Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Understanding Advertising

for DMS

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?

Melville, Moby Dick, Ch. XXVI

Unable and powerless to circumvent my miseries, daunted, discouraged and unable to face reality, I thought it prudent to seek the help of a professional, and yet the traditional forms of therapy and the conventional efforts of psychiatrists having failed, I realized I needed to invest my faith in some higher power, something greater than myself or even science.

Fortunately, we live in an age already Enlightened and one that has successfully found the true faith, and what is better, true force, its proof.

The office was quite modest, but in excellent taste, contemporary, but relaxed. The receptionist evinced a kind interest without being invasive, asking if I needed help with my plastic bags or if I needed more kleenex.

At the appointed hour I was scooted into the conference room as smoothly as a new vacuum cleaner and greeted with an friendly informal air upon two quick pinstriped strides by a young smart professional, as though I were visiting a colleague or an old friend: she had that air, of an old towheaded friend from college who hadn’t aged discernibly, but still come into her own, only having to weather the receipt of a better watch, a decent hairstylist and a private tailor in the process.

After some brief introductions I was made quite comfortable in the nicest chair I had ever sat in and before I could quite situate the box of kleenex I had taken with me, the lights dimmed like a closing lid and, equally soundlessly, screens and speakers slid out in a style that would have suited any number of Bond antagonists. Suddenly I was kayaking down rapids with young athletic people, to a swirl of the skies and wash of the rocks, whose merry excited cries were (through some arrangement of speakers) as my own. Their sunlit backs, beneath the bright livery of life vests were beautiful. I wanted to masturbate. Suddenly we wiped out and we were gliding above an infinite plain of perfect ebony chocolate, upon which a deluge of caramel and cookie crumbs came thundering with apocalyptic intensity. Then a crying child and a talking sunflower, more helicopter shots of mighty trucks and enormous burgers: it was a phantasmagoria, especially for someone who had no television and spent a lot of time in the dark listening to disaffected rats lose their way. Gradually I came to understand that this was their demo reel and that many of these spots were famous in their own right: at least two had been made into movies or television, though I was not sure if it was movies or television that featured a super-absorbent lumberjack.

When the lights came back on, one was tempted to applaud, as though at an awards show, for it was with such a gratifying and sure smile she stepped forward. For there were to be noticed, surely enough, ensconced in tasteful angles at modest intervals, an array of shiny and wholly unfamiliar awards, most in dazzling lucite, presenting a glacial appearance, much like Superman’s home.

With the ease of a talk show host welcoming an old friend who has a new movie coming out, she slid into the couch opposite me and drew up a look of positive interest. This is all well and good, she said modestly, by way of introduction, but the important question is: what can we do for you today? She said this extraordinarily, somehow putting the stress and accent distinctly on every word, making each seem like a revelation.

Every campaign we do, she continued, is unique, because each of our client's needs are unique -because (and this rolled out gnomically): each of our clients is: unique.

I meditated on this in silence.

She resumed the lesson: For instance, I see you are wearing slippers, she observed. This was not, strictly speaking true. I was wearing half a slipper, the half that had survived. The sole had simply turned black and scraped off like a scab sometime ago. I remember touching it and feeling how cold and fleshy it was, black and soft like a piece of discarded gum. It was not an affectation that I had only the worried wooly socks and the strained upper deck of a slipper. I had meant to put on shoes for this meeting, but I couldn’t find one, or found one, but not the other, or found both, but not at the same time. There was a nap in between, you see, a few naps, actually. The naps made me feel somewhat better, at least until I woke up. I had, however, managed to hold on to a bold tie, whose casual deployment went far in terms of covering my misbuttoned shirt.

This says to me that you are comfortable, that you are at home, as it were, ready to rest, she concluded.

This was indeed very perceptive. I felt very much like napping, as I did most of the time I was awake.

You are: casual. We speak: casually. America is a casual country. “Welcome to Casual Country.” You see?

Someone did indeed see. Someone wrote it down, while others taped it.

I like to think: aloud. But even more: I love to listen.

Now: what can we help you with: today?

My voice came at a great distance, with something of a delay, as though from a distance place, stuffed with cotton and dampened inside a sunken diving suit made of bell jars. It was with such leaded effort that I spoke, I did not recognize my words, or my voice:

I want to ...want to live

She blinked thoughtfully and said with a confident smile:

I am sure that we can sell that

And who is your target audience, who is the end consumer?

I am. I have to want to live my own life.

These happy active people in kayaks, I wanted to say, they were no good to me because I was not happy and active and I did not have a kayak. I wanted to be sold on my life, on my living. I had no argument with other people and their happiness. But I did not share it. But what I said was “kayaks...” and then trailed off.

