Udith Williamson asserts the primacy of both to the field of marketing (Williamson, 2000) As postulated in Baudrillard’s The Precession of the Simulacra (Baudrillard, 2004) it was Marx’s notions concerning use and surplus value that freed economics and production from the wholly material:“Capital was the first to play at deterrence, abstraction, disconnection, deterritorialization, etc., and if it is the one that fosters reality, the reality principle, it was also the first to liquidate it by exterminating all use value, all real equivalence of the stakes of omnipotence of manipulation.” (Baudrillard, 2004: 22)
Here, Baudrillard describes the deterritorialization of capital and the abstraction of materiality that can be seen to have its roots in Marx’s notions of surplus value in Capital (Marx, 1933) and the Grundrisse (Marx, 1977) . The separation of use value from market value creates the conditions for advertising and marketing which, in turn, contributes to the formation of product mythology and branding. The borders and boundaries of a product then, such as a can of soft drink, become deterritorialised, as consumers make purchases based on the abstract rather than the actual.Of course, for Marx, this was still in a primitive stage; the economic theory of capital relates as much to the relationship of worker to bourgeoisie than manufacturer to consumer, a point made by Baudrillard later in his essay (Baudrillard, 2004: 26). However, as we can see, the mechanics, the formative blueprint, can be seen to have had its inception in Marx: it was surplus value, he asserts, that transformed bartering exchange value into Capitalist market value that could, in turn, be exploited for its own sake.For Baudrillard, this notion goes deeper, into the very heart of the psychosocial. What starts as a process of abstraction of capital in Marx continues, in Baudrillard, to include the entire fabric of society. In works such as Simulacra and Simulations, The Ecstasy of Communication (Baudrillard, 1985) and Forget Foucault/Forget Baudrillard, (Baudrillard, 1987), Baudrillard constantly examines the prosthetic nature of contemporary society and culture, detailing the extent that a hyper-reality is constructed by globalised participation in networks of signification that, themselves, have no basis in reality:“The social itself must be considered a model of simulation and a form to be overthrown since it is a strategic form of value brutally positioned by capital and then idealized by critical thought. And we still do not know what it is that forever has fought against it and that irresistibly destroys it today.” (Baudrillard, 1987:53)
Baudrillard’s notions can be traced back not only to Marx but also the cultural philosopher Marshall McLuhan. It was McLuhan’s assertions on the importance of the media that, as Baudrillard says himself in The Ecstasy of Communication (Forster, 1985), formed the basis of his theories of the simulacra: the copy without an original, the simulated reality that is invested with as much psychological economy as the real.For McLuhan and for Baurdrillard, the term media refers to any medium of communication, whether that be a television broadcast, a film, a book or newspaper, a product’s packaging or, famously in McLuhan’s book Understanding Media (McLuhan, 1973) a light-bulb. Society, then, becomes a network of signifying media that are, themselves extensions of our own psychologies and desires (McLuhan, 1973: 30) and form what Baudrillard calls ‘hyperreality’ that reflects and shapes the cultural ideology (Davidson, 1994).An interesting facet of Baudrillard’s thought is his notion concerning Disneyland. For Baudrillard, Disneyland and, one could assert, every other theme park or cultural experience such as cinema, merely serves to expose the simulated nature of true reality, in his famous terms:
“Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real” (Baudrillard, 2004: 12) Oases of overt hyper-reality such as Disneyland serve only to function as smokescreens to the fact that it is the rest of society that is the simulacra; a point that, obviously, has a great impact on our topic here, as it is the media of marketing and advertising that has, to some extent at least, created this state. For Baudrillard, the simulacra is a construct devoid of the authenticity of the real, it exists through cultural laziness and is soon tired of (Easterbrook, 1995). In Foucault we can detect many of the same models and motifs that we have seen in both Marx and Baudrillard, in works such as Discipline and Punish (Foucault, 1991), Power, Truth, Strategy, (Foucault, 1997), Madness and Civilization, (Foucault, 2004) and especially The Archaeology of Knowledge (Foucault, 1989) Foucault, again questions the a priori concept of social construction, arguing that the knowledge that both shaped and is reflected in the episteme is a product of a process of inflation and suppression by those with power over those without.
