Advertising is all about associations. What group is your product associated with? Who associates with your product, etc? Lets explore how associations are made and why they are necessary in advertising. Our journey will get interesting when we touch on how carefully crafted associations can drastically change the original ideas simply by putting the two bits of media together.
Basically, to make an association between two things, you just have to picture them together or combine the idea of the two things into one. The old adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is very apropos here.
First lets take a look at a couple of ways on how masters of the craft have accomplished this phenomenon. Let’s start with of the defining associative properties of film language.
In 1918, filmmaker Lev Kuleshov created a film that tested the effectiveness of film editing and proved that a simple cut can change the way you perceive images.
He alternated the shots of the face of Ivan Mozzhukhin, a popular Tsarist film star, with left over shots from another film. He inter-cuts a plate of soup, a coffin and a smiling girl with the emotionless face of Ivan.
After showing the film, the audience raved at the complex emotion displayed by Mozzhukhin. … The heavy pensive mood of the forgotten soup, the sorrow upon which he looked at the coffin, etc. But here’s the rub. All of the shots of Mozzhukin were the same emotionless gaze.
Alfred Hitchcock realized the necessity of this language and eloquently demonstrates it the following way:
Lets hop off the literal train for a second and visit Surreal-Ville.Though there are obvious differences between the Kuleshov effect and Surrealism, they share the same associative properties. Surrealists mastered the technique of assembly and juxtaposition. They could subconsciously manipulate random objects to evoke strong emotions. (show images – man ray ironing board etc.)
Andre Brenton, one of the founding fathers of surrealism often used to quote Comte De Lautremont from his seminal work “Maldoror” to illustrate the dislocated associative-ness of surrealism. “Beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!” Get the picture?
Ok. Let’s get modern. Being 30 something I’ve come to associate certain songs with memories. Most people have songs that when they hear them, they recall certain events, emotions or situations. Let’s take a punk rock classic from 1977 from Iggy Pop. Lust for life: Start with Iggy’s video then cut to the cruise commercial. You are not seeing things. This song is used in a cruise ship commercial. It’s obvious the company wants to change its image. I think of old people sitting in deck chairs playing shuffleboard and drinking daiquiris. Lust for life. Here comes Jonnie, Yen again. With the Liquor and drugs and the flesh machine. He’s gonna do another strip tease oh yea. So on the cruise are we going to get drunk, high and laid at sea? If not, leave the classics alone. I believe the producers of this spot use the song for two reasons 1: The obvious association of the title “lust for life” and 2: The music is instantly recognizable to millions of music lovers.
Association works the other way too. Now that their campaign is associating cruises with Lust for Life, will the song make me think of a neutered glossed-over candy coated fabricated reality instead of a cultural revolutionary 1977 New York punk scene?
For me, and I can’s speak for anyone else, this classic song is forever attached to some pop culture consumer triviality. I feel it neuters the original intensity of the song. It makes the cruise line look foolish as they try to associate themselves as a family friendly vacation commodity.
So… What have we learned? Simple. Make sure it fits. Do your research before associating one thing with another. If you don’t you could accidentally create a disharmonious two-headed monster that will do nothing but slobber and tear itself apart.