In a market such as the one we see before us today (especially in the United States), advertisements abound. As soon as one ends, another begins immediately. The audience is allowed no breaks from the constant pressure of purchase as well as the constant attempt to have them remember a company’s message. Where once there were safe havens, now, there are none. Every nook and cranny of society is susceptible, and is taken advantage of. This, naturally, leads to the problem of clutter in the advertising sphere. Images flash before the audience’s eyes, and product features and slogans go in one ear and out the other. No information is retained. That is, unless is presented in such a way that breaks past this “banner blindness” today’s consumers have. A few approaches have been looked at recently to try to accomplish this task.
The first is a self-aware advertisement. This is one that, similarly to breaking the 4th wall in a TV show or movie, acknowledges that the audience is smarter than that. They know they are being pitched to, just as the audience of a TV show knows they aren’t actually watching Brad Pitt fight someone in their living room. This approach acknowledges that the audience knows, and pokes fun at this fact. Advertisements call themselves out as advertisements, and make fun of themselves for “trying so hard” to get the consumers’ attention. Another approach, and in my opinion, a much more effective one, to defeating the curse of the clutter is one that focuses on the people they are advertising to, not just the product itself. This dematerialization tactic changes the meaning of the product of not just what it is, but who they (the consumers) are. It looks at how this product can fit into their life and make the consumer into a better, different, or ‘more anything’ person. This approach is exactly the one that this Google advertisement takes.
One reason I believe that this advertisement is so successful is that it is a celebration of the people who use it. Not just the users, actually, but of all mankind. Perhaps that seems a little naïve, but just because a company chooses to advertise by celebration doesn’t make it any less genuine. In this commercial, Google recaps the year of 2013, saying, “Here’s what people searched in 2013,” effectively positioning their platform as something that made the subsequent wonderful events occur. For example, the young boy at the end lived in San Francisco and the Make a Wish Foundation turned the city into a real life Gotham for him for a day. He saved damsels and stopped villains, all aided by thousands of volunteers working as extras and organizers to make sure the whole plan went on without a hitch. But you forget that Google even makes that association because you remember the world you live in instead. And in fact, I would argue that this type of advertisement, one that recaps previous events in such a fashion, is immune to cultural cannibalism. Cultural cannibalism is when advertisers to garner a certain audience that identifies with it appropriate an element of culture. Once this piece has been used, abused, and over-done, it is now worthless. It has, effectively, been killed. However, in this montage of important events, people, and accomplishments in 2013, Google is capitalizing on culture, without killing it. It does a wonderful job of using just ever so slightly each individual event so that it honors without killing.
To this effect, as the theme might suggest, this commercial is rife with signifiers that signify progress. The allusion to developments in space exploration is the most neutral out of these signifiers, with the others perhaps being a little more controversial. The controversial ones being the gay couple’s marriage and the Pope’s involvement in a more tolerant approaching to running the Church. These two snippets could be seen as offensive and wrong, but this is also unveiling who Google’s desired target is, relatively liberal-minded people who believe that progression is housed in not only technological advances, but ensuring the lives and rights of everyone is protected. This trend continues when the oversea riots are shown. The use of candles and the actual verbalization of the word “light” is also a signifier of progress and equality and emerging from the ‘darkness’ of the years gone by. Furthermore, this scene is followed by the influential people that passed away in 2013. The candles not only denote light in the dark, but could also be seen as a remembrance, vigil type of expression. Included in those honored are Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and Paul Walker, these people representing power and progress and innovation in their own right.
Lastly, this entire advertisement allows the viewer to interpellate him or herself into it. The viewer was most likely aware of many of the clips that occurred in the ad, and saw progress unfolding around them. Now, the ad has given the audience a platform to truly place themselves in the middle of it all, to feel as though they were part of the reason for this progress. The meaning of it all was to empower the viewer, to use the self-aware dematerialization approach to focus on the building of a people, the building of a society over the last 365 days. It is both non-conformist and conformist. It wants viewers to think differently and to continue to move our country and the world forward while at the same time collectively celebrating all that we have accomplished thus far.
As I have already mentioned, one thing this advertisement does do is downplay the variety of belief systems that exist in today’s world. As Goldman and Papson discuss, advertisements tend to disguise and suppress inequalities, injustices, irrationalities, and promotes a normative view of the world and relationships. These two ideological facts appear in this Google ad. The gay couple is shown, but what is now shown is that many people do you support gay marriage and believe that it is a threat to “traditional marriage.” At the same time, the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, is highlighted in a clip, effectively neglecting to acknowledge that other religions are out there. The commercial also glosses over all of the bloodshed that has occurred in oversea fighting, and emphasizes the normative or irrational belief that all countries in what we deem “peril” need and want to be saved by the United States. Overall, it promotes the normative view that progress is a positive thing. This sounds odd that people might not believe this, but it is possible. People may see change as a bad thing, and think the world is fine just as it is.
This advertisement is a physical example of the legacy that the creative revolution has. When the revolution began, its task was to convince people to buy a VW Bug in a time when Germany and, naturally, German products were unpopular. They had to devise a way to approach advertising that broke past this skepticism. The approach they took was one of taste, art, and vision. They wanted to honor the audience and their intelligence, and turn ads into something more than informative copy and images. The creative revolution took advertising and turns it into culture in its own right. Google has, not only with this ad, but all of their others as well, focused on turning the spot into something people view and it resonates. The audience then turns around and shares it with others because it has meant something to them. And this “Zeitgeist” ad does exactly that, reminiscent both aesthetically and thematically of the creative revolution legacy.