For Foucault, the concept of power is distinct, although not altogether divorced, from either socio-political or socio-economics. Power is, instead, contained within the discourses of enunciative modalities and statements that suppress minor narratives in favour of dominant ones. The Foucauldian social, as Roger Alan Deacon suggests in Fabricating Foucault: Rationalizing the Management of Individuals, (Deacon, 2003) consists of a network of inter-related “micro-practises” and a “multiplicity of power relations” (Deacon, 2003: 280) that fortify the dominant ideology. Examples of such social exclusion could include the criminal, the insane, homosexuals, the ill and, indeed, any other group that is suppressed and un-represented in the cultural consciousness. Moreover, this consciousness, over time, becomes so enunciated as to be synonymous with knowledge and truth itself:“Knowledge is what power relations produce in order to spread and disseminate all the more effectively. Against the liberal notion that truth is something that will "out" (emerge as truth) if all distortive power is removed, Foucault holds that without power no "truth" could be brought forth at all.” (Caputo and Young, 1993: 7)
Thus in the essay Power and the Norm (Foucault, 1997), Foucault describes power and its dissemination as pertaining to all strata of social micro-practices and micro-discourses, this includes such constructs as the family, residential neighborhoods and even, perhaps, consumer product groups. In The Order of Things, (Foucault, 1997) Foucault traces this notion socio-historically, looking at the larger movements of power and knowledge from one episteme to another and assessing the extent that social bodies classify and codify those within them:“(There is) in every culture, between the use of what one might call the ordering codes and reflections upon order itself, there is the pure experience of order and of its modes of being.” (Foucault, 1997: xxi) The iconography and mythology of the episteme is not merely a reflection of the larger socio-cultural ethos but is created by it, as Henrietta Lidchi suggests in her essay The Poetics and Politics of Exhibiting Other Cultures, (Hall, 1997):“Discourses, according to this definition, do not simply reflect ‘reality’ or innocently designate objects. Rather they constitute them in specific contexts according to particular relations of power.
“(Hall, 1997: 185) Even though there is disagreement between Baudrillard and Foucault , then, we see that in several points they do converge and agree. From both, we understand the social to be a construct as distinct from the real, in Baudrillard it is a product of socio-economic power through media, in Foucault it takes the form of all manner of differing discourses, from sexuality to mental health. The outcomes, though, are remarkably the same.Both the Foucauldian and the Baudrillardian view postulate the existence of simulacra of sorts, a nexus of signification that encompasses and contributes towards the collected modes of understanding and knowledge. What unites both views of contemporary society is the sense of shared signification, in Foucault it is the overriding discourse of the episteme and for Baudrillard it is the shared participation in the simulacra. As we shall see when we come to look at Barthes’ notions on the rhetorical aspects of the image in terms of semiology, this shared field of reference is of vital importance to, not only visual persuasion, but to all areas of marketing and advertising. Brands such as Red Bull rely, to a great extent, on the mechanisms and modalities we have been looking at with reference to Foucault and Baudrillard; it can be said that it is the same psychosocial functions that produce the abstracted products and media of Baudrillard and thesense of shared reference that forms the Foucauldian episteme. This would also be the same function that is utilised by admen and women in creating a brand that has both familiarity and innovation.It is the combination of these things: the construction of the postmodern society with its nexus of shared reference and dissipated power and knowledge regimes that forms the basis of the modern branding campaign and it is this that I shall focus on in the next section.
