Friday, November 7, 2014

Just Ad Zombies... (cont'd)

Picking up where we left off, the Sprint Zombie isn't even the most egregious example of an advertisement  that chooses to associate its target audience with what is supposed  to be the zombie Other (as a brief aside, when I assign the human and the zombie the roles of Self and Other, respectively, it is an over-simplification of a binary relationship that is always inherently problematized. The human almost always pushes towards traits identified with the zombie Other, and the zombie's similarities to the human Self are just as frequently highlighted. What is [mostly] consistent, however, is that the audience is situated to associate with the human survivors). For that we'll turn to the New York Lottery. 

First, I want to give credit where credit is due: the zombies are very well done, particularly given the limitations of creating an ad suitable for network television. The commercial begins by making its way through a vacant and desolate city before focusing in on a diverse group of survivors (well at least it got that part right) attempting to make their stand at a woefully unfortified dry cleaner/laundromat. As the zombies finally inevitably force their way through the giant, not at all boarded up or obstructed window, the tv comes to life with a familiar refrain (at least if you've watched television in the state of New York in the last two decades or so): "The New York Mega-Millions Jackpot is Now..." And then a curious thing happens - well, curious to me at least; the zombies completely lose interest in human flesh and begin to shuffle off, suddenly surprisingly spry, in search of more desirable prey. Lotto tickets. Not to be outdone, the humans take off in hot pursuit: "Make way for the living!"

Okay, so on the surface, we have a few fairly obvious messages. First, the lotto is for everyone. Suit or flannel, hockey stick or broom, black or white, man or woman, human or zombie - EVERYONE wants in on that Mega-Millions Jackpot. Beyond that, though, having a ticket is apparently important. Life or death, undying desire type of important. For a commercial, these are exactly the messages you want to send. So far, so good, right? As long as you don't muddle anything up by actually thinking. 

Here are some other messages the commercial sends that don't require much in the way of minute analysis. For one thing, humans are dumb and wildly incompetent - if you "hide" from the zombie apocalypse in a plate glass storefront, with no bars and no boards over the door or window, and attempt to defend yourself with a broom, well, you're a moron and you deserve to get eaten. So we start off by asking us to align ourselves with idiots. Thanks for the vote of confidence, NY Lotto. Once we find out what product is being marketed, however, the mad dash for tickets asks us at least in part to "think" like a zombie. Which is to say, mindless consumers drop everything to buy lottery tickets, we should too. A message reinforced by the fact that the humans use their fortuitous reprieve not to seek real shelter or find actual weapons, but to run with the zombies to find a store that sells Mega-Millions tickets. A tacit admission that your product is aimed at customers who purchase without thinking seems like an odd approach. But, then again, what're the chances that their target demo picked up on the embedded implication? I don't mean to be too hard on the dedicated lotto players out there - I've played before. A dollar and a dream, right?

I worry that I'm being a bit of a spoilsport right now. These commercials are trying to be light and fun and I'm holding them to a standard that they never had any intention of meeting. I blame PBS. I've searched and searched and searched and I can't find it, but they used to have a show that had a panel of guests from different fields that would sit and dissect various popular commercials. I've been watching ads critically long before I had any idea that media literacy even existed (ugggh, I'm a media literacy hipster).
I laughed WAY too hard at this
I've always enjoyed reading between the lines when I watch commercials, good and bad, trying to locate various possible interpretations - whether intended or not - determine who the target demographic is, etc. In many ways, this type of rudimentary (at least early on) analysis laid the foundation for my eventual appreciation of literary criticism. Teasing out multiple meanings, pulling on all the loose threads - it's like a game. But a game that sometimes ruins the fun. 

I wanted to like the Happy Honda zombie. I really did. He just seems so... nice. I want to want what he has. Friends, fun, a catchy theme song, sweet  sweaters, and an urban titanium metallic Civic with voice-activated calling. Undeath doesn't look half bad. In fact, according to the commercial's title, It's Good to Be a Zombie. If what you want more than anything is utter conformity. 

Clearly, a large part of the horror of the zombie is that any sense of Self is subsumed into the horde. There is no individual will or agency. Just mindless conformity through boundless craving. Here, though, there's a bit of an inversion. Instead of humans losing their sense of Self by becoming one of  the multitudinous Other, we see a lone zombie attempting to lose his Self to become, or at least seem to become, more human. When I think about it too much, happy zombie makes me sad. Because he isn't being himself. There's no blood on his lips. No viscera staining his argyle. I guess you could argue that maybe the Happy zombie shouldn't be viewed as trying to fit in with the humans, but as not worrying about not fitting in with the zombie. While slightly more positive, this outlook remains troubling because it still situates individuality within a willingness and ability to fit in. And how do you show that you fit in? Well, you dress a certain way, of course. You listen to a certain type of music (One Week of Danger by The Virgins). And you buy the right shit. Drive a beat ass old Buick like the dude at the stop light and you'll have no friends, no music, no life. Buy a sweet Civic and you get to hit the driving range and then grab some beers with Gary. The world is your zombie oyster.

"To each their own." As long as their own is like everyone else...

Tomorrow, I'll finish up with zombie marketing by looking at  a couple commercials that actually use zombies in interesting and authentic ways (gasp!).

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