Advertising And The New Sadism
Pain is something that everyone can relate to – which is why ad agecnies are currently so fascinated by it, argues Gordon Comstock
Time was, advertisers dealt in anticipation. Gratification was the juicy worm on the hook on the line which led to the checkout. But as advertising enters its dotage the bait is beginning to look less appetising. The problem is not whether the product delivers on the pleasure it promises, but the suspicion that pleasure itself is disappointing.
“As a rule we find pleasure much less pleasurable, pain much more painful than expected,” wrote Schopenhauer. Never have we had so many opportunities to prove this cheery supposition. Millennial consumers want something that they can believe in. In short they want pain. Pain delivers. I’m A Celebrity... has the only thing the British viewing public like more than celebrities and it isn’t Ant and Dec, although, like Ant and Dec, it is torture.
Where TV goes, advertising will scamper after like an offal-scrounging whippet. We’re not surprised to see human suffering on our screens, but in the past it was only allowed in charity advertising. The Ethiopian child with the flies on his face was Beelzebub’s own key-image. The attitude is ‘You’d rather not look at this? So would we!’ BBH’s Break The Cycle for Barnardo’s (above) is the modern progeny of such thinking. The agency has form for this work – John Hegarty’s breakthrough ad was a charity shocker (smoking toddler, later rehashed as mainlining baby). Break The Cycle is earnestly unpleasant – it provides heightened sensation, but not sensationalism, implying that if you’re shocked, it’s because the truth is shocking. This logic works nicely, so long as you maintain that people don’t want to see cruelty. Presumably you also believe that cinema-goers watched $655 million worth of Saw movies for the jokes.
The truth hurts. Hence the delinquent offspring of Jackass and YouTube and viral marketing. This is omfg-is-that-for-real culture and like a great deal of casual sadism, usually football-related. Mother’s Buy-A-Player virals (one above) which show Oldham Athletic’s fans submitting to depilatory waxing, so much do they want their new player, or Adidas’s viral from 180Amsterdam (below) demonstrating the incredible power of Ballack’s right foot translated into a direct hit to a linesman’s testicles. It’s a kind of male, initiation sadism, based on the old idea that if it hurts, you must mean it. The experience of pain is one form of communication we can all understand. This is not to say that most people are prurient sadists merely that, as author David Foster Wallace put it, “people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests”.
Unsurprisingly then, the latest instance of the new sadism comes from those purveyors of all things fluffy and friendly, Fallon. Daniel Craig stands impassive whilst shards of glass and masonry ricochet off his charmingly ruffled head. In the world of 007, torture is the preserve of insecure regimes, and advertising, particularly tv advertising, is deeply insecure at the moment. So as budgets tighten, I will be personally beating Craig’s ball sac with knotted rope through a hastily adapted chair.
u should post this spot:
I find sadism and masochism as a sign of a rather sophisticate advertising. Some of these examples are very well thought and executed, they are not pain-explotation (not yet).
Somehow, I find the Daniel Craig movie very reminiscent of Unkle's "Rabbit in your headlights" but not so well acted.
Fascinating article. I feel that the surge in violence and heightened explicitness of such violence in tv advertising is symptomatic of an industry that enjoys limited creativity and not, as industry movers and shakers would have us believe, internationally recognised and sought after creativeness and imaginativeness.
In no case is this more profound that the excruciating field of government advertisements and warnings, the 'shocking' nature of which is imitated in the Barnardos campaign. The level of violence, I’m sure, is a product of the government somehow wanting to get its money’s worth through supposed impact, and not any manifest link between such impact and the level of violence thereof.
"The level of violence, I’m sure, is a product of the government somehow wanting to get its money’s worth through supposed impact, and not any manifest link between such impact and the level of violence thereof."
Go talk with social services and the people who regularly work with abused children/ abused partners and you'll find out that the violence shown on the ads is a very, very tame version of what they have to deal with on a daily basis.
Sadly the truth is far far more disturbing than what can be shown on ads.
... interesting article...
... maybe it explains why I've never had 'a thing' for Daniel Craig. He's the WORST 007 ever. mho.
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