Postmodernism and Advertisement

The postmodern condition entails the treatment of time and space as finite or tied to the social context of their use. They are, from a postmodern perspective, no longer unproblematic media whose neutrality permits comparison and communications across diverse boundaries. There are no longer common times and spaces ‘in’ which we all live in more or less mutual relevance. On the contrary, time and space are constituted as a local definition, a dimension of an event, a unique and unrepeatable location or period (Adam, 1990). The hyper-real spaces of postmodern consumer culture (e.g., shopping precincts, themeparks, gaming arcades) radically challenge modernist demarcations predicated on boundaries which delimit the real from the unreal, inside from outside. These postmodern hyper-spaces transcend ‘the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually and cognitively to map its position in a mappable external world’ (Jameson, 1992: 44). Morse uses the concept of ‘distraction’ to describe the ‘de-realized’ spaces of shopping precincts (1990: 193). The shopping precinct is a rootless re-ordering of the urban landscape. Its timeless capacious buildings and vivid media implosion denote ‘a loss of referential anchorage to the world’ (ibid.: 196). While retaining elements of the milling crowd, the spatial condensation of shopping precincts ‘are the locus of an attenuated fiction effect’ (ibid.: 191). Displaced and separated from the outside world, shopping precincts constitute a non-space ‘of both experience and representation, an elsewhere which inhabits the everyday’ (ibid.: 195). Similarities exist between these de-realized spaces and the diaphanous expanses of multi-media culture. In the micro-electronic world of virtual communication, places are no longer rationally defined and ordered by their boundaries and frontiers (Robins and Webster, 1999). Rather, new media precipitate a disconnection of localities from their historical geographic meaning and a reintegration ‘into functional networks, or into image collages, inducing a space of flows that substitutes for the space of places’ (Castells, 2000: 375). Thus, the boundaries of modernist existence are in disarray as we begin to realize that every communication is a prosthesis or projection of a unique identity (Burrell, 2005). Indeed, Baudrillard identifies hyper-reality as ensuing dramatic discontinuities in the contextual link between the subject and its specific world. In the ‘third order of representation’, technologies gain their own momentum, providing a simulacra of actual events effacing any access to a ‘real’, which itself is an effect of the code system (Sarup, 1998: 111). Direct parallels exist between the dissolution of narrative time in Baudrillard’s ‘third order of representation’ and postmodern advertising aesthetics. This chapter identifies the dual effects of the demise of the centred subject and the collapse of universal historical narratives, in postmodern advertising imagery, to radically disrupt conventional experiences of temporality.

levis-curve-idOf particular concern is the representation of advertising reality as a hyperreality of fragmented images. Modernity entails the rational ordering and control of time and space, which are founded on instrumental rationality, progressive history and the suppression of difference.Time in modernity is not only a narrative temporality but also axiomatic to the reflexive construction of modern subjectivity (Giddens, 1993). For ‘self-identity is not a distinctive trait possessed by the individual. It is a self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her/his biography’ (ibid.: 53). A crucial effect then of modern narrativity is the ‘handing down of possibilities from the self to the self’, which has the effect of ‘stretching’ our ‘Being across time’ (Thomas, 1997: 45). This is to say that ‘the movement of self-stretching across time is the source of a person’s self-identity, in that the person one is now has a historical connection with the person whom one was yesterday’ (1997: 45). Identity in modern times relies on ‘the capacity to keep a particular narrative going’ (Giddens, 1993: 54). What this signifies is that every person is only as ‘good’ as his or her last ‘claim’ to a particular identity. In pre-modern societies where identities were primarily ascribed at birth through kinship and blood lineage or acquired through affinal ties of marriage, this precarious and unending process of achieving and sustaining one’s identity through social activity was unknown. However, in modern society, identity becomes ever more absorbing as it is precarious and it begins to be the measure of life – a fluid, reflexive process instantiated through the time–space events, which it also serves to constitute (Lefebvre, 1991; Giddens, 1993). Contrived to forge its own identity, the modern subject is presented with the ironic proposition of having ‘no choice but to choose’ (Giddens, 1994: 75).Thus, in modern times identity becomes a ‘personalized problem, the solution of which lay in the future’ (Clarke, 2000: 220). Marketing in the modern era reproduced this conception of subjectivity in its belief that a relatively fixed system of human needs could be discovered by tracing the development of consumers through time–space events (see Chapter 4). And advertising embraced a modernist aesthetic, which ascribes human beings with ‘a unique personality and individuality’ (Jameson, 1985: 114).

