[7 August 2008]
Anne Elizabeth’s Moore’s Unmarketable takes an anecdotal look at advertising’s tenacious ability to co-opt any position within a consumer society and use it to its own advantage. Movements that begin as explicitly anti-consumerist end up providing tropes and techniques for ads promoting brands. Part of the problem, as Moore points out, is that “marketing has become so diffuse as to be a social activity” and “friends and acquaintances in the struggle to condemn the bad and support the good have simply gone into advertising.” Advertisers, in apparent good faith, deliberately cultivate ties to underground or subversive art movements in order to spread and popularize their aesthetic (while at the same time selling Toyotas or what have you). These movements succumb to the marketer’s blandishments because the alternative is to languish in obscurity or to end up promoting the same consumerist culture anyway, inadvertently through having their artistic methods appropriated by advertisers without their participation. “Adbusting, subvertising, and many other activities employed by culture jammers and copyfighters alike, whether parodic or satiric, fundamentally reproduce and reinforce brands and the aims of branding,” Moore writes. “They not only reassert the icons they half-heartedly attempt to dismantle, they encourage their continued survival…. The impervious logic of branding means criticism is becoming almost impossible to voice or hear.”
The ubiquity of advertising helps establish that appearance of imperviousness. Moore concludes that it has become impossible to express integrity in the public sphere, because the symbols and the means don’t exist. Advertising destroys them in its need to continually reinvent itself to remain relevant, to continue to surprise audiences and reach them: “marketing strategies are constantly evolving in new directions, any directions, all directions. It is a business dependent upon both expansion and innovation to survive.” Moore quotes a marketing group that boasts its ability to achieve “maximum intrusion” by using guerrilla methods once used by underground artists out of necessity (in a desperate attempt to reach an audience) or as an attempt to shock people out of complacency. As a result, any attempts to present ideas to the public all take on commercial overtones. If they are not directly sponsored, their presentation mirrors forms familiar as advertising. Branding leaves no interstitial space in the culture for alternative conceptions of public communication, for non-commercial expressions of social meanings. All such attempts are quickly assimilated to the mode of branding. Habits become lifestyles, which become reified into branded products. We conceive of ourselves as brands, we brand our work, we present ourselves in quasi-logo form on internet social networks, while twittering slogans for ourselves throughout the day. With more and more of our social existence taking place in a fully quantifiable space online, all forms of social recognition are collapsed into the metrics appropriate to monitoring business. This undermines the possibility of integrity, which may perhaps be defined precisely as that which can’t be measured but only practiced.