Urbs Not War

Urbs Not War

Just-about Reanimated Stallone as Bread Mafia Boss in Warburton’s Ad

Arriving in (class) war-torn Bethnal Green yesterday afternoon, possibly the warmest on record for April, I was struck in the face by a billboard ad featuring a just-about reanimated Sylvester Stallone and a host of other hand-gun-toting ghouls standing in a Blackwater-style phalanx beneath heavy metal typography. The product? War(burtons) bread.

Global Machine Culture.Wheat

The latest outdoor media instalment from Campaign award-winning agency WRCS would appear to be pitched at ornery inner city folks raised on that peculiar subterranean-yet-mainstream diet of violence–now worked into the degenerate and desecrated grain formerly known as wheat. A bastardisation concocted by Global Machine Culture [GMC], wheat has become the edible monoculture version of Agent Smith, viral shadow of the Matrix.

Whether the “grain” used in Warburton’s “bread” is GM or not is pretty much irrelevant. Fracking, corporate tax evasion, Blairism–take your pick from a plethora of parallels–you can bet your bottom dollar that chemical corners have been cut. GMC is certainly betting its bottom dollar on it. Am I saying Warburtons “bread”–let’s call it “edible product” is harmful to your health? Let’s not go there. GMC already has the “scientific” answers ready to roll on surface-to-media missiles that crop-dust public discussion with enumerated bullshit. Is GMC harmful to the environment? If you can answer no to that, I’d love to see your arguments in the comments box below.

But this is not so much a “green” as a “green psychology” article–if you like, a “deep eco” more than an “eco” piece.

Ecology: The branch of science concerned with the relationships between organisms and their environments.
Oxford Dictionary

Sure, it’s tongue-in-cheek, concocted by “clever”, middle class executives and “creatives” in the rather sexier environs of 60 Great Portland Street, leveraging the already tongue-in-cheek Stallone movie “The Expendables”. But what is the relationship between the residents of Bethnal Green and the award-winning Warburtons “Family” campaign? Or the Britain’s Got Talent-watching, edible-product-toasting masses who lap up the TV commercial in the ad breaks? Does thegame for a laugh messaging not rest on cultural channels of violence? Is “family” not tongue-twisted to mean “mafia”, i.e. glamourised gang culture? Is it only coincidence that WRCS’s other clients include the Army, Navy, Airforce, Artemis (The Profit Hunters) and–on balance–that benign old giant, HMRC?

Respect the Bread Warburtons ad by BBH

Perhaps it’s unfair to piss on WRCS’s award dinner chips. They’re not alone in this war business. How about BBH’s ad on the right?

Of course, it’s all tongue-in-cheek, game for a laugh, simply a reflection of modern, urban society. But whose tongue is in whose cheek? WRCS’s in Stallone’s? The clever folks at WRCS might say I’m patronising the working class, who understand the joke just fine.

Maybe we can go further then, with rape, racism, ISIS beheadings and Israeli F16s worked up in a tongue-in-cheek commercial for underarm spray, say.

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

According to the Metropolitan Police, Violence Against the Person in Tower Hamlets has risen 21% in the last 12 months, keeping up with the London-wide trend of nearly 30%.

Grab a free rag off the floor of the tube if you want examples. To be fair, the same rags print articles (juxtapose ads for Warburtons and other edible product) about 10-year old boys frazzled on hardcore porn, teenage girls bullied into anal sex, bartered between local mafias like objects in Grand Theft Auto. (What is this reporting really? Assimilation? Social lip service?)

In this light is there really any defence for depictions of violence, no matter how clever or tongue-in-cheek, in the billboard overhanging your local station, high street, park or playground? Are inner city children really that urbane and ironic? Do we want them to be?

What’s your response? Maybe like the protagonist of Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror: 15 Million Credits, the bit where he stands in front of the Cowell-esque panel and sums up his blistering polemic with the words: FUCK YOU!

It’s tempting to leave it there, to openly encourage that these billboards be defaced, torn down, burnt. I’m supposed to play the game, push my tongue into some clever, Great Portland Street cheek, let it all wash over me. Take the cash and shut the fuck up. For many years I tried to do just that. But I couldn’t, not really.

Increasingly, I don’t think you can either. Not really.


Reality is aspirational

Kellog's Corn Flakes "Good Morning" cinema ad

Kellogg's Corn Flakes "Good Morning" cinema ad

Forget artificial intelligence and quantum computing, advertising has long relied on fuzzy logic. If you have been to the cinema or watched TV recently you will have felt the warm fuzzy feelings generated by, for instance, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes “Good Morning” ad. Whilst I turned up, incredibly, that the ad is filmed in Grovenor Park, London SE5 (you would have thought maybe Queens or Brooklyn from the look of it) my investigatory skills failed to put name to iconic face of the little girl (shown) whose smile carries the whole proposition. With a name, one could hit IMDB or something and discover that she was paid a million pounds, has also done stuff for Shredded Wheat etc.

Diversity? Kellogg’s versus David Cameron versus Nick Clegg versus ‘Islamists’ versus the EDL. But it is borg-like assimilation at work here. We are approaching the Big Crunch. Part of it – read the ulterior fuzzy logic of the ad – is that there is no longer room for cultural differences. Mongoloids, Caucasoids, Negroids all eat Corn Flakes for breakfast. Perhaps there is something of US multicultural strategy behind it – make the smile golden enough and we might just co-opt China.

But the ulterior proposition is more straightforward than that. As with Vodafone’s ‘Couple’ ad, which delivers multimedia messaging capabilities of fones right enough, aspirational advertising has gotten real.

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Gone are the neon penthouses and supercars: such imagery is off-strategy for aspirational campaigns as the worlds they proselytise are simply no longer attainable. Aspirations have been toned down, and what we now have is a relatively ordinary street – somewhere redbrick, a nice bit of London perhaps. But look carefully. That looks like a house, not a mashup conversion, and one with an adjoining garage! Now look at the bloke at work:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

He has driven to work, where he has an allocated parking space in an underground car park and a desk that looks like this:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

What does he do? Own Nokia or Pratt and Whitney or something? Meanwhile his fiancee (more aspirational than ‘wife’ or ‘partner’) is here:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Not exactly your local Fitness First is it?

But it’s aspirational, you say. That’s the point.

But the point is this: as we approach The Asymptote, the headroom of aspiration, the dreaming gap hovering above attainable reality, becomes thinner and thinner. In other words, run the same ad in a year’s time, and the phone will be smaller and smarter and so on, but the aspirational backdrop will be more realistic. A mashup conversion in East Ham perhaps. A job on an Underground station. A sort of memetic inflation, if you like. At The Asymptote (so to speak) we will aspire to what we are.

Imaginative flatline, the End of Desire. Nirvana in other words.

And you thought advertising was evil.