Florian Rötzer 1 Jan 1994

Das Ende der Werbung?

Imagine great numbers of people with a well-equipped media centre in their own homes, giving them access to many nets.


Das Ende der Werbung? -

Imagine the grip they would then have on the information circulating in those nets. Perhaps they already possess intelligent search-programs that compile extremely detailed information about desired products, for example. Imagine, moreover, that companies provide a kind of teleshopping, allowing one not only to virtually examine the product palettes, but also (again perhaps with the aid of intelligent programs) to virtually examine all of the possible variations of the desired object, which then is produced and delivered using computer-guided installations. Imagine that this also applies to newspapers, periodicals or films. One no longer buys a newspaper, one receives it on the monitor, prints it out or searches for information using specific selection criteria. Imagine that television has fundamentally changed. With the exception of live productions and news and current events programs, there are no longer any fixed broadcast times. One makes one's choice out of a daily schedule; many entertainment films are interactive, so that one is no longer simply the spectator of a finished film, but can be actor and participant in the first person in the scenes and influence their outcome. Where would companies place their advertisements if they could not know either the number of potential consumers, or the programs or times at which they watch?

Even to a non-insider, one who is simply a frequent and involuntary consumer of commercials, a recent, fundamental shift in advertising strategies seems perceptible. The original product information is disappearing more and more frequently behind images that often have absolutely nothing to do with the much-lauded product. Only the name of the manufacturer is transported, possibly accompanied by the corporate identity provided in the product palette. The aim is to capture the total, non-specific attention of the listeners/ viewers/ readers and then to stop them from leafing or zapping further. Of course, advertising has always attempted to tower above its surroundings and attract attention; yet, this tendency is becoming more and more independent of the products offered. The same sort of change can be perceived in department stores as they attempt to transform themselves into experience-spaces. Customers are attracted not by the wares but by their own need for entertainment, making various purchases in between-times. And the same thing can be perceived in the products, that can only be distinguished from one another by their design and hardly by their function. The strategy slogan is: aesthetic mise-en-scène.

Benetton is an example of a provocative approach to this trend, with its documentary images of occasionally shocking, eye-catching images, thus far only the object of ethical critique. Such discussion does not touch upon the underlying problem at all, namely, that advertising has reached its end, but that people still believe that they cannot exist without it. Advertising is playing with its own demise and thus becoming an art form. Of course, there are still many kinds of clandestine advertising, as when a periodical is constructed around advertising, or products placement in a film or game show. The best thing would probably be not to interrupt such forms of entertainment with sequences of commercials, but simply to produce them as advertising to begin with. In this way, advertising could become art. Another form is sponsorship, replacing the traditional product advertisement with something else designed to make the name more attractive to the target group.

But imagine what would happen if our media landscape was no longer financed by explicit advertising. This might be the herald of death throes on a massive scale. What is now happening to the Berlin Tageszeitung ( Daily News) demonstrates the problems that can emerge from this. No one really knows how effective advertising really is. Enormous amounts of money are still spent to place advertisements in the media with the highest weekly sales or ratings. This not only stimulates media competition; simultaneously, the media are being hindered, occupying a niche of their own and/or designing their contribution in such a way that it appeals to the most potentially interesting classes of consumers. The search is still going on for new concepts to remove the boundaries of advertising and render it invisible. Yet it might already be useful to explore the changes made possible by telematic and interactive networks, as they will have important consequences for our so-called culture, worn down as it is by diminishing state support.

translation jim boekbinder