Well, she said, in your own words, tell me about your product and your target audience: tell me about this life of yours

I told them that I lived in my old ancestral home, that it was rather dark and overgrown and was slowly, but certainly sinking into the dank tarn and suffered from a rather prominent central fissure that threatened to divide it. I told them that I lived alone, which was again, not strictly true, but it was hard enough to go into and I could see them straining to meet me halfway already. I went on a bit about the mold and the miasma and the mildew, too much really, for it was hard to select among the details of my misery and I had not spoken at length (or briefly) to anyone for some time and so nothing had any criteria of relevance, or the contemporary, but came out all at once in a way that was difficult to understand, like an old book. They listened, though, bright, attentive and patient, more so than any mental health professional I had ever consulted.

You were right to come to us, she almost whispered. Your problem is a familiar one. You might say that it is as old as humanity itself. You might call it the human problem: supply and demand. You have a life. From the looks of things, at least twenty more years of it. You don’t want it. You cannot make your existence much cheaper as, from the looks of things, you aren’t spending much to invest or maintain it. If you could change it or where you found it, you no doubt would have already.

This is a classic problem, then, of promotion.

With an air that was thematic, yet natural, she gestured and clear, ice cold refreshing water appeared. She motioned for me to take a water bottle and to keep it with their compliments.

I have a lot of old water bottles. Some with still some water in them. All over the house, but mainly the kitchen, the bath and piled near the bedside.

This is different, she said, this is a Nalgene. It is used by sports and health professionals. See how it makes ordinary filtered tap water appear like a magic elixir of strength and vitality. It is the holy water of our times. It is a genie in the bottle. It is never half-empty or half-full: it is always halfway through your workout: halfway to triumph and achieving your personal goals, your personal best: you are always finishing, arriving, on the go, coming from the gym or going to the gym. This is what success looks like: it is transparent and simple. People who are struggling, that is, unsuccessful, drink coffee in stained and puckered cups. People who are successful drink water.

-Plain water?

-There is no such thing as “plain water.”

In the fancy stage quality lighting of the room, the water did indeed appear like a special effect.

-You see, don’t you? But let me clarify what it is that you see. Before I continue any further you must understand: This is not: an illusion. This is not: a misrepresentation or a deception. We do not present things in a false light to promote or sell them. We do not approximate an ideal through an imperfect medium. We do not sell dreams. We do not manipulate or persuade.

The empty screen slid aside to reveal a panoramic wall of glass opening upon the splintery expanse of the city and the ball of the sun, a view much like from the bridge of a starship.

The world, she said, is not the totality of facts, or things, for neither facts nor things exist by themselves, but only as phenomena for a subject, a consumer, at a particular time and a particular place. The present, what is now, is only intelligible through what is now not: the past and even what may never be: the future. The universe is, for us, as it must be for living organisms, a universe of desires, knowable and discoverable only through our needs and wants.

Her hair shone in the sunlight. Little wisps of hair escaped her stylist and danced around in it.

Goods and services, she clarified. We are creatures given hope to meet with present needs and wants.

With a casual playful gesture, she spun and rearranged the pillows on the couch, inadvertently revealing a trim and athletic figure, much suited to the smart young professional.

After all, all currency is simply a promise to pay and nothing more, she concluded.

She came in to a conspiratorial distance. I noticed the brown of her eyebrows and, for the first time realized that, for such a formidable presence, she was a little shorter than me.

The universe is unintelligible without desire: it’s like watching a porno film before you know or care what sex is: you will ask: why do Pizza guys keep arriving? Robots will get nothing out of watching the Food Channel.

She knotted herself in a girlish way, but her features took on an adult look of concern and compassion.

-This is what has happened to you: you have fallen into some eddy, some cut-off cul-de-sac from the greater universal current of desire.

Life has always had its own advertisement, its own promotion, she breathed. This is why it is so popular.

She smiled, differently this time. Then she looked uncertain. Then she leaned in and kissed me. She then ran a series of saturated spots that gained interest and built considerable excitement and buzz without tiring out her target demographic.

Oh dear, I said.

It is sometimes the case, she said evenly, that an ad campaign can be wildly popular and even enter into the popular culture without actually serving its purpose and promoting its product. She had this adorable way she bit her lip. She also seemed to work muscles swaying back and forth when she rode her bike that other people did not seem to engage when they rode theirs.

She continued: an effective ad campaign is like Brawny and his companion, Babe the Super-Absorbent Blue Ox. Together, there is no stretch of the wild Yukon they can’t clean. After the second movie, (not as good as the first, I know, but it wasn’t my idea to send them to Australia) parents would just buy their kids rolls of paper towels so their kids could play in the bathroom (or if they were smart, the kitchen).

