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.

Empire en Vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.