Introduction: Free Will and Advertising

First Principles

“We are more master of our thoughts in the morning than in the evening: Fasting, than after a full meal.” (David Hume, 1737)


(Sit expressionlessly still for the painter + boss the silver fox look with a lice-infested wig = Old School philosopher pose 2)

My own brain baffles me.

There are times where all I desperately need to do is remember key mental snapshots, like where I left my keys, what my diary and ‘to do list’ looks like for the day, memorising ‘up-the-sleeve’ data or even just why I’m standing in the kitchen about to open the fridge. No matter how much I attempt to rev up my brain’s RAM for these sorts of things, most of the time I can’t even remember if I’ve forgotten something.


Yet, there are times when I didn’t even know I would need to recall information, and, although I’ve put my brain in neutral, it’s like I have a grey-matter GoPro installed between my ears. It’s picking up the minutiae of casual pub conversation, throw-away comments in meetings, song lyrics to a whole album I’ve listened to just once, whole pages of books I’ve read years ago and quotes I’ve learnt for GCSE English. Even stranger, you only realise it has done so when you receive a ‘trigger.’ It is not until the video plays, almost in slow motion, that you realise why your brain had bothered to hit record at that particular moment. All of a sudden it’s significance is revealed to you by the very fact that you are able to watch the video-memory again.


You wonder, do I really have a choice over what I remember and when I recall it? You wonder, who is controlling who? Am I controlling my thoughts, or are my thoughts controlling me?


Heath would probably call this low attention processing. Kahneman might call it System 1 thinking. For me, it’s a question of whether or not we have free will.

“We learn the influence of our will from experience alone. And experience only teaches us, how one event constantly follows another; without instructing us in the secret connexion, which binds them together, and renders them inseparable.” David Hume


There are two important mental snapshots that made me think very differently about free will and advertising. The significance of the first only became realised when it was triggered by the second.

The first was when a boss told me, “Always remember, what we do is manipulate people.” Their white and blue checked shirt crumpled with their Adland wearied sigh. It was a painful admission.

The second was when a different boss leant in, rest their hand on my forearm (I never felt comfortable enough to tell them that insincere physical contact makes me uneasy) and told me:

“Daaaarling, you have to be more manipulative.” The word ‘manipulative’ made their eyes widen with wicked playfulness.

“Manipulative?” I asked.

“Yes, manipulative. It’s the only way you can get your own way.” Their hands then gesticulated wildly and enthusiastically, like a Bond villain revealing their world domination plans to their minions.


Is it a worthwhile skill or a veritable sin?


Would you rather be the puppet or the puppet master?

If the puppet knows they are a puppet, are they still a puppet?

If the puppet doesn’t mind being a puppet, are they actually the puppet master?

Now, is the puppet master actually the puppet?

In Adland we swing between feeling that our adverts don’t ‘work’, that nobody cares what we have to say, that people automatically tune out and therefore our puppeteer strings have been cut loose and between being ultra-aware that we bombard and pester our way to cut-through.

We swing between wanting to be loved, ‘engaged with’, for the puppets to trust us, and on the other, we want to influence, to manipulate and to control.

Free will is when you have a conscious awareness of a situation that enables you to make a choice about how you interpret and respond to it. Sometimes it takes will power to think more laboriously about the choices you make to stop them being made for you.


Sometimes you just want to renounce responsibility for your choices and leave them to some sort of system – perhaps fate, free market economics, the government, astrology or corporations.


1. Conscious Awareness of Choice : When do nudges knock us over the edge?

Other times, you don’t get a choice of what you are aware of. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could choose what we wanted to take in so that we can make choices accordingly?

2. Choosing Conscious Awareness : When is an interruption an interruption?


Introduction: Regarding Emotion and Regarding The Pain of Others

AdAutopsy, Mediating Thoughts

“Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look. People have means to defend themselves against what is upsetting.”

“There is nothing wrong with standing back and thinking. To paraphrase several sages: ‘Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.’” – Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others


(Ash over shoulder as if you’re mind is too weighed down with all the injustice and inconsistency in the world to worry about the state of your carpet = Generic Philosopher Pose No. 7)


This post has been incubating for over two months. Bloggers will be familiar with those odd pangs of guilt that come from not writing for a while. For those who don’t blog, it’s a bit like putting off your full-body (and eventual personality) transplant whilst continuing to scoff yourself silly, sloth about, smoke like a small chimney and haemorrhage money at your local boozer on a daily weekly daily basis. We are masters of procrastination and of cheating ourselves in the process. I suppose the general theme of the next few posts is about how we can know what the right thing to do is but don’t feel like doing it. It’s about how we are masters of ‘legitimising’ our actions or inactions to make ourselves feel better.

Susan Sontag is perhaps the broodiest philosopher I can feasibly tolerate. Of course, she’s a lefty (as in left-wing, not left-handed), as let’s face it, there are very few philosophers who come from the right. She’s an activist. She says the wrong thing at the wrong time (evidenced by her comments on 9/11) and her ramblings are riddled with contradictions. I tolerate her because these contradictions are undeniably human. She knows that only self-awareness and humility allow her to reassess her personal views and experiences. Such self-criticism prevents intellectual and moral conservatism. More importantly, I tolerate her because she rubs people up the wrong way, as all intimidatingly intelligent women do.


Sontag’s ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ ponders on the effects of emotionally engineered and manipulated photographs on society at the hands of the media. She examines how we can sloth-out in front of the 10 O’clock News, get terribly upset about Ebola’s grip over West Africa, compare the scenes to a zombie apocalypse or a medical dystopian thriller (like Contagion) that we saw on Netflix last week, then cynically berate the American media for it’s histrionics and wind up posting an article on Facebook about how you’re more likely to spontaneously combust than you are to catch Ebola.

Sontag identifies that photography’s claim of ‘eye-witness’ authenticity is false – after all, #nofilter wouldn’t have caught on if Instagram snaps were more likely to be un-filtered than filtered. Photographs are manipulated to be more effective emotional tasers. Sontag considers our growing immunity to photography-as-emotional-taser as we are exposed to more and more of it’s ‘shock therapy’ and we are more savvy as to the methods engineered and used to elicit an emotional response.


Sontag explores how and why we crave the emotions aroused by shocking and horrifying images of suffering (so often used in those “for just £2 a month” adverts). Why do we simultaneously wallow in guilt, pity, shame and disgust whilst displacing and alleviating this plethora of negative emotions through media-cynicism and pointing (rather than lifting) fingers? She believes that such a craving for shocking images has led to their commodification and this in turn is lessening their emotional impact. The mass production of such images has degraded shock into cliche. Perhaps the manufacture of ’emotionally engaging’ pictures, films and adverts is also degrading a whole plethora of emotions into cliche?


