Random: Thinking Outside the (Flame) Box and Negentropy

I know a lot of you peeps, unlike me, work in advertising post-production, and know the world and the larger pipeline or interconnected ecology of “advertising” both inside and out, and thus know where it comes from, and knows where it’s going to and what its directive is. Maybe, however, there are some nodes and some layers that would be fun to jazz around with? Thinking outside the box might provide some fun tricks to play with and to defamaliarise (a fave word of mine)?

So, I’ve read around and travelled around quite a lot of the “theory” of advertising and, as typical dispositions, there are the cool-headed analytical and then there are the hot-headed moral tellings off that see the ad as evil iron curtains closing us off from azure heavenly dispositions, where we could be ad-free.

So, the terminus of the journey is either to “truth” or to “hell”, and there’s thus never no heaven to be had within these distractions from good healthy action where, again, we can be “ad free.” An example or exemplar of the “truth-analysis-values” would be Judith Williamson’s monumental Decoding Advertisements based around mostly 70s print advertisements but is a super-great model of analysis that can still be applied; and then in terms of advertising hell there’s the pathetic Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders and The Waste Makers. I read these last two texts, back in the day, before I grew a brain, but I do have a strong ironic soft-spot for their diatribing preachiness and, as a clear example of how Packard haunts the scene, you can very easily see that Mad Men a few years ago really used these within its research cycle (eg Don Draper and the waste basket speech to Lane Pryce) on 50s world pictures of advertisements diverting one from big picture issues (watch North By Northwest again and look at how Roger Thornhill’s brain is being retargeted* to patriotism and paternal meaning and that literal cliffhanger and that almost literal train in the tunnel!). Love the 50s mythology of the true birth of the consumer.

Getting practical: Anyhows, I’m not asking anyone to have a slash or have a pee where they live and work (like the first episode of Succession) but on my YouTube wanderings today I found myself being chased around by an advertisement that made me quite quite angry, but also turned me onto a level of thinking, within my anger, at not being able to get away from it, but to peel back the layers of this message that I found myself resisting. Let’s talk car insurance and getting comfortable with new ways of living in my vehicle and of those around it, such as those oncoming trucks and bikes.

Yeah, I’ve known for quite some considerable time that the job or the prime directive of “the advertisement” is to take something that you are uncomfortable and uneasy with and very nervous about (the new or rethought or retargeted product) and to ease or transition it in by partnering it up with signifiers (sounds, images) and signifieds (meanings) that you are totes at one with and have become second or first nature to you. Now, I’ve known this tactical way or this modus operandi of “the advertisement,” this being-in-the-world, for what seems like an age, and yet today, this very particular anger-inducing advertisement that was offering or hailing me a change, within what it assumed was my thinking or framing of what “car insurance” “is” then gave me suddenly quite a different prime macro lens on that and peeled another layer or perspective back. I saw something a little more from what I’d taken for granted, even as I thought that I’d was above-the-ad and had it measured. What excited me in exiting the message of the advert was not so much the “ad” itself, but something about the way the ad is tending to work, at the moment (“dialogical” is about assuming an audience instead of “science” that is “monological” and sees the mere truth like some space telescope that doesn’t need to convince you).

So this very partcular advertisement for this car insurance was anchored and tried to write itself into my heart through the use of a down-to-earth voice that was telling me that being watched by everyone (ie the algorithm that will help reduce my premiums) was really quite a lot like having my mum make sure that I ok by watching (out for) me. How lovely! Mums love us.

I don’t know if this is a big deal, but there’s been a tendency in the pUKe, for a few years now, to have non-standard English voices (Wales, Newcastle, Liverpool but hardly ever Birmingham there’s only Lenny Henry and nobody else) waxing lyrical about it like the most common-sense inarguable adviser-friend. Yeah, by being the adviser-friend, they can’t be accused of punching down on me, but behind that sock-puppet telling me my that mum has my very best interests at heart, and who really loves me more than as a mere biological relation but who really cares for the inner me much more than anything involed with passing the DNA along, there is a, what Williamson called a “referent system” that is using or comporting itself through that image as a vehicle, as 30 second something to pretend to be a “first” but to be a “second” and to transport the evil passenger or demon of images (here we fall back to Packard by-way-of Descartes) to transport or to hail me to “permission” to have my car upload every detail to the algorithmic cloud. Althusser called this “hailing” or “interpellation” to give the sense that it was really “me” being called and that I should answer and feel that I can really gain from the argument. So, with this car insurance public service message, “Mother knows best” (MomCorp, for those Futurama fans), and the love-for-really-me, turns or converts into something just a little more worrying: So, you get the “latent content” (the meaning of the advert or the dream and thus “dreamvert”) taking place behind the “front” or the manifest content. The Romans called this the “Frons Scenae” where you do all the background changeovers to present a miracle at front-of-stage. I hate the term “suspend disbelief” but it will do. Anyhows….

