Bill Bernbach was one of those revolutionary 1950’s ad men and he said that ‘you can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.
That is the same with a political message, with a friendship or anything else.
You can have all of the well-reasoned and well-thought out arguments in the world but it only takes the immediacy of a single photograph to crystallize my mind on something. Remember Elian Gonzalez the boy at the centre of an immigration and custody controversy in 2000.
After seeing this photo all I saw was. Man. Gun. Child. Scared child. The photo below does the same thing. It is a police chief executing a Viet Cong prisoner.
It is amazing how all of our feelings around an issue can organize around a single feeling or event. Presentation of information often works in this way. Talking recently about the recent and ongoing protests in Brazil I tried to bring some of this insight to bare. The situation in Brazil is such that it could go a number of different ways. The main political party in power though is very clever. It suggests that it is natural for the young to protest and that the more mature thing to do is to work on the projects for reform contained within the system.
In this way it is able to associate the protests with adolescents, people without experience. It could frame this as yet another directionless outcrop of failed occupies and more general masturbatory process obsessed and youth lifestyle movements. They cannot be the only people to know how people’s emotions work and how people’s feelings work. Surely some of the revolutionaries know something about psychology too.
Not to be cynical about it but why is there not another photo showing me the other side of this photo. If there is please link me to it. One scared child in this photo might have completely changed the tenor of things. If you want people to feel VIOLENCE and CORRUPTION you have got to get some sort of emotional record of it and a rise in the bus fare is most definitely not the best example.
The best example I have so far of things being corrupt is from the film Trope de Elite 2 where the BOPE member is shot in the back by a corrupt cop. And that was a fictional portrayal. The word corruption in Portuguese is corrupção it rolls of the tongue. It sounds fun to say for someone who speaks English and just hears the sound. There is no reason this word could not be embedded everywhere. Simple and repetitive. Not bus fares have gone up. Paint a picture of an individual corrupt politician as a symbol for the others. And then the brand -corrupção.
Returning to advertising it is interesting to look at some of the emotional connections that are made with products. This could provide some useful lessons for the protesters in Brazil.
One article suggests that the Beetle ‘was self-deprecating but lovable and was able to reach the preponderant psyche of the day.’ The ad above suggests that Volkswagen ‘missed the boat’ and encourages us to ‘think small’. It says that we’re not much of a novelty anymore. This does what good advertising and presentation of information does. I feel a feeling. I identify. The car had been bullied and I have been bullied but now they are starting to take both of us seriously. We are both self-deprecating but still lovable scamps. I like this car! And the bullying thing is not what they were aiming for that’s just my own material that the ad is able to connect with.
It is the same with the political situation. If you tell me facts it won’t connect with me on the same level. You need to reach the more primal part of me that respects fairness on a basic level. The part that causes monkeys to go ape shit on you (excuse the pun) when you cheat with them in a rudimentary game of cards. If you talk about bus fares I might connect that with the recession in this country and with the struggle that everyone feels. That is not the right connection to make and maybe I am not the main audience for Change Brazil messages but if I can be made to identify with a car or a lamp I can definitely identify with real people with real privation and injustices.
In the psychology of advertising book it asks ‘what else might make these ads work? If you can’t have identification, empathy is probably the next best thing. Some ads invite us to observe the character and take in what the character is experiencing without any expectation that we will necessarily identify with, or want to ‘be like’, that character. It then provides the example of the Geico insurance Caveman who is discriminated against.
Here’s another example of this empathizing in a French ad for condoms:
There is an interesting inversion of this inversion of this in an Ikea lamp ad below.
In fact in that ad they tell us how crazy we are that we can feel sorry for a lamp. If we can be made to feel sorry for an inanimate through emotional cues then why are they not being used by protesters in Brazil.
Producing dissonance could be another powerful tool from advertising that could be helpful in Brazil. It could be successful in creating a campaign like this anti-meth campaign.
It juxtaposes voice overs that seem totally opposed to the horrible things that we are seeing. In this way through the placement of these extreme opposites together we can see how our values and all of our life is basically eroded by meth.
This Change Brazil video is too rational for my liking there needs to be some sort of picture painted. There are too many numbers and everything is a bit to general. It has to be made more specific so that it can be related to on a human level. Give examples. If any movements for political change are seeking to be successful there needs information that engages us in identifying with people, allows us to empathize with people or causes us to experience dissonance between what is being said and done or how the rich and the poor live. Returning to the example in Brazil it might be a very good idea for campaigners and protesters to watch a few ads.
If I was involved I might pick just a few people as symbols of the opressed and opressors. I would pick the biggest douche bag in politics and say that this person is a symbol of everything that is wrong and then go for the general. He doesn’t pay taxes and then talk about taxes more generally. And for god sakes try and get some decent photographs.