Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: Challenges and prospects

Digital/Social Advertising Trends Assignment

by Bianca Bianchi & Vanessa Zdesar

Social networking sites (SNS) have transformed the way we connect with our friends, family and  the rest of the world. With all of this, the innovated web has also changed the way we are exposed to advertising. Corporations have changed their marketing strategies to adapt to the new “Web 2.0” era, which relies mostly on online content and social networking sites to spread brand awareness. Advertising on social networking sites (SNS) has embedded itself in our conversations and connections online; what was once a billboard ad has now become a viral video that people share amongst their network of friends. People today–the youth market in particular–spend a majority of their free time on the Internet and its various SNS, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Alcohol brands have harnessed the accessibility of SNS and online advertising to become pioneers in the social media marketing industry. Therefore, beer and liquor companies are targeting both their current customers and future (hopeful) customers. David Jernigan and Anne Rushman’s 2013 article, “Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: challenges and prospects” argues that the lack of monitoring on SNS advertising has resulted in alcohol brands normalizing alcohol consumption at a much earlier age than ever before.

Studies done in the past have examined the effects of exposure to alcohol marketing on the youth, but Jernigan and Rushman’s study is the first to examine these effects on the digital, rather than traditional, platform. In the past, traditional mediums like television and radio were used to advertise alcohol brands. However, we have entered the “web 2.0” era, the interactive world of social media. Not only do consumers of all ages spend more time on the internet than before, but now over 75% of teens ages 13-20 use SNS, where the majority of alcohol advertising is done. Jernigan and Rushman’s study entailed analyzing the Facebook activity of 15 alcohol brands surveyed to be the most popular among 13-20 year olds. This was done with the help of an app the authors licensed called CrowdTange. With this app, Jernigan and Rushman were able to monitor the Facebook activity of these 15 brands, both in terms of brand activity and user engagement (i.e. posting, ‘liking’, sharing within the brand’s Facebook page). The three figures below show that by 2012, user engagement on Facebook for these top alcohol brands exploded.

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While most SNS restrict alcohol branded pages to those under 21 in the US, it is likely that users create social media accounts with false ages. Furthermore, these sites are so poorly monitored that alcoholic content not suitable for minors is easily accessible. YouTube, for example, requires a date of birth to create an account and view age restricted material, but teens can easily view the same material from an unofficial page that another user uploads. When creating a Twitter profile, the site does not request a date of birth; therefore, even if different pages within twitter request age verification, it is easy to lie. Once a user puts in the information for one page, it is saved for further pages that normally require age verification. Clearly, it is so easy to circumvent the measures SNS have taken to try and prevent the youth market from being exposed to alcohol marketing.

Not only is SNS content so accessible, but it is easily shared and spread to other underage audience members. In the example below, user-uploaded photos on Bud Light’s Facebook page depict  youthful looking drinkers. The snapshot below is a recent example of Bud Light encouraging user-uploaded photos. While this is simple post of a guy relaxing with a beer, the article explains “Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), ruled in a recent circular that alcohol-branded SNS pages and channels are advertisements” (Jernigan and Rushman. 100). Therefore, a simple post on Bud Light’s fan page is considered an advertisement, one that could be easily exposed to the youth market. With over 9,000 likes, this activity shows up on users’ newsfeeds. Furthermore, the 1,120 shares implies that these photos are now on thousands of profiles. Not only is this free advertising for Bud Light, but also a loophole to access the youth market. Once the image is on someone’s personal Facebook wall, his or her whole network is exposed to the Bud Light image (essentially, the ad). The image and its caption “Nothing feels better than Friday at 5” are very ambiguous signifiers. By making a very simple post that almost any adult can associate with, the image becomes ‘shareable.’


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The next example of easily accessible youth marketing of alcohol brands is on Twitter. Twitter only requires age verification when visiting a public page of an alcohol brand. Again, because of the ability to forge one’s age, all content, including tweets and pictures, is accessible to all users regardless of age and whether or not they are following the brand. The image below is an example of an alcohol brand, Four Loko, taking advantage of the accessible youth market. Because Twitter is a social platform, fans can retweet Four Loko’s tweet and it becomes an advertisement available to all ages through SNS. The title of their profile says “you must confirm you are of legal drinking age.” Although, their tweet from March 25th responds to fan tweets and insures that the company will “continue to bring our loyal fans the products they LOVE!” By talking to the fans directly, this tweet has a sharable quality in it that result in fans retweeting this message and sharing it with their followers. In addition to the tweet being a promoted (paid advertisement), the #FourLoko is a hyperlink that could easily become a trending topic on Twitter.


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YouTube also require age verification before viewing a branded alcohol page. However, because YouTube is a video-sharing platform, age verification is not required when videos are on unofficial channels. The example below is a Budweiser Superbowl commercial that is now on the beer’s YouTube channel. To view the video through Budweiser’s account, age verification is required (though easily forged). However, when shared and embedded onto other web 2.0 pages, the video becomes available to all ages. The commercial itself is a cute story of a love between a horse and a puppy. Therefore, the content was very sharable and was discussed among all SNS and news blogs, resulting in over 50 million views.


