Popular Culture and the New Propaganda
Katharine E. Heintz-Knowles University of Washington
One of my favorite advertising campaigns of recent memory is that for Sprite, a soft drink vying for some of the market dominated by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The radio version of the ad, which I heard on the local "alternative" music station in Seattle, features a young male's voice telling us that he knows that the advertising claims made by other manufacturers are untrue -- drinking a certain beverage will not get him a date or a better grade in school, and he knows that we, the listeners, know that, too. Therefore, he is not going to try to "sell" us anything, but remind us to ignore advertising and "obey our thirst," which, of course, means quenching it with Sprite. This ad attempts to flatter listeners by recognizing that they are media savvy, that they see through advertising and will not believe any contrived claims. The ad is, of course, not above selling us something -- as long as we do not define it as selling.
This particular ad and its related campaign is a perfect exemplar of the new propaganda examined in this book. It targets a younger, more media-savvy (if not necessarily media-literate) generation who are more likely to be participants in the messages than members of any previous generation. It is similar to the Van Halen music video "Right Now," which encourages viewers to turn off the TV and go outside, played on a television channel that requires viewers to be inside the tube to receive ad messages. Or the video game ads that celebrate the active nature of game-playing versus the more reactive activities of nonmediated life.
The students I teach like these types of messages as well. They are tired of hearing about media power and control -- after all, it is they who control the