[16 October 2009]
PopMatters General Features Editor
Metafilter linked to this interview with Andrea Natella, director of Guerrigliamarketing.it, which (I think) pursues culture jamming under the auspices of being an advertising agency. The translation isn’t great, but as far as I can tell, the idea behind this is either that ads have become their opposite, or that resistance to ads has become a latter-day form of advertising in itself. (I prefer the far more cynical second interpretation.) In Natella’s own words: “Guerrigliamarketing.it was born out of a bet. Is it possible to imagine modalities of radical participation on the universe of brands and at the same time present oneself as an advertising agency? Is it possible for the professionals of communication not to give up their own political ideas in carrying out their job?”
What happens when you make “resistance to marketing” your brand? Is that some sort of parallax approach to advertising? Can you converse in the discourse of brands without tacitly endorsing it? Doing Wacky Package-style art seems to vindicate the power of brands rather than subvert it. I guess I am skeptical of the whole “culture jamming” concept, which seems less like Situationist detournement than borderline-cruel pranksterism (sort of like Improv Everywhere). I know it is supposed to “make us think”, but culture jamming often ends up mocking the consumers it purportedly wants to win over.
It strikes me that a strategy of less clever nuisances might be more effective in slowing the juggernaut of thoughtless consumption. When an effort is made to mitigate the inconvenience that inevitably arises from monkeying with the retail market with what can be taken as hipster humor, it alienates the discomfited even further. That makes the subversion of culture jamming into advertising a weird sort of dialectic that ends up vindicating consumers, if you believe Natella, anyway: “What we try to do is to increase the awareness that true value is produced by the consumers.” This is a familiar theme in cultural studies, that consuming culture is an underappreciated form of production—users innovate new techniques to use things, and produce signs and cultural capital with regard to what cultural goods mean. But that doesn’t mean marketing is ultimately benign; it just suggests that its modality is depressingly easy for laypeople to adopt. The value we produce is often something that marketers most appreciate; it is our doing their job for them. So while Natella touts the more obvious capacity of guerrilla marketing to be confrontational—“We made people think that in order to sell a company [the agency] is ready to do anything, also on the border of illegality. We tried to confuse these borders”—the more radical implication is that we are all being drafted as guerrilla-marketing recruits without especially realizing it. Marketing has so saturated culture —with people adopting the discourse of branding, with online activity being tracked and parsed by companies to serve ads, with people embracing hype as a conversational strategy, and so on—that we produce ads simply by virtue of living our lives.
(Incidentally, do not follow the link to thisman.org. It will haunt your nightmares.)