Friday, April 24, 2009

Layers of loveliness

After my recent rant about a certain American advertising campaign, I came across this: an ad about acceptance, self-reflection, and transgenderness. Yum. I can't wait for the day that something like this appears trite instead of moving.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Layers of Fear

This ad – from its basic premise, to its music, to its lighting – is most certainly about fear.

On the surface, the advertisement plays on fears of “identity theft” by suggesting not that our financial privacy might be invaded but rather that our individuality is at risk. The irony, of course, is that it is another mass market product being offered to save us from the fate of conformity (which in this case has been foisted on us by Lexus).

Next up are certainly some of the fears that my faithful commentator Biscodo mentions: fear that comes from being lost, disorientation, fear that your possession is gone (could it be stolen?), etc.

My read of these fears, of their impact, is, not surprisingly, deeply colored by where the action is located: in an otherwise deserted parking deck. One in four women will be raped. Women know this and the parking garage is the quintessential setting for such a crime to occur – it is the physical confluence of everything a woman is taught to avoid: it is visually and audibly isolated, it has dark corners/sections and limited sightlines, it has limited exits… There is room to fudge with restrictions in other areas of advice toward women on how to stay safe (“I wouldn’t normally walk to my car by myself, but it was just across the street from the restaurant”), but not with parking decks. The message is clear. You are absolutely never, ever supposed to go into one by yourself if you are a woman.

In the opening scenes of this commercial, there are only a few cars in the deck and it is a lone woman in heels heading to her car – looking confused, then concerned, then tentative, then nervous, then panicked, then scared, then terrified.

As I have no doubt been well conditioned to do, I identify with her. I can read in her face her own realization that she is not doing what “common sense” would dictate (and whether it is there or not, whether or not it is the intended message is immaterial, I see it… I FEEL it). She is breaking the rules by going to her car alone. She is wearing stupid shoes that will keep her from running effectively should she need to, and now, not being able to find her car, she is breaking the rule that says “always look like you know exactly where you are going.”

As her fear grows, my own chest tightens. The music grows more ominous. Then she goes around a corner and sees a sea of cars that all look like hers. Is this better for her or worse? More likely her car will be here, but more places where someone ready to do her harm might hide. Next, she is running. Panic. Then the sound of a car approaching. Here, I’ve had trouble deciding on just what I see in her face as the black Audi rounds the corner. Could it be a mixture of relief (someone else is there) or fear (will this someone be ‘friendly’?)? After replaying the shot from inside the Audi several times, I’m convinced that the driver is a woman – or is intended to look like one. There a touch of long hair and relatively ‘feminine’ hands on the wheel. Doesn’t this then minimize the threat? Our subject will perceive the car and its driver as less of a threat if the driver is a woman… she will, perhaps, think of herself in the position of power behind the wheel – and in the relatively safe environment of the personal automobile (one she can get into, anyway!).

But that shot showing a hint of the Audi driver is extremely brief. And that is representative of what I find so reprehensible (and, to give its creators their due, brilliant) about this commercial – it is, on the surface, defensible.

“Of course, this isn’t a commercial designed to tap into women’s fears of being raped, we put words up on the screen that tell you we are playing off fears of ‘identity theft’.”

“Of course, this isn’t a commercial designed to tap into women’s fears of being raped, the driver of the car that comes around the corner is driven by a woman.”

The problem is that there is enough ‘unstated’ fear already built up, that the ‘identity theft’ statement and the flash of feminine in the driver won’t dissipate what has already been triggered.

One of my students suggested that the other commercial for this vehicle makes it even more clear that the ad agency intentionally played with gender to make their pitch. In this ad, kids are confronted with a sea of identical cream-colored cars picking them up from school. Along comes the ‘distinct’ black Audi, allowing the fortunate child of the driver to emerge from the crowd of confused and unclaimed children. One significant difference in this commercial is that we get a full look at the driver… a man. Does that matter? Sure. Check out the hands waving out of the identical vehicles… they are all feminine. The Audi will preserve your masculinity as you engage in traditionally unmasculine activities. You can do it better. Faster. You will still be you. Not them.

I can go through the motions to analyze this second commercial, but it does not hold my interest the way the parking deck one does. Buy a car. And you won’t be trapped. Or vulnerable. Or where you are not supposed to be. And if you’re not a woman? Then, nevermind, this is just a clever play on current societal obsessions with identity theft.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


While sitting in Grizzly Peak on Friday night, I caught this commercial on the TV across the way (not surprisingly, even if they give me blog fodder, I hate TVs in public spaces).

Anyway, I am working up some thoughts about the ad. In the meantime, I thought I'd share the link so you can take a look at it without (yet) being faced with my ramblings on its meaning(s).