It’s easy to look back on 50’s advertisements and see the toxic imagery — subservient women and obedient children, usually enthralled to the virtues of a product. Most people underestimate the power of such images to normalize unhealthy attitudes. Fewer still can detect toxic imagery in today’s advertisements. But this Cozi ad is so far beyond the pale that many can detect the dystopian family life that this company urges upon us.
Jerry Seinfeld set a trap for the advertising industry, and they walked right into it.
You may recall when Steven Colbert became a household name — it was after his 2006 speech to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, in which he insulted the audience for incompetence and cronyism. You can see Colbert’s speech here (it’s still funny eight years later):
The networks wouldn’t cover such an impropriety, but the speech went viral, and his truths got out.
A comparable impropriety happened last October. Jerry Seinfeld, who had memorably advertised for both American Express and Microsoft — unusual ads! — was honored by the Advertising Industry for Acura ads that he wrote.
What’s interesting about Seinfeld’s Acura ads is that they are anti-ads, featuring the “ideal” car salesman who doesn’t sell the car, and instead just gives good life advice, while the car sells itself.
The peculiar style of the Acura ads in particular might have signaled Seinfeld’s opinion about advertising, but the ad masters didn’t pick that up. Instead, they gave him an award, which he accepted:
“I love advertising, because I love lying…Spending your lives trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy…”
Normally people don’t get big microphones unless they have bought into the system in some significant way, and the power elite therefore can trust them to not challenge the official reality. And sometimes one of those heavily mic’d people finds their conscience and decides to take a stand for truth. This was one of those moments. Nice to see.
But what was most fascinating was the industry’s response.
Writing in Advertising Week, the weekly bible of the advertising industry, master ad strategist Kathy Ruiz wrote that Jerry Seinfeld’s speech at the Clios was “no joke.” She said, on behalf of all advertisers,
“What we do is far from meaningless. We have the power to create aspiration, to make people fall in love, to show the world in a different light. We have the ability to tell fascinating stories that move people, to say one thing in a million different ways and show different sides to these stories, to connect people in unique ways, to captivate with the unexpected. We have the mediums at our fingertips to turn services into art, products into lifestyles, brands into consumer relationships, people into celebrities, celebrities into spokesmen. We have the skills to turn ideas into multi-million driving forces that move economies. And we also have the responsibility to create things that matter, to improve the way we say things, the way we do things. The media does shape thinking, behaviors, and actions, and as ‘meaningless’ our lives might be deemed to be, our influence in the media does have an effect in shaping the world.”
It’s hard to imagine that Nazi master-propagandist Joseph Goebbels could have defended his craft any better or differently than did Kathy Ruiz defend the advertising industry’s craft.
Here is how Goebbels described his work:
“That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result…It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”
That is, I think, the definition of a good advertisement. Did Goebbels aspire to anything other than to “tell fascinating stories that move people…to turn ideas into…driving forces that move economies…to shape thinking, behaviors, and actions…in shaping the world.” Indeed, that was his craft.
Here is how Wikipedia describes Goebbels, citing The Face of the Third Reich, page 92:
He openly acknowledged that he was exploiting the lowest instincts of the German people – racism, xenophobia, class envy and insecurity. He could, he said, play the popular will like a piano, leading the masses wherever he wanted them to go. “He drove his listeners into ecstasy, making them stand up [Compare Ruiz: “create aspiration, to make people fall in love”], sing songs, raise their arms, repeat oaths – and he did it, not through the passionate inspiration of the moment, but as the result of sober psychological calculation.”
Kathy Ruiz uses the worlds “responsibility” and “improve” in her critique of Jerry Seinfeld, but is it a responsibility to society, and the improvement of the human condition that she prescribes? Nope:
“Responsibility to create things that matter, to improve the way we say things, the way we do things.”
We already knew that the advertising industry was just a Ministry of Propaganda, privately owned and managed, but raised by technology and psychological research to staggering heights of effectiveness, its sole objective to psychologically manipulate people toward ends directed by its wealthy corporate and political patrons.
Nice to hear the advertising industry admit it so clearly.