Sunday, 9 August 2009

What Are You Trying to Say? And What Are You Actually Saying?

"Foul, rainy weather and brutal murder. Which world would you like to be in this summer?" (original slogan: "Regn, rusk och brutala mord. Vilken värld vill du vara i den här sommaren?")

I came across this slogan earlier this week (not for the first time, I hasten to add) as part of a big ad on the side of the tram. The ad was from the Swedish book store franchise chain Bokia and is an attempt to market the new crime novel Höstoffer (literally: Autumn Sacrifice/Victim) by Swedish author Mons Kallentoft. And making an absolute failure of it!

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against ad makers in general. In fact, while I think certain amounts of legitimate criticism can be made towards the oversaturation of attempts at commercial seduction in contemporary society, I equally believe that ad making is an art in its own right (certainly in the sense of techne) and that skilled ad makers are to be admired. Because a skilled ad maker knows his or her craft well, and that involves a good grasp of communication and language. Not so much so, I fear, with the dilettantes responsible for the Bokia ad.

The ad slogan clearly plays into a broader Bokia slogan, "Step into another world" (Sw. "Kliv in i en annan värld"). Now, I'll admit up front that I'm not a big fan of that slogan, but that at least has something going for it. The current ad, however, obviously wants to play on this first slogan, wants us to choose to step into the world of Kallentoft's novel, presumably. But the attempt at seduction is flawed, rotten at its very core. The question asked, in the middle of summer, sun beating down on the city, is whether the reader of the ad wants to exchange his or her enjoyable summer for "Foul, rainy weather and brutal murder." And the answer? Not, methinks, the one the ad makers had in mind.

The ad fails simply because the ad makers are clearly trying to say something specific (something presumably seductive, given the medium and genre), yet while the intended meaning can be deduced... that meaning is not that of the ad text. The seduction that should make us say yes to buying Kallentoft's book and entering that world is more likely to have us raise our eyebrows and ask why on earth we should ever want what they're suggesting. It is sort of the equivalent of going on a first date and starting off by telling the date you haven't showered in a few days, then follow that by asking if the date wishes to spend the night later.

In people who're supposedly professional seducers, this is naturally not really what one is looking for.

The ad also reminded me of a Swedish TV commercial from earlier this year (unless my memory fails me about the exact time). The commercial was for the electronics store Net On Net, who are trying to promote their warehouse stores, opened in several places throughout the country. Now, the ad slogan for their promotion is absolutely excellent and spot on, "A little bit less conveniently located, but much better prices" (Sw. "Lite sämre lägen, mycket bättre priser"). The focus clearly being, and quite correctly, that the off centre locations of these stores is merely a minor inconvenience while the prices more than makes up for this.

So, what's my beef with the commercial, you may ask? Well, the makers of the first TV commercial chose to depict a harsh trek through the woods, in the rain, people climbing nasty hills, some even dying en route... and then finally reaching the haven of the store, as the slogan hits the screen. The problem? Well, what is shown on screen is not "A little bit less conveniently located"... it is incredibly inconveniently located.

Presumably the makers of the commercial would want us to find it amusing (which I can agree that it is to some degree), but also hammer home that these stores aren't really inconveniently located in any proper sense. A more correct approach and more in line with what I've seen of their later commercials would rather be to have somebody (say a stereotypical family father) prepare for such a horrendous trek and then have someone else (why not his wife or possibly children, to follow fairly straight forward ad lingo) take him to the car and just swiftly drive there, without the fuss. This would of course hammer home the point that what might be considered an inconvenience really isn't.

And isn't that what the ad makers are paid to do? Isn't that the art or craft of their profession? To actually know what they are saying.

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