In this modernist sensibility, the object of advertising ‘can be expected to generate its own unique vision of the world and to forge its own unique, unmistakable style’ (ibid.: 114). Advertising lives symbiotically on the audiences’ reservoir of social and cultural meaning (Proctor et al., 2002). Advertisers rummage through everyday culture in the relentless search for symbolic meanings to augment the utility value of commodities. The informal symbolic productions of social relations, in time and space, are a particularly attractive source of raw material for the creation of commodity values. Advertising congruity allies commodities with culturally constituted representations of everyday life. Advertising achieves this by separating ‘the intrinsic qualities of being human from actual living humans’ and this ‘reification imparts a time-lessness to the manufactured product’ (Goldman, 1995: 32). The ebb and flow of everyday interaction is an integral feature of capitalist commodity circuits, as advertisers endeavour to transform the symbolic meaning of informal productions into currency. But the transfer of meaning is only achieved by the creative ingenuity of consumers ‘whose interpretations reflect their own experience, social situations and concerns’ (Proctor et al., 2002: 35). Consumption is an active and productive cultural practice, which requires the accomplishment of ‘symbolic work’ (Willis, 2000: 69). Symbolic work involves ‘symbolic understanding’ deployed in the interpretation of sign-values (ibid.: 69). It can be seen as ‘sensuous cultural practices’ in which socio-symbolic meanings are produced and adapted dialectically to the situated and personal context of consumption (ibid.: 70). Advertising trades upon these contextual meanings turning them into fetishized human qualities which ‘become time-bound, contingent on possessing the product’s properties’ (Goldman, 1995: 32). Thus, modernist advertising requires a ‘remembering subject’ (Williamson, 2000: 158) as a source of meaning production. It also depends on the consumer’s interpretative skills and their ability to invest symbolic work in making coherent ‘the fragments and flows of commodity culture’ (Willis, 2000: 69).

levisConversely, the postmodern world of simulacra and ‘hyper-reality’ is a world without ‘fixed’ references of meaning.The extraordinary time/space compression of the postmodern era disrupts the modernist segmentation of culture and the segmentation of life into separate value spheres. In so doing, the postmodern condition presents a radical challenge to the linearity that modernist advertising aesthetic takes for granted. In response, postmodern advertising imagery presupposes that identities have become ‘eminently contingent and continually reproduced in specific discursive contexts’ (Tribe, 1993: 4). The fleeting presence of subjects, objects, sounds and sensations in postmodern advertising imagery is evidence of new times in the expropriation of consumer subjectivity as a condition of capitalist accumulation.

Advertising Consumer Subjectivity in Postmodern Times

Postmodern writers identify multi-media culture as producing a surfeit of images and signs that give rise to a world of simulations, which efface the distinction between the real and the imaginary. Postmodern advertising is allied to visual media and its ability to provide the viewer with a world of glittering media surfaces. In the hyper-real world of postmodern advertising, everything mutates into everything else, all is image, appearance and simulation. Nevertheless, amidst this cacophony of sights and sounds can be discerned several consistent styles. Postmodern advertising employs ‘eclecticism’ to generate ‘parody’, ‘pastiche’ and the inter-textual effect of ‘allegory’ (Wheale, 1995). The word eclecticism can be traced back to the Classical era, where it was used to denounce a school of Greek philosophers whose ideas were entirely drawn from a variety of existing schools (ibid.: 43). Thus, the eclectic mixing of styles, ideas and methods is not a new cultural practice but what is distinct about this practice in postmodern advertising is that multi-media based culture enables creatives to exercise a radical eclectic mode of sign production. Advertising creatives exploit vast repertoires of multi-media materials for the purpose of producing commodity aesthetics, which spectacularly eclipse the imagery abilities of previous times (ibid.: 44). Figure 7.1 illustrates the use of eclecticism to generate the postmodern advertising aesthetic of parody.

The concept of parody derives from Classical Greek where it was used to describe a form of mimesis in which a copy of an original was produced with the intention of provoking sceptical reflection. By the sixteenth century, in English culture, the concept of parody had adopted a burlesque version associated with ridicule and mimicry (ibid.: 44). In the finest examples of postmodern advertising, the use of parody reverts back to its pre-modern allegorical forms ‘where one part comments upon another’ (ibid.: 44). Hermeneutics has long since identified the dialectics of textual meaning to be embedded in social cultural practices. Moreover, the task of uncovering the author’s contextual location is itself an act of interpretation. The reader of the text thus enters into a negotiated or dialectical Verstehen in which he/she attempts to align with an interpretation of the author’s intentions. Constructivist accounts of advertising have also, long since, identified the meaning of advertising symbolism to be indexed to ‘a common cultural pool that exists in society at particular points in time’ (Proctor et al., 2002: 34). Parody in postmodern advertising extends beyond both of these accounts of the dialectics of textual reading. In its more mediocre form, postmodern parody can merely ‘ironize to no purpose, in a frantic picking-and-mixing’ (Wheale, 1995: 44). Conversely, the more sophisticated forms of postmodern parody are intent on combining divergent cultural artifacts to provoke scepticism and circumspection. The advertisement in Figure 7.1 fits into this latter category of expertise.The text is flirtatiously inter-textual in its endeavour to seduce the reader into entering its encoded meaning system and decoding its mystery. The text percolates with the creative effervescence of other textual structures both past and present. Each reading of the text is creative, as interpretations become cross-fertilized with discourses ‘drawn from the reader’s own socially, culturally and historically situated experiences’ (Proctor et al., 2002: 34). The text is therefore convergent as it is ‘shaped by the repetition and transformation of other textual structures’ (ibid.: 34). Let’s examine these elements of parody more closely.


