Have we exhausted our modes of representation in advertising, and are we now suffering from marketing fatigue? Our first issue for 2014 considers old and new advertising technologies, focusing primarily on their relationship with the human being as a body and as an identity. As the authors of this issue set out, humanness has figured ubiquitously in the history of advertising as a vehicle of representation, as a heuristic, and as a site of consumption.
Tracing a long and rich history of human billboarding, Susan McFarlane-Alvarez brings to attention recent advertising efforts that involve the human body as a site for promotion, or as a living component thereof. Resisting the temptation of apocalyptic judgment, McFarlane-Alvarez suggests these phenomena are expressive of new notions of human agencies and free-willed choices, strategically leveraged to achieve relevancy in an increasingly saturated media landscape. Although it is unlikely that selling our foreheads as advertising space to the highest bidder will become a trivial occurrence, “Human Billboarding: Peopled Publicity and a New Space of “Agency” in Advertising” intimates the many potentialities of the body’s involvement in the advertising landscape.
Returning to somewhat more traditional forms of advertising, Joshua Shaffer elaborates on this thought in “Innovating Advertising: Conventional vs. Innovative Anthropomorphic Advertising Approaches in the 21st Century.” Awarded the Alfred J. Seaman Award for Best Undergraduate Paper on Advertising and Society at the AEF’s Honors Night 2013, Shaffer provides an overview of new anthropomorphic tendencies in contemporary ads and draws distinctions between “conventional” and “innovative” anthropomorphisms. Whereas Geico's gecko is exemplary of the former, he argues the latter to be manifest in IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign, which shapes the consumer’s world in anthropomorphic terms without explicitly making use of the rhetorical technique.
Vested at the core of anthropomorphic technologies is the technique of photomontage, which has been prominent in both artistic and commercial imagery. In Photomontage and the Visual Language of Advertising: Two Reviews, Paul Messaris takes us through select episodes of its brief but insightful history, reviewing Photomontage between the Wars (1918–1939) by Adrian Sudhalter and Deborah L. Roldán, and John Heartfield and the Agitated Image: Photography, Persuasion, and the Rise of Avant-Garde Photomontage by Andrés Mario Zervigón. Artistic practices, as it transpires, have fundamentally shaped visual language in advertisements, once more blurring the distinctions between commercial and noncommercial expressions.
After this foray into technologies of representation, it seems fitting to conclude the issue with a Classic Campaign that was both striking and provocative in its visual language and celebrity endorsement. MAC Cosmetics’ VIVA GLAM achieved fame by foregrounding artists RuPaul and k.d. lang as brand ambassadors, challenging both gender stereotypes and beauty conventions against the backdrop of the 1990s AIDS breakout. The campaign is testament to the ability of persuasive technologies to appeal to common humanities, and thereby not only achieve commercial success but, equally and concurrently, engender social impact.
Linda M. Scott
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