On Absolut Vodka's Greyhounds, YouTube, and Advertising
I'm like a lot of folks these days, spending way too much time on YouTube watching goofy videos, listening to music, and being generally unproductive. But when it’s time to get something done, YouTube can be a valuable ally. I fire up my “Work Music” playlist, slap on the old headphones, and get to it, using the tunes to screen out distractions.
A YouTube playlist has advantages. It’s free; it has only the music that I add; I can be as eclectic as I want with the music selection; and while there are ads, they tend to be pretty infrequent. And did I mention it’s free?
So, what in the world does YouTube have to do with Greyhounds? A few months ago a liquor company featured a high-tech Greyhound race in an ad campaign called Absolut Greyhound. Several versions of the ad ran on YouTube, along with a full video featuring the music of Swedish House Mafia.
First, the ad targeting was a total failure in my case, because I don’t drink, and if the company thought I would be enamored of the high-tech Greyhound race, it really missed. Watching a lot of dog and cat videos is a pretty good indicator that you love pets, but it does not equate to “You’ll love this ad featuring a high-tech Greyhound race.”
I won't link to the ad, because I feel it exploits Greyhounds. I won't give the company another view here. Instead, I’ll show you these Greyhounds from Golden State Greyhound Adoption, a wonderful organization that finds retired racing Greyhounds loving forever homes.
What’s not to love? I’ll give these two (three counting Lori) face time in my column anytime. Just looking at the beautiful faces of Champ and Isis makes me even madder about our topic this week.
I originally aimed to critique the ad much as I would do for one of my media classes. I intended to wow you with my understanding of shot composition and editing theory, then argue the ad was a reprehensible exploitation of Greyhounds. The problem with that approach? You would need to see the ad to verify the validity of my critique, and I would need to describe key elements so that you'd be exposed to the ad’s content regardless of whether you saw it.
But I will say this: The ad is absolutely demeaning to Greyhounds. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But the company making the product, and the production team that made the video, are not at fault. We are.
Let that sink in. We are. You. Me. The folks next door. We’ve allowed our culture to slide to the point where marketing people make decisions for crass advertising strategies and (deep sigh) those crass strategies work.
Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction argues when authors creates, they do not write to a void. The author has a “created audience” in mind -– a group of people who would find that particular story or theme attractive, enjoyable, or in some way acceptable.
Authors create, in short, image of themselves and another image of the reader. Authors make the reader as they make a second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement.
Am I starting to make sense? If no one watches, why show something? If no one will read it, why write? If no one will buy it, why make the product?
There’s a sentiment that popular media -- including advertising -- leads society. Media shows the path to enlightenment by opening doors and breaking down barriers. It’s a fallacy. Media follows society, it does not lead. Media is like a comedian playing to an audience he does not know. The comic starts off the show with material designed to show where the audience’s head is. Are the members into innuendo and nuance, or straightforward in-your-face jokes? Then he ramps the show up or down as needed. In other words, the audience leads.
The part of this that really upsets me is knowing Pogo was right: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." We live in a world where animals are abused every day. Why should we be surprised if a vodka company creates an ad featuring dog racing? Dogs and cats are dropped off at shelters every day because people find the animals inconvenient. I get that there’s a difference between the broken-hearted family forced to give up a pet because they can no longer afford its proper care, and the people who simply abandon a pet because they can’t be bothered. That said, do any of you believe there isn't a market out there of people who think high-tech Greyhound racing is pretty darn cool?
Yeah. Pretty sad.
Advertising measures the pulse of a society. You don’t need to look any farther than your TV set, computer monitor, or the pitches bombarding you in a movie theater before the feature starts. We’re the culture of “me,” and not much else matters other than what we want and when we want it. I’m old enough to know things haven’t always been that way. Somewhere between watching Andy and Opie walk to the fishing hole (R.I.P. Andy Griffith) and the emergence of the Internet, which lets you watch that iconic show pretty much anywhere and anytime you want, society has evolved (or perhaps devolved) into something more complex and less pretty.
But I refuse to leave you without hope. Here’s a commercial, albeit an older one, which uses pets to sell a product (fireplaces) and a theme (gentleness) in a style and manner I am happy to share.
Now that’s some exploitation I can live with. Absolutely.