This scholarly article concludes that with “all of these SNS, with varying levels of ease, it appears that underage users can access alcohol content” (Jernigan and Rushman. 100). Each site that requires age verification simply asks a user to input his/her year of birth. Although third-party software exists that is able to generate–through the use of outside information–a user’s true age, it is simply not being put to use. Therefore, the lack of regulation suggests that alcohol brands are in control of capitalism in our current society. When reading this article, we (Vanessa and Bianca) agreed that the easily accessible alcohol advertising is embedded in the web because these brands appear throughout multiple channels of contemporary culture. Through sponsoring popular sports, fashion and music events and generating viral content, these brands are now attached to a valued lifestyle that are discussed on the web 2.0. Through this strategy, the youth market described in this article is exposed to alcohol consumption in almost every aspect of digital culture. Alcohol brands are exploiting personal SNS accounts as free advertising through producing content that can easily go viral. Jernigan and Rushman state that these trends need to be monitored and regulated. However, alcohol brands’ involvement with almost every aspect of culture makes it almost impossible to control. The youth market is an attractive group to target. While 13 to 20 year olds cannot legally purchase alcohol, the advertisements on social media platforms can influence their purchasing decisions in the future and build loyalty to brands (and lifestyles). Young adults spend disposable income on alcohol and will need help deciding what brand is cool. By attaching alcohol brands to popular discourses among youth culture, these SNS advertisements promote alcohol consumption as normalized and glamorized lifestyles.


Work Cited

Jernigan, David H., and Anne E. Rushman. “Measuring Youth Exposure to Alcohol Marketing on Social Networking Sites: Challenges and Prospects.” Journal of Public Health Policy 35.1 (2013): 91-104. Print.


‘Eating Your Feelings’



Lindt Truffle

Most people (myself included) can admit that they have a soft spot for chocolate. There is nothing better than treating yourself to a sweet snack. However, in advertising, the simple pleasure of indulging in sweets has transformed into a sexualized fantasy as if it is out of a romance film. The YouTube (also shown on TV) ads displayed above are examples of chocolate and coffee companies targeting women by suggesting that their problems and insecurities can be resolved through consuming unhealthy snacks, or what I call, eating their feelings.

The Dove, Nespresso, and Lindt commercials (shown above) all share the feature of paralleling the product to a young attractive male figure in the setting of a romance film. However, instead of courting the woman romantically, he is serving her the satisfaction of indulging in sweets. As a result of this, the beautiful models are women who appear happy and independent. All three products appear as exotic or international by attaching cultural and stereotypical themes to their ads. The final common theme they all share is the product (either chocolate or coffee) is displayed as the desirable object. For example, the slow-motion pour of coffee in the Nespresso ad does not send a merely literal message. Above all, the slow sensual pouring functions as a code to symbolize desire or sensuality (Barthes. 20).  These features suggest the advisements promote the ideology that enticing but unhealthy food can satisfy women’s desires and aspirations. This not only exploits women, but it suggests that consumer culture is constructing unrealistic needs and expectations out of womens lives.

This communicated ideology is proved through the four ideological functions described in Goldman and Papson’s Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning. First, these ads socially and culturally construct a world in which women can be empowered through consuming sugary treatsBy attaching the idea “individual freedom” to these sexualized products, the videos are using the tactic of “commodity feminism” (Goldman, Heath, & Smith. 338). For example, the slow motion and red curtains revealing the Lindt truffle signify an irresistible “luscious” desire. The audience is told that a bite of the chocolate turns into a moment of “passion.” The ad suggests that a woman is independently satisfied and empowered through the chocolate’s sensuality.

Dove chocolate also uses this tactic in a commercial by digitally altering a model’s face to look more like Audrey Hepburn. This movie star character chooses chocolate over the attractive man. By using a cultural figure who most women idolize, Dove attaches the meaning of feminism to their brand. When she puts the hat on the man and sits in the back of the car, she appears rebellious and independent from men.

In the Nespresso coffee video, Penelope Cruz tells the audience that her perfect café is where she “never has to compromise on anything.” By choosing this coffee, that is depicted to be more desirable than the young man holding it, the ad suggests that women do not need a man or to compromise for one when drinking Nespresso. These tactics exemplify marketers turning “feminist social goals to individual life-style” that can be purchased (Goldman, Heath, & Smith. 336).

Secondly, the ideology is told through the ads by disguising and suppressing inequalities, injustices, irrationalities and contradictions about nationalities (Goldman & Papson. 96)For example, the Nespresso ad exploits Penelope Cruz’s race by using the European stereotype to sell coffee to Americans. This tactic is described in Hook’s Eating the Other where “ethnicity becomes spice, seasons that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (366). Ignoring the fact that not all Europeans have a mediterranean look and accent like Penelope Cruz suggests that Nespresso is commodifying race to make their product appear international. Furthermore, Lindt sells their chocolate by attaching the Swiss origin to their brand, while Dove (an American brand) uses an Italian setting. These commercials communicate to their audience that diversity can be experienced through “eating” their products.

