Category Archives: Advertising

the revolution will be commercialized

Most famous for the spoken word style of social commentary exhibited in his classic, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron passed away last week, at the age of 62. While “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” has been lauded as a countercultural anthem for decades now, I was first exposed to Sott-Heron’s cultural legacy, disappointingly enough, by a sneaker commercial. So much for growing up in the extremely postmodern era of The Eighties, where inspirational ideas were often ruined even before they could be understood. (In a related story, I was first introduced to The Beatles song “Revolution” by a commercial by the same sneaker company.)

Interestingly enough, said commercial (released in 1995) stars (now-veteran) point guard Jason Kidd, who will be leading his Dallas Mavericks into tonight’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals, against the dreaded Miami Heat. The commercial features an updated spoken word soundtrack by KRS-ONE, who assures us that “The revolution is about basketball, and basketball is the truth.” (Obviously a pre-Paul Pierce NBA.)

So while The Revolution Scott-Heron spoke of in The Sixties was about Black Power, today it is about basketball (and buying sneakers, one would assume). (That being said, it’s a pretty good commercial, as far as commercials go.) (Even if it is painfully ironic that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was made into a television commercial.)

It is tempting to write off any commercialized effort of a cultural anthem as a rotten bastardization of an authentic creation. Then again, for better or worse or worser still, commercials do nothing if not expose people to their product/message/medium. Maybe it’s good that homage was paid to Gil Scott-Heron, introducing his music to a new generation.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t.

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Consumerism

striking out sports sexism

As the weather heats up, the NCAA gets ready for next week’s Softball World Series, and the baseball season starts to hit its stride, I’m thinking of a TV commercial that regularly got air time throughout New England last summer, and lamenting the fact that I’ve yet to see such a promising ad so far this year.

A beer-gutted bunch of guys are getting ready for a softball game, when a young woman runs up to the huddle, hoping to join in the competition. “We already have someone who throws like a girl, right Murph?” one of them quips, as the rest join in with laughter at “Murph’s” expense.

And I’m reaching for my remote. To change the channel. To hit the mute button. Waiting for the televised production of that night’s Sox game to return from the all-too-familiar land of sexism in sports programming.

But then the commercial takes an unusual turn. The young woman returns (from the sports gear store, it is a commercial after all), shoves the man off the mound, and proceeds to strike out every one of the poor-swinging men. Turns out, she is Jennie Finch, US Softball Olympian and Gold Medalist. As the commercial ends, one of the men sighs dejectedly, “I wish I could throw like a girl.”

  Continue reading


Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Social Change

meet tom shadyac: mobile-home-living multi-millionaire

Once upon a time, a burgeoning young Hollywood director bought an 8,000 square foot Beverly Hills mansion. Only to immediately realize that he had made a huge mistake.

“There I was, standing in my house that my culture had taught me was the measure of the good life, standing alone in the entrance foyer after the movers had just left, and I was struck with one very clear, very strange feeling: I was no happier.”

Which, not surprisingly, he found quite puzzling.

This director of several successful comedies, including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor, Tom Shadyac went on to buy another mansion (this one at 17,000 square feet), before seriously downsizing, and moving into a mobile home (albeit the nicest mobile home I’ve ever seen).

Shadyac has a new movie out, a documentary called I Am, about his search for a meaningful life. And last month he spoke with Oprah about his journey navigating our consumer culture. (Click on link below.)

“It’s a conversation I know you all are having,” suggested Oprah. “Has the world gone mad? … It’s like we’re in this envious race to get more and more and more and are still feeling emptier and lonelier and more disconnected.”  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, American Dream, Lifestyle Economics

quote of the intermittent time period V

From Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:

“The history of all rebellious cultural and political movements is the history of the unavoidable contradiction of staking out new ground within and through the landscape of the past. But today this laying of claims may be harder than ever. No longer is there a staid bourgeoisie to confront with avant-garde art or a square America to shock with countercultural values; instead there is a sophisticated marketing machine which gobbles up anything novel and recreates it as product for a niche market … The underground is discovered and cannibalized almost before it exists.” – Stephen Duncombe

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Lifestyle Economics

chevron ads should get real: i agree

Annoying advertisements. They’re always popping up when you least want them to.

