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Controversial Advertising Essay

3044 words - 12 pages


Advertising texts and images seem to be the most visible and ubiquitous icons of consumer society. The Advertising industry indeed has simultaneously become one of the most powerful and apparently most uncritical institutions of today as well as this, people seemingly have accepted billboard advertising as an usual part of their environment. Nevertheless there sometimes develop certain advertising campaigns undergoing general ideas about what ads are supposed to show and they hence provoke controversial public debates. So called controversial advertising has often been claimed to somehow subvert conventional advertising’s practice by the audiences, justice, advertisers, companies, advertising industry’s self regulating institutions and so forth. This now rises the question how far industrial advertising as an institution that has to promote consuming goods, can be subversive.

This essay will work out, that advertising hardly can be subversive, because it is to much characterised by its function. It nevertheless firstly is necessary to formulate a working-definition of subversion, a notion that has been used in very different senses, before two example-cases of controversial advertising can be investigated. The integration of ad-alien contents within the Benetton-campaign then will be analysed as a form of aesthetic subversion to subsequently question exactly the image’s ad-alien and supposed subversive form and content. Thus, it will be shown that Benetton’s subversive potentials are overshadowed by their functions as advertisements.

This works second part will look at two campaigns developed for French Connection. By investigating two campaigns it will be shown that the only form of subversion that might be claimed for advertising could possibly be described as a temporary phenomenon of charming subversion.

Controversial advertising : subversive avant-garde or variations of conformity?

The notion „subversive“ has been associated with political issues and revolutionary activities intending to change the entire political, economic and hence societal order by slowly destroying the present system from its core. Simultaneously the notion has been used in a less ubiquitous sense, that might be more appropriate for this work’s purpose. Vogel for example in Film as a Subversive Art established the notions of Subversion of Form and Subversion of Content and means that there had been particular films, that managed to challenge the entire film-making-philosophy by deliberately breaking the system’s conventions. (Compare Vogel 1997) Subversion in that case characterises an aesthetic act of infiltration, that indeed redefines certain subsystem-conventions, but that nor threatens the subsystem’s existence neither really concerns the entire order of society.

In order to answer the question, how far advertising can be subversive, I therefore suggest to differentiate two notions of subversion. Referring to Vogel, I assume...

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