What The Era of Woke Adverts Say About Us | Nathan Wilson


We live in an era of lacklustre meaning, not just in our politics but also our day to day lives. This is best symbolised in the media world that we live in. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrases “global village” and “the medium is the message”. I often keep going back to these expressions, whenever I happen to come across advertising and their lack of true meaning. For McLuhan, the idea was that communication mediums themselves should be the sole focus of study, not the messages they carry. 

Although not an aesthetics man (even though I had once worked to be a graphic designer in a past life and was an assistant sculptor), something seems to be missing in our overarching body culture regarding beauty and taste. I would argue this is best highlighted (besides our architecture) in advertising and sadly shall return down to that rabbit hole.

Adverts, like art, carry messages (even if that message is meaningless or nihilist), and with the rise of social justice activism, adverts too have suffered. This is something that mirrors onto both advertising and our own culture. 

Our meaningless statements around social issues reflect as much on the individuals and companies that say them a level of true meaningless. Companies like Coca-Cola or Nike are of course not meaningless on a macroeconomic level but the values that embody them remain shells. The advertising for them reflected this trend amongst themselves. The shallowness of advertising symbolises the shallowness of the very companies that aim to speak to us.

Take for example a recent advert from Tommy Hilfiger which can be found here. The opening lines from this advert titled: Moving Forward Together follows: “I want to see a world where all communities work together in unity”. I have to admit the first time I watched such an advert did make me ask one question: “Who doesn’t want to see communities work together?”. Besides those against social cohesion (for which they are few and far between), I do not understand the real need to say such statements. The pointing out the implicit obvious in statements reflects a truly shallow and meaningless statement to have been said. 

I often remember Chris Rock’s stand up piece in ‘Bring the Pain’, in which he jokes about parents using such meaningless slogans: “I take care of my kids… Well you are supposed to you dumb motherfucker!” or more eloquently put by Dr Jordan Peterson: “I am against poverty… oh really?, how many people are for poverty!”

We keep being bombarded by a variety of meaningless slogans and statements spoken by likewise meaningless people. This brings me back to McLuhan and “medium is the message”, I argue should now be inverted. The messages we carry, reflect not just the individual who supports or claims them but rather the body culture at large. For which, they speak into existence and reinforce into the world. Hence, therefore our selective mediums for delivering messages matter and need to derive meaning. 

People can sense when something does not make sense and when something lacks its authenticity. When we watch cheap and corny film’s we know it is cheap and meaningless, this is in contrast to films we speak to entire generations through their topics and themes. Adverts are no different in this regard, in which we have some adverts aiming to present something and speak to something without it being solely meaningless. Take for example this advert found here. This was in response to Gillette’s shoddy attempt at this meaningless social justice adverts. 

In conclusion, we need to strive for true meaning in a world that right now sees shallow empty statements as akin to “making a difference”. We hold the ability to speak, so we might as well say something that truly matters. Messages matter, whether that is in our movies, music or even in our own adverts. If we allow woke meaningless adverts to continue, what will it really say about our society at large?A follow up to this article will revolve around Galula’s ideas of insurgency and political messaging/ campaigning and will be jokingly called “Sunshine, Rainbow, White Pony”. 


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