Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Austrian Writer Says Something Wise

One of my favourite quotes is by Peter Handke, the Austrian writer, who once said: An advertisement tells me that life is beautiful - a personal insult.

I think that what he was getting at was that we shouldn't need advertisements to tell us that life is beautiful. We shouldn't, in fact, need advertisements to tell us anything other than that a certain product is available and it's good. But for some awful reason, advertisements (certainly in Britain, which for some reason I've never understood has the best and most artistic advertising in the world) have begun to take on a greater meaning than just "please buy this". These days the whole industry is about co-opting even the most fundamental emotions - parenthood, love, friendship - and using them to not only sell but also, horribly, to associate. The perfect example is Mastercard, whose advertisements have the brilliant, but terrifying once you think about it, tagline "There are some things in life that money can't buy: for everything else, there's Mastercard." Terrifying because the tagline usually comes at the end of a beautiful thirty-second film about parental love and affection for a child - and how sweet it is to be able to buy that love through fishing trips, new computers, and bigger toys than the other kids in class.

Anyway, I agree with Handke. Life is beautiful, at least most of the time, but to have that explained to me by an ad-man, who is really just hawking something no matter how artistically, is like a slap in the face to my very humanity.

This is part of the reason why I don't buy McDonald's food, and have been to a McDonald's restaurant maybe once in the last five years: it's because of that awful "I'm loving it" ad campaign, which sought to somehow associate hamburgers and fries with being in love, for Christ's sake. That's an even bigger personal insult than an ad man telling me that life is beautiful: an ad man telling me what it is to be in love, and by the way, isn't being in love rather like eating a hamburger with a side order of fries?

It's also the reason why I won't be buying a Playstation 3. (Well, apart from the reason that I can't afford it.) I mean, their latest ad campaign, in the name of all that's holy, has the hook: This is Living. This is Living! It's almost like a sick joke. I mean, I like playing computer games as much as the next man. But I've never once convinced myself that the hours I've spent doing it have been anything other than a grotesque waste of the short time available to me on this earth. And I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I could convince myself of that. Yet here's Sony, telling me that, by buying a Playstation 3 and having a computer sprite under my control beat another computer sprite to death, I will be really living.

They must think we were born yesterday. What an insult. Now do you see what Handke was getting at?


Amanda said...

You make some good points here. Lately, there are many adverts that are like movies. I often can't guess what products their advertising if they don't put their logo up at the end. And, sometimes they put that tagline and if I'm unfamiliar with the brand....I don't know what they are selling!

zero_zero_one said...

What if you're playing a multiplayer game, beating another player's sprite to death and so killing them by proxy?

If that isn't living then I don't know what is...


Seriously though, I agree with you; there is something fundamentally wrong with all of the advertising campaigns that you've mentioned there.

What about the Cadburys gorilla ad though? Isn't the tag for that something like "a glass and a half of joy"?

Bilbo said...

Your points are good, and it appears that I have some quality competition in the Grinch-off. I believe I'll send you one of the t-shirts that are popular here, which show a frowny-face with the words, "Don't tell me what kind of day to have!"