I picked up the new April issue of The Atlantic yesterday, all excited to read about the “Secret Fears of the Rich” (more on this later, no doubt), “… And the Upstarts Revitalizing American Journalism,” and “The Great Mom vs. Mom Parenting Debate.” Yet, en route to the Table of Contents, my sensibilities were affronted by one of those confoundingly aggravating Chevron ads, this one reading: “Oil companies should support the communities they’re a part of. We agree.”

Ugh. So much for a peaceful reading experience.

Chevron, with its history of multiple human rights violations, is attempting to rebrand itself as the nice, caring big oil company (not like those folks at BP, right?), who “agree” that “Oil companies should put their profits to good use,” and “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy,” and my personal favorite, “Oil companies need to get real,” which would be funny if it weren’t so sickening.

But of course, the last thing an ad from an big oil company would be is real. “We’re gonna make pretending to care, the new caring,” spoof the folks over at Funny or Die, in their “Anatomy of a Greenwash” video:

  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Advertising, Fair Taxation

burton snowboards: for love and money

The end of the ski season. The all-too-quickly approaching MTV-style Spring Break media coverage. The observance of International Women’s Day. Seems an appropriate time to take a look at the porn-inspired “Love” line of Burton snowboards, which will not be produced next season.

The controversial series of men’s snowboards, called Love, which featured eye-catching images of Playboy Playmates, boosted sales for Burton, and ignited a debate about sexism and free speech.

Over the past couple of winters, new lines of Love were created, with each year’s series featuring newly-released (nearly) naked images of women. As coverage of the controversy faded away, the snowboards continued to sell extremely well, and Burton continued to pretend to be oblivious to what all the fuss was about. (Which is extremely doubtful. Jake Burton himself has an economics degree from NYU.)

So, why did they (have to) use pornography to sell snowboards?  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Consumerism

voting and politics and money, oh my! imagining representative democracy by class

Ah, Election Day. Here’s to exercising our right as citizens to vote for politicians to represent our various best interests, all in the hope that the multitude of campaign advertisements and robo calls will finally come to an abrupt and satisfying end. Or so it often seems with our current system of representational democracy.

Who is best represented in our democracy? And what if we were represented differently? Say, instead of voting as an individual person of a town, county or state, what if our elected officials represented us on the basis of our class? Just such a question was posed by Annie Lowrey in her Washington Post article “What if Senators Represented People by Income or Race, Not by State?”

“Imagine a chamber in which senators were elected by different income brackets,” challenges Lowrey, “with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent and so on.”

Okay, let’s do it. (Wait! “It was my understanding that there would be no math.”) Here’s the representational breakdown of the income groups (number of senators doesn’t add up to 100) she came up with, using data from the Census Bureau:  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Advertising, Class, Economic Justice

sue vs. shue vs. skeptical tv viewers everywhere

Another episode of Glee, and another slew of commercials/PSAs that fool me into paying attention, only to realize the crew is just acting out a(nother) piece for something called The Member’s Project, which apparently, is bankrolled by American Express. The commercial urges us to go online and take a quiz to see if we are a (Mr.) Shue (ie an idealistic do-gooder) or a Sue (Sylvester) (ie a heartless wretch).

Not quite sure if I’m annoyed or intrigued, and immediately skeptical of any big-brand company (especially one in the credit/banking industry) urging others to “do good,” I check out this Member’s Project thing. And in the process I rediscover the Patagonia/Members Project add (featuring company founder Yvon Chouinard) which aired last spring during the Oscars, and caught my attention for similar skeptical vs. hopeful reactions to its viewing.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Advertising, Consumerism, Philanthropy, Social Change

bp image ads come at taxpayer expense

It’s been nearly a week since the disappointing culmination of the NBA Finals, and, as the dream of a Celtics 18th championship recedes from consciousness, I can finally begin to reflect on the spectator experience of watching this year’s series finale. And surprisingly, what stands out most prominently is the multitude of times BP ran a commercial attempting to convince everyone that they are taking responsibility for the socio-ecological-economic travesty in the Gulf.

As I’ve noted before, the fact that big businesses can write off their immense advertising budgets, while at the same time unfairly influencing our cultural dialogue, seems truly unjust, especially in this time of needed revenue and “corporate personhood.” But this recent BP persuasion campaign is an extra-uncalled-for slap in the face.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Accountable Wealth, Advertising, Economic Justice, Fair Taxation