Sontag’s book has never been more relevant. Emotion is the advertising buzzword of the decade, followed closely by ‘engage’ and ‘content’. Selling moisturiser to women now entails making them cry about their low self-esteem and body image as a not-too-subtle-reminder of why they should buy the product. Emotion is incredibly important in brand building. Unless you have forged an emotional connection between consumers and your brand then you don’t really have a brand. The whole point of brands is to justify a price premium for that emotional connection. However, I have three problems with how ’emotion’, in the broadest sense, is used in Adland:


1.We tend to just pull out the above graph from the infamous IPA Databank, nod knowingly, then reiterate to our clients how important it is to be ’emotionally engaging.’ Emotions are complex, and one big fat descriptor, ’emotional’, is hardly adequate. In advertising we have a morbid fear of complexity, of nuances. As a result we often swing violently between gormless positivity, cracking jokes or (usually for Christmas) we try and make people cry. With charity adverts, we tend to know only one emotion: guilt. I am privileged to work with creatives who create great adverts with fantastic emotional range. There are, however, too many adverts out there that have the emotional range of a teaspoon.


2. Sometimes we confuse emotion as a ‘input’, when really it’s an ‘output.’ Showing a lot of happy smiley faces and people dancing around elated or crying african children does not constitute emotional advertising. If anything, my emotional response to this kind of advertising ranges from sheer indifference to overcome with annoyance (and the desire to throw the nearest object to hand at the telly). Sometimes rational inputs have a more emotional output, as is with the case with the UN’s Open Defecation campaign. 

3. We assume that ’emotional’ is diametrically opposed to ‘rational.’ It’s not that simple. It’s the connection between our emotions and our rational thoughts that is currently under-explored and under-valued. Although our emotions often lead the way when it comes to decision-making, we’ll dismiss our emotions as ‘irrational’ if we cannot post-rationalise them and make sense of them. We need to feel that our emotions are rational to justify any actions they have led to. Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 21.35.47

Emotional disengagement is perhaps a rational response to advertisers going whole hog emotionally. My boyfriend argues until he is blue in the face that he is immune to advertising’s emotional manipulation. He’s part of a growing population of advertising-cynics who are willing themselves to be emotionally disengaged. People are consciously emotionally disconnecting and this is disconcerting. I loathe to be a portent of doom, but when you deal in emotional manipulation somebody needs to ponder on some potential consequences of such a manipulation:

1.  Is the emotional one-up-manship going on in advertising inadvertently fostering a coldhearted cynicism? Does shock therapy work well enough for us to keep administering it despite our continual desensitisation?

Part I: Emotional Desensitisation and The Ugliness of Shock

2. What if we came to think that love had to be “like the movies”? What if we came to think that love was just a concept manufactured by advertisers to sell De Beers diamonds and boxes of chocolates? What if the media owned our perceptions of what emotions should be like?

Part II: What is ‘Real’ and What is ‘Represented’ Emotion?

3. What would the world look like if we never thought about our actions and just went on emotional autopilot, reacting to everything without thinking? What if, in wallowing in guilt, pity and misery we feel like we’ve done enough when in fact we’re just relishing in the spectacle of it all from our couches?

Part III: Apathy is Not The Only Cause of Inaction

As ever, as much as I loathe to be a portent of doom I loathe more being unprepared for that potential doom. Here are some ‘ways in’ to the ‘ways out.’

Part IV: The Known Unknowns

Debord: The Society of The Spectacle and The Spectacle of Social Media

Mediating Thoughts

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” – Guy Debord, Society of The Spectacle (1967)

guy-smoking(Light a Pipe Nonchalantly Through Extremely Thick Spectacles = Generic Philosopher Pose 5)

A few months ago I gave Debord’s Society of The Spectacle to a planner friend along with Baudrillard’s ‘System of Objects’. I wrote this inside the front cover of Baudrillard’s book:

50% of books in people’s homes are never opened. This book made me want to be a planner. It is inspirational and stuffed with insights. The other is the darkest and most harrowing portrayal of modern life I have ever read and should come with the warning “may cause existential crisis.” The other book is not to be opened, it is intended as a sacrifice for the sake of a (dubious) statistic.”

Debord’s book is a total headfuck. It’s a double headfuck because once you’ve got over the headfuck of deciphering this ludicrously impenetrable text you are confronted with the headfuck of it’s meaning. Philosophy can take you to some very dark places. There are times when I thank goodness that these philosophers don’t just lay it all bare in plain speak. This kind of philosophical bluntness could be terrifying, and, extremely dangerous. There are philosophers whose ideas and observations about the world we inhabit are so bleak that one fears these ideas reaching mass consciousness.


However, Debord’s ideas are already reaching mass consciousness. The Guardian is writing articles hailing Debord as a futurologist and to have predicted in 1967 the current state of our distracted society. The very same concerns Debord had about TV and Radio have been amplified by social media, ‘Big Data’, ‘earned media’ and our always on, always online, always watched, always watching ‘Society of The Spectacle.’

Debord was a ringleader of a band of (not so merry) 60’s political revolutionaries called the Situationist International. Their movement is associated with Hippy anti-capitalist sentiment that pervaded the champagne socialist intelligentsia at the time. They sought to update Marx’s critique of Capitalism as the rise of the USA’s glitzy brand of Capitalism and Cold War tensions bubbled away in the background. Here’s Debord’s argument in four über simplifying steps:

1. “The spectacle’s ‘lonely crowd’ “unites what is separate but unites it only in its separateness.”

Capitalism’s competitive individualism creates a man-eat-man world where individuals trample each other striving for similar goals and aspirations. Individuals perpetually strive against each other, but together. We are united in corporations, housed in close proximity, do ‘team work’ but are becoming increasingly specialized cogs in the economic machine. Some of us do such specialized jobs that we can’t even have a conversation about what it is we do with people outside of work. We all go to work physically together, but sit in silence on tubes and buses psychologically alone.


2. “The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” – Debord

Companies want profit but don’t know why. We want progress for progress sake. We strive without realising exactly why. We haven’t questioned our definitions of progress. We haven’t evaluated, we just do stuff “moving forward.” Debord argues that man is now the economy’s puppet.


3. “The more readily he recognizes his own needs in the images of need proposed by the dominant system [Capitalism], the less he understands his own existence and his own desires.”


Many of us do not question why we want a bigger house, why we want a faster car and why we might commute for two hours a day for five days a week in order to buy more stuff. Society, advertising and the media tell us what we want, Debord argues. It’s not about driving the car. It’s about what we think the car represents to others. We constantly need approval from our peers. Debord laments life’s poverty despite affluent appearances.


“The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing [to have], from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it.”


4. “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.”

