Why we are
A friend of mine is a fairly hardcore cineaste. He loves Fassbinder and Lang. He gives me Bresson DVDs for my birthday. He has seen more obscure Japanese films than anyone I know, and I lived in Tokyo for years.
He’s also the very first guy to call me up and say things like, “Clash of the Titans 3D. Empire Leicester Square at 7pm. Be there.” On any given Friday night, he’s happiest watching large CGI images perform invasive violence upon other large CGI images at a frame rate that exceeds the capacity of the human brain to process. I “liked” the new Transformers films because of their postironic embrace of ridiculous American tropes that made them feel like a very contemporary form of myth-making. My friend liked them for the explosions.
Which is how I came to be standing again outside the Empire, on yet another Friday night, in a crowd of milling men under 40 with ponchos and ponytails, holding a £21 ticket to see Watchmen, the big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic. It wasn’t so much that I knew, incontrovertibly, that Watchmen would be disappointing. It’s that I knew it would PROBABLY be disappointing. The Spider-Man films had been disappointing. The Superman remake, disappointing. Spawn, Hellboy, Godzilla, The Hulk, The Hulk again, The Punisher. What were the odds Watchmen would be any different? Why had I just spent the price of a good dinner on what would likely prove to be yet another piece of psychologically implausible trash, another dry pellet squeezed out by an industry that has systematically and nakedly strip-mined, chemically washed and resold to me my own childhood?
“Constantin, my friend,” I said to him. “For a guy who has such good taste in film, you’re a real sucker for the Hollywood marketing machine.”
“Christopher, my friend,” he said to me. “For a guy who’s so obsessed about manipulative advertising techniques, you’re a real sucker for consumerism.”
I looked down. I was wearing £90 Nikes, £270 Sevens, a £45 Topshop jumper and a £200 Philippe Starck watch. There was a smartphone in my left pocket, a fancy wallet in my right, and I’d paid £32 for my haircut. I’d essentially taken close to £1,000 of my own hard-earned (well, you know what I mean) cash, blended it into a fine puree, poured it all over myself and smeared it around like a lover with a tub of icing.
I don’t know how much effect advertising and branding have on me, or on anybody. I don’t think anybody knows for certain. I’m probably one of those consumers to whom NOT advertising is a more effective sales strategy than advertising – but that itself is a pretty good marketing technique, depending where a consumer sits in the viral epidemiology pattern. There’s a wonderful theory by Michael Schudson that advertising doesn’t really work at all. (Oh God, yes. I’m getting turned on.)
What I do know is that advertising and branding are basically all about ideas – and that nobody really talks about those ideas. Well, advertisers do. And marketers. But WE don’t. The voles and muskrats and elephant shrews: we’re silent. The hawks hunt, and we scurry.
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