This is not a TV commercial, nor a radio one, nor a pop up on your phone, and certainly not a traditional print ad in a magazine or newspaper, no; this is an advertisement that is invisible to the eyes and made to literally feel like it is coming from your mind. It is a public transportation ad, but not the images in the train or the flickering images outside of it made to animate as you stare blankly at the void in between; this ad speaks to you as you drift in and out of consciousness, delivering its message to your head because you are the one not paying attention and dozing off.
(So it seems that most of us have been dozing off for corporations to take such measures as to transmit high-frequency vibrations through our skull to then be converted to sound in our brain!)
This very target-specific ad made by BBDO Germany for the uninterested audience of today’s cluttered marketplace is for Sky Go, a mobile entertainment service by the British Sky Broadcasting Group since 2006. Offering live and on demand digital content, Sky Go is ideal for the consumers on the go, the people who consume the most ads as they move throughout their day, the commuters. Developing resistance to the ever-increasing clutter, commuters are desensitized consumers, alienated spectators, and to Sky Go, a very bored audience. In this ad, Sky Go appeals to the “Modes of Address” resistance that commuters apparently exhibit, which is a kind of resistance based on “idiosyncratic/peculiar interpretations strongly informed by affective and aesthetic elements (Leiss, 503).” By introducing a different channel of delivery, the nature of this ad emphasizes anti-establishment and stands out from its fellow competitors as it makes windows talk – which is a novel (and “cool”) idea signifying that Sky Go is not your average service, and that this is not your average ad.
An ad of such remarkable form must be acknowledged as a legacy of the Creative Revolution led by Bill Bernbach in the 1960s. Previously dominated by businessmen and centered on a framework of science in production, the ad industry experienced its turning point when Bernbach made copywriters and art directors collaborate to emphasize the artistry in producing enduring ads. He emphasized art over science, and “was the first adman to embrace the mass society critique, to appeal directly to the powerful but unmentionable public fears of conformity, of manipulation, of fraud, and of powerlessness (Frank, 55).” The Creative Revolution had “acknowledgement of and even sympathy with the mass society critique (Frank, 54).” This is identifiable in the Sky Go ad as it acknowledges and sympathizes with a mass society lifestyle by depicting the disconnected attitude of commuters (a form of mass society critique in itself) to ultimately offer ways of life improvement. The ad speaks to commuters, which encompasses the youth (Generation X) population as well. The signifiers include a range of tired and passive-looking 20-something-year-olds to middle-aged men in a variety of attire (suits, leather jacket and a beanie, parka jacket, hoodies, plaid shirts) on the train, interpellating the audience to identify with the characters through the commuter lifestyle and through the characters’ style as they are representational of a portion of the demographic in Europe, or more specifically, Germany. Signifiers of people falling sleep or just staring out into space while narrated as uninterested show that the ad acknowledges the critique, and its quest to obtain attention is self-referential of an ad embracing such critique. Another signifier is the electronic background music played throughout the ad, using intertextuality (drawing upon an already present language) to connote the coolness of its brand and draw similarities to its service. The bokeh/blurred lights connote a weary state/mood against the darkness outside the windows denoting that it is nighttime. The company’s brand name appears a total of 5 times throughout the ad mostly on device screens (either for a fleeting moment or out of focus) and as a clear logo at the end. Branded entertainment as such seek to being the antidote to resistance; everyone in the video looks bored and disconnected until the ad reaches them, which leads to shown interest in a flash of curiosity and a satisfied (or pained) smile (signifier) as they lean against the window to listen to more. People’s reactions in the ad serve as testimonials and are signifiers that connote (positive) psychological effects to viewers, at least, that is the ad’s preferred signified meaning – that Sky Go is there to relieve your boredom and that you would like it.
The most explicit assumptions made in this ad are the boredom and resistance in commuters. The first line that is “spoken” by the window is, “Are you bored” in a monotonous voice and proceeds to saying “Get Sky Go for your mobile, best entertainment of live sport, when you want it, where you want it” – assuming you want it in the first place. This ad literally achieves what Goldman and Papson theorize as, “Consumer ads greet us as individual viewers with what seem to be our own (already) ideological assumptions and personalities” with the narration, “Suddenly a voice inside their head is talking to them” connoting the message comes from the receivers’ own consciousness (Goldman and Papson, 82).”
Key words like “revolutionary” and “innovation” in the copy are also signifiers by the ad denoting something new and different while connoting this use of the audio medium can change the advertising/entertainment landscape.
According to Goldman&Papson, ads are ideological in 4 ways; they socially and culturally construct a world; they disguise and suppress inequalities, injustices, irrationalities, and contradictions; they promote a normative version of our world and our relationships; they reflect the logic of capital. This Sky Go ad is no exception; it demonstrates all of the aforementioned in that it disguises and suppresses inequalities; there are significantly more men depicted, especially middle-aged balding men, than women. There is no racial diversity, thus presenting an all-Caucasian representation of the region/world. The ad socially constructs a world of individualization. It emphasizes that no one can actually hear the message and that it does not affect the general public; the message is delivered to each individual that strays away to convince them to connect with technology rather than with people. The ad reflects and promotes a social state of anti-socialness. Catered specifically to the alienated spectator, the ad assumes that if you’re not plugged in, what else could you be doing, talking to one another? Unlikely in today’s world. You would keep to yourself leaning against the window, and that’s where Sky Go comes in – reflecting the logic of capital – convincing you to “Get Sky Go on your mobile” for relief.
Evident in this Sky Go ad is the clean minimalism and stylistic elegance that derive from the Creative Revolution (Frank, 54). In fact, this ad may be the epitome of minimalism and simplicity – short (in copy) and novel (in delivery) – although Bernbach may not approve. Bernbach was against technocracy, and this ad employs/relies on technology; but since it has been long invented (used by the deaf “since Beethoven”), it should not be considered as elite tech so much as it is the creative use of existing resource making the medium “suddenly relevant to everyone” (Frank, 56). The Sky Go ad directly advertises its new service in its own form; it gives a taste of what is to come with future intended use that include sports broadcast, weather reports and more. It piques your curiosity to check out the service because you cannot see it, yet you would want to see it because seeing is believing. The element of mystery and distance renders it cool.