…The challenge I would thus set in this thread, and which could either be an cool rethought or retargeted image or a sequence, would be to reverse that process and to thus be the Wizard of Oz’s Toto-dog that pulls back the curtain to reveal the thinking and putting into action:

How could you rearrange your comp or timeline, without naming names, to send out a reverse message or massage? What could you do to hack your own message to do something strangely different, in terms of ReallyNice&GoodCorp? If Advertisements are “waste making” as Packard argued, then how could one reverse the message/massage and reverse entropy?

Again, I grew a brain and do not believe in the simplicity of Vance Packard but I kind of like the “thought experiment” of having thought-provoking or provocative “anti-advertisements” that instead of doing all that stuff described above, take the new thing that’s being introduced and tell the viewer/reader to throw it away and stick with the old or to reveal something strange taking place.


*There’s this crappy paperthin theory about equilibrium-disequilibrium-equilibrium where everything is fine in the beginning of a story, then something disrupts that heaven and then there’s the long journey back to heaven, which is the end and the perpetual peace that follows. Roger Thornhill is not in heaven and equilibrium at the opening of NBNW, as he is twice divorced and is not a patriot. The film, NBNW throws Roger so thoroughly into danger so that he will eventually find his perpetual peace under the flag of the USoA and with the ring on his finger, instead of being on the phone to his mum all the time like the kid that he still is. So, the opening is not a “equilibrium” but instead a “faux-equilibrium” or a “false start” and, again, many ads give you the impression that you might think that you are happy, but just take a look at this. Take that!, and you’ll never want again…


Could you expound on this a bit?


Isn’t that the same 8 stage story structure at the foot of feature film/drama edits?

1: Character is in comfort
2: But they want something
3: They enter an unfamiliar situation
4: They adapt to it
5: Get what they wanted
6: But pay a heavy price
7: They return to their familiar situation
8: Having changed

So you just need the 30s time compressed version of it. Maybe that leads to some comparisons?


Isn’t this what Banksy is up to?

Ah. That explains why I’m having a difficult time following. I tried to grow a brain but I think I overwatered it and got root rot.

1 Like

This would be Joseph Campbel’s, Hero’s Journey. Star Wars, definitely was written with this in mind, but a lot of stories more or less follow this formula, even if not concsiously.

1 Like

We have so many models and abstractions of how and why advertising works, but ultimately the entire industry was founded on Freud’s sublimation process…as is the entire modern capitalist era.

The truth is that we do not need much at all to survive, nor even to thrive, in a power equilibrium. So everything becomes about transacting power from and to in order to force a non equilibrium…because we are still trying to dominate our environment from autonomic survival functions (reptile brain…aka narcissism), even if we no longer really need them to survive.

To do this, advertising convinces us to want these things we don’t truly need. So how does this work…it actually goes back to social conditioning of values, which creates a gap in the psyche that we call “shame”.
This builds a barrier between conscious mind and subconscious mind called the unconscious mind (think of it as your deeply repressed self), and the barrier is called the liminal barrier.
The way this all works is that the value conditioning means we pre judge our primal instincts prior to them appearing into our awareness, which then charges them up in the deeper recesses…
once an instinct has been provoked it must be either consciously discharged or it must be executed through the neural pathways available to it. It always looks for the path of least resistance. If we experience such powerful level of fear of not conforming to values that we have emotional shame, we can never consciously discharge it, and it will never enter our awareness.
So now this charge will seek to find an execution pathway we will permit…and thus transform itself into another action…this then becomes the compulsion that arises to our awareness, and then tend to act on its execution.

That whole process is the sublimation of that initial primal energy into something “permissible”.

A classic example is Lust! It’s why “sex sells”. If you experience powerful primal lust, but do not permit it into your awareness due to “morality” and “offence” (shame), then it will need to find a sublimated action to discharge it…usually, the product being show when the lust is provoked will be the nearest and most efficient pathway for it. Boom…you now have a neural association programmed in.