The third function, discussed by Goldman and Papson, is when the ads communicate a discourse that promotes a normative vision of our relationships (96). By exploiting women’s dreams and fantasies for a romantic relationship, the commercials suggest that the best relationships are through unhealthy consumption. The fourth way that these ads carry the ideology is by reflecting the logic of capital (Goldman and Papson. 96). The satisfaction depicted through the models smiling and closing their eyes in a sensual way (image below) suggests that this will be experienced through purchasing their product. The sense of satisfaction not only suggests sexual satisfaction, but also confirms the woman’s ultimate choice of product.


Women cannot really believe that chocolate or a cappuccino can give them the satisfaction of independence, do they? Unfortunately, they must! Most food ads targeted towards women utilize this ideology because it is working. Therefore, to expose the truths behind brands exploiting nationalities and women’s insecurities, I will create a spoof video titled “Eating Your Feelings.” The spoof video will consist of video similar to these examples. The first scene will consist of an exotic looking woman happily taking a bite into a piece of chocolate over a romantic sounding song. The voice over in the video will sensually say ‘happiness with every bite.’ The next scene will be a young woman sitting at the table covered in expensive chocolate and empty wrappers. Struggling to take another bite, she thinks aloud and questions ‘is this what “happiness with every bite” means?’ As the chocolate makes a mess, she looks sick and full of the amount of chocolate she just consumedFeeling no different than she did before, she just realizes that the ad on TV is a scam and is left with a melted chocolate bar in her hands.

The spoof video contrasts the lives depicted in the advertisements to the realities of consuming unhealthy snacks. The purpose of this spoof is to prove that a liberating and sensual experience cannot be attained through consumption. Using the common elements of these commercials (such as commodity racism, and commodity feminism) and then exposing the realities through twisted humor will hopefully explain that these companies exploit anything to trick us. The comedic part of the video will be that we all agree that the reality of eating a lot of chocolate is sickening, however, the viewer will also feel bad for the girl in the film, and will then learn not to listen to the advertisements. These companies are not interested in the happiness of women, instead interested in the money they spend hoping to achieve happiness. Vince Carducci explains this “‘meme’ warfare” technique as “culture jamming.” By applying my criques to an element of popular culture such as YouTube, my video will hopefully intersect the “consumer culture as a viable path to social change” (130). I would like my counter video to speak to women and tell them not be dissuaded into consuming overpriced, unhealthy products in an attempt to better your situationQuite the opposite of feminist independence, by associating themselves with commodities, the women of the ads are making themselves objects of consumption.


Advertising in Your Dreams – “The Talking Window” by BBDO Germany for Sky Go


English Version

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.



Coca-Cola – “It’s Beautiful”

Simply titled, “It’s Beautiful,” the above Coca-Cola advertisement aired during the 2014 Superbowl. Sung in seven different languages, weaving in and out of English, the tune “America the Beautiful” plays in the background while the commercial does an expansive sweep across the nation, featuring urban metropolises as well as vast, rural landscapes. Within its short sixty seconds, the fully loaded commercial features a plethora of rich signifiers. Pick-up trucks, Stetson hats, and men riding horses along a backdrop of mountains splattered with greenery signify a “Midwestern” theme. Similarly, street-dancers and streets lined with lights are signifiers that signify city life such as that found in New York, L.A. or Chicago.
Furthermore, the commercial features people of various ethnicities and religions, denoted by the spectrum in skin color and facial features, which we come to understand connotatively as Hispanic or African-American. Similarly, in the case of two men wearing kippahs, Judaism is the implicit meaning. With all these quick cuts and potent signs, the advertisement references a long list of stories and lifestyles in a matter of seconds. Perhaps the most important signifiers, the recognizable glass bottle shape and the red metal bottle caps with white font, signify a refreshing drink, and more specifically, an American beverage.

While the Coca-Cola ad doesn’t seem necessarily self-aware in the sense that it doesn’t mock itself, to an alienated spectator who views commercials with cynicism it also doesn’t read as an advertisement. The product receives little on-air time, and seems to be promoting unity and an appreciation of the country, rather than the actual product. The advertisement’s target audience is a broad one, as men and women of different ages and races can all enjoy and appreciate the commercial and the actual product. While Coca-Cola isn’t singling out the youth and attempting to position their product as “cool,” their inclusion of young adults surfing or driving and enjoying Coke suggests it’s a product the youth can and should enjoy. The ideas the advertisement places forward regarding conformity may be interpreted in a variety of ways, some of which are highly contradictory. The bulk of essential ‘Americana’ images consist of family barbeques a la the “Fourth of July,” hot dogs and apple pie, along with red-white-and-blue-spangled everything. This is a highly uniform, one-dimensional version of America which also usually implies Caucasian, cookie-cutter families with blonde hair and khaki pants. On the other hand, the word may conjure up the idea of diversity and immigration. America is well-known for its welcoming attitude regarding different cultures and races. The ad wants people from every nook and cranny of America to avoid conformity, express one’s unique culture and do so by buying their product.

