Monday, October 7, 2013

Another image: What are they selling

I've been following a series of ads that a local shopping centre has been using to build interest during a facelift. The Rideau Centre has dumped stodgy old Sears and Fairweather and is bringing in exciting Nordstrom's and Simons.

They have had an interesting series of ads to go with it

First there was the woman cheating right under the nose her pathetically adoring boyfriend:

Then we had the woman in the midst of an angry fight with her ineffectual boyfriend:

Then we had the woman holding hands with her narcissistic boyfriend but clearly looking elsewhere:

And now we have a woman cruising for, and getting, attention from a slightly creepy looking guy:

That's the same two models used throughout and, I have to admit, that's rather brilliant. If you've been playing close attention, the way they make them look like different people each time is bound to impress. I also have to admit that the first ad works better in the larger context than I thought when I analyzed it in isolation.

I'm also thinking that the stores who were suddenly told a year ago now that their leases were not being renewed can identify with the men in those shots. The men are all powerless and the women are all powerful. In the first three shots the woman has freedom and independence that the man does not. The message is not that she will leave these men but that she could because (shot one) she has more sexual power than he does, (shot two) he is sniveling little moral weakling, and (shot three) he is so self-involved that he is oblivious to her wandering gaze.

In shot four, our heroine is out alone and seeking (successfully) the gaze of a man. She may or may not be single but that clearly isn't meant to be her regular partner. It also has to be significant that this shot is clearly meant to be inside the mall. Shopping is an erotic activity. The construction is coming to an end and, if you are looking for a little fun, then ... . If you are a female customer that is. These ads are not aimed at men. (Not intentionally, anyway.)

I don't think the intention was to blow up second-wave feminist theory but it tends to do that too. The notion that the woman is necessarily captured or loses her freedom by being subject to the male gaze just isn't plausible given these images.

A little less comforting for women is the way the ads present shopping as a kind of erotic distraction. The women aren't actually going to leave their guys. They fantasize about independence but what they do is go shopping.

And is anybody willing to bet good money on the proposition that this sort of approach doesn't work? (The question is rhetorical, this sort of ad works just as effectively on women as ads that associate certain products with erotic success do on men.)

A final note: I did argue when analyzing the first image, that one (unintended) audience for these images (especially the first and fourth) would be guys who have cuckold fantasies. That is a subject that might be interesting to explore in its own right some day but I don't think men with cuckold fantasies look at these ads and thing, "I want to go shopping." Perhaps if I do a post called, "What are they selling without realizing it."

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