“Virgin Mobile Presents An Obvious Deal”

I have selected Virgin Mobile’s commercial “Virgin Mobile Presents An Obvious Deal” which is currently airing on various television networks. The ad begins with a slow push in on the commercial’s spokesman, a male actor who speaks directly to camera and laments that people are missing out on Virgin mobile’s amazing deals. He continues saying that maybe the company needs to be more obvious and lifts and mug into frame and takes a sip – the mug reads “Seriously, $35 a month”. He stands and proceeds, saying that Virgin typically likes to be subtler, (presumably he means in their advertising). The camera follows him as he walks by various brightly colored posters, flags and cannons shooting confetti – all that declare Virgin mobile’s deals. His final line is “Maybe a deal this obvious needs to be stated, obviously”. A voiceover closes the ad saying “this is obviously our website” as Virgin Mobile’s website flashes onscreen with blinking arrows pointing to the URL.

Despite this ad’s emphasis on the obvious, the advertiser is relying on the viewers’ ability to read signs and make associations. We, as viewers, take part in creating the ad’s meaning and advertisers depend on us to make these meanings quickly. A sign can be broken down into a denotative signifier (what we actually see) and a connotative signified (what it means to us). If we broke down this commercial completely there would be an infinite number of signs, but I will pick out three in particular to discuss. First is the waving inflatable tube person the spokesman walks by. Commonly seen at car dealerships, we know this tool to be an immediate attention-grabber. Furthermore, we associate this sign with the flagrant, in-your-face salesmanship that is so often employed by car salesmen. The advertisers behind the Virgin Mobile ad clearly assume that viewers will have some knowledge of or experience with car dealerships and will thus be able to read the sign in this way. Another sign put to use in this ad is the cannon that shoots confetti. Not an everyday sight, the cannon makes me think of a circus or a big sporting event. In both cases, the cannon would be part of a show and thus the center of attention. The confetti, common at birthdays and other parties, additionally implies notions of celebration and excitement. Finally, the blinking arrows at the end of the ad serve as a sign. Arrows, whether seen on street signs or otherwise are directional tools that tell us where to go or where to look. This remains the case here, where the arrows signify where our attention should be directed and the website we should go to. Ultimately, the combination of signs presents a certain ideology to the viewer. The main message being communicated is that Virgin mobile’s deals are worthy of attention and celebration. Advertising can carry ideology in four ways, but in this case I would argue the ad presents a certain ideology by disguising and suppressing inequalities, irrationalities and contradictions. The ad presents such specific information that it cannot help but exclude certain details, both about Virgin and other mobile companies. In order to present Virgin as the “obvious” choice, the advertiser is forced to suppress any information that would make them appear otherwise.

The Creative Revolution saw a shift in the advertising industry from valuing business savvy to a newfound appreciation for innovation and originality. Advertisers picked up on this and attempted to sell products as a way to stand out and be different. Advertisers were looking to do the unexpected and form a relationship with the consumer by suggesting that their product would promote individuality and identity. By saying that most people are missing out on Virgin Mobile’s deals, the ad encourages the viewer to be different by recognizing how good the deal is. This ad was made possible by the Creative Revolution because it reflects the notion that there are no black and white rules to advertising. As Frank discusses in “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent” advertisers absorbed the concept of rule breaking in the 1960s, thus removing its power from the consumer. As Bernbach believed, advertising was not a science driven by numbers. Rather, if it was original, advertising had artistic and cultural value in itself. Watching “Art and Copy” there was a Braniff International ad in which the spokesman talked directly to camera and acknowledged various elements of the ad he was in. This self-awareness is mirrored in Virgin Mobile’s ad. One might initially think a viewer could be turned off by the assumption that he did not understand Virgin’s subtler ads, but the ad appeals to the cynical spectator by conveying that the advertiser respects the viewer enough to know that he cannot hide the fact that this is an ad. Self-awareness, as well as humor and self-deprecation, were commonplace during the Creative Revolution and watching Virgin Mobile’s ad we see how these techniques are still in use today.

Megan G.

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