From an ideological perspective, while the ad aims to showcase the diverse nature of America, it disguises some of the cold and unfortunate realities of the USA. Different races are shown, but the ad illusively ignores the fact that many people who immigrate to America are a) minorities and, b) struggling to make a living and obtain the highly coveted American Dream. The ad also reflects Goldman and Papson’s logic of capital, as Coca-Cola links purchase of their soda with feelings of unity, camaraderie and overall positivity. Furthermore, the ad’s usage of scenes such as families roller-blading and embracing, and children camping out or going to the movies provide a normative vision of our world and the loving, social relationships between one another. On an ideological level, the ad’s goal is simply to emphasis America’s diversity as an attractive and positive feature while positioning Coca-Cola as a product that can unite consumers over this idea.

With the new approach brought forward by the Creative Revolution, the reality comprehended by advertisers suggests people don’t mind being advertised to if ads are ambitious and interesting, and viewers can enjoy and understand the process. This ad’s heartwarming, emotional appeal achieves this goal, seeking to instill a feeling of happiness. The message Coke displays is a positive one, simply saying America is a beautiful place for all types of people, and their product, Coca-Cola celebrates that and brings people together. The idea of the mass culture critique is relevant here, too, as Coca-Cola’s concentration on a wide range of people says consumers can come from anywhere and be anyone while still enjoying Coca-Cola. Furthermore, the ad’s content and style prove the Creative Revolution’s shift from hard facts to originality and an artistic approach. The actual product receives little air-time, but glimpses of sips from the Coke bottle are interspersed within the scene cuts, including a cute tidbit of children diving in a pool for Coke bottle caps, almost as if they’re fishing for treasure. Emphasis on the product’s taste, price and other features, is replaced by focusing on the experience that comes from the product, demonstrating one of the goals of advertisements made after the Creative Revolution.

– Victoria O.

RadioShack ‘The Phone Call’ Advertisement Analysis

Since the 1960s, the field of advertising has experienced drastic changes, which have resulted in advertisements that are more innovative, smarter, and more complex than ever before. Even today, the legacy of these changes, known as the creative revolution of advertising, has continued to shape the creation of many ad campaigns. Among those most obviously influenced by these changes is the 2014 RadioShack Superbowl commercial, as it is geared toward consumers who are skeptical of advertisements in general, which characterized why the revolution initially began. Furthermore, this advertisement speaks to those who are highly critical of mass consumption and conformity, which, in the 1960s, sparked companies to employ many new tactics to gain consumers’ trust and have their products stand out from the other thousands of products in the market.

This RadioShack commercial is very self-aware and works to showcase the company’s authenticity because it explicitly makes fun of itself by stating that the “80s called and they want their store back.” By stating this in the advertisement, RadioShack is acknowledging that their practices and products are old-fashioned and that they need to improve to keep up with its intended consumers who are young and technologically-advanced people. This ad also shows that it is anti-establishment by recognizing that RadioShack uses many traditional methods but actually wants to go against the grain, and also be innovative and cooler than its competitors, who will continue to take the safe route and stay within the typical confinement of the establishment. Lastly, this advertisement is influenced by the creative revolution because it specifically appeals to “alienated spectators” by being clever and witty, referencing other common texts, and also by utilizing well-known figures with which media-savvy consumers can identify.

The RadioShack advertisement possesses many denotative meanings, which are its literal meanings. The commercial shows two men wearing RadioShack shirts followed by several people and characters coming into the room they are in and taking away all the items that are inside and then leaving with them. The scene that is created can be better understood when cultural assumptions and practices are projected onto it and thus the connotative meanings can be recognized. Through what is signified, the audience can interpret that the two men are RadioShack employees and when one states that the “80s called and they want their store back,” individuals that are iconic of the 80s era come in to take “their store” back. Among these people and characters are Hulk Hogan, Alf, the Chucky Doll, and Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, who each then signify other ideas and meanings, which is known as “chains of signification.” There were additional actors and singers that I was not familiar with, since I was born in the 1990s, which shows that the intended audience for this commercial is likely people in their thirties or forties, who can understand all of the referenced characters and figures. The other important signifiers are the items that the iconic figures took away from the store, which are signified as very outdated pieces of technology including large boxy computer monitors, old-fashioned radios and VCRS. Without knowledge of current technologies, viewers would not understand this established connotative meaning. In addition, the song “Working For The Weekend” by Loverboy is playing, which further illustrates and constructs the 80s feel and positions the audience in a nostalgic mood throughout the advertisement.

The RadioShack Phone Call commercial is very intertextual and self-referential, as it explicitly makes reference to dozens of figures that were prominent pop-culture icons in the 1980s. This works to form a relationship between the potential consumers and the RadioShack brand because RadioShack products and stores are now associated with very prominent and famous images. This advertisement is also an example of cultural cannibalism because it takes many aspects of 1980s culture and attaches their meanings to the RadioShack brand, which then changes the initial connotations when the brand “eats up” what the symbols and icons used to signify. RadioShack instead appropriates the images with new meanings and forms new associations for the audience to have when they come into contact with these images elsewhere.

