Thursday, September 13, 2007

Advertising Critique

Advertising comes in many stripes, as we all know. When you stop to think about most advertising choices it can make the head of any normal person-by, which I mean someone who doesn't work in the advertising industry-explode. For instance, have you ever stopped to think what the subtext of those Geico "Caveman" commercials really is? Don't get me wrong, I find those commercials to be among the most entertaining of the last twenty years, but let's be honest about it; entertainment isn't a top priority among advertisers. The very essence of advertising is to sell you not a product, but an idea of yourself. So what is Geico really trying to tell you when it utilizes cavemen as its spokesmen? "We know that everybody really thinks you are quite stupid and out of touch, here at Geico we understand and respect your intellectual gifts and consider you to be quite savvy." Who wouldn't be seduced by that pitch? It doesn't matter whether it's trying to sell you insurance or tampons that is a message that works.

If you are college or high school student you may find yourself in the position of having to write a critique or analysis of a piece of advertising. Less imaginative teachers and instructors like to use this gambit to make themselves look hip. Unfortunately, all too often this type of assignment is given in conjunction with a marketing or advertising class; the purpose being not to teach you to beware of advertising's evil, but rather how to exploit. I always feel the best way to teach something is simply to give an example so this lesson in how to write an advertising critique will now be given over to my own critique of the advertising image that accompanies this article.

The advertisement is for a store that sells fashions to tweens, which is an advertising buzzword used to compartmentalize a vast cross-section of individuals based on solely on age because, as standardized testing teaches us, everybody of the same age is at the same intellectual and creative level. A tween is someone not quite a teenager, but supposedly no longer merely a "kid" either. The store is called Limited Too, and though no mention is made of what this store actually sells in the actual advertisement, it is a successful enough brand that the logo alone is enough for its target audience to recognize it. This advertisement is an excellent example of using bait in an attractively designed package to entice the target demographic into the store without even needing to show the actual core product.

Verbally, the ad is straightforward from a textual viewpoint, but contains many subtle levels of coercion. The ad simply states that a limited edition plush version of one of the popular Neopets will be available for a limited time. In addition, Neopet cards will also be available. The ad, of course, is only technically about the availability of these plush dolls, with the emphasis placed on the limited quantity, which puns on the name of the store. Although the ad first states that there will be only ten of these Neopets at each location, later on it includes another large paragraph stating that there may actually be either more or less than ten depending on the store. A large Halloween-theme font is used at the top to indicate the limited edition is a Halloween edition and the rest of the ad features a font somewhat similar to that used on the Simpsons TV show, indicating a young, fun quality.

Visually, the advertisement is entirely made of artwork; no actual photos appear at all. In addition to a fun logo of the store itself, the ad is dominated by a drawing of the Neopet itself, presumably the Halloween edition, though no indication is given that this is the case. The Neopet is dominated by the color red, and appears to be wearing a devil costume, complete with horns. It is placed within the context of a cartoony landscape. The drawing is high quality artwork with long, angular, lines that almost have a foreboding and creepy quality to them. In fact, there is a long, sloping tree that comes very close to being imbued with certain human qualities. The tree is dark, but that darkness is offset by the brightness of the red pet and blue sky that fades from dark to light. The ad is sharply divided down the middle with the wording on the right hand side and the Neopet on the left. The artwork is very smooth, with distinct lines between the various shapes. The overall appearance is clearly meant to represent the fun spookiness of Halloween trick or treating rather than the frightening spookiness of a horror film. The red of the Neopet stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the muted tones and connotes a psychological feel of fun and daring within a safe context.

The overall composition and message of the ad is quite clearly aimed at children rather than the parents of children. It almost looks like an advertisement for a children's animated TV show like Pokemon; the kind of thing most parents would gloss right over. The top of the ad where the eyes would naturally be drawn are dominated by the fun yellow logo of Limited Too on the left and the Halloween font describing the plushie on the right, which leads naturally down to the real point of the advertisement: To instill an excitement over the possibility of ownership of a rare collectible. The advertisement features no core products, but is rather casting out the bait of the "limited" plushie in order to drive the target audience into the store, where it will be assumed they will browse and buy the actual products that the advertisement is really intent on selling. This is a textbook example of how to draw consumers into a store using what was probably a relatively inexpensive advertisement.