Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advertising and happiness

click photo to enlarge
Modern advertising has always intrigued me. One of my early blog posts, in 2006, was called "Gullibility and advertising". I returned to the subject via product names in 2010 in the post, "Silly brand names and pier views". In 2012 "Underpants, celebrities and gibberish" found me reflecting on no less than David Beckham's boxer briefs, and in April of this year the sight of people volunteering to stand under artificially created rain while fake thunder and lightning crashed and flashed about them prompted "Advertising puzzles me". Advertising is so ubiquitous and, it must be said, often so clever, that we often fail to register it at a conscious level. However, at a subconscious level it feeds on us like a tapeworm, gnawing away at our very being, influencing what we buy, why we buy it and changing our perception of just what a product can do for us.

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that one of the main aims of advertising was to obscure the distinction between pleasure and happiness. We see this in the cliche of a new car being sold through a film of a young couple driving down an empty road in beautiful, sunny countryside, smiling beatitudinously, as though blessed with all the happiness that it is possible for life to confer upon them. Buy this car, the subtext says, and you will be like them. Or buy the wrist-watch that George Clooney advertises and you'll be like him. Or happiness is yours if only you wear this or that brand of clothing, eat at our restaurant, or live in our exclusive residential development. The fact is, that advertisements rarely give you straightforward, factual information about the product they are trying to sell. Instead they tell a fictional story about achieving happiness, pleasure, status or a life-changing experience, in which you are encouraged to see yourself as the main character, the person who is transformed by something as simple and easy as a purchase. At the heart of much advertising, it must be said, is dishonesty.

That thought was sparked the other day when we were in London. We were heading for Waterloo tube station one evening and passed the British Film Institute's IMAX cinema, a large circular building with illuminated, wrap-around advertising. The word "Honestly" was part of an advert for I know not what. And, as I raised my camera to photograph the building with a cluster of London Transport double-deckers below it, I wondered whether honesty figured anywhere in the pitch being made to we passers-by.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24.1mm (65mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On