advertising seems hard

I was saying something dumb on Twitter and stumbled across an old post about the constricting array of tools available to advertisers as consumers become ever more attuned to manipulation. I’m now less sure that this idea isn’t just a product of my own limited imagination. Still, an observation in its favor:

banana republic instagram ad featuring a puppy from the humane society

This is the first Instagram advertisement I’ve seen that attracted anything less than intense vitriol in its comments (“why the fuck is this in my feed”, etc). And you can see why: it’s barely an advertisement at all. It’s just a photo of an adorable puppy (people like puppies) and an invocation of the idea of saving puppies (people like pretending that media consumption can be a form of altruism).

In one sense: congratulations, Banana Republic #brand managers! You’ve cracked the code. This is going to make for a great SXSW panel.

In another: what’s the point? I won’t pretend this ad hasn’t manipulated me to some degree. I no longer have enough faith in human cognition to muster that level of self-flattering defiance. But even if some part of me now feels better about Banana Republic–if we grant that some hypothetical fMRI study could now show a slightly stronger correlation in metabolic activity between my Sweater Cortex and my Puppy Striatum–how easily can this be converted into cash money? There is, after all, a gulf between getting someone to agree that a thing is nice and getting them to give you money for it. I doubt that Instagram clients are keen to reinvent the nonprofit fundraising industry.

Perhaps this boils down to the same old unanswerable questions about mindshare and brand awareness–ideas that, to an untrained observer such as myself, sure sound like the kind of bullshit you invent when you can’t show your boss any concrete results.

And yet every year the same Coca-Cola ads featuring Santa and, more recently (and pan-religio/culturally) polar bears–issued, presumably, from the vast bunker beneath the Masonic Temple in Alexandria. They must think they know something we don’t about making us know things we don’t think we know. Right?