Mind Share, USP, Celebrity
Marketing theory has, since its inception, undergone few changes. As Douglas Holt states in his book How Brands Become Icons, (Holt, 2004) the theory that provided the basis for much of the advertising campaigns of the 1950’s and 60’s are still, to some extent used today, although extensions and innovations in media technology has meant that a number of new initiatives such as viral advertising have become possible. At their heart, though, many of the marketing textbooks will still concern themselves with notions surrounding the fulfilment of need, the unique selling point and the concept of a product led ethos.In this chapter I would like to look at these initiatives and place them into context with Holt’s notions of iconic or cultural branding that, I think, signals a whole new way of looking at the ways in which a product is marketed; one that relies as much on Baudrillard’s simulacra as it does the product’s inherent values.Traditionally an advertising campaign sought to isolate and project a product’s USP and in such a way as to dominate consumer’s thinking, what Holt calls ‘mind-share’ advertising. Geoffrey Randall in Principles of Marketing (Randall, 2001) cites this notion as one of the five key areas of ensuring a successful advertising campaign:
“The critical success factors in building and maintaining a brand are quality, differentiation, consistency, evolution and support” (Randall, 2001: 167)Here Randall employs the term ‘differentiation’ to refer to the Unique Selling Point (or Proposition/Position) of a product and places this within a schema of emotional and psychological draws for a consumer. For Randall and others (Reeves, 1961; Fox, 1984) this process, as Richards, MacRury and Botterill suggest in The Dynamics of Advertising (Richards, MacRury and Botterill, 2000) concerns itself more with product remembrance than product identification. The consumer is encouraged to differentiate between a growing array of similar products all vying for their attention. A product’s uniqueness, whether that be on an emotional level, through a palliative appeal to some generic human weakness or lack , or on a practical level in terms of inherent qualities, is seen as an integral part of a product’s place within the consumer market.Intertwined with this is, what James B. Twitchell terms, the “synergy between celebrity and materialism” (Twitchell, 1999: 82), the twinning of a product with a well known figure in order to stimulate sales by creating a similar brand identity:
“The ability to quickly generate celebrity and then attach that value to a product is a hallmark of modern selling. The holy grail is to find a celebrity, rent his glory to endorse some product thereby increasing its value, and in so doing make the celebrity better known. “(Twitchell, 1999:81) As Holt suggests, this is merely another manifestation of USP, only through what he terms ‘emotional’ branding, the deliberate creation of a familiar relationship between a product and a consumer. The history of advertising is full of such synergies and couplings, from Pepsi and Michael Jackson in the 1990’s to the recent American Express campaign featuring Robert De Niro. A recent survey in the US revealed that around one quarter of all commercials screened featured some form of celebrity endorsement (Shimp, 2000). Baker, Tagg and Erdogan (2001) detail that the use of celebrity endorsements can increase the company’s profile and revenue considerably, they cite the use of Michael Jordan by the a whole portfolio of companies (Nike, Coke, McDonalds Worldcom etc) and, it is reported has contributed a staggering $10 billion to the U.S economy (Baker, Tagg and Erdogan, 2001).
Of course, this form of marketing can also be utilised by other groups and socio-economic products such as Non Government Organisations and Political parties.In The Consumerist Manifesto (1994), Martin Davidson sums up neatly the difference between a product and a brand, at least under the auspices of ‘mind-share’ advertising:“All brands are products, but not all products are brands, and the difference is advertising. That extra is called added value. Not just mints, but the elegance and sophistication of After Eights; not just a hamburger bar, but the fun and optimism of McDonalds. These added values were the object of 50’s conspiracy theory, 60’s satire and 70’s semiology.” (Davidson, 1994: 23)
We can see here the concretisation of some of the ideas we have been looking at so far, firstly there is the notion of an abstracted value that we first saw in Marx, Davidson sees the difference between a product and a brand as being contained within this ‘extra’ something that advertising brings to a product. Secondly, we can recognise the struggle for a USP, in McDonalds it is the element of fun and optimism, in After Eights, elegance and sophistication and lastly we have the concept that these values and images are constant and that, as we saw with Foucault, they depend heavily on notions of shared reference and generic recognition.However, Douglas Holt’s 2004 book How Brands Become Icons (Holt, 2004) attempts to revise the way we think about some brands that transcend the merely economic and belong instead to the iconographic, to the almost pseudo-totemistic. For Holt, the generic explanations of the popularity of one brand over another do not fully explain the methods whereby a brand such as Budweiser, for instance becomes a cultural icon. For Holt, something deeper is occurring in the transition between a product, a brand and an icon, something that is more akin to Baudrillard’s notions of the simulacra than the mere appeal to a vague human need.