So next time you go buy that unnecessary and unhealthy thing you think you really must have…consider it is very likely provoked by an encounter with a part of yourself that you condemn and judge and usher away into your own shadow self, before you can even realised it.

Do explore Edward Bernays, Freud’s Nephew, who was seminal in bringing these kind of understandings to advertising…”The Engineering of Consent” being one of his works…should tell you all you need to know!

Until we each work very hard to release all these suppressions, much of our thinking, choices and actions is driven by sumblimation motivation! Free Will is not an easy thing to get to…but many people will fight tooth and nail to say they are in total command of all their actions and choices…and that is the very trap right there!

Jung, Freud’s one time protege set about trying to transform all this, and to drain the swamp of the unconscious by peering into it, through the liminal barrier…hence all his work with dreams and art as a channel to express the shadow self (repressed you)…Highly recommend anyone who wishes to attain some semblance of free will, to explore his work!

Btw…meditation…real meditation…forces a softening of the liminal barrier which brings forth much of the hidden darkness…this is actually an opportunity to consciously release it and discharge it. Some call it Shadow Work, it doesn’t really matter… but fMri studies have proven that the Corpus Collosum (the hemisphere barrier in the brain) thickens in meditation and thus permits long wave neural communication, which allows the previously separated brain regions to start to integrate. This is neuroscience, and it works!


I’ve worked in advertising for over 40 years. I really try not to think about it too hard.


Personally I think there may be a bit of serious overthinking here. We make product that sells other products. Which is what now drives the economy and affords our Bentleys. You can go deep into a philosophical wormhole dissecting it, but it is very basic stuff.

beavis and butthead GIF


Says the guy who said… :slight_smile:

Scared Meet The Browns GIF by TV One


Haha, very true. But that was about basic work ethic, not deep philosophizing about advertising, which is an errand without much purpose.

1 Like

Your basic instinct is most probably correct


Yeah, I have a soft spot for Freud (a side of Freud) but a softer spot for Heidegger, so I found me someone called Ludwig Binswanger who combines both: existential psychoanalysis. Freud without the unconscious. Uncanny. He didn’t need deeper recesses or building a freedom from them, but a deep-seated being-in-the-world and many layers of comportment that you cannot just peel back and climb out of. A film will be made one day about a patient of his (The Case of Lola Voss). I read the case study and it blew my mind but also read like a sad and quirky screenplay.


1 Like

Wait, we’re still talking about dumb ads, right


1 Like

This is a interesting and relevant perspective from someone that has dedicated the last 25 years of their lives to teaching media and entertainment students. It’s literally his job to think about this and our community is stronger with him here.

Please support the people that support future artists. Thanks.


This is orthogonal to your actual question, but I’m really interested in how our audiences are changing: specifically, how people are becoming more media savvy, more aware of when they’re being marketed to, and more suspicious of traditional marketing techniques.

We’ve been using aspiration in marketing, like, forever. “Buy our products, and we’ll help you become the person you want to be.” But now there are some audiences where this technique just plain doesn’t work. They recoil at overt artifice — but not at marketing in general. They’re open to a more authentic approach. (Or at least a more authentic-seeming one…)

Adweek published an article a few months back about the emergence of “Affirmational Marketing,” with messaging that says, “You’re ok just the way you are. Buy our products because we fit you.”

It’s a short piece, but it touches on a lot of interesting ideas: generational changes in attitudes, broadening cultures, inclusivity, and global thinking.

Is that “anti-advertisement?” Maybe not. Affirmational marketing is still 100% consistent with your “prime directive” of advertising (use something familiar to move the audience to something unfamiliar). But selling something closer to reality instead of obvious fantasy strikes me an important twist on traditional advertising creative.


It’s very interesting to me! I’ve spoken to Ad consultants who’s whole job is to go in this deep…

As Flame artists, we might not be aware that there are processes like this informing the industry. And some of us may find that interesting, others not, and it’s also totally possible to see the complexity and the simplicity of these things both at once…

No need for gatekeeping!

1 Like

That’s very kind Paul, and much appreciated. I have become a little quieter of late, and have certainly dialled back on, what might be seen as, flights of fancy or as diversions from the central or manifest focus of the Flame channel. Nice one!