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48 seconds of indignant speak to sell soft drinks

settembre 1, 2012

Da: http://diagonalperiodico.net/48-seconds-of-indignant-speak-to.html

Traduzione di un mio articolo in spagnolo ad opera di Robert Dyas

I would not usually dedicate my time to the analysis of Coca-Cola advertisements but in this particular case the marketing agency McCann seems to me to have entered the realm of propaganda and it is worth a second look.

The 48 second ad can be divided into 2 sections. The first has no narrating voice, the sound occupied instead by the famous “get behind them” (“a por ellos”) that has substituted the “no we can’t” and “es-pa-ná” in the popular tradition of Spanish football team chants. The video starts with a panoramic view of a stadium where a match is being played. Next the focus moves into the depths of the stadium and the first point worthy of analysis is offered up: there is someone flying a Union Jack. Given this is the Euros and not the Olympics, it is surprising that someone has turned up at the stadium with a flag of a country that isn’t competing (United Kingdom). A more critical eye, given the long history of events in the straits of Gibraltar, might think this more than an oversight.

The next image is of an angry looking german smearing war-paint on his face in colours of the german flag, something that in these times of disguised bailouts, does not require further comment. The next group are the irish, another of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) that should have better things to do than give it large in a central square; the dutch are passed by, but soon, while one is still vaguely remembering that Iniesta’s goal in the last world cup came from a corner that was not given to Holland, a flash of blue throws up the crisis fetish word: the risk premium (“prima de riesgo” – variable rate paid by the government when issuing bonds, a popular current daily news topic in Spain), itself an invention of the elite as an explanation to the masses for why they should soon be returned to their original role of slaves, an invention invoked at every opportunity and in any context.

Less than a second later, with just enough time to grasp the concept while a few english pass by (evidently not represented by the Union Jack this time), they appear, Spain’s Nemesis, the Other that allows one to define oneself and feel, although its not clear why, a little better: the italians. From the defensive and provocotive italians (see the gesture of the fan, apparently a typical gesture with the fingers arched indicating violence) we turn to another image on a computer screen. The blog Reporteros Freepress Reporters, an invention of the marketing company using the style and language of citizen journalism, that reminds us that there are 5 million unemployed in Spain (including you who is watching the television). For the next picture the authors decide upon a false article entitled “Europe has no confidence in Spain”. To create this they use a text published in El Confidencial (national newspaper) and, on the falsified page (with a very similar design to El País) they use a photograph that is pure poetry, picturing two unknowns that could be any politician. One looks like Rajoy, a bit darker, apologies for the reference.

The next image to appear is a danish chap jumping around and the following frame is of one of these screens that dictate our lives in the stock exchanges across the world, that indicates the umpteenth demolition of the spanish markets. That is just the prologue to a series of images ever present in the contemporary western episteme: a few stock traders, a building site with no workers, a block of flats in the middle of nowhere, residues of a street battle etc. After this we hear the voice of an english newsreader that, no doubt, is not reading good news and other supposed web pages then appear.

The main title of the first page is “Corruption is suffocating Spain”, the subheadings are: “Financial innovation does not mean death” (in english), “Analysis of the bailout plans” and the emblematic “Saving trend hits laminate flooring sales”. Then, at a dizzy pace, the others arrive: “Stockmarkets flagging”, “Financial Chaos”, “Financial asphixiation” and “Free Fall”. We can only read these by pausing the video. In this climax, a second of silence, and the narration comes back to that famous match between Holland and Spain and the studs in the chest of Xabi Alonso. We see a player picking himself up in pain and this is the key moment in the advertisement because, in the face of such injustice, a spectator rips up the newspaper with the “Free Fall” headline. He tears it to pieces and throws is from the stand creating a ticker-tape effect that we view from the centre of the pitch.

Get behind them!

The chant returns, the game restarts and another series of images begins, heterogenous in form and content: “España, first country in the world in organ donorship”, another website announces; “Together we can” on a hand written sign, the first to imitate the language used in the 15M demonstrations. Next some fishermen (a sector with plenty of problems); a child writing (an act that will probably be reserved in a few years only for those that have an uncle in the church); one of the many trains unveiled in recent years that don’t go anywhere; images taken from the archives of the more prestigious times of some volunteers; a video from Youtube where a darling tells us that “spanish technology companies increase sales” (by relocating to China they should add); little ribbons in the colours of various charitable organisations; a poster for blood donations; a “We are all Lorca” (the town but maybe referring to the poet as well) written in the style of a well-known social network; and volunteers from the Red Cross that give way to the “disaster” that the debate has generated: the use in marketing of the the popular demonstration, what Carlos Taibo has dubbed: “Seudo 15M iconography”.

The 15M is never cited but, as Roland Barthes has noted, the polysemy charges the image with ambiguities and multi-purpose meanings that, to be avoided, require the intervention of a string of devices that steer the interpretation precisely and without contradiction. In this case these devices, the “anchors”, are represented by the already mentioned social network and another two: the united and organized crowd and the occupations (acampadas). The camera reveals the interior of a tent in the camp in an urban square (the Puerta del Sol – central square Madrid) and then returns to the football fans, painting an idealised path that unites all in one commodification. The rhetoric of Coca-Cola is confided by a voice that accompanies the last images with this phrase: “We’re going to show Europe just what we’re capable of when we’re united.” On the football pitch firstly and then, maybe, well we’ll see.

Positive identity

One could interpret that the intention was to create a dramatic narrative that, while still reminding us that according to some, we live in a valley of tears and destruction, surrounded by europeans that want to take everything from us (from the public companies to the European Cup), Spain still has a positive identity (reflected as much in the donation of organs as in the popular demonstrations). Therefore whatever is happening, it can’t be that bad: relax, have a soft drink and distract yourself with the football.

What reflexions are provoked by this ad? What can we do with these relexions? The first, that incorporates all the rest, is that Walter Benjamin and some others in Frankfurt were right after all: in the culture of industry, nothing escapes from commodification, as seen with numerous counter-cultures and suppposed alternatives in the past 50 years. Zizek in his, First as tragedy, then as farce, explains that Starbucks uses the language and imagery of “alternatives” to present itself as an ethical product to its audience. The second is that the new structure of the audiovisual languages, used by those producing videos for the recent social movements, has proven, in a quantitative sense, its potency. It is being co-opted by “power” and this itself steers us to another reflexion.

It confirms that the initial success of the 15M in spreading anti-capitalist material was due to, amongst many other things, the realization that the rites of the system could be used and exploited, in other words, commercial publicity, political language and communication channels. Some of the strategies propagated in the material on the social networks, and reflected in the traditional media, have been similar to those in recent years to launch new products through online marketing. This advertisement proves in this case that Power has also learnt, on a larger scale, the populist language and its uses for their own ends, the reification of what was at the start simply a spontaneous expression.

The conclusion that I reach from this analysis is that the channel is not itself the message. Grassroots strategies should take advantage of the fact that the culture of industry now needs to include the “new popular” in their marketing, in the sense of “from the people” and the “celebrated” to pursue its objectives. It could be interpreted as a provocation but I sincerely believe that the properly prepared “indignant”, that sneaks into the next Big Brother and uses their language and dynamics, would achieve a connection with an audience that does not usually use the internet to learn how they are being exploited. If “Power” speaks “your” language to sell more cans of soft drink, you should use theirs, down to the most base and visceral, to colour your ideas and social imaginaries (correzione ad opera mia).

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2 commenti
  1. Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
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    Would you advise starting with a free platform like
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