We used to understand what we wanted by having real emotional reactions to situations and people. This used to be done through lived, live and unedited ‘intersubjective’ experiences (a heart-to-heart with a whiskey bottle you might say) in which we read other’s body language. We react and interact. Debord worried that our emotions and values are shaped by the media. He considered that the media represents our emotions and values in easy to understand symbols, slogans, corporate speak and email conventions. Debord considers that social interactions, when “directly lived”, are messy and full of ‘guesswork’, or what we might call empathy. Now, representations of what social interactions should be like have stifled an empathetic, “directly lived” experience of conversations we have.


We speak in embarrassingly corporate meaningless jargon to hide what we really want to say (“moving forward” = ‘I want to talk about things in the future but seem to have forgotten how to use the future tense’, and “manage expectations” = ‘be pessimistic, because I am’, are my personal pet peeves). This language, which helps to grease the cogs of the corporate machine, does not foster strong bonds between colleagues. It helps us sing from the same hymn sheet as workers yet masks real communication as people. Emails do something similar.


We ‘read’ a bunch of clichés, symbols and slogans that are designed to make the guessing game or empathizing with other people a bit easier. If a man drives a Volvo we might guess that he valued the safety of his family and would be the kind of person who has a black Labrador. If a woman wears Chanel No5 we know she sees herself as glamorous. If a man has a beard we expect that he fancies himself as a trendy creative-intellectual type. We might then use that beard to sell products that we want to be associated with creative-intellectual bohemianism and Hipster culture.


(Schick’s ‘Free your Skin’ campaign by Y&R)

“When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” – Andy Warhol

The more we let the media mediate our lives the less we live for us, for now, Debord argues. Instead of accepting the now, the ‘me’ and our messy human emotions we are trying to fit into ideas that have been represented to us. The media has helped to formulate our understanding of what is beautiful, who’s successful and what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Now our interactions are mediated by the media and social media. We worry about how we come across. We worry about ‘I’ (a crafted image of ourself that we portray to others) rather than ‘me’ and we think about what we’re meant to feel rather than just feel it. We mediate ourselves, we mediate other people, the media mediates society. Everything is mediated. Nothing is directly lived.

tumblr_mhrehrSUR81qj73e2o1_500-7698How tasty our breakfast looked on Instagram is more important than how tasty it actually was. Instagram would give Debord a heart attack – we upload pictures of us having fun to represent the fun we were supposed to be having. How much fun we look like we are having is more important than actually having fun.

Instagram down, describe lunch

This all seems fairly bleak (I did warn you) but I feel that there are positives planners can take from Debord’s extreme Marxist views. We shouldn’t shy away from advertiser-bashing and bury our heads in the sand. There are huge amounts of people who think advertisers are scum. We should figure out why to see if there is anything that can be done about it.

“All the branches of knowledge, which continue to develop as the thought of the spectacle, have to justify a society without justification, and constitute a general science of false consciousness. This thought is completely conditioned by the fact that it cannot and will not investigate its own material basis in the spectacular system.” – Debord

Debord can help provide the ethical, rather than practical, answers to several debates that seem to be gathering momentum in advertising and marketing at present. I believe that marketeers, in general, want to do the right thing but are lured into the easy or more practical approach. If we can debate the ethics, however, then maybe we could work upon improving the practicalities of reaching some ideals. If we don’t debate the ethics then we have not questioned our goals – we are upholding what Debord considered to be the tautological conditions of Capitalism, where our means are simultaneously our ends.

Firstly, Debord can help planners to understand and counteract a growing public scepticism of advertising and ‘The Media.’ Everybody hates being sold at. Everybody hates being told what to buy and what to think. They no longer want to be spoonfed information, yet, at the same time, the Internet has made spoonfeeding all the more necessary. It simply isn’t possible to read and see everything, but how do we choose what we find on the Internet? People have not only become increasingly suspicious of what they read and what they see but how and why they have come across it. Who has the power now when it comes to ‘The Media’?

Part I: Mass Media vs The Media of The Masses

Secondly, planners can use Debord’s writing as a way of analysing the social and cultural worth of online interactions. It seems to me that advertising no longer serves a purely commercial purpose. On the one hand advertisers are arguing that commercial success will depend on CRM (Consumer Relationship Management) on the other there are those who believe that creativity sells. How much is a Facebook ‘like’ worth? Should planners regurgitate culture by looking at what people have ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ online and reproducing something similar or should we aim to create something completely new? Should advertisers follow culture or aim to lead it? Should we let brands shape the world we live in or should we let society shape the brands we live with?



Thirdly, reading Debord’s book is, to craft a rather torturous metaphor, rather like watching a CCTV operative watching a crowd of stalkers stalk each other. Planners could do well to look through Debord’s eyes when evaluating social media interactions in which people stalk each other online in full knowledge that they too are being stalked. CCTV is like ‘Big Data’, it gathers all the information on how the two stalkers stalk each other. CCTV and ‘Big Data’ can track their every move, when they move and what they do. The planner can use CCTV/’Big Data’ to observe the stalking game in a detached way.

banksy21Detached observations are objective, yet are, well, detached. We need to empathise too. The planner must ask the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions to evaluate what the data actually shows. When people don’t know that they are being watched they act differently. They don’t edit their behaviour. On social media we know we are watched. Interrogating social media interactions might involve asking questions like: Who is following? Who is leading? Who’s trying to camouflage? Who’s conspicuous? Are they conspicuously trying to be conspicuous? Who has quickened their pace? Are they are worried that their stalker hasn’t followed suit?

In real life, when we feel like our every move isn’t being recorded we behave differently. We definitely forget about CCTV as Coca-Cola’s advert below demonstrates, but do we forget who’s following us and watching us on social media? How much value can we place on social media interaction when it comes to revealing internal whirrings of consumers? How should brands use social media to better people’s lives? Is it ethical to use ‘Big Data’ or is the CCTV operative a bit creepy? Annoyingly Channel 4’s documentary, CCTV: Caught on Camera, (as always) sat on the fence.

There’s a storm brewing in Adland. ‘Old school dinosaurs’, or Technophobes are questioning ‘Big Data’ and the validity of Social Media and Digital marketing. ‘The digital evangelists’, or Technophiles, are questioning the effectiveness of TV or printed adverts and taking a ‘gut feeling’ over data as a viable means of strategising a marketing plan. It’s that age old debate that Stephen King’s “Advertising: Art and Science” 1982 article discusses and was reinvigorated at an APG event on Planning 3.0.

Part II: The Lonely Crowd


Part I: Mass Media vs The Media of The Masses.