Figure 7.1

The text of the advertisement in Figure 7.1 states, ‘Like time, I wait pour non homme’ (Like time, I wait for no man). The advertisement denotes an intentioned combination of text-and-image. The signifiers ‘time’ and ‘man’ narrated by the female subject implicitly invoke questions of derivation and re-presentation. We are immediately aware of the advertisement as the derivation of a more famous phrase, but we instinctively feel that some convention and or iconography is being subverted.This is even more apparent when we trace the past and contemporary references of the text. Within the relatively isolated worlds of early modern Europe, space and time were comprehended as part of a mysterious cosmology determined by some remote authority, heavenly host, or more sinister figures of myth and imagination’ (Harvey, 1991: 241). An example of this relation to time is evident in the poetry of Robert Burns (1759–1796). Robert Burns’ poetic splendour enthused with a passion for his native Scottish culture. His poems are also renowned for ‘capturing the realised moment of experience’ (Hepburn and Daiches, 1959: xiii). Drawing upon the prophetic prudence of Scottish folk legend, Burns’ poetry echoed a sense of time’s all-consuming power. For Robert Burns, the ‘natural processes’ of change contains vivid social truth; humans exist within the flow of time and cease to exist with the passage of time (Quinones, 1972). Indeed, it has been suggested that the phrase ‘Time and tide wait for no Man’ derives from Robert Burns, and in its original form states ‘Nae man can tether time or tide’. This phrase appears in Robert Burn’s quintessential narrative poem called ‘Tam O’Shanter’, the specific context of the phrase is as follows:

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white – then melts for ever;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether time or tide

(quoted in Hepburn and Daiches, 1959: 350).

In this extract from Robert Burn’s ‘Tam O’Shanter’, time is represented as embroiling man (sic) in the natural order of things. Throughout the preClassical and much of the Classical era, the predominant iconography of nature was that of a vestal, generative symbol, Mother Earth. In this era the interpretation of signs and the capacity to recognize signs relied upon a system of erudite and metaphysical knowledges which established resemblances between the sign and that which it signified (see Chapter 2). In this system of resemblances, Mother Nature’s all-embracing cycles provide an understanding of man’s (sic) relation to the earth, the universe and time. For example, Ovid (43BC–7AD) – using an image that Dante and Shakespeare would imitate–compares man’s (sic) relation to time in terms of the movement of the waves:

The tyme itself continually is fleeting like a brooke.
For neyther brooke nor lygthsomme tyme can tarrye still. But looke
As every wave dryves other foorth, and that that commes behynd
Bothe thrusteth and is thrust itself; Even so the tymes by kind
Doo flyy and follow bothe at once, and evermore renew.
For that that was before is left, and streyght there dooth ensew
Anoother that was never erst.

(Ovid, 1904: 199)

In Ovid’s analogy, time, like Mother Nature’s movement of the waves and unlike the life of man (sic), is infinite. In this sense, neither change nor the future is critical to an existence, which is at one with God; his (sic) universe and Mother Earth. Conversely, Classical Greek mythology displaces the female iconography of time and change. In Greek mythology, Cronus, the son of Gaea (earth) and Uranus (sky) ruled the earth until his son Zeus dethroned him. While the account of Cronus differs in the various traditions of Greek mythology, Cronus invariably displaces Gaea (Mother Earth) as the personification of time (Forman, 1989: 4). Hence the Classical basis for the word chronology.

In Medieval and Renaissance art there exists a recurrent allegorical link between time and death (ibid.). This iconography of time depicts a cannibalistic image of Father Time, directly linked to Classical Greek mythology. According to Greek legend, Cronus is linked directly to time because he is the god of the harvest who ripens produce and ‘matured every form of life’ (Murray, 1998: 27). Cronus is also a devourer of human existence. In order to prevent the fulfilment of a prophecy, that he too would be dethroned by his youngest born, Cronus devours whole each of his first five newborn children. Rhea, his wife, tries to prevent her sixth child (Zeus) succumbing to this fate. According to Greek legend, Rhea wraps a stone in swaddling clothes and succeeds in duping Cronus as he swallows the decoy whole. Cronus thus believes that he has subverted the prophecy and continues to reign. Meanwhile, the newly-born child Zeus flees to the island of Crete, and upon adulthood returns to Greece to slay his father and establish his rule for all time (ibid.: 30). In Classical Greek mythology, time is the devourer of human existence … it waits for no man. In the sixteenth century, this cannibalistic iconography of time gives way to a more benign image of Father Time (Forman, 1989: 4). With the passing of time is revealed the truth and thus Father Time conveys to man (sic) knowledge and wisdom. It is only through a familial relation that the female is linked to the making of time. Thus, we see in the sixteenth century, the notion of ‘Veritas filia temporis’– Truth the daughter of time (Forman, 1989: 4).

This chronology in the iconography of time appears to be what Riffaterre (1990) describes as the ‘intertext’. That is the other text(s), which a reader requires knowledge of, so as to decode an advertisement. On further analysis, the advertisement in Figure 7.1 appears to be situated at a discursive interface between the Classical Greek iconography of Father Time and populist feminism. Indeed, the precarious positioning of the advertisement between these camps prevents the reader from ever really achieving a conclusive interpretation of the text. This is because both texts are a derivation of myth and populist sentiment. In this sense the use of parody is subversive in that it challenges both the original (masculine basis of time and the facsimile (FCUK’s appropriation of populist feminism). This has the transformative effect of a ‘deviant simulacrum’, which de-realizes both the original and the copy (Wheale, 1995: 44). Consequently, the advertisement provides an illustration of postmodern parody as a mode of mimesis, which consciously seeks to generate questions of derivation and re-presentation.


