The Art of Advertising
Boukhari, Sophie, UNESCO Courier
Interview with Oliviero Toscani, Benetton art director and photographer
How has advertising changed with the emergence of the immaterial economy?
There is a crisis in advertising. The industry is lagging behind social trends, but it's so rich and powerful that it's very difficult for it to change.
In the early twentieth century advertising focused on a company's buildings and machines. After that it started presenting products. Then, since all products started looking alike, they could no longer be at the heart of the message. So in the 1960s advertisers started showing leggy models to sell cars. The long legs offered added value. The product took a back seat and what was sold was a symbol. The problem with this technique is that the message is always based on consumers' shortcomings and makes them feel guilty. It tells them, "if you haven't got this product, you're out of it." On the other hand, if you buy a certain brand of sports shoes you can play like Ronaldo even if you can't kick a ball.
A second technique is repetition. Professionals think people remember a product if they see the same commercial over and over again. That drives up costs. But all the commercials end up looking so much alike that you don't know which brand they're advertising any more. Who wins?The companies with the biggest guns, in other words the most money. Who pays?The consumer, because on average advertising accounts for 15 per cent of a product's sales price. People in the rich countries sink hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising every year. It doesn't make sense any more. The system is so sick it's not going to be around much longer.
Why should it change?
Because consumers are smarter than advertisers. The system worked as long as people were really interested in the products, because they needed them. But today, in the rich countries, they own enough shirts, sweaters and television sets for three entire lifetimes. So they consume less and better: more travel, more culture. They're also very well-informed and much more demanding. They think before buying. And many people, starting with youth, think that consuming is a way of integrating. They buy certain products to be accepted by society or their community. They take refuge in an imaginary world, while their lives are full of fear and unhappiness. …