Mediating Thoughts

“If the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of “mass media” which is its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self-movement.” – Debord


It was only a decade or two ago that ‘mass media’ ruled supreme. Back then, information was broadcast by the few to the many and the many had fewer sources by which to evaluate information against. Mass media spoonfed, or broadcast, information that could not really be evaluated by the masses to the masses. Brands and politicians held all the power in the recently by-gone era of mass media. They could afford to broadcast on telly and in newspapers and they could make claims about their products and policies that few customers or voters could really interrogate. North Koreans have come to believe that Kim Jong Il invented the hamburger through the very power of mass media. 


You only have to watch the opening scenes of The Lego Movie to understand how powerful mass media is known to be. Their pastiche of current Pop music, ‘Everything Is Awesome’, tells the viewer that everything is not awesome, we are just told to believe it is. Well, that seems to be a great message to feed the kids: Question the world around you, “Find the piece of Resistance” to stop Lord Business’ autocratic rulership. It would seem that Lego is making a point about the power of commercial giants in a film that seamlessly mashes together the dystopian visions of Aldous Huxley (‘Brave New World’) and the Matrix.

However, with its tongue-in-cheek Lego billboards reminiscent of ‘blue sky’ Soviet propaganda, the ripping up of a rule book aimed to instil social conformity, and the pedalling of the belief that ‘The Special One’ is made, not born or prophesied, the film actually holds a very Capitalist message: Individualism, choice, control of your own destiny. It’s the american dream in Lego bricks. It’s one form of mass media (the Lego film) appearing to critique the power of mass media (in Lord Business’ autocratic Lego society) only to exercise its own power as form of mass media in pedalling a Capitalist message. Undoubtedly this was not Lego’s express intentions – they were aiming to produce a ‘gripping narrative’ to further their brand mission of “inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow,” not a ‘political message’.





Debord’s argument is that Capitalism has monopolised the means of communication in order to proliferate its own profit-driven agenda. Debord considers that advertising and the ‘mass media’ are essentially machines of Capitalist propaganda not too dissimilar from North Korea’s or Nazi Germany’s political propaganda. After all, Capitalism is a form of political doctrine.


With the advent of Social Media and The Internet, or what I will refer to as ‘The Media of The Masses’, we have the whole world wide web at our fingertips and we can all add to that sprawling mass of media in just a few swipes and taps. We can both broadcast ourselves and we can evaluate others. If this is the democratisation of information and communication en masse, then surely the old mass media autocracy of Debord’s time should be finding a Hussein-or-Hitler-esque hole in the ground. Don’t worry ‘Mass Media,’ shovels aren’t necessary just yet. You may be able to pass the buck and dodge the bullet.


Mass Media, Mass Scepticism 

Although Debord’s vendetta against mass media as a machine of Capitalist propaganda initially seems a bit extreme (and Debord is nothing but extreme) it seems to be rippling into the mainstream. In a way this is nothing new. We all know that people are becoming increasingly ‘media-savvy.’ David Olgivy wrote over fifty years ago in ‘On Advertising’ that “The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”


The issue is not the media-savvy, it’s the media-sceptics. Its not what advertising is or how it does what it does (flog shit) its why it does what it does. The issue is precisely that as we emerge from the recession, Capitalism could be considered to be public enemy number one, followed closely behind by bankers, fat cat megacorps/brands, the government and marketers. You only have to type ‘Capitalism’ into google image search to feel their wrath.


Not only do people understand how advertising tries to persuade people to part from their even harder earned cash, causing them to resent the methods that they use, but they have also come to question why they even bother. They have realised that aspirational status symbols, spangly new sneakers, skinny Starbucks soya lattes and the like simply aren’t necessary. They have realised that Capitalism, in order to survive, requires of us to constantly feel inadequate in order to keep us ‘growing’, ‘moving forward’, working, worrying and buying reassurance. 


“The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. It is no more than the economy developing for itself.” Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

Russell Brand’s ‘The Trews’ youtube channel is Guy Debord’s philosophy in action. Brand objects to the control that the media has over our lives and how we think. He believes that Capitalism is all one big distraction from having more honest, instinctual, human relationships. Indeed, Brand also believes that “all that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” Brand, however, has identified another enemy in our Capitalist system other than bankers, the government and advertisers. He’s out to make the branch of mass media we call ‘The News’ a public enemy. 


I can understand (but not support) why Brand, if given the choice, would probably rather punch a journalist than an advertiser. Given a PR person he would make no hesitation in flooring them. Whilst advertisers can never pretend that they are doing anything other than trying to sell you something, journalists can only pretend that they aren’t. PR could be seen as an uncomfortable mix of the two. ‘The News’ must seem ‘impartial’, ‘objective’ and written with the express intention of informing people. ‘The News’ and journalists, however, are also working under the Capitalist constraint of profit. They work in disguise. They seem to be providing helpful information about what is going on in the world, but really, they need to sell papers, they have a target audience in mind, they have their own salaries to enlarge and a career ladder to climb.



The news is not about what is going on in the world, really. PR agencies ‘sell’ in stories about their clients and they craft a ‘hook’ (bait) to entice the different audiences that read different publications. This is why the Telegraph is known as ‘The Torygraph’. Even the Independent claiming to be, well, ‘Independent’, still has a point of view: that which can be seen whilst supposedly sitting on a fence distanced from the action. Newspapers construct an ‘angle’, a ‘hook’, a ‘narrative’ around which the facts are arranged and manipulated to say a number of different things – “this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self-movement.” Russell Brand hopes to inform the masses that newspapers have political agendas, and (in the video below) that they brainwash society to be constantly fearful in order to feel the need to buy papers to be constantly in the loop.

Media-scepticism is growing. Brand has 187,000 youtube subscribers (that’s roughly the population of Swindon) and 7.87 million Twitter followers (that’s the population of Scotland and Greater Manchester combined). How could media-scepticism not be growing when you consider the News of The World phone hacking scandal and the Murdoch News Corp empire? It seems that journalists will put out what sells, whether that be fear-mongering stories about terrorism, immigration and cancer or exclusive gossip obtained through illegally hacking into celebrities’, crime victims’ or MP’s voicemails.


People will not, and cannot, be lied to any longer, ‘The Media of The Masses’ argues. ‘The Media of The Masses’ claims to gallantly fight the people’s corner by democratising information and the means of communication. ‘The Media of The Masses’ proclaims that the communication it offers is not “essentially unilateral” like that of ‘Mass Media,’ that they offer ‘discussion’, ‘interaction’ and ‘participation’ and therefore ‘transparency.’ Interestingly The Guardian, in association with Edward Snowden, has chosen its allies well in this socio-political shit storm. The Cannes Lion winning spot by BBH below shows how ‘The Whole Picture’ formed from #opennews can bring the establishment crashing down as the peoples’ truth unfolds.

Social Media: The Media of The Masses.