Reflect on the indiscriminate pillaging of the past in the shape of retroadvertisements and the more recent tendency to re-incarnate Hollywood idols for the purpose of selling products, the likes of which are, at best, arbitrarily associated with their lifetime. Jameson (1985) delights in labeling this new advertising form ‘pastiche’. This consists of a playful selfreferential medley of styles, materials and symbolic codes. Pastiche is like parody in that it involves ‘imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in dead language’ (ibid.: 114). But pastiche is devoid of parody’s dialectical mimesis of text and sub-text for it merely represents the aleatory coalescence of cultural fragments devoid of their historicity. Thus, the fabrication of fantasy through pastiche dismisses the existence of a ‘unique self and private identity’, which has the effect of inducing a latent feeling that there no longer ‘exists something normal compared to which what is being imitated is rather comic’ (ibid.: 114). Pastiche exists within the world of free-floating signifiers whose signifieds have long since dissimulated. Figure 7.2 contains an advertisement for the insurance product Sheila’s Wheels. The advertisement’s playful self-referentiality illustrates the particular practice of pastiche in postmodern advertisements.

The use of pastiche in Figure 7.2 is truly postmodern as it isolates the product from its utility function and displays it almost as a self-referential mixing of codes. In characteristically ironic mode the advertisement references a tongue-in-cheek stylization of women drivers. This is ironic because it ‘is ungrounded, not appealing for validation from truths or mandates which are external to the work, such as a real world’ (Wheale, 1995: 45). Actuarial observations have consistently identified women drivers as a statistically lower risk category than their male counterparts. This fact is playfully obviated in the advertisement’s ironic medley of 1960s female youth culture and antipodean machismo. In postmodern consumer culture, the practice of pastiche invariably incorporates an element of nostalgia. Jameson (1985) observes this form of nostalgia to be distinct from its conventional connotation i.e., a yearning for the return of a past experience. Some suggestion of this distinction is evident in Figure 7.2. Nostalgia is clearly evident in this advertisement but this seems far removed from a desire for the return of the past. The advertisement is indeed metonymically nostalgic, in that it incorporates signifiers of the past. Nevertheless the creative motivation of the advertisement appears disinclined to reinvent an image of the past in its lived entirety.



Rather, nostalgia operates in the advertisement by ‘reinventing the feel and shape of characteristic art objects of an older period … it seeks to reawaken a sense of the past associated with those objects’ (1985: 116).Thus, the advertisement in Figure 7.2 appears referenced to its own satirical characterization of history, gender difference and masculine antipodean culture. It is in this sense that the advertisement assumes self-referentiality. Each signifier relates to the advertisement’s sign-system as opposed to the lived experience of the past. Jameson argues that the colonization of nostalgia as an aesthetic in popular imagery mirrors a particular conjuncture in consumer capitalism. Cultural production in postmodernity is driven by the desire ‘to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about the past, which itself remains forever out of reach’ (ibid.: 118).

Hyper-reality Baudrillard (1975) argues that in postmodern consumer culture the commodity assumes its importance as a sign rather than something that is inherently ‘useful’. In so doing, Baudrillard directly challenges Marx’s distinction between the use-value and exchange-value. For the use-value itself is revealed as a ‘construct of the system of exchange value which produces a rationalized system of needs and objects that integrate individuals into the capitalist order’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 114). This transformation in the system of needs is located within a particular genealogy of simulation. Baudrillard argues that with the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist society, objects begin to function like signs. The object is abstracted from its concrete relationship between people. It now ‘assumes its meaning in its differential relation to other signs’ (quoted in Lane, 2000: 75). Like the Saussurean sign, this understanding of representation goes beyond the reductive notion of the sign as a vehicle of meaning and signification. In the postmodern era, the components of the sign are differentially and arbitrarily ordered. Baudrillard maps this form of signification onto three orders of signification: ‘counterfeit, production and simulation’ (Rodaway, 1996: 245). Each of these orders is grounded in stages of capitalist production. In the first order of simulacra, a representation of the real (e.g., a map) is a counterfeit of an exterior reality. Baudrillard (1983) describes how the map is not an identical copy of reality. Nevertheless it suffices as a cultural representation of an independent reality. In modern industrial capitalism, we observe a second order of simulacra, which blurs the distinction between reality and representation. Baudrillard (1983) illustrates this order of simulacra by recounting Borges’ fable of the cartographers who constructed a map of the Empire, which was so exact that it virtually covered the entire territory. Axiomatic to this exactitude of science is ‘a rational and creative agent individually orientated and critically willing to challenge accepted conventions through the application of reason and science’ (Rodaway, 1996: 248). But this relation of subject and object is radically transformed in the third order of simulacra. In the postmodern stages of capitalism, cultural representations are no longer linked to an independent reality. Baudrillard describes how cybernetics, media and computerization have produced a ‘quotidian reality in its entirety – political, social, historical and economic’ (1983: 147). One that ‘from now on incorporates the simulatory dimension of hyperrealism’ (ibid.: 147). Representation no longer blurs the distinction between real and copy, rather, there is a detachment from both of these as multi-media simulations become realer-than-real,‘a hallucinatory resemblance’ of its own existence (ibid.: 142). In the ‘third order of representation’, technologies gain their own momentum providing a simulacra of actual events effacing any access to a ‘real’, which itself is an effect of the code system (Sarup, 1998: 111).As Baudrillard puts it:

abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA – it is the map that engenders. (original emphasis, 1983: 2).