Though this advertisement is quite original and innovative, it is still ideological in a number of ways. In their article “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning,” Goldman and Papson explain that advertisements are ideological because they socially and culturally construct the world, promote the normative vision of our world, and reflect the logic of capital. These concepts are illustrated in the final ten seconds of the commercial, where the “new” RadioShack is shown, the words “come see what’s possible when we do things together” are stated, and all the new technology products are shown behind the customers. This scene socially and culturally constructs a reality that consuming products and purchasing goods can enhance community and bring different people together. As a result, a capitalist society and consumer culture are explicitly promoted. In addition, the advertisement emphasizes how positive consumption can be, while ignoring that not everyone can afford to purchase new and expensive electronics from RadioShack just because RadioShack has changed its look and organization.

-Aimee S.

Semiotic & Creative Revolution Analysis – Farmed & Dangerous

Chipotle Farmed and Dangerous Official Trailer

The popular chain of Mexican-style food, Chipotle, has received international recognition for its organic ingredients and naturally raised meat. For a fast food chain, these ingredients are rarely found in chains such as Burger King and Taco Bell. Chipotle uses its unique approach to cooking in order to change peoples perception of fast food, and to stand out from its competitors. This is exemplified in the recent trailer for a web-series called, Farmed and Dangerous. The trailer is advertising a series that is all sponsored and curated by Chipotle. The Farmed and Dangerous trailer functions as a commodity sign that promotes Chipotle’s brand and ideologies by attaching it to the social and cultural value of a TV series on   

With almost 900,000 views, the 2:17 minute long trailer for Farmed and Dangerous is about a marketing firm protecting the image of a major farming corporation, Animoil. A farmer activist, Chris Randolph (played by John Sloan), reveals a video of cows exploding due to petroleum oil in the animal feed and tries to raise awareness about the industrial agriculture world. At the very end of the trailer “An Original Chipotle Series” with the Chipotle logo of a Chili is displayed over the series title, Farmed and Dangerous.

Within the first few seconds of the video, the ad carries ideologies in the four cases described in Goldman and Papson’s “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” First, the trailer constructs a negative representation of the industrial agriculture industry (95). Socially and culturally, the trailer exposes the chemicals and hormones used in the mass-produced and mass-consumed food. This is accomplished by using images of a dark and stormy Animoil factory as the signifier. The opening image signifies that the factory is evil. This is also communicated through the made up corporation name, Animoil, that is a combination of the words, animal and oil. The old men (played by Ray Wise and Eric Pierpoint) discuss the newest scientific experiment to put oil in livestock’s food, petro-pellets, which is the “biggest improvement in agriculture since synthetic growth hormones.” The connotative meaning of the older men in conversation signifies that they are corporate executives and are only interested in money. Throughout the two minutes, they make ignorant comments, threaten activists with guns and take photos in front of fake farms. This signifies that the corporations do not have our health or safety in their interest. Thus, Chipotle uses this trailer to attach negative notions about its competitors that include brands like Taco Bell or Wendy’s.

The second sense that the Farmed and Dangerous trailer carries Chipotle’s ideology about the agriculture industry is exemplified when the trailer disguises and suppresses inequalities and injustices (Goldman & Papson. 96). This is done by not specifying what fast food chains are associated with the industrial farm, Arminoil. It is important to note that the fast food chains these factory men are associated with could also refer to McDonalds, who is an investor in Chipotle. Additionally, the trailer hides the inequality regarding the fact that Chipotle’s food costs more than the food at fast food chains. Therefore, McDonalds could even endorse this trailer because the target audiences for each company are different.

The third case, discussed by Goldman and Papson, is when the ad is a discourse that promotes a normative vision of our world and relationships (96). By creating an ad that fits in the normal vision of TV entertainment, Chipotle incorporates its ideology into the popular culture of watching web-series; the ad is hidden beneath the normal activity of watching a TV trailer or series. The normative vision is achieved by structuring the Farmed and Dangerous trailer in the same way that is done by other popular TV trailers.  The dialogue jumps around to snippets of scenes and lines from the characters. The content of the dialogue is about exploding cows and protecting image of the large corporations. While the lines are from different episodes and characters, they communicate the message and plot of the web-series in two minutes in the same format as other TV series trailers. By rapidly changing the scenes to fast paced music, the trailer becomes more upbeat and comical. The cinematic structure could be compared to the structure of trailers for TV series such as HBO’s Suits (example below). The plot of the series is about an important issue, but it is lightened up by the romantic and comedic moods.