In our age of Social Media as ‘The Media of The Masses’ we have all become broadcasters. We are all Authors and we can all proliferate our own knowledge and opinions. Simultaneously, in our age of google search, we are able to evalute the worth of information and its sources. This has given us all the power to choose what we do and do not constitute as knowledge. We are all Readers. Today I can theoretically set up shop, buy a domain name and feed information to anybody with an internet connection. They could then troll me in the comments section. Oh wait…


We can broadcast and be heard. We can evaluate information and refuse to be suckered in by information spoonfed to us. Surely, then, if ‘The Media of The Masses’ has enabled us all to broadcast knowledge, and given us the means by which to evaluate what is broadcast at us, then we should be in a position to topple ‘Mass Media.’  I can’t help but feel, and I reckon that Debord would agree, that although ‘The Media of The Masses’ is creating an information and communication democracy, such a democracy yields less actual real-life power than it promises online. Although scepticism of ‘Mass Media’ communication is due to the realisation that it is “essentially unilateral,” this could be a similar issue with ‘The Media of The Masses’ form of communication.

1. Too many authors, not enough readers.

We can now comment on articles that we think are outrageous. We can give a counter-argument straight away – we don’t need to write a letter to a newspaper and hope that the editor decides to print it next day. People who complain about brands on Twitter or Facebook must feel a twinge of power. They genuinely believe that in imparting their knowledge of a company’s malpractice, terrible product or customer service they can play David in a world full of Capitalist Goliaths. We can troll the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on twitter, but this won’t change his policies. Nor will it stop people from voting for him. Why is the political David more powerful than the biblical one?

POLITICS Cameron Nandos 100682

The internet has created a public forum in which we can all feel that we are being heard. None of us are really being heard because we spend so much time talking, broadcasting, blogging, tweeting rather than listening and reading. Instagram has made everybody and nobody a photographer. WordPress has made everybody and nobody a writer. Soundcloud has made everybody and nobody a composer, DJ, musician or a band member. None of us are photographers, writers or musicians because nobody is looking at, reading or listening to our output. The ‘power’ associated with being heard, of putting across our knowledge, is eroded as everyone tries to shout ever louder. The political David is more powerful simply because he has ‘Mass Media’ on his side, who just so happens to be able to boom louder. He may even get more of an audience by pretending he is listening to the concerns of British citizens through ‘The Media of The Masses.’


“If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is because this “communication” is essentially unilateral.” – Debord, The Society of The Spectacle

The picture Debord paints is of a society in which nobody ever stops talking, everybody is talking over each other and consequently there is nobody left to listen and nobody is listened to. As we broadcast, tweet, status update, ‘like’ and share away, our society is being ‘administered’ or ‘managed’ by an ‘intermediary’, the social media machine, who acts as a go-between delivering information instantaneously. Debord argues that this information is not ‘communication’ at all, it is one-sided. It’s a monologue boomed down a microphone to an empty room.


Power, however, lies in being able to listen intently, to evaluate information so that it becomes powerful knowledge. After all, you already know what you are going to say. You don’t know what others might conribute. With social media, the ‘intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication’ is the only one that is listening. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their data-crunching machinery are really the powerful ones here.


2. A piece of information’s source, it’s author, is no longer it’s author.

Although we are becoming increasingly aware and cynical of the desired effect that mass media communications are engineered to have and we increasingly question the authority and motives of sources of information, there is a silent ‘Author’ or ‘source’ who we haven’t considered. This is because information’s worth is now measured by how ‘like-able’, ‘share-able’ it is or whether all of your friends have now read it rather than who actually put the information up on the internet in the first place. People now consult their social media feeds when they look for breaking news. Since 2009 traffic to news sites from social media platforms has increased by 57%. We are more likely to read something because a good friend has shared it and consequently it pops up on our news-feeds. This is why ‘social media gurus’ (retch retch) try to ‘reach out’ to ‘influencers’ or ‘bloggers’ and find out who in ‘The Media of The Masses’ is first amongst equals.


Facebook’s algorithms are that silent ‘Author’ or ‘source’ that we haven’t considered. They are under the bonnet and therefore off our radars. We are in no doubt as to Facebook’s position of power, but we haven’t realised to what extent and in what ways their data-crunching algorithms can influence us. If all of your friends read and share Daily Mail articles, Facebook will ‘helpfully’ tell you that reading these articles will keep you in the loop. Our news is literally ‘spoonfed’ to us (just as with old school Mass Media) and, although we can tinker with Facebook’s algorithms ourselves, few of us have probably bothered. One thing that really worried me about UKIP’s European Election victories was that, statistically speaking, a handful of my Facebook friends should have voted for them – I received only dearth of scathing comments and feisty Guardian articles on my news feed about Farage.


(A painting by my brilliant artist friend Helena Izett)

The power of Facebook’s algorithms became clear when they conducted a controversial experiment in which they only allowed positive or negative sentiments posted by the friends of 700,000 unwitting subjects to make it onto your News Feed. Invariably people posted suitably negative status updates when exposed only to their friends’ negativity. Similarly a single tweak of Facebook’s algorithms allowed them to spread positive sentiment like wildfire. Facebook can directly influence your mood. Facebook can even influence who you are better friends with online by consistently showing you updates from a certain group of select people.

Facebook now have an audience to broadcast to who think that they themselves are the broadcasters. They have subtly shifted the power balance. Whats more, they have obscured themselves as the ‘source’ or ‘The Author’ and are penning in your friends’ names. Lets just hope that Facebook don’t have a political agenda, because if they suddenly decided that they wanted Republicans to win over Democrats they could influence social media herd mentality in an even more terrifying way than Mass Media ever could. It seems just a matter of time before people become more sceptical of ‘The Media of The Masses’. ‘Mass Media’ may be able to dodge the bullet.

Neo dodges the bullet

Part II: The Lonely Crowd

Mediating Thoughts

“The economic system [which is] founded on isolation is a circular production of [that] isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn. From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of “lonely crowds.” The spectacle constantly rediscovers its own assumptions more concretely.” – Debord


(Puff at a cancer stick relieved that it will enable you to make a premature exit from this urban dystopia = Generic Philosopher Pose No.10)

I can imagine poor Debord having a mental breakdown if he were to ride the London tube. To witness an entire tube carriage glued to their iphones and ipads as they quietly observe urban solitude, not daring to break the heavy silence between people for the fear of coming across a bit too friendly and consequently mental, would be too much for Debord. Navigating the London bus system is already pretty daunting, but if you had Debord’s head instead of your own the ride would be psychologically apocalyptic.

Commuters on an overcrowded train


The people who physically surround us are strangers because we consider the risk of face to face conversation somehow too much to take. We act like socially phobic robots on public transport, yet, conversely, you might have never met some of the people you follow on Instagram or Twitter but for some reason you feel like you know them. After all, you’ve seen what they’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner or even what they look like post-coitus. 



