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'GENERATION O' and America's New Advertising Frontier

Updated on June 29, 2013

The United States is viewed in many ways, not only internally but also internationally as well. Having lived in Europe for several years, I can say one prominent view of America is that our Nation has historically always been perceived as having an obsession with sex. This is particularly true in our market advertising.

And yet, ours is also a nation seemingly committed to some fairly repressed sexual values as well, collectively. Therein lies a large component of our nation’s conflict with social identity, brand impressions, ‘decency and morality’ in broadcasting, etc.

We obsess on sex and hedonism through mass-media (TV, film, internet, music, etc.). In doing so, we express the ‘international desire’ for open sexuality in our social image, yet on the contrary continue to regulate expressionism through self-governing control mechanisms like the MPAA, the FCC, the RIAA and the PAL, even Proposition 8, et al.

Any nation, from 'third world' to 'empire', regardless, is a nation of its ideals and beliefs brought forth by its Peoples, and expressed through its arts and entertainment.

As Generation O began its slow and steady redefinition of the national core message, circa 2007, likewise began a slow roll-out of change that will ultimately redefine future generations. This redefinition of National "self identity", gradual and measured in pacing, is brought about through casual insertions of social change, not is the broad strokes of 'hope' or 'change', but rather a methodical cadence, voraciously consumed in “small bites” by an increasingly tech-hungry Gen-O culture. The smallest and most engaging 'bites' with the widest strike-appeal are commercials -television (and even still radio) most notably- although their own confines limit them still (and always will) to per-determined “micro-chunks” of :15, :30 and :60 second messages. The internet is advertising's ‘x factor’ that now partners with these traditional 'short films' and brings wider appeal to the traditional advertisement.

The conundrum of America preaching diversity, while maintaining a strangle-hold on defining ‘morality’, begins to loosen, for better of for worse. As once unapproachable topics continue to slowly infuse themselves into the New America, previously well-defined topics (Sexuality, Relationship Roles, and Racial Relations, most notably) begin to relax in definition, and the emerging society uses tools with which it is adept and familiar (in this case technology and arts & entertainment) to till our nation’s horizon. Broadcast advertising commercials, and the Internet, will continue to define our culture. Three commercials that speak to these observations are here:

AXE Body Spray’s ‘Clean Your Balls’… (The New ‘Sexuality’)
This is not only perfect contemporary commentary on how today’s advertisers are seizing upon Euro-minded sexual progressivism, but also one of the funniest short films unto itself seen in a very long time. The subtleness (watch the old lady’s intelligently-edited emotional ‘snippets’ lightly peppered throughout, for instance), by itself makes this a great short. There are so many other great moments too however: The believable layout of the ‘film’; the rather ‘flat affect’ of everyone in the studio audience, smartly acted; the refusal on the part of the director and writers to go for the ‘cheap laugh’ (hamming it up) and in fact using a sort of Sanford Meisner-inspired acting method to “deliver the material as though you were reading names from a phone book.” This is a brilliant piece. I also include this piece because it speaks to the power of the evolving influence of the Internet as a supporting, non-time constrained resource available to today’s/tomorrow’s advertisers to not replace conventional 15-30-60 advertisements, but moreover to supplement and “continuing their story-telling” without restraints in place of traditional advertising dogma and broadcast delivery. Well done, AXE!

The Kindle PaperWhite… (The New Relationship ‘Roles’)
Perhaps one of the most surprising “twist” reveals of all time is delivered in this fast, effective and yet casual piece of marketing brilliance from Amazon’s Kindle Reader, the Kindle PaperWhite. As a sort of “shot heard around the world” as far as advertising goes, Kindle took a low-key and “it is what it is” sort of approach in delivering the same-sex relationship at the close. This advert speaks a lot to how American values are relaxing as we enter a more 'inclusive' and change-oriented society... The gradual softening of traditionally 'taboo' subject matter that really seems to have begun back in the old WILL & GRACE days and is gradually continuing up through today is crossing into not just TV shows and sitcoms, but into mainstream adverts as well. Regardless of personal opinion, or feelings on the same-sex relationship topic, this commercial is cinematically-smart, humorously-written, and advertising informative. Kindle could have marketed to more of a gay audience and been ‘stereotypical’ in doing so, making the relationship reveal at the end more flamboyant, but they handled the topic with low-key fanfare that, when adding in all of the other factors cited here, came off very high-brow.

Cheerio’s Heart-Healthy Breakfast Cereal… (The New ‘Racial Relations’)
It’s pretty obvious what the conversation points are on this and, because so much debate has been made already on the commercial itself, there are not many points left to make. The mechanics are all there for effective telling of this short-story commercial: the lighting, the acting, the cinematography… The blahblahblah…. None of it matters, however, since it is not why this particular commercial will be remembered. This commercial, as with the above noted Kindle Paperwhite commercial, has joined the halls of Chesterfield Cigarette’s “Doctor approved and not a cough in a case!”, of Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef?!”, of AAmco’s “Double A ***bee, beep*** M-C-O”, and other such notable commercials. It is interesting seeing the reverse racism that this also inspired. Take a look at this Black woman's 10-minute commentary response, which assails Black men for being interested in White women. It is interesting seeing the face of racism from a different angle.

These advertising short films are not only entries in classic advertising history, but themselves stand as entries into a Nation’s history of self. Axe Body Spray, Kindle gay couple on the beach and the interracial Cheerios ad, are all representative of marketing's new frontier of not just ‘boundary-pushing’, but really of social re-definition. Some say 'kudos' and some cry 'foul' but pointing our right or wrong is not the point. What is the point is that ours is a changing society.

And as our culture changes, the change will come through not only sweeping monumental decisions like gay marriage, or a Black President being elected, etc., but in the small, often over-looked 'micro-changes' of a society's changing group-collective consciousness.

Aldous Huxley… Here is your Brave New World.

This was actually inspired by the sexually-suggestive Liquid Plumber (for 'PG-13' CLICK here) (for 'G-Rated' CLICK Here) advert.

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