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


Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.

Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu

Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘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