Going Global: Levi’s, “Circles” (2017)

Map hands

We had a page for “Going Comprehensive” and one for “Going for America,” but not yet one for “Going Global.” Here’s a good new entry:

Particularly beautiful, I think, is the early going, the slow hopeful entrances of those who want to dance – icons for all of us who want to enjoy a community bigger than the guaranteed one we grew up in.

Thanks to Katy Simpson Smith for this one!

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Pickups on Mars: Ford, “This is the Ford F-150” (2012)

mars

Surprised by the high prices of pickup trucks, my dad reminisced the other day that a pickup used to be the simplest and cheapest vehicle you could buy. I think I remember how this was still true in the 1960s. I remember also the popularity of Nissan and Toyota’s “light trucks” in the 1970s.

Where are those simple pickups now? Well, single-cab pickups still exist. I saw one in the Wal-Mart parking lot, a white Ford Ranger that looked pretty new. If you can get one without power steering and air conditioning and a sound system, though, that I don’t know.

The normative pickup now is a comparatively huge, powerful, multifunctional beast that makes me think of an interplanetary exploration rig, heavily armed with nature-taming tools and ingeniously furnished with all possible comforts of home.

Are we already living on Mars? Is that why we seal ourselves up in these heavy rolling work-and-sleep stations? Is it Mars, not Earth, that we see in the background in ads like these?


“This is the future!” they tell us. Good deal! We don’t need a rocket ship to get to a dead planet good only for mining!

Here’s another one with that telltale bleak look:

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Going Comprehensive: MCI, “This Is Now” (1996) and Apple, “Bulbs” (2016)

At any given time there may or may not be a current TV ad that dares to comprehend the whole American or even human experience in 60 seconds. It’s obvious when the attempt is being made because of the extraordinary richness of references.  Lately it’s Apple, in the “Bulbs” ad for the new MacBook Pro.

Any of these ads deserves book-length treatment to come to terms with what they include (and don’t), how they portray it, and how they make it work.

Let’s start with “This Is Now – This Is How” from that golden mid-90’s period when MCI (an upstart AT&T challenger – where are they now?)  made its strong bid to take over the national imaginary. A calm, slightly presumptuous voice – not quite a wise guy – tells us:

This isn’t about why your business has to communicate better or why the time is ripe to put all the new technology to work. We’re past that stage.

MCI 1996

Notice the charming moment at 0:12 where an unbusinesslike and utterly artificial image of a heavy tomato enthroned in dark soil illustrates the notion of a ripe time. It’s a signal that these people will throw in anything to tease and delight the mind receiving their message. If you’re in the mood (and the rest of the ad will strongly encourage this mood), you can take it as a signal that everything really is relevant to everything else, and in a budding healthy way.

This is about putting laptops on desks, and pagers in pockets. It’s about email and the Internet. It’s about a person who puts it all together, and a company that can give you the hardware and software you need.

The extraordinary editing pace — aggressively fast at times, aggressively irregular altogether — begins to make an impression greater than any single shot. It spurts and glides. Even as it smartly alternates realities with metaphors conceptually, it alternates horizontal and vertical motions visually. You feel that all possibilities are being explored. Strangely, the intensity of all of this happening so fast in such a brief time makes you feel that the exploration is thorough and rigorous. The apparent inclusiveness boxes you in. MCI wants you to sync up with its operational Present, its own regime of what is Actually Happening, and in the creative ferment of the ad’s montage it can further this program even with zany tokens of un-Present things (starting at 0:29): a David Lynchian robin, a Flash Gordon calamity,[1] a self-rocking rocking chair.

This isn’t about blue sky, or sci-fi, or bye-the-bye. This is about now, and about how.

The ad doesn’t try to cover everything you do; it covers the various ways in which you relate to your world — fantasy, hope, and memory as well as realistic perception.

Twenty years later, the MCI ad has become a technological nostalgia piece for its content (pagers and pay phones!). But in its strategy and style it exudes a classic confidence in Going Comprehensive.

Here’s another great one with a stunningly radical and therefore universal social message, “There Are Only Minds”:

MCI 1997

Now consider Apple’s “Bulbs,” a quick yet picturesque tour of modern technological advance culminating in the new MacBook Pro. The montage is not a brain spasm of things coming together like we experience in the MCI ads; it’s more about forward motion and delineating segments of history. What is the ultimate message, or impression? I would say: In general, we’re blowing the place up. In particular, buy the new MacBook Pro today so you can blow it up tomorrow.