Without the Chipotle logo at the end of the trailer, a viewer may not notice that Farmed and Dangerous is advertising Chipotle. This could be because Chipotle is trying to reach the alienated spectator market. Young adults and children are the alienated spectators because they are jaded by the mass of advertisements in their lives. However, this market is attractive because when reached, the youth tend to be responsible for starting new trends and forming life-long loyalties to products based on their disposable income as dependents. In order to appeal to the youth, Chipotle attaches itself to a cultural and social values through intertextuality in the Farmed and Dangerous trailer. The trailer functions as a cultural intermediary between Chipotle’s suggested process of life and its target audience. The traditional format of a TV series trailer with renowned television celebrities such as Ray Wise and Kathryn Moore make the series more legitimate and signify a higher quality production because celebrities have high potential sign value (Goldman & Papson. 88). Furthermore, the higher the entertainment value, the better chances of Chipotle reaching the younger market.

The popularity of Netflix web-series such as Orange Is The New Black or House of Cards has become part of the youth culture. Consumers are spending more time on the computer than on TV, so Chipotle uses this trailer to communicate its brand through media self-referentiality (Goldman & Papson. 94). In order to reach an influential market with a disposable income, Chipotle subtly attaches its brand and message to the popular trend of binge watching on platforms of media such as YouTube and Hulu. This is a modern example of Bill Bernbach’s legacy of the Creative Revolution starting in the 1960’s. Chipotle is no longer advertising its actual products, instead, Chipotle is using creative power to push to change people’s perception of the industry and spend more money on its products. In addition to revolutionizing the industrial agriculture industry, the Farmed and Dangerous trailer is revolutionizing the way advertisements reach consumers by turning its ideology into entertaining content. This Chipotle ad stands out from other digital advertisements because people voluntarily watch and share it on Youtube, as opposed to evading pop ups or side bar digital advertisements. Even though it is partially owned by McDonalds, the image of this Chipotle advertisement is anti-establishment. The ad communicates Chipotle’s brand through self-aware cynicism about advertisements by putting down its competitors and entertaining its consumers by waiting to show the Chipotle logo at the end of the trailer.

By producing a trailer with intertextual references such as popular TV series and actors, Chipotle intends to fit in with other “cool” web-series watched by the younger demographic.  However, by attaching the Chipotle brand to the culture activity of “binge-watching,” subjects this to cannibalizing this cultural trend (Goldman & Papson.89). The Farmed and Dangerous trailer is an example of how advertisements take elements of our culture in order to appeal to a certain audience, and then destroy the cultural value by turning it into an advertisement. Furthermore, advertisements have become hegemonic; ads become part of culture in order to appeal to fragmented markets.

The Farmed and Dangerous trailer functions as a critique of mass-media and mass-consumerism, however Chipotle ultimately is using Franks theory of “anti-establishment magic” where it uses signals of anti-establishment in order to turn the masses into its own consumers. This is where the trailer displays the fourth way described by Goldman and Papson. The trailer is an ad that carries ideology through culture as it reflects the logic of capital (96). By functioning as a commodity sign with a strong message, the Farmed and Dangerous trailer gives the audience reason to purchase the organic products offered at Chipotle.


Yoplait Yogurt Historical Analysis

The Yoplait Yogurt advertisement above features a young woman bumping around from a locker room to a beach in an uncomfortable manner as she attempts to hide her body with a water raft. She releases the raft, exposes her body and reaches inside her bag to reveal the Yoplait Yogurt product, which supposedly was responsible for this perceived confidence.

The Yoplait ad displays many qualities commonly found in a contemporary ad. With the food market probably being a competitive one for something like yogurt, which isn’t a meal, or even a basic necessity, the advertisement must aim to put yogurt on the radar of consumers. Competing for attention, the advertisement utilized an upbeat catchy song, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bikini,” which gave a dose of humor and made viewers remember the commercial. The usage of a soft sell technique positions the yogurt as a product that will elicit a positive emotional response. As evidenced by the woman’s smile and look of satisfaction after eating the yogurt and feeling confident enough to wear her bikini on the beach, this commercial indeed sought to reach viewers through a soft sell, more commonly used in contemporary society. Of the two functions frequently utilized in advertisements, the fact that this one plays on social values of health, diet and self-image would make the transformational function applicable here.

A highly relevant concept here is that of the construction, following and maintaining of lifestyles. The transition from a collective, group mentality popular in traditional societies to an independent, individualistic one in a modern setting, witnessed the creation of lifestyles. Unlike traditional, pre-industrial societies in which the most basic necessities were the only concerns for consumers, modern society allows people to focus on themselves and their consumer subjectivities. Through the purchase and usage of one good versus another, an individual makes a statement about oneself, while building a specific lifestyle catering to one’s needs, routines and habits. In a post-traditionalist society, such as ours, people would purchase Yoplait Yogurt because the advertisement suggests it aids in weight loss, the maintenance of a healthy diet, and increasing self-esteem. The lifestyle this advertisement relates to is one of a healthy diet, potentially a fit and active frequent routine, and a strong sense of self-awareness and self-image. To follow a particular lifestyle requires consistency of purchases that are relevant and useful, as well as a continuous consciousness of one’s self and the transformation one is constantly applying to his or her self-identity.

