Looking back at old adverts is always an interesting sojourn into the past. Advertising, posters, and newspaper clippings inform historians greatly on the cultural norms and societal traits of times gone by. The poster above – ‘You mean a woman can open it?’ – tells us plenty about the views of the era. People were clearly wandering the streets, quipping such sexist remarks without a care, and advertising simply noticed and mimicked it to join the voice of the people. Or did it? And just how many of these views were created, or at the very least heavily reinforced, by advertisements of the day? It is negligent to not think that advertising can create its own norms, its own subcultures — and the examples are everywhere.
Le Chat Noir
It’s Montmartre in the nineteenth-century: a bohemian cesspool of poets and cabaret dancers. Théophile Steinlen has moved here, a struggling artist. After being introduced to the nonconformists of the Le Chat Noir watering hole, he creates this advert for them – a poster to be plastered on every street corner. And, as simple as that, an iconic piece of art is born. This advert has become so popular that it is now a commodity itself, available as posters, prints, coasters, and T-Shirts. It has become a statement; it is a reflection of the ideologies of the owner – a symbol of La Vie Boheme. It is merchandise. The bohemian advert has come full circle and now sells itself; a niche ideology now vocalises itself on a commercial scale and draws in followers, still.
In Apple’s 1984 re-launch advert, a powerful woman races through a room filled with a mindless, jump-suited congregation of conforming drones, reminiscent of – yes – 1984. With a sledgehammer, she destroys the screen at the end of the room that they are all dutifully staring at – the ‘Big Brother’ figure that is ensuring they all toe the line. Talking of lines – who’s seen the ones threading their way out of the Apple Store the morning of a new iPhone launch? Apple’s re-brand centred entirely around the concept of non-conformity, of breaking the rules, of individualisation. ‘We are all individuals’ the people chant, and chant we still do. Society loves Apple, and somehow, against all odds, they have kept their brand-feeling of being the hipster, the outsider, the ground breaker. Down-and-out artists in Brooklyn use iMacs whilst boardroom bosses dial into conference calls on their iPads. Their brand ideology is so strong, their advertising so on-point, that they have created their own sub-culture from nothing but dust.
‘Just Do It’
Possibly the greatest example of advertising becoming a movement in it’s own right is Nike’s Just Do It campaign. In the same way as Le Chat Noir’s postertranscended advertising to become art, this campaign transcends marketing to become a legitimate, human campaign. The inspirational stories that have come off the back of this advert are heart-warming. This phrase has resonated on a deeply personal level with people, many of whom have gone on to adopt it as a personal mantra. Has it sold products? Sure, and it’s a good piece of advertising for doing so. However, it has achieved so much more – it inspired a shift in people’s lives on a unique level. Apple has a passionate hoard of followers, Le Chat Noir’s posterencapsulates a whole artistic movement, but Nike have done something much more – they have captured people’s souls, and, on a person to person basis, they have inspired them to be a better version of themselves. Whilst wearing Nike trainers, of course.