 

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[1]  I have no idea if this is a real Flash Gordon clip as opposed to a simulation, but I looked up the space ships to make sure it was Flash Gordon and not Buck Rogers.

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Going for America: Coke, “America the Beautiful” (2014) and Chevrolet, “The Heartbeat of America” (1990s)

* SUPER BOWL SPECIAL *

A politically divisive sign of the times, here is Coke’s beautifully multicultural “America the Beautiful” ad shown during Super Bowl 2014:

We’re told that the languages used are English, Spanish, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres Pueblo, and Arabic (although you may not be able to hear all of these in any one version).

The most beautiful quality of the montage is that it doesn’t seem like a pageant of types.[1] It tosses in identity markers but captures a sense of pervasive normality in what people like to do or in how they address us. It lets the individual subjects breathe in their various ways without having to be emblematic. I particularly like the guy at 0:33. You instantly feel that he comes from some kind of background, and you may be able to guess which, but that question also feels very secondary; primarily he looks like an interesting fellow citizen.

As a thesis on American culture, I’m taking the ad to be on the Melting Pot rather than Salad Bowl side.

In 1991, Coke projected America this way [!]:

And compare Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” campaign. These Chevy ads are the strongest examples of a visual style that was popular in the 90’s, with lots of extreme telephoto shots making people and cars look billboard-monumental. Back then I thought it was corny, but now it looks magnificent.

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[1] Except: we start with the excessively typical American cowboy. What’s the force of that? Is the cowboy sharing his purple mountains and fruited plains with others? Or are we on a journey outward from the cowboy cliché into contemporary reality?

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The Metaphor Twist: SunAmerica (1995)

Watch what they do with the sand metaphor. At first, the sand makes a poor foundation, a bad retirement plan; but at the end they turn it into the hourglass sand of time that falls out from under all of us, no matter what we do.

Therefore:

Hurry and get set up with SunAmerica?

Or:

Screw it, what difference does it make?

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Arrived: Lincoln Continental (2016)

welcome

What is it to arrive?

Arrival is a tremendous possibility, wondering who might arrive. In 2016 we were reminded of what alien contact might mean by the movie Arrival. (And what about the Messiah or the Messenger or the Awake One?)

There is also the other sense of it, looking in the mirror: have I arrived? Has everything come to me that facilitates and felicitates me? Do I even dare to think about what my own arrival would consist of?

The film actor Matthew McConaughey, suitable icon of personal success, has been exploring his own arrival for the last couple of years in Lincoln Continentals. Not only in the car: there’s a very nice room, very nice clothes and cuff links, on one occasion an ecstatic backward fall into a swimming pool at night.

I think the pool plunge is a clue that you can’t be in your normal environment or remain your normal self when you’ve arrived. There has to be a transfiguration. (Unfortunately, disgraceful behavior often ensues.)

The ad for the 2017 Continental shows McConaughey in several possibly heavenly transfigurations.

He splits between one self in the front seat and one self in the back (the self that’s impressed and the self that’s impressive). He has a shimmering nimbus around his head silhouette. He seems to be off the surface of the earth and into the clouds, at the border between earth’s atmosphere and space.

Compare this 1995 Saab “Find Your Own Road” ad, using animation (unusual in a car ad, but what did Saab have to lose?) to move you to that place where your worries are over:

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Rhythm Meanings: Beats by Dr. Dre, “Be Heard” (2016) and Nike, “Instant Karma” (1992)

I present two brilliantly edited ads:

Beats by Dr. Dre “Be heard”

As the brand demands, the editing is heavily on the beat. Everyone is pounding their chests in time and the cuts are almost always on the measures of the song. With a boost from a roaring crowd, the intensity ramps up tightly in sync with “Seven Nation Army.” My favorite moments are the spinning-and-landing bike at 0:42, right at the turnaround of the first loud measure incorporating Jack White’s searing lead guitar, and a rhyming follow-up at 0:45 with Simone Biles spinning high in the air on White’s triplet.

The meaning: like White sings at the start, “I’m gonna fight ’em off,” that is, live my own life fiercely inside my headphones.

Compare David Fincher’s 1992 “Instant Karma” Nike ad, which also exploits a rock song but uses slow motion, abstract symbols, and more oblique editing and gets a kind of push-pull going between different senses of time and exertion. I think it registers on an entirely different plane, one of detached contemplation, maybe with an affinity to a runner’s high:

The meaning: “We all (variously) shine on” in our global playground.

1992.  2016. Contemplate these moments.

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