Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, January 17, 2005

More thoughts on advertising

Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for every one, best both for the body and the mind.
- Albert Einstein
There was a time when I had a great deal of respect for a certain Mr. Stephen Fry. Comedian, author and generally witty guy, his blend of surrealism, dry satire and high-brow intellect definitely made him the thinking-person's funny-person of the late 80s / early 90s. Then, however, he did an advert for a rather dodgy multinational food company.

It's always sad when an established artist decides to quit their career to become a corporate spokesperson. It's doubly sad when they choose a corporation like Nestlé, who are the subject of an international boycott because of - amongst other things - their marketing practices.

But Stephen Fry went even further. The advert he agreed to star in (alongside model, Naomi Campbell) involved a fantasy dinner-party, and made use of clever video-editing technology and archive footage to put Fry and Campbell at the table with - amongst others - Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.
Einstein never allowed his name to be used for commercial advertising, though he received some curious requests... If he showed enthusiasm for a particular product, word would get around and he would be approached to endorse and promote it. Without exception he refused all such requests.
- Alice Calaprice
(Administrator of the translation of Einstein's papers, Princeton)
It's one thing to accept the corporate shilling, even if that corporation is implicated in policies which are linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths...
Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute.
- UNICEF
But there's something particularly sordid about accepting the corporate shilling in order to help that corporation sully the memory and image of a truly great man. The Einstein estate currently employs a Californian advertising company to "protect and market" the image of Albert Einstein. Selling that image to corporations (presumably in return for cash) against the beliefs and wishes of the man himself, now dead and unable to argue is hardly "protection". In fact, I'd call it immoral and contemptible. And anyone involved in producing those adverts must bear a share of that.

A willingness to ignore the wishes of any person and exploit their image to make money after their death is despicable (which is what Nestlé, Apple and - recently Madasafish - have done, and is also what Stephen Fry, Naomi Campbell and Harry Enfield have done). To do so with the image of one of the greatest thinkers and humanitarians in history is unforgivable.

I wonder when we can expect to see Mr. Fry and Mr. Enfield spliced into a scene with Ghandi in order to sell SUVs? Or are they just waiting for Mandela to die so they can do that one?

This subject has become relevant again thanks to the news that the Broadcast Acceptance Clearance Centre, the UK body that regulates what may - or may not - appear on television have just banned an advert starring Harry Enfield and "Winston Churchill". There was a belief that "too many people will find it [the Churchill advert] offensive". So it's been banned. As has an advert starring Harry Enfield on his own, explaining why the previous one was banned.

I don't believe that anyone's image should be used for advertising purposes after their death (unless they specifically agree to it whilst still alive). Even that bigotted arsehole, Winston Churchill, should be protected. But when the Broadcast Acceptance Clearance Centre clears another advert in the same campaign starring Enfield and Einstein (a man who made it very clear that he didn't do commercial endorsements), the whole thing stinks to high-heaven of double-standards.

So screw you Madasafish! Screw you Harry Enfield! And screw you Broadcast Acceptance Clearance Centre! You're all a bunch of contemptible, soulless fucks willing to shit on the memory of a great man in order to line your already over-stuffed pockets.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not having a television, I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't seen these adverts, and don't know what Madasafish has done, and am not inclined to search to find out. While I agree with the general thrust of your views on advertising and the use of images, I cannot fail to notice how I remain unaffected because I haven't seen these usages of images. Outrage is lessened when simply not involved, when you just read books and have plans to hardly look at the internet any more, your blog excepted.

I can't help thinking that we must ourselves take responsibility for our collusion with mass media when we tacitly agree to the beaming of these images into our living rooms.

Joel

18/1/05 01:17  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

I agree with you up to a point Joel.

The Apple 'Einstein' advert, for example, was primarily a poster campaign. I can remember when it was running, every day on my way to work I had to pass a big billboard with Einstein trying to sell me a fricking computer! And that's just one example.

I'm not sure we can escape 'participation' in mass-media, short of moving somewhere very isolated. Of course there are degrees to which we are 'involved', but I think it's dangerous to switch off the TV, limit your web browsing and believe you're achieving a genuine liberation.

In fact, I tend to believe that billboards are the most insidious and sinister of all mass-marketing media. People know (well, most people) when the ads come on TV. On the streets and in the tubes, on the other hand, I get the feeling that most people (myself included on occasion, despite my neurotic obsession with the issue) are often unconscious of when they are being advertised at.

And when your very environment becomes the medium being used to manipulate your emotions for commercial gain, it must be having a far greater effect than that box in the corner of the room, which we know is trying to sell us crap.

18/1/05 02:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about switching off TV, I'm talking about getting rid of TV altogether. Liberation comes softly, slowly, as the sum total of our small decisions and choices. The very idea of liberation can become oppressive of course, that's why I no longer have it as a goal. My goal is simplicity, fewer possessions, to be creative, things like this. Liberation isn't a goal for me, it is a by-product of living more in the way I want to, part of which means no longer buying into the things I have decided to reject, no longer colluding. That may indeed in the end involve living in wild places, but we all have our own pace. Yes, my eye catches billboards, but much of the time these days I don't even raise my head. I'm not trying to live by anyone's standards but my own. Sometimes the farcical nature of mass media intrudes, but it is a quickly passing matter. Live in a city you expect the shit and pollution to wash up there. I just gradually move up river in my inner life and these distractions have less to catch on. Nothing much has to be seriously addressed. Mass protest doesn't work. The only thing that works is the individual's decision to have nothing much to do with it any more. We put it off all the time, but the collective force of small personal decisions is the only thing that changes the world.

Joel

18/1/05 05:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disappointing but not that surprising I guess. It's a bit like musicians who've not realised that selling their music via a record label can often lead to it appearing in a commercial selling x y or z with no abilty on their part to say no.

And then there's Dennis Hopper and Easy Rider selling cars.

Still, Fry is going to be the voice of the Hitch Hiker's Guide...

Tango-Mango

21/1/05 21:14  

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