Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Wednesday, we're going to talk a little bit about Fowles' article in the course reader: "Advertising's Fifteen Basic Appeals." This will give us a chance to talk about both mass media in a way we haven't done before, and visual rhetoric/aesthetics, if you're into that kind of thing. You'll have a blog assignment to help you sort of get your head wrapped around what Fowles is talking about. So, first, read the Fowles. Then, pick an advertisement. It can be in any format (print/radio/tv, etc.), from anywhere, any time, good, bad, indifferent - but it should probably be something you either have a very clear memory of, or access to. You can pick a few if you want to bring up in class, but you should only write about one. Your blog assignment should consist of:

a) A description of the advertisement - describe it to someone who's never seen/read/heard it. Explain where it appears/appeared, the context for it, anything else that's useful for understanding it.

b) A quick analysis of how it's supposed to function. What is the appeal of the piece supposed to be? How is it convincing you to buy (or "buy," if it's an advertisement for something that's not technically a product, like a charity?) what they're featuring? Can you categorize it under one of Fowles' appeals? How effective is it, actually? You can post it if it's available to you and you can figure out how, but it's not necessary. If you use an ad from any print source in your possession, I'd appreciate it if you could bring it in to class on Wednesday so we can look at it.

Example which I regret picking because it's actually sort of difficult to describe:

A few years ago, Brawny paper towels released a series of short advertisements that I believe were only available online. The Brawny paper towel man has been on their package for a long time, and this series of commercials were all conversations a version of him as a super-sensitive, rugged lumberjack in a cabin out in the woods. The one I'll describe was called "That Thing You're Going Through." Like all the other ads, this featured the Brawny man speaking to the camera directly as though it were a person - specifically, a woman, who never speaks herself. The POV (point-of-view) camera enters the rustic cabin, where the plaid-shirted Brawny man appears to be cleaning a Shetland pony with paper towels, in front of a crackling fireplace. As he spots us/the POV, he asks us to move to the couch, and sits down. He comforts the POV about "that thing you're going through" - he's very sympathetic about it, though it is never specified exactly what that "thing" is. He then informs the POV camera that sometimes when he feels bad, he saws wood, and invites us to saw wood with him. The commercial ends with the POV apparently comforted (it/she/we nods in response to his question about feeling better) by his compliments on how well we saw wood. There's a sort of romance-novel-cover feel to the visual aesthetics - the colors are warm and the man himself has the sort of light stubble and strong jaw that you'd see on one. Again, I believe this was only viewable online - certainly, when Brawny itself was still hosting the advertisements, there were some that were online-only, because they were interactive and could be assembled by the viewer, piece-by-piece.

There's so much that's interesting about this advertisement that I sort of want to write a whole paper on it, now. Like, he never actually says that the POV is a woman, and we don't have a voice, but we know we're supposed to be a woman by the way he's talking to us. But, relevant to the assignment, if I absolutely had to pick appeals from Fowles that it uses, I guess I'd have to say that it depends on the needs for sex and escape, neither of which seem to have very much to do with paper towels. I feel like it's a little problematic in fitting into those categories because the ad is so clearly over-the-top that what we're seeing are humorous parodies of what women are told their needs in those areas are supposed to be. Women are supposed to like men who look like romance novel covers, and they're supposed to like men who talk about their feelings, but this guy is so exaggerated in his intensity that he feels more like a serial killer. So it uses a fair dose of humor in getting its message across. The funny thing about it is that it worked for me. Seriously, whenever they're available, I still buy Brawny paper towels to this day - when my housemates and I first discovered them, we spent about a week laughing so hard we cried, and I still buy Brawny out of a sort of nostalgic gratitude for that.

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