I knew how she liked her grapefruit. Her apartment was remarkably complimentary to her office. They invited the same set of exposures. Her place, if anything, was somehow even more relaxed, contemporary and smartly professional. She had one of those toasters that worked like a CAT scan machine.

In contrast to this, she said, biting off the stem of a strawberry, demonstrating that painfully cute overbite, consider the Burrito Bat. Everyone loves the Burrito Bat, hanging upside down, all wrapped in its wings like a burrito. People buy t-shirts and air fresheners to hang from their rearview mirrors that look like Burrito Bat. People come by the restaurant to buy Burrito Bat merchandise. But they do not buy “Transylvania-Style” Burritos, possibly because they are vile, but also because the iconic Burrito Bat gained popularity without attaching any value to it’s product or transferring any interest.

I made for her hair. She pulled away.

This sort of failed cathexis is technically known as failed transference.

She turned and looked at me. It was my big chance to show her that I had nibbled “I love you” into my toast. This wasn’t easy.

Go home, she said. Go home. We will try again.

As I crawled out of her place I heard her remark that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

I soon discovered that she was right: I was no more in love with life than before. If anything, I was really against it now. Of the various coupons and fliers she sent, I totally lost interest once I had scrutinized them and seen that they held no secret message of affection, or rather, I gave up looking. I also got her bill.

On her advice I had gotten a TV, a huge one. This did, indeed, relocate the center of my operations from my unmade bed to the couch. Otherwise, no change, other than that I viewed each and every ad that poured forth every hour of every day as a perhaps some secret communication of love: was she somehow the girl in the Valtrex ad? Did she want me to get a better rest with Ambien? Was the fluffy deodorant bear intended to comfort me?

I lived then, in some alternation between total fantasy and complete withdrawal. It was with some inspired disbelief, then, that I answered the phone to hear her voice.

How are you? she asked, not leaving the appropriate interval for an answer. Listen, we have something really big for your product. It doesn’t get bigger than this. It’s going to be totally underground, ambient, stealth and viral, but its also going to be the biggest, most spectacular production with the biggest upfront audience.

What is it?

The Super Bowl, she said, we have a Super Bowl Ad for you that will make history.

I’ll mark my calendar, I said, having no actual idea where my calendar or a pen might be.

Okay, she said, but it’s today. She was gone.

I stumbled through the channels until I found men in ties talking about nothing. As half-time came up, the most dazzling efforts of her peers came on, but I could recognize nothing that resembled an ad for my life. There was an ad for nachos, that was surely part of my life, but this made me want to have nachos, not to live, and not to live for nachos, either. Disappointingly, the game resumed. Had I missed it? Men in ties commented on the actions of men in helmets. Rules and laws were cited. People yelled. It rained briefly. There were some more ads, but these did not even make me want to drive off road in the Great American West.

I awoke to the buzzing of the phone.

Did you see it? she asked.


The rain, the rain. Millions and millions saw it rain.

She paused.

You made it rain. And thousands of people felt in on their faces.

Tomorrow morning, she said, you will make the sun rise. After that, who knows?

And for the first time, I understood advertising.

-Do you love me?


-Do you give yourself to me?


-Do you belong to me?


-Do you understand advertising now?

I did: “Plain water” “mineral water” -People speak of there being a “code” to objects, as though what we did was some application of psychology and persuasion. It is not. It is the other way around.

The world is the code. It is, at its core, for human beings, symbolic, meaningful. That is to say, it is, in reality, transcendental. The world is all that is the pitch, because only the pitch captures what can be and our agency and relation to the world.

-Tell me what you understand.

The world is like a yard sale, I said. What creates value is exchange. What is the past, junk, refuse, a thing with no purpose, becomes beautiful and valuable through the occult of another’s desire. What is heavy, dusty and obstructive, becomes light, clean and mobile. Exchange and flow are life: meeting people in your neighborhood, taking, giving, learning people’s names. Without exchange, where things are hoarded and squandered, where there is no circulation, death follows.

The world we live in is a world of commodity and desire.

-Are you mine?


She smiled a sweet sad smile and cut the clothes from my shoulders.

-And so?

Animals negate directly, but it is most human to want what others want.

-And so?

By your selling me into slavery, my life becomes valued and owned by another, so that I might also come to value and own it.

-Yes. Also there is some evidence that flogging raises serotonin levels, at least temporarily.

The whole thing was a little too Hegelian, but the master calls.

The yoke pulled my shoulder and I followed on bare feet. It did not allow me to turn my head to look back.

Words repeated, we believe: for it is advertising and not death that shows us that we are not gods.

TURN #103: WEEK 89; WORDS: 104,434; NEXT BY 7 MARCH 2007