Yesterday I took my grandson to see the Lego Batman Movie at a cinema complex in town. It was great fun, even if much of the film was a little over the head of the 7 year old boy.
Such cinema complexes aren’t my usual choice of venue for movie going. Several people had warned me about the price of popcorn prior to the visit, and I expected to be marketed at from all angles, so I didn’t think I was going with any illusions. But as much as I enjoyed the film, the experience was sullied by coming away feeling that the boy and I had just been fodder for a slick and well organised advertising industry.
It is an impressive feat for an item of graphic design to stop you in your tracks. This week, while flicking through The Guardian in my lunch break, a full-page advert for Hull, UK City of Culture 2017, did just that.
There is more than a little New Rave and London 2012 Olympics about it. And the bold typography and clashing colours couldn’t fail to catch my attention, which is its point. For a city like Hull that is often described as being (insert own choice of ‘deprived’ adjective here) to be awarded City of Culture, there must be something going on there that many people south of the Humber Bridge have over-looked. It is out to grab attention, and nestled in amongst the column inches, and adverts for furniture and cars, there is little else to compete with it.
The copy gives voice to an entire city as being warm, welcoming and intelligently witty, but without over playing its hand or coming across as false. For the inquisitive it could be enough to make them search out what is being planned for Hull 2017, it did me. There is a bravery and freshness to this approach that many other towns and cities would avoid, being too wrapped up in their own heritage and thinking culture equals ‘serious’ or ‘highbrow’. It is a shame that the agency that produced the branding, Jaywing, aren’t based in Hull—but then maybe it takes someone with an outsider’s view to take such a radical approach.
I’ve never been to Hull and this makes me want to go.
Image source: Design Week
It is not too bold a statement to claim that advertising is designed to interrupt our vision and assert itself into our conscious and subconscious minds. If it didn’t, corporations would not devote huge budgets to it. But recently I have observed a growth online of adverts that actually disrupt host content, in what can only be described as visual bullying. This is no more obvious than on newspaper websites that remain free from subscription.
Above the mast—a narrow advert banner
Looking at the instances of this dominating behaviour there is a clear hierarchy of worst offenders, with banner adverts being the most benign but none-the-less annoying for the reader. Many people will be familiar with websites jumping up and down while a browser decides what advert is going to be placed in the header. This appears worse on tablets as responsive websites rearrange themselves to suit a specific device. Add to this a slow internet connection, and such visual gymnastics can make a reader abandon before everything has settled down.
The UK’s gutters and hedgerows will soon see new graphics on McJunk strewn there. Below is a link to an article I wrote for Eye magazine blog about an uncritical design press showcasing the new designs, asking whether well respected blogs are just becoming advertising hoardings for big brands trying to ingratiate themselves with those working in the creative industries.
Gutter press on Eye blog
Every year there must be hundreds of dissertations being written by undergraduate design students about the portrayal of women in advertising, all referencing the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Adbusters along the way. And you could spend a long time trawling the Internet for articles about sex being used to sell commercial products. I’ve become a little used to such arguments. However, I never expected to see sex being used to sell integrated office systems. That is, until I turned a corner in Norwich the other day to be confronted by this image on the back of a van:
I was dumbfounded and genuinely taken aback for a few seconds. I could start a basic National Diploma level Media Studies deconstruction at this point, mentioning the see-through blouse and the provocative pointing of the metaphor, sorry, I mean pen. I haven’t worked in many offices over the years, but I suspect this attire would receive raised eyebrows in the average insurance office. It certainly would in the Art and Design department staff-room I frequent in my day job.