This links to the notion of therapeutic ethos, the idea that advertisers and products gratify and fulfill consumers’ needs and desires, as well as insecurities and anxieties, with goods. Advertisers take on a curative role, bettering the lives of consumers through commodities they lead them to believe are necessary. In this advertisement, a viewer would see this yogurt and consider it a solution to a weight or self-image problem. Buying the product may bring the consumer relief and aid in trying to solve whatever the related problem may be. In fact, the entire concept of the actress’s fear of showing her body on the beach is rooted right in an insecurity regarding body-image. In the context of the therapeutic ethos, the yogurt essentially provides a solution to this problem, therefore “fixing” the consumer.

The meaning of a message also goes unnoticed without the elaboration from cultural intermediaries. The yogurt may simply come off as just that—a snack or light meal. However, with cultural intermediaries who attach meanings to products and describe what they can do for the consumer, the simple snack transforms into a snack that can help one stay thin and acquire that confidence which may originally seem a term completely unrelated to yogurt.

In conclusion, the Yoplait Yogurt ad utilizes many contemporary tactics to produce an effective commercial. The notion of the therapeutic ethos and the concept of lifestyles are two highly relevant concepts that came into play after focus regarding the consumer’s needs and wants transformed. In the larger framework of a historical context, the traditional society’s group mentality melted away and the concept of one’s self-identity came into play as the advertising world began to change their tactics to suit the need for independence.

— Victoria O.

Historical Analysis: Coca-Cola “Security Cameras”

A look back at some of the significant events that happened between years 2009 and 2012 (when this “Security Cameras” commercial was first released) may lead to the conclusion that a lot of bad things were/are happening in this era: A suicide bombing in the Moscow Metro system killed 40 people during morning rush hour on March 29th, 2010; the Egyptian Revolution started “with a series of street demonstrations, marches, rallies, acts of civil disobedience, riots, labor strikes, and violent clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, and throughout other cities in Egypt” on January 25th 2011; a shooting in a mall in the Netherlands killed five people and wounded eleven on April 9th 2011. Yet it is in these same years that Wikipedia, “the free internet encyclopedia” turned 10 years old, that Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) had its final launch, and in 2012 (before the commercial was released), that Wikileaks began “disclosing 5 million emails from private intelligence company, Stratfor” and Apple Inc claimed a value of $600 billion “making it the largest company by market capitalization in the world.” While technological breakthroughs surfaced, humanity saw a decline. Thus it was inevitable for denizens of this era to have developed cynical views.

This is where Coca-Cola comes in; its feel-good commercial serves the transformational function of changing subjectivity, attitudes and social values. In a world where technology, such as Google Earth, has caused privacy concerns, Coca-Cola transforms the perception of surveillance from something alien to a naturalized part of our lives in this uplifting commercial. Coca-Cola uses security camera footages to show that even with all the negative events in the news, there is still good in the world, and that it can come from the same lens that captures the bad. The commercial is also, more directly, intended to transform attitudes about/restore faith in humanity and to reinforce Coca-Cola’s brand identity of being optimistic and as a source of happiness in any situation.

The ‘Security Cameras’ spot is a continuation of our ongoing mission to spread happiness and optimism, giving a brand point of view about the world’s actual situation. This spot builds upon previous campaigns of ours that portray how good people outnumber bad people, delivering the message that we have reasons to believe in a better world. Because good people outnumber bad people. – Guido Rosales, Latin America Integrated Marketing Communication Director for Coca-Cola.

As a part of a #sharethegood campaign, the commercial interpellates/invites/encourages viewers to reflect and share goodness with the question, “How do you #sharethegood?”  It also employs the humour/wit tactic by putting a twist on words and their common associations: each of the moments are accompanied by witty captions like “People stealing…kisses,” “harmless soldiers,” “honest pickpockets,” “attack of friendship…love…kindness,” “friendly gangs,” et cetera, transforming what is usually perceived of the words “steal,” “gangs,” and “attack.”

In showing the good things people do even when they do not realize they are being watched, the commercial achieves authenticity and appeals emotionally – the most basic and universal element to effective advertisement. Coca-Cola embraces the mesh of public/private spheres as a part of this era (especially with the man dancing by himself in the convenience store) and encourages social interaction in expressing love and kindness to others and to oneself.  This soft sell tactic humanizes the corporation while achieving dematerialization of its product: Coca-Cola does not just sell carbonated beverages; Coca-Cola sells happiness.

Only towards the end is there a scene that contains Coca-Cola the drink – two students are shown getting a bottle of Coca-Cola from a vending machine and sharing it (with the caption “Sharing the Good”)– equating Coca-Cola to the positive moments presented before. Then the shot is pulled back to show the moments collaged together in the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle, selling the idea that Coca-Cola contains happiness, literally. All leads up to this final moment when the text beside the bottle appears, “Open Happiness.”

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– Jennifer W.

Historical Analysis: Fiat 500 Comes to America

As mentioned in the previous post, this 2012 advertisement features numerous Fiat 500 car models as they cross the ocean to travel from their indigenous Italy to various cities throughout the United States.

