28 February, 2006


I'm worried by the forms taken by today's advertising. This worry is partly a reflection of my secret fantasy of being an ad-exec, but that's another post. Advertising, of course, has always been about selling a lifestyle or personality as well as the concrete product, a fact unpleasant enough as it is. But then I stumbled across the blurb (a word invented by Gelett Burgess in 1907, incidentally) on the box of a steel laundry-drying rack:

This bothers me more than it should. I think it's the tone of the piece, which contrasts so strongly to its context. As you can see, the text is written in turquoise on a white field, in snappy lowercase Arial; the product itself is typical spartan Ikeoid homeware, sleek and modern and unassuming, not the type of thing you'd give two moments' thought for. It is, after all, a drying-rack.

But the poet's voice affects a casual profundity, the cheerful wisdom of a Great Moment feigned as musing. All the colons in the work are separated by full stops, which gives it a calm but punchy quality. like thoughts. occurring. The line-ends, with the exception of the third, are rhetorically weighted, and dictate the symbolic progression from old to new, interwoven with process: magical-rumpled-presto-wrinkles-right-there-sharp-world. There's even alliteration: 'fresh, feeling sharp'. But then the chumminess of 'you', the vernacular 'spritz' and 'presto' (abbreviated from hey presto!), and the self-conscious cliché of 'right before your very eyes', all of which are there to distract the reader from the text's pseudo-poetic qualities. In other words, we're being sold the rack with a lyrical metaphor packaged as banter. The effect is almost like:
life or death. that's the question.
whether it's better to suffer the trials
and tribulations of the world. or give up.
take your own life.
A text whose function it is to make us buy a drying-rack has taken upon itself the function of Confucius, spouting the cod philosophy of guilt-free abandon, a confession without penance. It advocates a smooth transition from how you look (fresh) and feel (sharp) to what you are: ready—and ready to take on the world, that phrase meaning both 'bear on one's shoulders' and 'square up against'. The ambiguity thus moves between pious steadfastness and pugnacity; old and young alike will be attracted. Lest I be accused of taking all this too seriously, I would point out that the advertisers mean all this very seriously. These men are the new rhetors; it is exactly these individuals who would be lambasted by Socrates in the agora, were he gadding about today. With their syntax, vocabulary and ideas they are burlesquing the most profound instincts of humankind. I cannot help but feel mingled disgust and admiration.


Pretzel Bender said...

I missed this one before Conrad, can't think why. I like this post. And of course I think I share a small fascination with profundity marshalled for profanity, after all, I admire American political rhetors and rhetoric.

And they're heavily consulted by ad men now.

"Q" the Enchanter said...

Alas, brilliant minds can bring a deep gloss to the shallowest idea. Hence: religion and marketing.

Anonymous said...

It's odd, isn't it?

I am, as a failed artist/philosopher, often asked to justify "the point" of the arts and/or philosophy, yet no one asks me to justify any of my work in advertising in a similar fashion, despite the fact that this stuff is clearly more dangerous.

Deleuze and Guattari, whatever you may think of them overall, have a wonderful little thing on advertising in their final collaboration, What is Philosophy? which touches on exactly what you raise here. I'll find it and post it.

Thanks for kicking this one back onto my feed reader!