Thursday, November 19, 2009

#43 - Kiddie-Porn Style Advertising




It was the decade when...


Looking at clothing advertisements made you want to shower.


Marketing strategy for apparel advertising pre-Aughts: Find the fittest and sexiest model you can. A beautiful celebrity will do nicely if you can afford it. Hire an expensive photographer like Herb Ritts or David LaChappelle to shoot the ad. Photograph your Adonis or Venus-like model sporting your clothes in a perfectly constructed fantasy mise-en-scene, awash on a sandy beach or frolicking through a pinewood forest perhaps. The expression on the model should be one of primal hunger and penetrating intensity. Take pains to flatter the model and clothes as much as possible, shooting all photos from the most forgiving angles. In post-production, whatever imperfections remain should be eliminated with powerful Photoshop computer software, software allowing endless manipulations of photographic images. The final ad should be a perfect idealistic representation of a human being, made all the more God-like by the addition of your apparel item featured in the ad.

Marketing strategy for apparel advertising in the Aughts: Go and find you favorite anonymous office intern, the one who gives you a hard-on when she takes your coffee order in the morning. Offer her a little extra money to pose for a few pictures that you yourself will take even though you have no training in photography. Sneak into her parents basement one night bringing along your now antiquated and commercially discontinued Polaroid camera. Have the intern try on various brands of your company's underwear and proceed to take candid shots, the more unpleasant the angle the better. The model's expression should be one of either giddy embarrassment or slack-faced boredom. Don't worry about lighting, the fluorescents will be satisfactory illumination; candlelight would be far too forgiving. Take your candid shots back to the office (But don't forget to bang your "don't-worry-she's-not-jailbait" employee before you go, the sexual harassment suit wont stick.) blow them up 500 times and, viola, you have your new billboard.

So what's the appeal of this new gonzo style of advertising? What ideological strands coursing through the culture could upend so much of the prevailing wisdom?

The realism offered up in kiddie-porn style advertising satiates the desire for an authenticity that is more and more foreign in a world exceedingly virtual. We live in a culture where amateurs can photoshop their own digital photographs as easily as the professionals; a society where our exposure to perfectly sculpted and tanned bodies so overwhelms our experience that perfection no longer draws our attention. It is the appeal of the imperfect, the cheap, the shabby that captures our imagination now. For so long our fantasies were idealized, the perfect had become passe. Bored with our dreams, we now find libidinal escape in the dingy lurid low-fi world summoned up by, above all, the advertising of American Apparel, America's largest clothing manufacturer and one of the biggest commercial success stories of the Aughts.

American Apparel appeals to a plugged-in culture; it's no coincidence that the advertising resembles a variety of photo sharing prevalent on social networking sites or cell phone "sexts." There is a patina of intimacy to Kiddie-Porn Style Ads just as there is an illusion of privacy with ones Picture Mail exchanges or tagged photos on Facebook. But, in reality, confusion abounds. With the membrane separating public from private growing more porous each day, it's no surprise that advertising would want to capitalize on this anxiety. Digitally perfected models built like Bernini sculptures have lost the ability to titillate as they once did, our threshold for shock having shifted drastically far away from the once temperate sensibility that made, once upon a time, Marky Mark in Tighty-Whities a scandal. Kiddie-Porn Style advertising is designed to look invasive and homemade and intimate (and illegal); its appeal is your low-level discomfort with the image, a queasiness that its makers hope can be channeled into a salacious eroticism. Forbidden Fruit tastes the sweetest.

You AUGHT to remember...

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