Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Older, not Cooler: a demographic dilemma and some over-sharing re: my childhood.

When I first realized that commercials for, say, Cingular and the Ford Motor Company were featuring music by artists I liked, I felt this very sudden and very urgent kind of pride. For approximately 5.5 seconds after such a commercial, I'd think to myself, hey, I know that band. This has happened twice in the past year or so, and both times, I was actually a little excited to hear these songs on television.

First there was this:



and then there was this one:




Immediately after that initial proud and possessive feeling of recognition, though, I'd inevitably feel this really palpable sense of disappointment. But I'm not jumping onto that whole "that band sold out" trolley. I mean, if somebody wanted to buy a song I wrote and I didn't object to the product they were shilling, I'd be thrilled to accept the check and I'd probably appreciate the exposure (unfortunately, nobody seems to want my cover of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy").

What kills me, though, when I see such an ad, is that if music I like is being used in major national ad campaigns, I must necessarily fall into some kind of target demographic that's defined, at least in part, by musical tastes. (Also, note that the above Ford advertisement also features Marlow & Sons, which despite being constantly packed, is a pretty great place).

Case in point using the Cingular and Ford examples: I have a cell phone. I have a car. What if I wanted to switch services or buy and SUV? It's not that hearing Band of Horses in the Ford ad is going to make me run out and buy their cheesy-looking SUV, but I will probably remember the commercial for a long, long time. And in an age when we're marketed to actively (like watching a commercial) or passively (like glancing at a billboard as you drive to work), standing out and sticking to the inside of a viewer's ad-saturated skull seems to be the point.

I think a lot of us are vaguely uncomfortable knowing that we're being directly marketed to, but ultimately using "indie rock" in a cell phone or car commercial is not that different from grocery stores putting candy on the low shelves in the checkout lanes. As a kid, I begged for a Kit Kat or a York Peppermint Patty virtually every time we went shopping. How my mother didn't strangle me is a mystery. Back then, though, I wasn't aware that I was a walking, squalling target for the Mars and Hershey companies. Indeed, ignorance is bliss.

On the rare occasion that my frazzled mother caved and bought me a Kit Kat, I'd be elated, pliant, an all-around better child. This helps explain my little "weight problem," but doesn't explain why I'm still sort of bothered by the Cingular and Ford ads. Neither a new phone (even an iPhone, seriously) nor an SUV would make me happy, not the same kind of Kit Kat happy I'm talking about anyway.

Maybe it's just that I'd like to be part of a cooler demographic. If anyone has any ideas about how best to make that happen, I'm listening. Failing such a dramatic paradigm shift, I fear that in the years to come I'll be that lame father who tells his teenager that his/her generation's music is inferior. Swap Pink Floyd's The Wall with Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, and trade "Mick Jagger" for "Mike Stipe" in the sentence "Mick Jagger is an incredible rock lyricist" and I'll be my father.

Actually, I kind of have a point on that last one.

My head's on fire and high esteem
Get drunk and sing along to Queen
Practice my T-Rex moves and make the scene
Yeah, I'd rather be anywhere doing anything


Mike Stipe: you slay me.

2 comments:

BJK said...

you know what i've never understood, though?

i never remember what the commercials are for. i too enjoyed those two examples (the cat power cover and the band of horses song), but i wouldn't have been able to tell you which cell phone company or which car company (respectively) they were for.

is that just me and my bum memory? am i in the demographic to which the pharmaceutical companies should be targeting memory enhancement drugs?

as for the demographic issue, i find it most interesting when the target demographic is a really narrow niche, because that's when the tricks become really transparent (at least to those in the niche; they're probably totally meaningless sometimes to those outside it). those songs, for instance, need to be accessible beyond those who can recognize the artists. but sometimes the advertisers unabashedly appeal to just a tiny segment. one example that comes to mind are the freelancers' union ads up in nyc, which make so many aesthetic references that only a graphic designer would catch (and they throw some interesting socialist imagery in there too).

i think those little winks and nods are really interesting in advertising. did you see the crayola ad with the animal collective song? obviously they thought the song would fit with the context for kids, but i have to think it was also a nod from a hip young ad agency to hip young parents. like when kids' movies have little veiled winks to the parents who have to sit through the things.

have you heard the new r.e.m. album?

t.a.b. said...

I think that a big part of our recognizing demographic references in advertisements has to do more with the people creating the ads than the ads' target markets. Obviously, the freelancers' union stuff is a whole other story, but as far as car commercials and cell phone ads, do you guys think that those companies are really aiming at Cat Power fans as a specific demographic? I mean, maybe they are insofar as they want to include music that's going to catch your attention while you're in the kitchen riding out a commercial break during whatever you're watching. But I'm inclined to think that we're just of an age now where the people at the ad agency who pick the music to go along with the commercial are our age or in a similar demographic that we are; they're sticking music they like into the ads they're making. What do you think?