We live in an age where vintage ads with ridiculous claims can be used as ironic decorations, and an anti-corporate magazine called AdBusters can launch “Occupy Wall Street” as a global movement.
In an article for Aeon Magazine, Adam Corner argues that self-aware advertising born from the post-war era of the 50s and 60s has evolved into advertising that plays off anti-consumerist feelings. He sees it as a form of inoculation.
“The advertising industry anticipates and then absorbs its own opposition, like a politician cracking jokes at his own expense to disarm a hostile media,” he writes.
Corner reaches a cynical conclusion, but if you don’t believe him, take a look at some of these campaigns:
DB’s classic “Think Small” ad for Volkswagen in 1959 was a revolutionary, self-aware change from the norm. Its competitors highlighted closeups of muscle cars, so DDB decided the celebrate the Beetle for being a small, unique car:
In 1996, Sprite employed Lowe & Partners to come up with a campaign that would help boost sales among a young crowd. The agency came up with the slogan “Image is nothing/Thirst is everything/Obey your thirst” as an antidote to the cheery, unhip ads that were coming across as imposing an image onto youth rather than adapting to their culture (fun fact: the tagline was actually inspired by a Ronald Reagan quote):
Feminine hygiene ads in the 80s and 90s featured women seemingly overjoyed to be on their period, but by 2010 Kotex decided the jig was up. Agency JWT looked at the brand’s back catalogue for material to mock with sarcastic, realistic ads:
Today’s effective ads may not even appear to be ads — the product being advertised can be a punchline that comes later. A couple years ago, a video of a man “hacking” electronic billboards in Times Square turned out to be a stunt for the movie “Limitless.” The film studio revealed it only after a few days of hype created an enraptured audience:
Recently, Chipotle’s wildly popular Scarecrow ad from CAA Marketing and Moonbot Studios tapped into anti-corporate feelings so well with its story against factory farming that it was easy to forget it was an ad for a big fast food chain:
Just when consumers began thinking they were too aware of advertising to fall for it, “products started echoing our contempt for them,” wrote Corner in his Aeon essay. “‘Shut up!’ we shout at the TV, and the TV gets behind the sofa and shouts along with us.”
To read Corner’s full piece, click here.
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