advertising advertising

‘Cultural jammers’ (see Red Pepper print issue, May 2004) are part of the fight back against advertising, playfully parodying and changing ad messages like semiotic Robin Hoods. The Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) and Adbusters work on the principle that if images can create a brand then they can destroy it too. But one thing the advertising boys have that cultural jammers don’t is money and they’ve been quick to adapt antiadvertising techniques.

Companies now spoof their own ads on YouTube and Flurl – even doing spoofs of spoofs, such as last year’s ‘Tango Clear’ spoof of the Sony Bravia ad.

Tango dropped fruit, instead of coloured balls, through the streets of Swansea and the mess left behind so upset Swansea residents they set up a protest and petition on their Swansea North Residents Association website saying ‘Swansea North Will Not Be Dumped On!’ Except they didn’t; their website was created by the ad agency (http://swanseares.org.uk/news.html).

The memetic buzz

The Swansea story is a relatively unsophisticated example of how we are all being ‘tango-ed’. The buzz is now over memes. Richard Dawkins’ theory of memetics hypothesised that, as with genetics, information and ideas (memes) can be self-replicating and spread from brain to brain.

Ad agencies are appropriating the best media possible for this – the mass media of social networking sites, blogs, emails and even RSS feeds – to ensure their message lives on after the advertising campaign has ended.

Word of mouth (WOM)

Agencies are also employing actors to spread the word. Next time you hear an overly loud conversation about a great skin cream or find a swarm of random ‘tourists’ using a particular cameraphone, it could be a gaggle of resting actors.

Individuals are paid to talk about their cool new product, the great film they’ve seen, or even how a certain politician is ‘really for real’. By using peer-to-peer networking routes such as blogs, myspace and facebook profiles, chat rooms and forums it’s becoming much harder to detect the ‘puff’. Sometimes these ambassadors from ad land are not even paid; the ‘social currency’ of being the first to try a new product is enough.

Hyped as ‘genuine’ and underpinned with the argument that these best friends ‘don’t have to say anything positive if they don’t want to’, the new-style WOM advertising is both free and effective – that is, until the public wises up.

Fight back

Don’t be a walking billboard; get rid of the tags and logos from clothing and other items. Remove brand packaging and brand names from your appliances, computers, TVs and CD players.

Get rid of spyware – use programmes to remove it at www.safer-networking.org

Reduce or eliminate junk mail. Sign up to opt out at the Mailing Preference Service at www.mpsonline.org.uk

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it