So for my next article in Outdoor Gerontophile Magazine I ended up watching loads of mobile phone advertising. Looked at impassively, every single one of the mobile networks has opted for an advertising strategy that is so obscure that it's only because we're indoctrinated in the, hem, discourse that we can even identify them as adverts for mobile phone networks at all, and not some legal synthesis of the drugs heroin and ecstasy.
They are as bizarre as you like.
This campaign seems to have gently slipped into the background lately. But let's just dwell for a moment on the frank surreality of an ad that begins "I am my Mum". Now it is a totally original use of the first person pronoun, the reason it's taken till now to get here is because it is mad. It has two possible sources: a planner fresh off the plane from a two-week enema break on Koh Samui* or the post-structuralist philosopher Jean Baudrillard. If you are who you are because of everyone then you're really just a matrix of other people's perceptions, with no innate qualities whatever. Is the suggestion that you should be using the phone the whole time then, to prevent yourself from realising that you're just a horrifying ontological vacuum and imploding? I must admit I find the idea chilling, but not persuasive.
Ok, it is extremely hard to talk about what mobile phone networks sell, without sounding like a French philosopher or a tit. Obviously they didn't try very hard in that case, but fair enough, the sector is a victim of the advertising dictum that says one should sell the hole, not the drill. The standard schtick is that they sell communication, but that's not true is it? They sell a means of communication, not language, but something behind language. The networks long ago abandoned trying to talk about what they actually sell - that is wires, satellite dishes, chirrupy beeping noises and men sitting in front of computers making sure that bandwidth is working. After all, why would you talk about all that boring stuff (the drill), when you've got the other stuff (the hole) and in this case the hole is people communicating with their parents, girlfriends, lovers and grannies. It is emotive. Or it was, until it got boring.
The only problem is that the hole is just that, a hole: it's not there. You can only show it embodied by people, not on its own.
The T-Mobile ad is deeply annoying, but it does contain a sophisticated assault on this philosophical pillbox. How do you show the idea of communication, that is, something invisible, embodied? People talking on phones has been done, is not slightly dynamic, not spectacular, no longer good ad material. The solution they've come up with is a dance. Now, Saatchis aren't the only people to have used this metaphor. The other person is Yeats, and he say: "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" The weird thing is that Yeats is handling exactly the same thorny metaphysical problem of the embodied idea, the same brief if you like.
Lambie Nairn had a blank canvas, a new network and came up with the empty bubble the initial letter O. The O has a special significance in terms of this idea/reality problem. Lacan uses the O as an ideogram to represent man's inability to realise his desire - the impossiblity of the idea matching the actuality. The interrupted O. Here we are, back on the edge of the void.
But so far so pretentious. These parallels are irrelevent, you say, you're just using these references because you think they make you look clever, and dressing it up with swearing doesn't fool anyone - you're still being a dick.
Well yes I am, and I admit drawing these parellels is a niche activity, and there's a reason for that - there is more or less no continuum between this stuff and advertising. If it exists it goes in one direction, philosophy might look at advertising, but advertising never looks at anything other than its own balls. It is anti-intellectual. Having worked in a few creative departments, I'd hazard a guess that Nan and Spaf at Saatchis didn't go off and read Yeats in order to come up with the Liverpool St. idea (well come on, that's not just arrogant, the reason I write this blog anonymously is because if you mention Yeats in an ad agency people creep into your office in the night and write the word "PRICK" in the corner of every page of every layout pad in your office). Nor am I suggesting they should have. But what it proves is advertising's ability to innovate around intellectual problems in an non-intellectual way. A lateral, creative way. Every time it makes one of these ideas it is making it from scratch, like the man in Borges's story who writes Don Quixote all over again.
And to half-inch an idea from Dave Trott, creativity fuelled by capitalism is water-like, flowing out of necessity into every possible solution. If you set it an impossible problem - how do you represent something intangible, something behind language- it will go off like a mad computer and come up with a series of answers. The weird thing is that it seems to be coming up with the same answers as philosophers and poets have done in the past. The fact that these ideas already existed doesn't matter a damn, they'd already existed long before there was literature or philosophy as well.
It almost seems a shame that all we do is sell stuff.
I mean all you do. I don't even sell stuff any more.
*Complete this gag - What do you get if you give a planner an enema?