“The analogy with religious icons helps us to appreciate how vital and important popular icons are in giving a tangible shape to a culture's mind set. Like traditional religious icons, popular icons are meaningful objects which unite those who believe in the icon,” (Lause and Nachbar, 1992: 171) An icon, in these terms becomes a focus for a specific need, unlike the abstract, generic concept of a God, the icon in religious faith is a signifier to something else, more of a focus for devotion than the object itself. Straight away, with this definition we can see that there is some difference between an icon and a brand, the latter aiming at palliation of a generic need such as ‘fun’ or ‘elegance’, the former, as we shall see, fulfilling a specific want in a particular space at a particular time. This is described by Holt in How Brands Become Icons:
“Brands become iconic when they perform identity myths: simple fictions that address cultural anxieties from afar…” (Holt, 2004: 8) Iconic brands tend to be characterised by a number of things: they are highly memorable, they reflect a particular need and a given time, they create a simulacra that is unreflective of the everyday reality of their consumer’s lives, for this reason they do not use celebrity endorsements that have reference to other fields and other periods, they are heavily reliant on the concept of mythologizing, that is the creation of narratives that centre the brand within the popular imagination and manufacture a history where there was none and they tend to be forever evolving, constantly seeking the next revision of identity (Holt, 2004).It is easy to see that the iconic brand and the theory that provides its basis directly contradicts some of the ideas we looked at in our discussion of ‘mind-share’ and ‘emotional’ branding. We can see, for instance, that whereas, as Randall asserts, consistency is an important factor in ‘mind-share’ branding, iconic branding asserts the primacy of change, of altering to suit the current needs of the society. Traditional branding also stresses the importance of a generic, cross cultural, pan-demographic appeal; there is no such imperative to iconic branding that relies on specificity and contemporaneousness for its efficacy.
Holt cites the case of Budweiser as an example of the ways in which a brand can, almost by accident, be elevated to the status of icon. The popularity of this product, he asserts, was based primarily on its appeal to the emasculated American male of the 1970’s, its masculine blue-collar image coincided with the rise in the women’s movement and the socio-political crises in Korea and Vietnam, the slogan “King of Beers” had obviously masculine overtones (it was not, after the “Queen of Beers”!) that sought to heal a definite wound in the psychology of male society. This fact would not have been so successful, argues Holt, five or ten years earlier when the women’s movement had not yet become the social force that it was, or ten or fifteen years later when the parity of women had become established.The icon, then, is of its time and of its place and iconic branding aims to, not only, create this state but ensure that it is consistently so through constant change and evolution. Budweiser, for instance, changed its advertising campaign in the 1980’s and 1990’s to reflect a changing society, becoming more and more disenchanted with the working class myth
A great deal of the success of any ad campaign is, of course, the physical branding and marketing itself. An iconic brand, as Holt states, relies as much on the ritual of consumption as it does recognition. The most successful iconic brands have both a distinct ritual element and a recognizable semiotic element, the one lending credence to the other. This is certainly the case with Red Bull whose consumption, as we briefly looked at in the Introduction, has been consistently linked to a specific ritual, whether that be in a club, in a bar or at the sports track. In the next section I will look more closely at the packaging and television advertisements of the recent Red Bull campaign and relate them specifically to not only the points we have been hitherto looking at but also to the semiology of Barthes and the notion of visual persuasion.
The image carries not only personal and poetic meaning but also serves as a conduit for ideology; the shared lexicon of references that we looked above in relation to Foucault. However, Barthes’ asserts, imagistic meaning is unfixed, floating, it is open to interpretation which, of course, would be unwanted by an advertising firm. In order to counter this, adverts use an array of signifying methods, each of which contributes to the success or otherwise of the advertisement. Linguistic signs, for instance, concretise and solidify the message, colours subliminally do the same and so too sound in television and radio adverts.This transference of meaning can comprise of a wide network of signifying inputs, in Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising (2000), Judith Williams attempts a Barthesian examination of what she calls “correlatives” or signifying signs that link an audience or a consumer with a product:“(E)ven the obvious function of advertising…’to sell us things’ involves a meaning process. Advertisements must take into account not only the inherent qualities and attributes of the products they are trying to sell, but also the way in which they can make those properties mean something to us.” (Williamson, 2000: 12)
There is a dialectical relationship, then, between consumer and product, each exchanging meanings and contributing to the collective creation and mythologizing of product identity. As Barthes suggests, there is a large lexicon of socio-cultural, historical and psychological references that are at work at any one time. It is, perhaps, the case that not of all these will be readily apparent to the consumer or viewer and may not even be easily readable by the cultural critic but it is in the combination of the subtle and the overt, the subliminal and the obvious that the meanings lie.