You can take that ‘social risk’ and accost a complete stranger on the internet and spark a debate or conversation. You can even tell a celebrity or MP that you think they’re an arse hole. The consequences of our online actions seem much more trivial than what we do in real life.  Picking an argument on youtube’s comment section or trolling news articles is ‘normal’, but overhearing a group of stranger’s political debate at the pub and injecting your two cents into their discussion is comparatively ‘weird’. It’s ‘normal’ to ‘like’ a stranger’s selfie on Instagram, but giving a stranger a thumbs up on the tube is ‘weird’.

It’s easy to click that ‘like’ button, to ‘connect’ with people online. This might not mean, however, that the sentiment portrayed by the ‘like’ button means much. Are we psychologically engaged in our online interactions? Does technology put psychological distance between each other and between us and our behaviours? Sherry Turkle seems to think that it does. The TED talk below describes how technology has exacerbated an already existing catch-22 that humans experience.

What Sherry Turkle explains in her TED talk is that real life is messy but technology makes human relationships tidy. People say dumb shit all the time. People have emotions that sometimes get out of control.  But, people like to feel in control of themselves and their self-image and social media helps us to do just that. Debord argues that technology enables the “systematic organization of the ‘failure of the faculty of encounter’ and as its replacement by a hallucinatory social fact: the false consciousness of encounter, the “illusion of encounter.”

On the one hand we are inherently social beings, on the other we are fiercely competitive and care a lot about what people think of us. The most obvious place to see this inherent contradiction in action is in (some, not all – rave clubs tend to buck this trend purely because of the nature of the narcotics involved) nightclubs and bars. We head along to a bar, dressed in our most fashionable/suavest/most expensive gear to meet our friends because deep-down we care what they, or anybody else in the bar, for that matter, thinks of us. This is why Moet champagne bottles and VIP areas exist. There’s a heavy dose of showing off involved in a lot of social interactions.


Social media is a complex exchange of glances. You watch what your friends are doing. You watch how they talk to each other on the comments sections of photographs. You watch how happy they look in those photographs. Knowing that you watch and judge other people’s social media behaviour you might watch and judge your own. You might carefully tailor what you put on Facebook. You craft yourself. They’re crafting themselves too. You might try not to craft yourself – but even this is crafted. Everything is edited. Everything is re-presented.

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” – Guy Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

This is why people on the internet seem better, cleaner, more friendly than those very same people who are sitting next to you on the tube. You only see the healthy breakfasts or really good looking sexual partners that your Instagram pal from the other side of the world displays to the internet. You only see their ‘good side’ in their hundreds of selfies. Sometimes reading people’s twitter feeds is comparable to watching an American sitcom whose script is so witty and punchy that you wonder why real life isn’t as full of pizazz. Why are my ‘real world’ friends not as funny/informative/in the know?


People aren’t necessarily straight with each other, and with themselves, when they know that other people are watching. They can often mimic other’s behaviour to fit in.  People are hard-wired to ensure their survival in a group. What other people are doing sets a benchmark for what you should be doing. Your values and desires are shaped by the people around you all the more prominently when these are made public. Social media is group mentality on a colossal scale in an intense always on, always online, and always watching way.

“The alienation of the spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.” – Guy Debord, Society of The Spectacle

Consequently, social media has a habit of exacerbating the two contradictory impulses of human crowd mentality (showing off whilst fitting in) in quite an alarming way to produce a culture that rewards banal interactions with banal ‘likes’. The ability to edit our personas online reduces the risk associated with human interactions and the result is a watered down version of ourselves that enables us to fit in with the crowd. Are we really true to ourselves online? Are the connections we make with those we interact with online merely superficial? Is it a connection born out of a fear of loneliness that only serves to reinforce that loneliness?

What does this mean for planners?

1. Likes mean practically nothing. Other than the fact that 62% of online traffic is formed of ‘bots’ and other non-human entities, the mere tap of the ‘like’ button means practically nothing.


There are no real consequences to weigh up when you click ‘like’ or ‘follow’. If there is less risk to doing something then obviously the value of that behaviour is less. If you save a child from a burning building you are a hero. If you take a spider out of a bath, less so.


Never form a strategy around gaining Facebook likes. Not only does your brand have to compete with liking a friend’s status or DJ/Photography/Cat Sanctuary Facebook pages, it has no reason to do so. If you’re so insecure as a brand that you want people to ‘like’ you online rather than buy your product and be done with it, then that’s a little lame.


2. Social media “content” can breed banality. People now judge “content” do by how likeable or sharable it is. In order for it to be likeable it might not be challenging. In order for it to be sharable, you have to ensure that it is suitably bland or samey to other “content” so as not to offend anybody you share it with or, worse, portray yourself as some sort of nutcase. Cat videos, GIFs and memes are obviously more ‘sharable’ than Japanese Hentai Tentacle porn. This is why I populate my blogs with them. They’re populist and counterbalance what I hope comes across a little provocative.


“Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over… The remains of religion and of the family (the principal relic of the heritage of class power) and the moral repression they assure, merge whenever the enjoyment of this world is affirmed–this world being nothing other than repressive pseudo-enjoyment.” – Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

When you put “content” out on Social Media, try not to care too much if it might form a negative backlash. Sometimes it is more helpful to divide and conquer your audience than be all-things-to-all-people. You’ll forge a deeper connection or (wretch wretch) “engage” with your core fans more this way.

3. Think about how you use social media to feedback on your creative work. If you judge the content you have put up by the number of likes it gets and then decide to produce something of the same ilk, labouring under the misapprehension that you have ‘tailored’ your content to ‘consumer preferences’ (which are poorly expressed through likes anyway), then you are not jolting people to take notice. By merely adding to the noise, to the number of generic videos or instagram shots of food, whatever brand you are working on cannot hold a defining space in people’s minds. It merely falls into the cultural mulch that forms the backdrop of our lives.

Culture: “It is the sense of a world which hardly makes sense.” – Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

When Debord states that “Culture is the locus of the search for lost unity. In this search for unity, culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself,” he is speaking of how, through culture, we wish to relate to each other, to over-come the “lonely crowd” and our “lost unity” as a society. Unfortunately, when everything refers to everything else that was once popular or successful, you end up with nothing new. Ipso facto, “culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself.”

My other favourite philosopher, Baudrillard, wrote in his essay The Hyper-realism of Simulation (1976) that the use and abundance of media, signs, and symbols has so bombarded our culture that “reality itself, as something separable from signs of it…has vanished in the information-saturated, media-dominated contemporary world.” Photography, mass production, television, and advertising have shaped and altered authentic experience to the point that “reality” is recognized only when it is re-produced in simulation. Ie. ‘Real’ or ‘Authentic’ has its own inauthentic tropes, iconography and visual conventions. There are thousands of pictures of #nature on instagram that all look pretty much the same. “An air of nondeliberate parody clings to everything,” Baudrillard wrote. Everything seems to be an accidental parody of something else. Its all falling into the same cultural mulch.