The extreme eclecticism of postmodern advertising collage is similarly detached from the concept of representation, mimesis and any relation to an original, which ‘is lost in a continuous play of signs’ (Rodaway, 1996: 248). Firat and Venkatesh describe how in Nike advertisements ‘the need for a context seems to be increasingly transcended’ (1993: 234). Similar aesthetics are in evidence in Figure 7.3. Baudrillard argues that in postmodernity the relation between sign and referent is completely arbitrary ‘determined by its [their] position in a self-referential system of [floating] signifiers’ (Featherstone, 1991: 85). In this sense, signification means simply difference and nothing else. For Baudrillard (1968), the only meaning that signs retain is their difference from other sign. Signs are entirely selfreferential, making no attempt at signification or classification, their only point being to make a temporary impact on our consciousness.

The advertisement in Figure 7.3 is distinct in its aesthetic as ‘it is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 4). Devoid of specific referentiality, the signifiers in Figure 7.3 assume a materiality of unparalleled intensity as they explode into our consciousness. Jameson describes how, in the absence of a ‘meaning effect’ or even the illusion of mirage, ‘the signifier in isolation becomes ever more material – or better still, literal – ever more vivid in sensory ways’ (1985: 120). The isolated disconnected signifiers resist any attempt to weave meaning into a coherent narrative sequence or signifying chain. Rather, time is a function of each isolated position, a dimension of each self-referential event. It is fractured, multiple and discontinuous. Since ‘our feeling of identity depends on our sense of the persistence of the “I” over the “me” over time’, the subject of postmodern advertising loses the ability to thread ‘certain paths’ through the image (Jameson, 1985: 119). The search for an authentic narrative is disrupted by the ‘pure’ sign, which resides within a self-referential context and almost coincidentally, collides with ‘products’ (which are themselves mere signs). In postmodern consumer culture, goods no longer provide a basis for the construction of fixed identities, but rather ‘make people seem different through a collage of fragmentary images’ (Proctor et al., 2002: 34).




In postmodern imagery, meaning is perpetually deferred, constantly slipping beyond our reach. Baudrillard argues that the third order of simulacra coincides with a loss of a private sphere in which ‘the dramatic interiority of the subject, engaged with its objects as with its image, is played out’ (1985: 128), whereby the incessant saturation of communication networks in the private sphere effaces its erstwhile distinction from the public arena ‘in a sort of obscenity where the most intimate processes of our life become the virtual feeding ground of the media’ (ibid.: 130). Axiomatic to the modernist separation of economy and culture, public from private is a subject ‘situated within the world and able to make sense of that world through application of its powers of self-awareness’ (Rodaway, 1996: 249). This modernist narrative assumes that the subject ‘acts upon an object’ and thus is an active agent in relation to the world (ibid.: 249). Moreover, the self has an interior a private universe ‘invested as a protective enclosure, an imaginary protector, a defense system’ (Baudrillard, 1985: 130). Conversely, in the media-saturated world of postmodernity, the ‘self is nowhere and everywhere at the same time, totally abstracted, rapidly flitting before us in myriad versions unanchored to concrete experience’ (Holstein and Gubrium, 2000: 66). The self is constantly on display as both a trophy and signifier of commodity culture.

The cavalcade of the self in postmodern advertising has been raised to new levels of spectacle by the growing convergence of media entertainment with advertising content. Often described as ‘branded entertainment’, this innovation gives rise to the creation of entertainment as a vehicle for the promotion of brands (Raney et al., 2003). In 2006, the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi UK manufactured a pop group for the sole purpose of providing sponsors with a vehicle to promote their brands. The corporate brands, which hire the manufactured group, will decide on its name and lyrics as well as what the group will eat, drink and wear in public. The association between brands and popular music has long been established, but the creation of a pop group for the sole purpose of selling branded goods is a disconcerting trend. For it takes the hyper-real staging of the self to new extremes. Baudrillard (1983) argues that hyper-reality is a condition of excess, which undermines the self-determining world of the historically and geographically anchored subject. The modernist episteme positions the Cartesian subject at the fulcrum of existence, for the ‘knowing agent [is] contextualised and a locus of power’ (Rodaway, 1996: 251). The metaphysics of presence which explicates this notion of knowledge orientates the subject within the context of experiential time and space (Holstein and Gubrium, 2000). The self is able to evaluate experience by linking the social meaning of time–space events into signifying chains. Although this knowledge is never flawless, the subject sought reassurance in the belief that it possessed access to an object with which to compare representation (King, 1998: 51). Conversely there is no reverent with which to compare Saatchi & Saatchi’s virtual band. Instead we receive the sights and sounds of any number of brands metamorphosing into a hyper-real object independent from human subjects. Consequently, its ‘representations are totally freefloating, they have no object but themselves; they are self-determining’ (King, 1998: 51). In its defence, Saatchi and Saatchi have stated that the phenomena ‘could be as simple as sponsorship of a tour through to clothing that could be worn, drinks, cosmetics’ (quoted in Davis and Elliot, 2006: 4). Rather than alleviate our concerns, such assurance suggests that we will actually be witnessing a proliferation of self-presentation. The aesthetic populism of postmodern advertising already provides us with a proliferation of ‘accounts and images of possible selves, especially of our inner worlds’ (Holstein and Gubrium, 2000: 67). Nevertheless the brand-new band has no object with which to compare. The observer, therefore, ‘becomes entirely dependent on the simulacra of hyperreality’ (King, 1998: 51).