Unlike the red plastic labels on bottles of Coca-Cola (Red Bull is only sold in cans) or the blue of Pepsi, the white/silver squares on the Red Bull can allows the consumer to view themselves, when they pick it up they are, literally, reflected in the brand, they become part of it; a physical reinforcement of an abstract ideal. The size of the can itself is smaller than most (Red Bull is sold in 250ml cans, whereas usually products are packaged in 330ml cans) which not only allows the brand to stand out on the shelves, a typical mind-share concern, but also engenders the product with a specialized, quasi-medicinal quality, the message is clear: Red Bull, like other stimulants, should only be taken in moderation. Because of its size, the Red Bull can feels physically different in the hand, a clear response to the specificity of designs like the Coca-Cola bottle, that have a physical differentiation, not only on the shelves, but also after purchase upon consumption.The primary colours used in the packaging have long psychosocial inferences for a wide range of cultures and ethnicities, colour psychologist Faber Birren, details the vast amount of cross-cultural correlatives that emanate from blue, red, white and yellow:“Man at the dawn of civilization recognized that sunlight was essential to life. Color, being a manifestation of light, held divine meaning. Historical records of color show little interest in the physical nature of color, nor yet in its abstract beauty, but in a symbolism that attempted to resolve the strange workings of creation and give it personal and human meaning.” (Birren, 1961: 3)
And it is, perhaps, these same meanings that we respond to, today.
These two factors, the futuricity of the can and the historicity of the bull motif enable Red Bull to achieve that goal of mind-share promotion: familiarity and innovation. It is what Messaris calls this “iconicity” of the bulls logo that “gives us a jolt and makes us look” (Messaris, 1994: 7) However, the picture has other meanings, viewed from a distance, the two bulls resemble wings that not only suggest lightness but also echoes, as we shall see, the highly successful “Red Bull gives you wiiings” campaign.
Commensurate with Barthes’ notion of linguistic signs, the Red Bull can reinforces these vague imagistic significations with the words “Red Bull”, “stimulation” and “Vitalizes body and mind”. In The Rhetoric of the Image, Barthes stresses the importance of such a coupling, especially in advertising:“At the level of the literal message, the text replies - in a more or less direct, more or less partial manner - to the question: what is it? The text helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself.” (Barthes, 1977: 39)
The vast array of cultural correlatives that are contained within the stylised bulls are concretised into definite semiotic inferences by the text. Combined with the subliminal use of colour and its ergonomics, the Red Bull can has a definite identity and mythology that exists as a sporty, energetic, vital product that has also cultural resonance and a ready-made psychosocial history. Wiiiings!!!Despite many of the obvious enhancing factors we have been looking at regarding packaging and branding, in the late 1980’s when Red Bull was launched in Europe initial marketing and taste tests were unfavourable (Wipperfurtht, 2003). The image, then, as Wipperfurth suggests was centred more around the concept of a health drink than a functional performance drink. The slogan “Stimulates mind and body” was deemed too vague and irrelevant to the potential early Red Bull customer and sales reflected this, as Wipperfurth describes:“They were the worst three years of my life’ reminisces Mateschitz today. This retrospective may make the billion dollar success of this single SKU sensation ever more captivating. (Wipperfurth, 2003: 2)
However, two main factors were to change the performance of Red Bull and add to its place as leading market brand: the first was the instillation of the “Red Bull gives you wiiings” campaign and the second was the emerging rave culture in Europe.Red Bull’s main television advertising campaign since the early 1990’s has been a combination of odd, crudely drawn comic animations and the slogan “Red Bull gives you wiiings”. The adverts, again, feature instantly recognisable characters such as Aladdin and Adam and Eve, that centre the product within an existing mythology, however they are drawn in such a way as to suggest a lassiez faire attitude and a regard for fun. The Red Bull adverts feature none of the celebrity endorsements of Pepsi or Coke and are deliberately amateurish and crudely drawn. Their mise en scene is instantly recognisable, as the viewer waits to see how the predictable slogan is going to worked out in the narrative.Paul Messaris, in his book Visual Persuasion (1994), suggests that it could be the very inhuman, caricature feel of the animations that could make them all the more arresting:
