Walter Benjamin seems to hit the nail on the head when he compares the advert to the detective novel:

Nothing happens here that is not premeditated; nothing corresponds to appearances. Rather, each thing has been prepared for use at the right moment by the omnipotent hero who wields power over it (Arcades Project).

The item advertised seems to solve all your problems; it presents itself as that which will complete you.  The Peugeot 206 will come with a perfect minimalist flat, a sharp suit, a high-paid job in the city and a model girlfriend.  The box of Milk Tray will make you into an attractive sensual woman whose lounge is made entirely of velvet.  And so on.  Like the detective, the product will tie everything together.

And yet, it seems like something has changed since the days in which advertising worked like this.  As this quite brilliant Old Spice advert shows, advertising knows this now; the advert has read Benjamin.  The advert mocks the link between the product and identity; if you don’t attach your identity to boats you will to oysters, shows, beaches or horses.

The temptation here is to say that the advert has a radical potential or something, that it can show us how our desires are structured.  However, isn’t it more that the structure of advertising has changed?   Where before, in the days of Madmen, the advert was supposed to trick the purchaser into believing, now, in the days of this advert, it plays another kind of trick, the trick of making it seem like the advert and the potential customer are on the same side.  The advert is a kind of satire; it states; both me (the advert) and you (the viewer) are capable of standing outside culture and seeing how silly it is, that’s how clever we are, now go and buy me anyway.


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