The public will be introduced to the brand-new band in a reality TV documentary called a ‘mobisoap’ which fans can download onto their mobile phones (Davis and Elliot, 2006: 4), thus providing the consumer with ‘the absolute proximity of the total instantaneity of things’ (Baudrillard, 1985: 133). No longer is there any distantiation between subject and object, spectator and spectated, ‘all becomes transparence and immediate visibility’ (ibid.: 130). The brand-new band is transformed and manipulated into a downloadable mobile artifact. It has reached new heights in its significance as an object. It is now free to represent the world in anyway it chooses, wherever and whenever. It is capable of subverting any direct challenge to its authenticity as no one has access to a comparable real world by which the hyper-reality can be compared (King, 1998: 51). And so the object causes mischief as it disrupts the experiential time of meaning, language and agency. The object’s foundationless representations ingratiate experiential time, driven by the intention of seducing some semblance of identification with its ‘ready-made packages of meaning’ (Rodaway, 1996: 252). In this instance there occurs, ‘a sort of contraction in each other, a fantastic telescoping, a collapsing of the two traditional poles into one’ (Sarup, 1998: 113).

Baudrillard’s concept of ‘seduction’ engages objects and subjects in an intense metaphysical attraction, with the capacity to ‘turn appearances in on themselves, to play on the body’s appearances, rather than with the depths of desire’ (1990: 8). In the enchanted simulation (trompe-l’œil), objects seduce subjects by the ‘pure play of appearance’ (ibid.: 8). Seduction pronounces a relation between subject and object diametrically distinct from the immense capacity of the modernist subject. In modernist representation, the subject has superiority over the unknown object, which it has the power to represent. In the third order of simulcra objects efface the subject, seducing the latter to abandon its claims to sovereignty over the object world (Best and Kellner, 1991: 129).

HN Fight

Interactivity: ‘The medium is the message’

The Extent to which the barrage of stimuli that reach our senses can be turned into digital information, has a direct bearing on the influence of a medium and thus its commercial function. (Postma, 1999: 74)

In the ‘software universe’ of modern communication, space can be traversed literally in ‘no time’ (Bauman, 2001: 117).

Previously distant spatial relativities now form part of our daily lives as demarcated boundaries become ‘permeable’ membranes saturated by unceasing tidal waves of information, imagery and text (Morley and Robins, 1995: 75). Indeed, the ‘creators’ of the Internet were initially interested in solving the single problem of ‘how to connect isolated computers in a universal network’, enabling electronic communication between computers regardless of type or location (Sherman and Price, 2001: 17). The interactive capacities of the Web have since exceeded the expectations of earlier innovations. Web users soon had available to them customized operating systems in which to unfold their unique lifestyles, desires and identities without leaving the confines of their home (Andrejevic, 2003). Central to these innovations has been the development of convergent technologies. This concept refers to the integration of two or more information teleologies into a combined system (Hellmund, 2001). Domestic applications of convergence connectivity typically include mobile phones, personal computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The vast numbers of wireless devices now in circulation constitute a brand new marketplace for advertising communication. Industry experts generally identify wireless communication technologies as providing ‘many opportunities for marketers and advertisers to reach consumers no matter where they are’ (Wright, 2000: 149). Indeed, advances in location positioning technology have combined with technological innovations in wireless communication to enable marketers to ‘reach consumers when they are most likely to make a purchase, accept an offer, or use a service’ (ibid.: 149).

The applications of short-range wireless communication for travel have brought into being a new multi-million pound market for mobile advertising. Mobile commerce ‘refers to any activities related to a (potential) commercial transaction conducted through communication networks that interface with mobile devices’ (Yuan and Tsao, 2003: 399). Mobile advertising is a field of application for mobile commerce. Mobile advertising can complement wireless devices and Internet-based e-commerce, making it possible for ‘advertisers to create tailor-made campaigns targeting users according to where they are, their needs of the moment and the device they are using (i.e., contextualized mobile advertising)’ (2003: 399). The commercial attractiveness of wireless devices is summed up in two words,‘ubiquitous interactivity’ (Kannan et al., 2001). Location-based services enable firms to target consumers when they are in close proximity. According to the rhetoric of location-based marketing, ‘applications can be used to enhance a consumer’s daily activities through a number of value-added services’ (Wright, 2000: 152). For example, Barnes describes how locationbased marketing can enable ‘the roaming phone user … to be provided with information, alerts or even advertisements based on their location’ (2002: 173). Research and development into ‘smart’ vehicles continues apace to develop a seamless connectivity between wireless voice control and data transfer capability (Barnes, 2002). Advertising opportunities are targeted here at the businessperson’s ‘considerable amount of time in-transit’ (ibid.: 170). Developments in this area include in-vehicle networks of wireless connectivity automated via voice control, enabling motorists to connect to the Internet and receive interactive advertising communications.