Historically speaking, this commercial–part of a series of commercials for the Italian car brand–came out during a time when immigration was a hot topic in presidential debates. Dubbed “the new wave of Italian immigrants”, these cars (and the Fiat brand in general) suddenly became a relevant topic because they could be incorporated into political and economic conversation. They were the new immigrants, but they made immigration much less threatening and much more fun. The music is catchy, the cars are versatile and hip, and the overall vibe of the commercial appeals to a young consumer living in an urban setting that wants a fun, compact car ideal for city life while still getting the authenticity and quality normally associated with Italian brands.

What makes the advertisement really relevant to contemporary society is its transformational rather than informational function. Older ads of the Great Depression and Post-War eras focused more on describing the product to the consumer, telling him/her what the product did, how owning the product would change his/her life, and so on. Contemporary ads, as evidenced by this particular commercial, must focus more on selling a feeling or idea rather than just describing the product in hopes that consumers will want to buy it. They must play on emotions and use wit to soft-sell the product. In a market as saturated and cluttered as ours, simply laying out facts about the Fiat 500–its mileage, price, size–would not suffice because there are similar cars out there that offer the same perks. The advertisers were very smart because they invoked a sense of both authenticity and fun, authenticity in the sense that the car comes from Italy, thus providing class and value, and fun in the sense that it is small, versatile, colorful, and always ready for a party. In this sense, the ad transforms our subjectivity and attitude toward this particular car/brand, which may have been different prior to viewing the commercial.

How could a car be ready for a party, you might ask? In this commercial, the scene with the cars arriving to America is paired with a catchy song by international musical artists Pitbull and Arianna, titled “Sexy People”. Not only are these stars and their songs recognized and celebrated for their fun, lighthearted, ready-to-party spirit, but the “Sexy People” song itself is calling on a young, free-at-heart consumer ready to look stylish at all times, a “sexy” consumer per se. As advertisements progress to modern times, style becomes a major selling point that allows consumers to shape their identities and how they want to be perceived by the outside world. This commercial definitively plays on that style aspect, and particularly Italian style which has proven time and again to be of the upmost superiority.

Ultimately, I think this advertisement is a good example of market-driven advertising. The declining economic climate of 2012 called for quality products at an affordable price, and the Fiat offers just that. Its small size, showcased in the ad, provides great gas mileage and allows for maneuvering around tight city streets. Basically, the advertisers are not creating any false needs or pushing their product onto an unsuspecting audience. Rather, they are aware of the young consumers’ needs for a trendy, stylish, durable vehicle and they advertise accordingly.

-Vanessa Zdesar

Historical Analysis: Dove Real Beauty Sketches

In 2013, Dove put out an advertisement called “Real Beauty Sketches,” which portrayed women meeting with a sketch artist to describe their own appearances as well as the appearance of another woman, whom they had gotten to know earlier that day. When the artist revealed the two portraits side-by-side to each woman, the viewers saw that the one created from the description by the stranger was much more naturally beautiful, which emphasized that women frequently saw the beauty in others, but often did not in themselves. The ad ended with the phrase “You are more beautiful than you think” coming across the screen, followed by the Dove logo and brand name.

The dove true beauty advertisement is characteristic of modern advertising because it works to build trust with consumers by “humanizing” the Dove Corporation. Advertisements are able to show consumers who they can become if they purchase their products, and with this advertisement, Dove teaches consumers that they can embrace their true and natural beauty by choosing to buy what Dove markets and sells. In addition, as William Leiss explains in his work Social Communication in Advertising, this advertisement embodies the transformational aspect of advertising (rather than the informational aspect) because instead of showing specific information about a Dove product or products, the ad works to change the consumer’s consciousness and also alter people’s social attitudes about what really defines “beautiful” (75).

Furthermore, many aspects of this advertisement reflect the status of advertising in the present day. Because consumers are savvy and largely desensitized to advertisements (since they are inundated with hundreds of ads every day), Dove is working to stand out from other companies by taking a fresh and unique approach. Dove utilizes the soft sell and creates a particular mood in the advertisement, rather than doing the more traditional style of advertising, which often draws upon images of celebrities and more direct product placement. This particular Dove advertisement works to elicit emotional responses in consumers by promoting a social cause, and deconstruct the ideology that women all need to look exactly like models and actresses to see themselves as beautiful. Instead of conforming to the advertisement tactics that can place a great deal of societal pressure on normal women to look exactly like women in the media, Dove works against this and instead offers the opposing viewpoint, which comes across as authentic and as a result, the corporation appears relatable to consumers.

In his chapter about contemporary advertisements, Leiss explains that many of the advertising approaches that Dove draw upon are crucial to gaining the attention and respect of the new generation, otherwise known as “Generation X” (479). Because the new generation of consumers are highly concerned with the symbolic meaning associated with various products, Leiss finds that it is essential for corporations to try to create positive and unique associations with their products or brand in general, and by showcasing a strong message of self-appreciation and self-respect, Dove is able to persuade consumers to choose their products since consumers now think about those positive ideas when looking at Dove products in stores.

-Aimee S.