“In a medium whose very essence is the ability to reproduce the look of everyday reality, one of the surest ways of attracting the viewer’s attention is to violate that reality” (Messaris, 1994: 5) As Douglas Holt suggests of Snapple in the US (Holt, 2004: 29-34), the Red Bull television campaign reflects the wider social mores of the time and it is this that has made all the difference to their marketing and revenue.In the 1990’s Europe saw the insurgence of rave culture (Muggleton, 2003: 74). A combination of the austerity of the socio-economic slow down towards the end of the 1980’s and a backlash against what was seen as a self-centred decade produced a sub-culture that, as Muggleton (2003) states, was “nomadic” “ambiguous” and “decentralised”. The power relations that we have already looked at in the work of Michel Foucault were beginning to be questioned and entertainment was moved from the pubs and clubs to the fields and marquees. Raves became famous for their all night drug-induced but alcohol free environments (Herman and Ott, 2003; Cripps, 1997).
Red Bull was adopted by the rave culture as a stimulant that allowed drinkers to continue dancing long into the night (Wipperfurtht, 2003). It was this last coincidence, I think, that allowed Red Bull to be elevated into the position of iconic brand, through their ‘slacker’ advertising campaign, Red Bull distilled many of the aspirations of post-1980’s culture, that valued fun and enjoyment above professionalism and corporate image. The slick campaigns of Coke and Pepsi became, as Holt describes, removed from everyday life, not to be trusted, part of an anterior generation. The mythology of Red Bull became inextricably linked to an underground culture, a position it still holds today even though it has branched into sport and music.Red Bull have also sponsored a number of cultural events, the flugtags for instance, or its music academy that reinforces this notion of the leftfield but cutting edge sub-culture that only happens to be a multi-billion dollar business. By sponsoring such events Red Bull can advertise without seeming over corporate and impersonal thus retaining the image of a small, caring company whilst reaching a large part of their target audience, an audience that is presented with the drink in its ideal surroundings.
As we have seen, Red Bull’s place in contemporary culture is a complex and interconnected subject. By creating the brand mythology, from the rituals concerned with drinking at a club or a pub, to the iconographic nature of its logo, the product fits neatly into what Baudrillard calls the hyper-real, after all the brand Red Bull only exists as a collection of correlatives and signifying traits that fulfil a socio-economic need. There is a direct linage between what we have discussed in relation to the abstraction of Marx, through Foucault’s notions of knowledge and power to the Red Bull brand reflecting a sense of redefined fun and lack of responsibility in 1990’s culture. For Baudrillard, as we saw, Disneyland served only to provide a smokescreen to the fact that it was the rest of American society that was the simulacra. This simulacra, we can assert, is made up largely of brand mythologies such as Red Bull’s, that create a whole network of signifying representations that constantly vie for the consumer’s attention through, what Marshall McLuhan called “hot media” (McLuhan, 1973). Red Bull has achieved, it seems, the difficult task of turning an underground concern into a mainstream success without surrendering any of its reassuring exclusivity, as we have seen, it did this through a series of shrewd marketing decisions and socio-historical coincidences. Whereas the cultural significance of the bull logo or the ergonomics of the can provide a solid base for product differentiation, it is doubtful whether, as a brand, it would have had the success that it did if it did not been introduced at a time when its consumer’s were seeking to counter the stresses and pressures of the post-1980’s employment field. It is this point that lifts Red Bull from the merely successful into the iconic.
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