The real thing

This James Dean is one of several celebrity look-a-likes in the new magazine campaign for Armstrong Laminate flooring. As the tag-line goes, "It only looks like the real thing."

In contrast, check out this Tostitos ad:

Questions to consider:
1. Imagine the Armstrong ad without any copy: What product do you think is being sold?

2. How does the photo's composition affect the "realness" of the floor?

3. In the Tostitos ad, how important is the copy? What does the image say by itself?

4. What's the selling point in both ads?

5. Does it matter to consumers whether a product is real or only perceived to be real? Does it matter to you whether the product is real or not?


Locks of Love: Friend or Faux?

I'm sort of an itinerant critic and encourager. Each semester I travel to speak in a handful of college classrooms where I offer criticism and affirmation regarding both the ad world and the approach students take as they prepare to enter it.

Of course, this assumes I know what to criticize and what to affirm. It assumes that I have something definitive to say; that I'm able to put a period at the end of all my sentences. But this isn't always true. In fact, I often have to use an ellipse.

The subtext of advertising is replete with ethical questions and social concerns. Sometimes it pushes advertising into the light to promote good will, but often it lurks in the shadows as manipulative propaganda. The continual need to seek wisdom about every product, campaign, account, client, line of copy, media plan, etc., is challenging work.

I've been posting about faux products recently because of a few classes I taught this month. If you've read any of them, you know that I'm not a fan of faux.

But in the midst of talking about "pleather" and "diamonelles" and vinyl flooring and toupees (My grandfather wore an atrocious rug-like piece of material on his head for years. On anyone else, I would have suggested adding a clown nose, but it was my grandfather and I had never seen him without it so it seemed quite normal.), a student asked:

"But what about Locks of Love?"

I didn't know.

I still don't know. It's an ellipse for me. Locks of Love "provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis." On one hand, what an intimate and generous ministry: You and I give our own hair to needy kids.

On the other, the hairpieces are used "to return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss...." Doesn't this sound similar to why people wear make-up and use Botox and trick out their cars? I mean, don't we do these things "to return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy to [men and women] suffering from [insecurity]..."?

So I'm stuck on this one. Hairpieces are toupees and my grandfather wore his for some of the same reasons why these kids wear theirs. In his case, I condemn the faux. Yet, they're kids. This is a time when their identities are soft and easily bruised. Isn't it OK to let them fit in and to protect them from embarrassment and ridicule from peers, especially with such a visible problem? In their case, I think I condone the faux.

If Locks of Love called you to help them with PR or securing TV spots or increasing brand awareness, I'm guessing you'd do it. I might, too.

Or, would I suggest that the child's friends and family shave their heads bald instead of donating pony tails? Without having a child in that situation, and never having been in such a situation myself as a kid, I don't know.

This is just one of the ellipses for me in advertising. As I asked in an earlier post, "Should Christians produce and market faux items, or not? (Or does it depend on what the faux item is?)"


"But what about...?"

On the topic of faux, so many questions start with these words.

"But what about replica paintings, especially when people can't afford the originals?"
"But what about vinyl flooring, especially when the marble print complements a kitchen?"

This three-word phrase indicates curiosity. But not in some trivial way. When it comes to faux products, regardless of what purpose they serve, the element of simulation is a genuinely difficult one for marketing students to get around.

As kids, it was hammered into our heads not to lie. In relationships, we're convinced that being "real" about our feelings is much better than pretending that all's well. Regarding public appearance, individual expression is valued because then it's Me being Me (Does anybody actually like being a Poser?).

We believe that genuine is inherently better, but there are faux versions of practically every genuine product, and their allure and accessibility make them quite profitable. Does "But what about..." appear when the possibility of profit and success runs into our broader misgivings about being false?

These thoughts have come from several stimulating conversations with marketing classes in the past week or so. I'll share more soon.


Faux: Part Deux

"Should Christians produce and market faux items?" That's the question I asked in my last post. I also asked it to a group of advertising students on Friday.

Mixed responses.

Some thought that the cost benefits and availability justified faux production: "If a consumer really likes fine furniture, but can't afford it or even find the genuine original, isn't it OK to provide knock-off versions for them?"

Others saw faux as an unhealthy way to copy someone else's life. They resonated with this excerpt by Stuart Ewen, author of All Consuming Images, about the "triumph of the superficial" in the Middle Ages:

"Fueled by their desire for franchise and status, the merchant class mimicked and appropriated consumption practices of the nobility.... Conspicuous consumption...was the mark of status. In a world where nobility still ruled, the merchant class seized upon symbols of excess which had customarily been prerogatives of landed elites.... Clocks, once the extravagantly tooled possessions of the few who could afford to own them, were mass produced [with 'the suggestion of fine hand-carving'].... For the members of an expanding middle class, the historically coded look of wealth was coming within their means."

If faux offers a socio-economic escape for me, then I don't want it because it's only an illusory move. That is, it doesn't actually take me anywhere. And regarding the cost/availability argument, I just can't get past the fact that faux is, by definition, false.


To Be or To Be Faux

Two questions:

1) Is the grass real or faux?

It's faux (French for "false"). See more pics at Forever Lawn, Inc.

2) Should Christians produce and market faux items, or not? (Or does it depend on what the faux item is?)


Art worth doing

I've seen wonderfully creative ads. Beautiful ads. Expressions of color and graphics and technique that boggle my average comprehension.

But these same expressions are often used to promote mundane products and trivial items that few (if any) people really need, and that fail to add to customers' lives.

When you sit down with a sketch pad, what do you want to produce? Something initially magnificent but which will one day leave the taste of "selling out" in your mouth? Or something that serves as a doorway to a service or product of beauty and worth instead?

I want my art to point to things greater than it, not have it weakened by commonplace attachments. It takes discernment to choose products worth promoting.

If I'm an artist, I want to be remembered as such. Sellouts are a dime-a-dozen.


Shalom, Feng shui and Travelers insurance

I like humor and gimmicks in advertising, but I really appreciate integration.

Geico's cavemen are funny, but not integrated with insurance. They could have been mascots for Hyundai or Verizon Wireless or Sears just as easily - and successfully.

Geico's gecko is gimmicky but only because it's somewhat of a homophone of the company name. There's no true integration between a CG reptile and car insurance. It's just another mascot randomly associated with a product.

The new Travelers ad, however, is integrated. Travelers' "mascot" is their red umbrella logo and it not only stands out artistically in the TV spot called "Delivery," but memorably, too, because it complements the very idea of insurance. What else comes to mind when you hear "umbrella" except "protection"?

I like this kind of integration in advertising because it makes sense to me. The umbrella, the story line, the scenery, the sounds and language all connect with the product, like a living room whose various components work together to say "Welcome." Disintegration says nothing clearly because it's in pieces. Integration, on the other hand, weaves.

If I were in the market for insurance, Travelers would have won my attention with this spot. Not saying they would get me to sign on, but I'd certainly look them up.

Something to ponder:
Shalom is a biblical concept meaning peace between two entities (i.e. between God and me, between you and me, etc.). The Creation story starts with shalom at the heart of every relationship, but ends with shalom becoming disintegrated. Since that time, we spend our days looking for bits and pieces of shalom in the smallest of places.

Is this why feng shui became so popular? Is it why we hang out with certain people and not with others? Is it why we take vacations? Could it even be why I'm drawn to an insurance commercial that is, in a sense, at peace with itself?


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