<body> Public Ad Campaign: The Hidden Persuader and Persuaded but Hidden
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Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hidden Persuader and Persuaded but Hidden

I get myself into some trouble at the end of this rant so any marketers out there that hate PublicAdCampaign should read on till the end.
I get a subscription to Cabinet Magazine, a "culture" quarterly that I anxiously await every few months. To call it a magazine is really a mistake as its contents can run the spectrum from sociological studies, to scientific journalism, from investigative mischief, to simply undefinable. While I enjoy it on many levels sometimes the topics can be obscure and in their obscurity, unrelated to my direct interests. That said, in issue 44 I was treated to not one, but two articles about advertising. The first about the hidden persuader Ernest Dichter, and the second about a town in Spain that Sony painted blue to promote their movie The Smurfs. I suggest picking up a copy and reading both articles in their entirety, but ill make two random comments about each of them below.

As the first article goes, advertising grew of age alongside psychoanalysis and the two married nicely. Appealing to our subconscious, advertising messages aimed less to inform and more to excite our inner fantasies, our desires, and our needs. Ernest Dichter was a huge proponent of this method of encouragement and did well manufacturing self indulgence and erotic satisfaction through conspicuous consumption. In fact he thought that the bulwark against fascism was in fact the consumptive process which drove the free enterprise and provided our democratic lifestyle. In what seems today like a delusion he writes ...
"Our Role, as scientific communicators, as persuaders, is one of liberating these desires, not in an attempt to manipulate, but in an attempt to move our economic system forward and with it our happiness. …The real definition of happiness is what I call constructive discontent. Getting there is all, not just half, the fun. Stress and insecurity and whatever its labels may be, are the most beneficial movers and springs to our life: Trying to reach a goal but having the goal recede is the real mystery of happiness."
Dichter seems to be suggesting that the key to happiness is a hamster on its wheel, forever running to infinity. I think we can all agree that this is preposterous, but it is important to remember that these thoughts informed the developing industry we now call advertising. In defense, we have become much more savvy viewers and I would say our conscious understanding of advertisings manipulations allows us to gain perspective and step off the wheel as it were. This is one of the reasons PublicAdCampaign promotes an ad free public space as one of the last respites from corporate hegemony. That said, it is a fight to remain outside the influence of advertising messages, which is important in retaining a perspective on true happiness. A life lived that doesnt involve the constant pursuit of an ever receding goal.
The second article brings me into some murky waters. It's about a fantastic little village called Juzcar in southern Spain. In 2011 Sony painted the entire village Pitufo blue as a publicity stunt to promote its then upcoming movie, The Smurfs. The contract included a clause that Sony would return the village to its former white state after an allotted amount of time. As it turned out the economically depressed village saw a spike in tourism and an unexpected turn for the better for many of the residents. The local pub was packed, restaurants boomed, and accommodations were taken in vast numbers for a sleepy little village. In fact, residents spoke of an increased general happiness amongst most of the population, attributed to their recent economic fortunes, but also to the healing powers of the color blue. All in all things were better off with the presence of the Smurfs and by extension, Sony. When the time came to paint the village back to its original white, the residents opted to leave the blue paint indefinitely.
Typically my first reaction to a publicity stunt like this would be to cry foul and reprimand Sony for taking advantage of a small village on hard times. I would condemn the marketing gurus who dreamed up the idea that defaced local heritage and made an eyesore of a once respectable community for personal gain. But given the turn of events laid out in the article I simply cant. Sure this would have been different if the tourism was tied to oversized billboards, inflatable Smurfs, and more egregious displays of marketing propaganda, but the marketing was ultimately only two coats of paint, the color of which created a measured increase in happiness. How can I condemn that?
Which leads to the problematic topic of how one might allow marketing dramas to unfold in our everyday lives which do not overwhelm us but somehow have positive results? I think the answer lies in companies doing something good and not taking credit for it, rather letting the credit be bestowed by the community. This is in some way an answer I have come to before, and one which seems like a viable strategy for marketing in the future that does not abide by the in your face methods which dominate today. Is there such a thing as a marketing campaign which does not ask to be recognized for its positive accomplishments? and could that campaign be productive and profitable for the company involved?
I think this article suggests that maybe there is. What if Sony went in and simply painted all the towns in that area of Southern Spain blue only because it would be a spectacle and at the same time a psychological experiment in color theory? What if they did not promote that program but let the world find out about its real positive outcomes through social media? What if Nike sponsored an inner city youth photo program and displayed those photos on billboards but made no mention that they were involved? What would altruism in its purest form look like as an ad campaign and how would its benefits and ultimately profits differ from the traditional marketing methods. I think in an age of discontent with advertising ubiquity, alongside the rise of social media networks and their ability to spread ideas fast and efficiently, that marketings future could look a lot more like social responsibility rather than the spectacles of attention hungry mega corporations.



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