So aim to produce something new, not something popular. Have faith in being in the ‘creative’ industry. Don’t crowdsource ideas. Come up with your own. Personally, I believe that planners should avoid holding up a mirror to society without making a comment on it. That comment could look at the accidental parody inherent in reality and make it deliberate and pointed. That comment should disrupt reality, not fall into the background of it.

4. Take what people say and do online with a liberal and generous pinch of salt.

There is nothing wrong with looking at cultural insights through social media, but the quantifiable ‘engagement data’ should not lure you into a false sense of security. What we really want to find out about is the motives behind the data. Why do people like something? They may be liking it ‘ironically’ or out of pity as nobody else has liked that friends’ post. Most likely, they are liking it because everyone else has.


There’s a legendary anecdote that sums it up: A man is watching another man scrabbling around under a lamp post late at night, trying to find something. After watching for ten minutes, and sensing his desperation, he asks the man, now on his hands and knees,“Sir, are you sure you dropped your keys here?” The man looks up and replies, “No, no, I heard them fall about a block away.” Bemused by this confession he asks,“Then why on earth are you searching for them here?” To which he replies,“Well, because the light is so much better!”


The moral is that although quantifiable data, such as Facebook likes or Retweets, allows for something to be quantifiable, it doesn’t mean it is where you should be looking. It also doesn’t mean that lamp posts should be looking at you either…. Which leads me onto my next post on Big Data.

Animals in Adverts

'Brand old' thinking on Brands, AdAutopsy

“Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.” – Baudrillard, The System of Objects

If adverts are an intermediary between people/consumers and objects/products then, by (il)logical deduction, adverts are pets. I know you’re thinking that I’ve finally lost it, that I’ve cracked up. That statement, however, seems less mental when you consider how many advertising campaigns and brand logos feature animals; Barclay’s horse, PG Tips’ monkey, Cadbury’s Gorilla, Andrex’ puppy, Frosties’ tiger, Playboy’s bunny, Lacoste’s alligator, Le Coq Sportif’s cockerel, Penguin’s penguin, Dove’s dove, Jaguar’s jaguar and Puma’s puma to name just a few.

Animals have been used to carry metaphorical and symbolic meaning since, well, forever. The first caveman paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Roman and Greek mythology, Medieval heraldry, horoscopes, artistic iconography and now brands and adverts all use animals as a way of articulating complex ideas and adding a layer of meaning. Animals can aid people’s memory of a brand or product’s qualities without the need to bash them over the head with a brand proposition. A Platypus is the new mascot for First Direct as ‘The Unexpected Bank.’ A bunny is a sexually suggestive (“at it like rabbits”) symbol for Playboy without being overt. A jaguar is the perfect metaphor for a car that prowls about the urban jungle as it’s engine purrs smugly.

AMV/BBDO freaked me out in my first ever interview with the question, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” They weren’t just trying to keep me on my toes, they were trying to see how good I was at constructing a metaphor. I probably should have said a platypus rather than a puppy. Brands are metaphors for inanimate products and intangible services. Animals are living breathing metaphors. Their marriage is one of common sense.

A ‘Woof’Wagen over a ‘Volks/Folks’Wagen. 

Other than that dogs look hilarious with their chops flapping in the wind in a moving car, Volkswagen’s Woofwagen campaign by Adam&EveDDB centers on that old saying that dogs are like their owners. Put different breeds of dogs in all the different car models that Volkswagen have on offer and you have the message ‘There’s a Volkswagen for all of us’. Volkswagen can broadcast that they have many different cars whilst portraying a unifying message: Variety is the spice of life and variety enables us to define ourselves. Our dogs and our cars are suited to us, as the soundtrack ‘Me and You’ by Barry Louis Polisar reminds us, and luckily there is the breed of dog and breed of Volkswagen car for each and every one of us.



The campaign, like many adverts featuring animals (The Bear and Hare John Lewis advert, also by Adam&EveDDB, being the most obvious) pulls at our ‘awww’ muscles. This isn’t just because dogs are cute. It’s because we can load animals with more emotional energy than we can humans. We are sceptical of human emotion, particularly when it is acted out in adverts. Their happy little faces, their tongues lolling out in 60mph winds are somehow more expressive than some loony tune grinning moronically and smugly as he winds his brand new VW around country roads.

We realise how much we love our dogs, how much we go through life with them by our sides. Oh yeah, shit. We do a lot with our cars too. People judge us by our cars as much as by which dog is sitting in the backseat. This advert is perhaps the truest manifestation of Baudrillard’s statement: ‘Volks’, meaning folks or people, has been transformed into ‘Woof’ signifying dog or pet. “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.”

Human + Car = Volkswagen

Pet + Car = Woofwagen

Car <—-> Pet <—-> Human


So what if Volkswagen had decided to represent the diversity of their range by putting different people in their cars? We might have been judgemental of the human equivalent of the Afghan Hound in a red open-topped sports car. We might have considered the human equivalent to be a bit of a poser or a cliché (Bridget Jones’ mini break moment above sprung to mind). Similarly the dreadlocked creature (please comment if you know the breed) is wholly appropriate to be sitting in the hippy Volkswagen Beetle. Even if we hate hippies or posers in sports cars, we still liked the dogs that represented them in the ad.


When animals appear in adverts there is usually something a bit more interesting at play than mere association, metaphor and pulling on our ‘awwww’ muscles. There’s a reason why you can take a buzzfeed quiz telling you what your ‘Inner Dog Breed’ is (courtesy of Volkswagen). There’s a reason why most viral memes and youtube clips feature animals. There’s a reason why a Guardian article exists on ‘The Growing Economy of Cat Videos.’ This is, quite simply, because we almost prefer animals to humans.


We trust animals more than humans

“The pathos-laden presence of a dog, a cat, a tortoise or a canary is a testimonial to a failure of the inter-human relationship and an attendant recourse to a narcissistic domestic universe where subjectivity finds fulfilment in the most quietistic way.” – Baudrillard


‘The Cat Spinster Lady’ is a fantastic stereotype. To be honest, I reckon I wouldn’t mind being one. The tragedy is that ‘The Cat Spinster Lady’ is portrayed as an eccentric loner, who, too bizarre to hook a fella and have children, has ended up filling the void of human affection in her life with tens of cats. She gives them all different personalities and names, she is acutely aware of how they interact with each other. She settles their clawing scraps with each other like a mother would bang her children’s heads together. She watches out for the weaker one in the pack, making sure it has extra food. She knows which one is a bit naughty and enjoys shredding the curtains.


