In the last few years, ever since the advertising world became comfortable with the word ‘viral’, we have become more accustomed than ever to before to seeing brands we know and trust ripping the piss out of themselves. To us the parodic, the sardonic, the ironic have utterly saturated the advertising world. It’s time for advertising to start taking itself seriously again.
This isn’t new – but the self-referential advertisement reached its apogee with Old Spice, or at least it reached it this time round. This may well be a cyclical trend – Judith Williamson was well aware of the phenomenon in her 1978 book Decoding Advertisements. Her analysis of the self-referential advert, such as an advert for pain that references an advert for butter, is that it is an appeal for the viewer to trust the brand. Almost paradoxically, if a brand acknowledges the nonsense and skulduggery of advertising then it is a brand to trust.
Old Spice poleaxed the hyper masculinity of advertising to men in order to reassure their viewer that they knew they were ordinary people that just wanted to smell good. Newcastle Brown Ale are frankly informing their youtube viewers ‘The more you watch these videos, the less we need to pay to run them on TV.’ Most recently Bodyform have released a response to a facebook post complaining about their adverts misrepresentation of periods that deconstructs the tropes of the feminine care (cringe) advert, it’s had rather a lot of blog coverage already.
In isolation each of these adverts are funny and interesting. At its best this approach to advertising can be genuinely critical and enlightening. However the public are aware that advertising is an attempt to sell to them, and the supposed honesty of the self-referential advert is in our opinion already beginning to grate. This advertising runs the risk of appearing conceited – what ever happened to the brand that takes itself seriously? Even the ever earnest Apple is subverting the brand ambassador with ditzy informal pixie dream girl Zooey Deschanel.
So what is the alternative?
We’d like to challenge brands to start taking themselves and the people they are targeting seriously again. How about a stylish serious type of advertising with no double meanings? What about a return to the days before even the VW Think Small campaign? No double meaning – just honest to goodness selling?