Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Freeze the placenta Mark, do it.

This post on the Kidney Hat blog has attracted rather more attention than I'd intended.

Everyone with a computer and their eight year old nephew seem to think it's all so obvious and you'd have to be utterly perverse and morbidly fixated to believe that the Passat ad could refer to anything apart from the light at the end of the tunnel in the most optimistic sense possible.

You're thinking too much about it they say.

There are some things you can think about too much. Like the fact that the people you hold dear only demonstrate their affection to you in order for you to reciprocate that affection so as to allow them to feel loved and successful. Or the fact that, when you die, it probably won't cause anyone to be so upset that they miss their breakfast for more than two days in a row.

But I believe your job is one of the things you're allowed to think about as much as you like. Particularly if your job involves thinking about ads. You may as well try and prevent a microscopist going into so much detail the whole time.

And let's face it people who say 'You're thinking about it too much' are probably the same people who say 'Leaving early then?', or 'Why are you wearing those shoes?', or 'Why don't you like football?', or 'Why don't you read the Metro?', or 'Why don't you drink?', or 'Why don't you have a TV?', or 'What, do you secretly believe that you're better than me or something you preening upper-middle-class cunt?'

Anyway for new readers, that's basically my schtick, applying close reading to advertising.

Kidney Hat magazine pay me to do this, but I'd probably do it anyway, because I really hate the anti-intellectual streak in advertising that says 'well it's just an ad isn't it?' and leaves all the thinking to the planners. It's why all advertising is art direction these days and everyone is Swedish.

But back to the ad. Clearly the creatives meant it to be the light at the end of the tunnel, that was never what I was trying to dispute. What I found strange was that all this other stuff seemed to have got in without anyone noticing.

Irony is quite a slippery term, but the OED gives it as something like a figure of speech where the 'intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used'. Obviously we're used to this in advertising where the visual says one thing and the words say another. But in this ad it seems like all the bells are ringing for irony, the irony alarm is going ballistic in fact, and yet the message we're meant to receive is utterly unironic: the world may be shit, but you can rely on a Volkswagen.

This is interesting, especially if you're employed by a diurectic headpiece periodical to apply critical theory to advertising, because if it was art we'd obviously say 'ah yes, death symbolism, dix points.' But because it's advertising it just seems uncontrolled.

When we look at advertising we're actually trying to work out what the person on the other end of it means. We judge an ad on its ability to communicate precisely where as we allow art to be rich and mysterious. As I've said before, I think at the moment the two things are colliding.

If you like I can email and ask them.


Brian Harvey said...

Perhaps they wanted to use 'Always look on the bright side of life' by Monty Python, only to realise that if that song had been used one more time in an advert the nation may have plunged headlong into some form of apocalypse scenario. So they hunted around until they found a cut price song and used that instead.

maybe the final shot is intended as a juxtapostion between the sheep heading towards their death, as the man heads towards the light in a process of rebirthing.

The tunnel is in effect an enormous freudian vagina

Gordon Comstock said...

Explain to me again how you ran yourself over?

Gordon Comstock said...

Also do you happen to post as GOUT-LEGS on Ben's blog?

neilc said...

'One thing you can be sure of': death. The other is taxes. And, er, the Passat. I think you can read the ending of the ad either way: 'the light at the end of the tunnel' (happy ending) or impending death for sheep and driver (not so happy). Both interpretations make sense. Which makes it a little bit more interesting.

Anonymous said...

did you email them?

Gordon Comstock said...

No, you never asked me to.

Pete Gloria said...

I think the point of VW TV ads is to tap into the mind of, and flatter, a particular Brit wannabe everyman type.

VW are an everyman's aspirational status symbol after all. They drop bombs of smug onto the demographic; tell them they're unique, in an anonymous kind of way. They suggest to them they know better because they are thoughtful and can see beneath and beyond loutish boors who consume redtops and drive Vauxhalls. And lower middle class types with aspirations of social climbing (subconsciously themselves).

The VW buyer affects to suffer these people, Morrisey-like. Their ads are nearly always about people.

VW tap – successfully I guess – into a snobby broadsheet Jane Austen-loving market. The brittle liberal-ish (but less so with middle age) bourgeois as they might have been called back in the day.

They are insufferably smug adverts. This one's business as usual. Buy VW because deep down (you're deep – and skeptical) you know better: the universe is just shit and meaningless, but you put on a brave face, stiff-upper-lip-smile, you're a kind of Hamlet. You're more enlightened than those meat-eating blue collar types - brainless sheep - who are going down the pan singing along to their doom, bless them. Killing the planet, eating themselves for cheap. They don't even know why they're singing – they're sheep. Fools! We're all in this together; but you from a safe distance, on the inside of a superior isolating VW suit of armour. Riding protected into the white-out of unknowability. Which you are happy to enjoy in the earthly realm of this ad as – among other things – a wry little reference to the 'cliche' of the cowboy riding into the sunset. Whatever it means you know it's a cliche; and you enjoy it as that, and only that. Well, maybe you enjoy it as more than just that. A guilty pleasure – you wouldn't admit to falling for the Hollywood level of 'mindless entertainment'.

But it's vintage so that's kind of retro, and that's another level of ironic distance, because things that were 'popular rubbish' when they were made can now be enjoyed out of context as kitsch-ly heart-warming. Like 70s game shows, which have been re-hashed very successfully of late it seems, and things like Morecambe & Wise: now (and only now) they were great, and very British.

Or maybe not. Maybe the sheep are singing because they are entering a massive vagina. They're going down singing, like they should.