Innovations in portable interactive devices have now taken the metaphor of cyberspace full circle, even when away from our homes we can remain plugged into our time/space paths in cyberspace. Thus, our paths through cyberspace now map onto our physical motion in the real world. As Andrejevic puts it: ‘To the extent that the elastic boundaries of cyberspace stretch beyond the confines of the home or office to contain the physical motion of the mobile consumer, this motion becomes the real-world, physical analog of “surfing the Web”’ (2003: 134). Advertising commerce has been quick to respond to the promise of wireless networked technology. The interactive overlay of real-time spatial paths followed by users and advertising communication has fuelled the revolution in mobile commerce. In a retail context, mobile commerce seeks to track consumers’ motions through space so as to ‘open up new information dimensions that can be used to further facilitate the consumption of space and the spatialisation of consumption’ (ibid.: 134). For instance, Microsoft’s Matchmaking software combines proximity data with customer profile data and is able to send customized shopping information to a consumer’s mobile device (Litchford, 2001). Microsoft describe mobile commerce as ‘enabling people to get information and data they want anywhere any time, and on any device’ (ibid.). Elsewhere social theorists have been deservedly sanguine about the benefits of mobile commerce. Time–space path mapping seemingly offers a strategy of heightened customization in which advertising appeals can be directed at customers with optimum relevance. In this sense, ‘the invitation of m-commerce is to specify one’s individuality through motion’ (Andrejevic, 2003: 135). For example, Kannan et al. state that ‘the fact that it [wireless device] is available at all times to interact with users suggests that it can be used to obtain instant feedback from customers at usage context for market research purposes’ (2001: 2). Mobile commerce thus accentuates the tracing of bodies in time/space, which functions to reinforce the portrayal of consumption as a means of individuality (Andrejevic, 2003: 142). Such trends are directly linked to the exteriority of identity in postmodern consumer culture. The modern sense of self is constructed against a backdrop of interior spaces, feelings, emotions and desires (Elliot, 2001: 141). Conversely, the postmodern self of mobile commerce is defined through the externalization of authentic subjectivity. The following discussion of advertising and convergence technologies develops this observation.

Convergence technologies are radically transforming our experience of media entertainment. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) enables 3G users to access mini browsers on their portable handsets. 3G mobile phones now offer speeds of up to 2Mbps, thus enabling users to watch short video clips and enhanced multimedia advertising. Live television streaming is generally considered to be the next big thing as network operators eagerly promote the mind-boggling capabilities of 4G (Webb, 2006). Elsewhere, Internet search engines are mutating into entertainment systems as providers continue apace to develop platforms which enable access to music, blogs, e-mails and downloads from wireless handheld devices. Telecoms companies are transforming into broadcasters as they diversify into video-on-demand. Network operators are converging with Internet providers to combine search engines and messaging services. Technology companies are transforming mobile handsets into mobile home entertainment systems. And broadcasters eagerly tout the virtues of multiple outlets capable of simultaneously distributing entertainment programmes over the Internet, on MP3 players, mobile phones and television.

harvey-nichols-wolves-medium-26311Ultimately the flow of innovation is sweeping towards the integration of the television and personal computer, leading to the widespread adoption of HTML interactive television (Hellmund, 2001; Robinson, 2005). The versatility of set design is changing rapidly, making interactivity a more habitual part of television viewing (Dobres, 2004). Broadband Internet access already provides advertisers with a format which mimics TV. With download speeds ten times that of standard 56k modems, broadband enables the use of faster, and more complex visual advertising formats (Swinfen-Green, 2002). Broadband also enables the combined use of audio and visual advertising formats. While narrowband environments are able to transmit video imagery, this is often tediously slow and of poor quality. Conversely broadband enables the transmission of high definition audio and video advertisements. Faster download speeds also enable the delivery of large transitional advertisements (e.g., interstitial), that have duration of several seconds before the main page opens (ibid.: 43). The use of complex formats in narrowband advertising relies on the need for consumers to expend time laboriously downloading software, broadband access provides for an environment, which facilitates the quick and less cumbersome use of plug-ins (e.g., RealPlayer) in the production of visually stimulating advertisements (ibid.: 43).



Convergence technologies offer advertising its potential of operating at the epicentre of our media-saturated economy of signs. Multi-media advertising is the material realization of capitalism’s insatiable appetite for time/space efficiency in the expropriation of ‘more for less’. In the logic of post-Fordist production, the efficiency of the medium depends entirely on the extent it can be tailored to its audience. The impact of personalization in mobile commerce has meant that advertisers need not rely upon mass communication to push their contents onto consumers at pre-scheduled points in time. Data-driven mobile commerce is based on the real-time monitoring of consumers, thus enabling the spatial customization of advertising content. Similar economies of scale are apparent in Internet advertising. The interactivity, speed and flexibility of information exchange on-line ‘provides considerable opportunity for tailoring an advertisement message to a particular prospective consumer’ (Drèze and Zufrydeni, 2000: 27) (Figure 7.4). The Internet has the added advantage of enabling the continuous circulation of signs. Radio and television advertising, using analogue (as opposed to digital), requires that the broadcaster interrupt the linear flow of transmission to broadcast the advertisement. Consequently, the whole of the available bandwidth is allocated to either programme content or advertising. Conversely, the Internet enables content providers to embed advertisements within the real-time flow of their broadcasts. This process is described as ‘spatial multiplexing’ as it requires that content providers allocate only a fraction of their bandwidth to the advertisement (ibid.: 34).

