Semiotic and Creative Revolution Analysis: Cadillac’s Poolside

One of the industries that was affected most radically by the so-called Creative Revolution was the automobile industry; after all, the revolution itself began with DDB’s 1959 Volkswagen ad. As Thomas Frank points out in Advertising as Cultural Criticism, “in 1950’s ads, cars were posed next to jetfighters and radar dishes along with empty phrases and meaningless neologisms, announcing cars with ‘radical new Turbo-Thrust engines’.” (61) Hence, automobile ads were typically seen as obnoxious and were often the target of criticism, as consumers grew more and more skeptical of the auto industry. However, this all changed as soon as Bill Bernbach and the Creative Revolution came into the picture. Through the analysis of Cadillac’s 2014 Poolside ad I intend to demonstrate the impact the Creative Revolution has had on contemporary advertisement and how this ad in specific is a byproduct of this phenomenon. Additionally, I will analyze the ideological conventions engrained within this ad by utilizing Goldman and Papson’s Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning as a guide.

‪The ad, entitled Poolside, is for Cadillac’s 2014 ELR model. The ad features actor Neal McDonough and it opens up with him standing in front of a pool holding a newspaper and reflecting out loud on the purpose of hard work. The actor then strolls by the pool and enters a house in which two girls are found sitting in a living room, one of them studying and the other one using a tablet. Then he enters the kitchen where he is met by a woman, to whom he hands in the newspaper. Next, the man enters a room and comes out in a grey suit and heads back outside where he boards a car after unplugging it from a cord that connects to the house; all of this is done while he carries on with his reflection on hard work. This ad, even though only one minute and two seconds long is quite rich in terms of signs. The pool, the house and the car are all signifiers that in this case carry the signifieds of wealth and luxury. Additionally, the two girls and the woman can be interpreted as his family. Hence, the denotative meaning of this ad is of a man with a nuclear family who has worked hard in order to achieve his wealth (including, of course, his Cadillac).

This ad is a very dense commodity sign for it attaches the values of hard work, nuclear family and Americaness to Cadillac’s brand. Thus, this ad is not only selling a car, it is also selling an ideology and lifestyle. When the actor explains that Americans are different because “we’re crazy driven, hard working believers” and then lists a series of famous people such as the Wright brothers and Bill Gates, it is attempting to equate the brand to these people by appropriating and recontextualizing the meanings that are already attached to these personalities.  Therefore, consumers can assume that if they work hard enough and buy a Cadillac they’ll be able to live a luxurious and successful life. The main problem with this ad is that it promotes an unfeasible ideology. By creating this unrealistic world in which anyone can be successful the ad completely ignores the fact that in reality there are a lot of injustices and inequality that limit most people from living up to this ideology and in the end it simply reflecting and perpetuating the logic of capital.

This ad is a very interesting example of the legacy left behind by the Revolution. One could say it is actually the opposite of what Bernbach did, for it does not rely on counterculture to make its sales pitch, in the contrary, it is selling consumers the very right-winged, conservative value of hard-work-leads-to-success A.K.A the American Dream. Yet, this ad is very much a product of the Creative Revolution. From a stylistic perspective it portrays some of the most unique characteristics of the Revolution. For instance, it is quite minimalistic, as it is not cluttered with different product claims and it only mentions the product at the very end of the commercial. Thus, this ad is actually quite elegant, as far as ads go, and its script is indeed witty like most of the ads modeled after the Revolution. Also, the ad’s message of “work hard and then you might own a Cadillac” is actually quite straightforward and one could go as far as to say that it is promoting self power and that it is inciting consumers to rebel against conformity through hard work.

Cadillac’s Poolside is a great example of how the Creative Revolution has shaped contemporary advertisement. Ads are now more creative and entertaining than ever before. However, as noted through the previous analysis, it is important to note that they are also more persuading and powerful. Advertising is not only a reflection of our society it is also a force that shapes and structures the meanings we attach to virtually anything in our lives. Therefore, consumers should always take ads’ messages with a grain of salt, regardless of how seemingly honest they may seem, they are still trying to sell you something.

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