Animals are passive receptacles for our emotions (The link here is for my good friend Joel’s piece on Cat Cafés, possibly the best description of cats ever written). We can project our feelings onto animals. This is why talking dogs, donkeys, meerkats and ‘Grumpy Cats’ are almost larger than life than real humans. We give animals dependable caricatures and turn our furry four-legged friends into psychologically predictable sort-of-human-beings. Grumpy Cat isn’t really grumpy. We have projected a human emotion onto the animal. We can put words into their mouths.

Humans, however, respond with their own words and their own feelings. They aren’t passive receptacles. Humans formulate their own meanings, they have their own emotions. Humans respond to things. Humans can hold back emotions too, they can say one thing and mean another. An animal, however, can only ‘say’ what we want it to ‘say’.

Perhaps, consequently, we are more likely to trust a talking cat telling us to ‘Carpe Diem’ than we would a human being. O2’s ‘Be More Dog’ campaign tells us to embrace, with the mindless enthusiasm of a dog chasing a ball, new mobile technology, to sign up to O2 Priority, to keep texting and mobile internet surfing without due care or cynicism.

If a person came on screen and told us to seize the day on behalf of O2 we probably would have a degree of cynicism. Humans have motives. Animals don’t. If my one-eyed geriatric cat pissed out of his litter tray then I wouldn’t think that he is doing this to annoy me. If my boyfriend pissed out of the toilet then I would probably question his motives (unless he was really, really drunk and then I would probably consider him to be something of an animal). This is because we know (or at least I hope we know) that animals actually do not have the same complex psychological mechanisms as our own. Animals are motivated by food, sex, a tummy rub and that’s about it. When an advert puts words into an animal’s mouth you forget about the human aspect of what it’s communicating. It puts one more dividing line between the marketeers in the boardroom talking about brand propositions and USPs and you as a potential consumer sitting in front of your TV. “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.”

I would argue that mobile phone providers, like O2, have experienced the “failure of the inter-human relationship,” despite many of their brand propositions harping on about customer service and connecting people. This isn’t O2’s fault. Like as with energy, internet and public transport, consumers do not want to pay their mobile phone bills. These kinds of things are seen as ‘negative purchases.’  We expect to flick on a light switch without having to pay for it. We don’t see how people can put a price on texting your friends, but they have to. This, unfortunately, makes these kinds of brands seem untrustworthy in the eyes of the consumer. They’d rather listen to a cat giving them a pep talk about getting out there and enjoying life than they would some crusty CEO with pound signs in his eyes.

Similarly Aleksandr is so loveable that people actually buy cuddly toy versions of the meerkat. He’s made buying insurance feel less boring and less like you aren’t actually buying anything tangible. So much so that Aleksandr’s ­autobiography A Simples Life: The Life And Times of Aleksadr Orlov had more orders before publication than the life stories of Tony Blair, Cheryl Cole, Russell Brand or Dannii Minogue. The Go Compare man, Gio Compario, by contrast, is fucking annoying. Simples.


The Go Compare man even received death threats. I think we all would have liked him to have been mauled by a pack of wolves in the advert below, but I can see why they thought that Sue Barker would be more ‘on brand’ and resonate better with their target audience.

Andrex: Because it’s embarrassing to talk about wiping your arse.

I used to feel a bit peeved when the Andrex Puppy would bound onto my screen in one of the 130 ads the little fucker has featured in. I used to think, “Jesus, do they really think we are going to choose Andrex over a cheaper brand just because they use a cutesy iccle puppy in their advertising?” Turns out yes. Yes we will. 

When JWT invented Andrex’ mascot in 1972 they were crafting an elaborate metaphor to give bog roll meaning beyond ‘the stuff we wipe our arses with’. Soft, loyal, a little bit mischievous but ultimately endearing is the perfect brand image to craft for bog roll. 1 in 3 people who buy Andrex will not buy any other brand of toilet paper. In the UK alone they sell 1.5million rolls of the stuff each day. That’s enough to circle the earth one and a half times in shit tickets. When I see a labrador retriever I think of Andrex. Andrex is the puppy. Andrex without the puppy would be unthinkable. Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 17.07.53

But, for some reason when the Andrex puppy bounds onto the screen I don’t think about the loo. In fact, when consumers were reminded of the fact that Andrex sold bog roll (you know, the stuff you wipe your arse with) in their ‘Scrunch or Fold’ campaign there was a bit of an outcry.

Vice’s Alex Miller hailed it as ‘The Worst Advertising Campaign in History.’ Personally I can think of much worse adverts (or not think of them – arguably the worst adverts are the ones that don’t even make an impression), but Mr Miller had a perfectly valid point. He objected to the inclusion of real people in adverts about shit tickets. 

Remember: “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.” When we find it hard to talk about something, like wiping our arses, we might get an animal to mediate the discussion, to sugarcoat what that object is actually used for.

About the farmer-type 13 seconds in: “This paternal nod from an earthy farmer type? A nod that advertisers normally use to reassure their customers that the sausages are organic is now being used to assure us that yes, those thick, working hands sometimes put down the shovel to fiddle with perforated paper so thin he can barely feel it between his calloused fingers.”

About the seductive woman 14 seconds in: “She’s a character straight from hell, a woman so depraved and overly sexualised that she even tries to turn wiping her arse into an erotic escapade. Imagine her beckoning you into the bathroom: “Oops, I left the door open and now my fake nail has burst through the seductively folded Andrex, I’m getting all dirty…” Jesus, this character is definitely the worst in this advert. No competition. I think she just made my dick grimace.”

5202024113_206397647cThe Andrex puppy has come to mediate our relationship with what is, quite frankly, a bit of a gross but necessary product. Its a strategy that Cushelle also adopted with their sickeningly cute koala bear and by Saatchi & Saatchi (Stolkholm) to flog Lambi. 

To conclude, animals can help flog boring products that are otherwise difficult to sell. It’s hard to get interested about PG Tips’ teabags, but a bunch of monkeys drinking tea is much more exciting. A cute puppy accidentally unravelling all the toilet roll and sprawling it across the house is much better than asking people to describe how they use the product. We can refer to the product’s benefits by using an animal as a metaphor that is informative, tugs at our ‘awww’ muscle and makes things a bit more interesting.  More importantly, an animal can do all these things much better than a human can simply because an animal will immediately appear to have fewer motives than a human. I’m fed up of skinny models telling me that ‘I’m worth it’ and celebrities telling me that if I drink Pepsi I’ll be like them. So bring on the cat videos. Bring on the talking dogs. Somebody get me a stuffed compare the meerkat for my birthday.

“The object is in fact the finest of domestic animals…In a word, it is a dog of which nothing remains but faithfulness. What is more, you can look at an object without it looking back at you. That is why everything that cannot be invested in human relationships is invested in objects.” – Baudrillard