Looking at adverts: 16

I decided to use this blog post to offer a sneak preview of some of the things I will be talking about in my paper for the ‘Photography Matters’ conference in Doncaster in May.

I will be discussing how consumer culture affects identity in advanced capitalist societies, referring to the inclusion of ‘selfies’ in advertisements.

I have been thinking about this topic for a while, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the L’Oreal ‘Infallible Sculpt’ advert. An actress stands in a goal and is bombarded with footballs, all of which hit the back of the net. To justify this failure (despite towering heels making the endeavour a little unfair) she says ‘I’m not infallible but I’m always selfie ready’.

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Phew.

That’s a relief.

As the advert progresses I learn that she is not, in fact, ‘always selfie ready’; but with the aid of L’Oreal makeup she may be ‘selfie ready’ for up to 24 hours.

She is surrounded by mobile phones attached to her waist with selfie sticks. This image is the epitome of contemporary consumer identity: anxiety of visibility because we can be photographed anytime, anywhere. I have previously written about selfies in relation to cosmetics that claim to produce effects equivalent to photoshop retouching tools. This advert reminds me of the need the cosmetics claim to meet.

Psychoanalysts talks about the experience of being looked at as an imbalance of power that is threatening. Jacques Lacan says ‘I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides’ (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis p. 72). I am always more seen than seeing. What’s more, the act of looking at someone (or something) turns her or him into an object of sight. The process of being looked at is viewed as reductive and disempowering.

 

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Photography makes this objectification actually happen – three-dimensional living, breathing bodies are transformed into small images – things we can hold and manipulate. I explore this process in my own practice. The Substitute series explicitly deals with these ideas; I literally transform myself into a paper photograph. But this series has a catch, the man embracing the woman seems to be enjoying himself, he hasn’t realised that he is holding an image and not a real body. He is attracted to an ideal image rather than a real person.

I think this actually takes place when we become accustomed to seeing retouched, idealised images of people. We are no longer satisfied with the real thing. Advertisers contribute to this process by showing us beautifully made-up, retouched and edited images of bodies, and they also profit from the insecurity these bodies create. Like the actress in the L’Oreal advert we feel that we have to look like perfect images all the time. The actual body cannot live up to its instagram double.

The growing trend for adverts featuring selfies reinforce this idea. For example, the advertising campaigns for Dolce and Gabbana’s Autumn/Winter 2015 and Spring/Summer 2016 collections feature models taking selfies, either alone with products or in social settings with other selfie-taking models. The models only interact with one another to pose for a selfie.

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I am intrigued by these images and feel they warrant further research because they offer a viewing position structure I have not seen before. The adverts don’t simply encourage the viewer to identify with the models and aspire to become like them, the viewer is encouraged to identify with the selfies they cannot see. The adverts seem to say ‘if you wear the dress and own the handbag you will be the image the model views in the mobile phone’. Your selfie will be ideal.

As I begin to shape my ideas for the conference next month, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these adverts. Where do you place yourself in the image?

How do you think they appeal to the audience?

What do they suggest the consumer will gain if they buy these products?

If you would like to hear more and develop the conversation even further, leave a comment and book your place for the conference!

 

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Also published on Medium.

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5 comments for “Looking at adverts: 16

  1. 18 April 2016 at 11:34 am

    Interesting that you pointed to the S/S 2016 D&G campaign! I’ve been looking at them for coursework for section 4 of Context & Narrative. But I missed the idea of the clothing & the selfie; was more concentrating on the “Italianicity” of the objects in the image—comparing with Barthes review of Panzani; and the selfie as also representational of the tourist gaze; but now I am seeing them differently!

    • 20 April 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks for your comment Vicki – I would be interested to hear more about your assignment when it is finished. It is a strange portrayal of national identity – lots of pasta eating though!

      • 21 April 2016 at 10:22 am

        Thanks Dawn. It’s only coursework analysis as a lead into a critical review of a photograph. I binned my intention to look at this series more closely after you made this post. You know that idea of it’s all be done before—did not want it to look like I had been lazy and just taken my inspiration from here. But I have plenty more ads lined up to look at! Agree with what you say about the portrayal of national identity—both the pasta eating and the religious and historical figures in the background??

  2. 21 April 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I’m fairly sure I’m not the ‘target’ for fashion advertising – so many things, in my case militate against that notion with age being perhaps the single greatest contributor. However reading this blog I’m beginning to have my doubts.
    “….consumer culture affects identity in advanced capitalist societies.” Though it distresses me to say it but this advertising campaign by Céline recently caught my attention: http://www.avenuemontaigneguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2SUMMER-2016-304dpi1.jpg I think mainly because it “riffs” a number of photographic tropes.

    The age of consumerism was perhaps announced when Henry Ford let it be known “you can have colour as long as it’s black”, choice with no choice. Ford made his cars available to a market that was unused to having any choice whatsoever – though before the assembly line Ford offered multiple colours!

    And then came ‘Marketing’ – the very function of which is to define whom to sell to and with what, looking to segment with greater and greater accuracy. Soon Ford was offering other colours and other features to reach new markets. And this consumerism, in a market economy capitalist society, suggests that the trend is to (apparently at least) cater for the individual. Ford’s new cars (I am told) are now equipped with surprisingly few ‘standard’ items, most features are prescribed by the consumer.

    “Identity” in today’s western society, from my perspective, is the illusion of individuality. A ‘specialness’ of the self amidst the confusion of the masses. Céline’s imagery isolates the subject by stripping away all context, making the subject an icon, much as the ‘selfie’ projects the individual as the centre of attention. Focus Group marketing is founded on the premise that it will deliver to ‘our needs’ tailored to our individual requirements, which I think trends to a society that will tend to greater isolation; a structure that pares the individual from the communal. L’Oreal perhaps offering greater individuality, if that isn’t an oxymoron, by suggesting multiple views of the same self?

    So perhaps I shouldn’t write myself off from ‘fashion’, there must surely be a focus group set up to find what I apparently, but as yet, unknowingly desire? Though to me fashion, photography and capitalism provide the perfect confluence that combine to echo the diminution of community in the second century of the self.

    I’m looking forward to the conference next month and perhaps your paper the more so now.

  3. dawn woolley
    4 May 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Many thanks – the multiplication of the self in the advert is interesting. I think there is a strange paradox between the standardisation that occurs when we are commoditised and shaped into marketing demographics, under the guise of uniqueness and individuality – I think this advert epitomizes the idea
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwcMU7gbaIs
    (you might need to cop

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