Multi-media advertising is light years away from the asynchronous diffusion of signs. The advent of corporate advertising in the nineteenth century relied upon the mechanical dissemination of advertising content across vast distances. In this era of steam-powered travel and chronometric telegraphy, the circulation of signs extended over vast horizons of time. Human reaction to signs was similarly ‘delayed for considerable periods of time’ (McLuhan, 1997: 4). Advertising in this mechanistic era depended on the ‘content’ of other medium to communicate its message (ibid.: 8). Thus, the circulation of newspaper advertising depended on the printed press and likewise radio advertising relied upon the advent of wireless telegraphy to channel its message. According to McLuhan, this ‘merely underlines the point that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action’ (ibid.: 9). In this sense each innovation in advertising communication involves an ‘extension of man’ (ibid.: 4). And each ‘extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex’ (ibid.: 4). Reason-why advertising (1920s) traded upon the rational capabilities of consumers. Motivational psychology (1960s) had as its focus the psyche and the psychodynamic properties of the self. And the narrational properties of the commodity-sign require the existence of a ‘remembering subject’ (Williamson, 2000: 158). In the postmodern era, the digital convergence of advertising channels introduces into human development ‘a greater degree of immediate participation, an incessant response, a total plasticity’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 119). In the high-tech environment of postmodern advertising, the receiver is expected not only to decipher and decode signs but also to be a participant in the production of signs.

picture-3Mobile commerce and the Internet are emblematic of high-involvement advertising media which require both the extension of the body in time/ space and also ‘the creative process of knowing’ (McLuhan, 1997: 3). As Drèze and Zufrydeni put it, ‘ads from standard media come to prospective customers whereas prospective customers on the Internet medium come to ads’ (2000: 29). Thus, the technological stimulation of postmodern advertising is ‘an era of tactile communication’ in which the ‘message becomes “massage”, tentacular solicitation’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 123–4). For example, Internet content providers can send instructions to consumers to retrieve product/service promotions directly from the advertiser (Drèze and Zufrydeni, 2000: 26). According to marketing rhetoric, this enables ‘a closing of the marketing-response loop which permits the potential development of appropriate advertising and marketing strategies that will best influence a prospective consumer’s purchase behavior’ (ibid.: 35). But this also suggests a field of ‘tactile simulation’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 124) in which the receiver becomes both consumer and producer.

In marketing theory,‘interactivity’ is defined as the ‘extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time’ (Steuer, 1992, quoted in Fiore et al., 2005: 39). Interactivity is an extension of postmodern time/space compression. The digitalized messages of interactive advertising are all signs of instantaneity in our quotidian experience of time/space. Digital convergence in advertising channels heightens our experience of time/space compression as signs enter into endless ‘games of duplication and reduplication of the object in detail’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 144). Advance forms of integrated digital media promotions can provide the consumer with a panorama of signs, synchronously transmitted from TV, iTV, the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones and PDAs (Johnson, 2002: 38). These scattered fragments of signs ‘short-circuit’ the modernist ‘dialectic of signifier and signified’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 122). Multi-media advertising radically disrupts our experiences of spatial and temporal contiguity so that identities have become ‘eminently contingent and continually reproduced in specific discursive contexts’ (Tribe, 1993: 4).

While it is evident that in postmodern consumer culture identity assumes indeterminacy, traces of continuity and regulation are also apparent. This is because the circuits of sign production retain their historical function as the outputs of human labour time. The PDAs and PCs of multimedia advertising incorporate into the market-response loop human labour time which serves to accomplish specified applications (e.g., activate RealPlayer). As Spencer observes, the micro-processing units, which enable multi-media program applications, depend on humans to interpret ‘a variety of internal states … in terms of information and even function in relation to the task at hand’ (1996: 64). In Chapter 3 it was argued that advertising operates to reproduce the expropriation of human labour time as part of capitalist accumulation. The profusion of digitality in advertising media involves consumers in continual procedures of coding and decoding digital command structures. The ‘real-time’ interaction systems built into digital advertising media have the effect of simplifying stimuli ‘into successive sequences’, for which ‘there can be only instantaneous response, yes or no’ (Baudrillard, 1983: 119). One consequence of this progression has been the transformation of the potentially complex syntactical decoding of digital signs into a ‘binary sign system of question/answer’ (ibid.: 117). Baudrillard describes these binary responses as ‘the limit of an abbreviated reaction’ (ibid.: 119). Thus, it is necessary to recognize that the digital convergence of advertising channels ultimately relies upon the participation of human subjects in dematerialized productive activity. In the third order of simulacra, the circulation of signs is inextricably contingent on the expropriation of human labour time, which is itself an effect of the sign system.


The de-centred subject of postmodern advertising unsettles representational conceptions of time and space. In the writings of Baudrillard, advertising hyper-spaces are an allegory for depthless selves. ‘Textual spaces’ invite a form of liminality in which durable selfhood is replaced by ‘a kind of supermarket identity – an assemblage of scraps, random desires, chance encounters, the accidental and the fleeting’ (Elliot, 2001: 131). In postmodernity, self-determination is the outcome of the direct and often physical involvement of human subjects in ‘technologies and images (signs) which continually replicate and circulate’ within a self-referential system of floating signifiers (Rodaway, 1996: 251).


Source: Advertising in Modern and Postmodern Times by Pamela Odih SAGE Publications Inc 2007.


Categories: Postmodernism

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