The Assembled Advertisement and the Consumer
This concluding chapter re-visits some of the key arguments presented throughout the text such as classical approaches to thinking about media forms no longer account for the nature of hybrid media artefacts or how they intersect in the convergent environment, that new ways of seeing the interpellations, articulations and intersections between convergent media forms are required and that assemblage thinking presents a relevant theoretical framework for evolving our understanding of the role of advertising in an era of convergence culture. Implications for theoretical development and the role of the consumer as an agent in assemblage are discussed.
What does this viewpoint offer us? Principally, by keeping an eye on instability and the necessity for multiple things to gel together, assemblage research can illuminate previously overlooked aspects of markets and consumption. If the processes of brand management, consumer experiences or market creation require multiple things to come together, then we must discover what these things are, and search out the catalysts, enablers or inhibitors or processes that interest us, many of which are yet to be described. (p. 3)
Here, Canniford and Badje acknowledge that the value of assemblage approaches resides in the ability to trace the shifting connections, junctures and catalysts that exist both in the marketplace and, in the context of this work, the media landscape. Inherently connected to questions of brand management, consumer life and the creation of new objects, questions around what advertising is, how it flows through to other media and cultural referents and how consumers engage with a dynamic media marketplace are as salient here as in the consumer culture context to which Canniford and Badje’s own observations refer. The primary pursuit of this text is to consider how assemblage thinking can be mobilised to apprehend a rapidly evolving media landscape characterised by convergence and underpinned by postmodern sensibilities of hybridity, pastiche and the rejection of high/low art distinctions. The analysis of campaigns by noted film directors presented here illuminates how assemblage thinking might enable us to conceive of advertising in a convergent environment as a rhizomic intersection of intensities and extensions that draw upon diverse media, filmic, cultural and persuasive influences. From the consumer’s perspective, new terrains of affect, engagement, and spreadability are animated if advertising as static “genre” is exploded, challenged by a conceptualisation of advertising as a liminal entity, working at once within and across its territories or planes. Assemblage thinking enables us to consider the intersectional, embedded nature of convergent advertisements, seeing them not as snippets of media “content” or grabs of persuasive rhetoric but rather emergent forces and flows, driven by the aesthetic, cultural, directorial and stylistic intensities that propel them across platforms, linking rich terrains of cultural referents, filmic influences and fantastical possibilities. At once deterritorialised to take lines of flight across platforms and reterritorialised back into the story worlds at the heart of the assemblage, conceptualising convergent advertising in this way opens up new possibilities for consumers, practitioners and scholars.
In this work, assemblage thinking has framed how we think about advertising as a hybrid media form in an era where the convergence of traditional media formats, dissemination channels and consumer engagements are rapidly changing. Consistent throughout this work is the argument that classical approaches to thinking about media forms no longer account for the nature of these hybrid media artefacts or how they intersect in the convergent environment. Instead, new ways of seeing the interpellations, articulations and intersections between convergent media forms are required. To date, assemblage thinking has not been explored in advertising yet, as our analysis suggests, it would appear to yield significant new insights into the fluxes, flows and intensities that underpin contemporary advertising production and its situation within a broader media context. Endemic to an assemblage approach to advertising is the ability to illuminate the hybridities, intersections and merging of media forms, aesthetics and structures that inform contemporary advertising practices in much the same vein that such practices underpin a range of other media forms and objects that should be open to similar theoretical scrutiny. The intention throughout this work has been to demonstrate how traditional notions of media categories are rendered inert through assemblage thinking in an era of convergence, giving rise to a more confluent, dynamic theorisation both of advertising and media more generally. Advertising has long been acknowledged as polysemous (Ritson and Elliot 1999), open to socially contextualised interpretation (Jayasinghe and Ritson 2013) and rich in textual signification (Campbell 2013). The evolution of convergence intensifies this by enabling extended formats, more experimental approaches and a willingness to fundamentally regard advertising as something beyond the persuasive arm of the market that engages diverse audiences through its aesthetic and narrative appeal. In this context, advertising becomes reflexive, aesthetic media content, designed to engage as well as entertain, evoking the same emotive, intimate visual experiences as art, cinema and photography. Advertising then prompts the same self-extension, symbolic meaning and personal reflexivity typically attributed to traditional “high” art media forms such as cinema or television. Consumer engagement with these hybrid media forms is accelerated through the use of mobile technology, personal and shared collections facilitated by digital capacities such as the smartphone, social media and dedicated sites or blogs where “digital association blurs the distinctions among the material, the immaterial, the real, and the possible” (Shau and Gilly 2003, p. 401). Advertising, like most other visual forms, becomes the substance of creation, collection and sharing expressed through the image.
How can we think about these media artefacts as something beyond just spectacular advertisements? In their elaboration of how assemblages work, Deleuze and Guattari draw upon Bachelard (1958) for their theorisation of space, memory and human perception (or smooth space) and their significance as physical signifiers of flows of nostalgic and reflexive meaning. According to Bachelard, and connected with Bergson’s conceptualisation of memory, objects of signification become caught up in an assemblage of memory, nostalgia and private thought which constitute the mental terrain. In the context of this work, media assemblages can be thought of as objects of signification to which consumers attach personal meaning and memory through their visual consumption and subsequent engagement through other convergent platforms such as social media. Objects evoke memories of experiences and, in doing so, sensorially re-attach us to different periods of our lives. In this respect, Bachelard, and later Deleuze and Guattari, foreground subsequent theorisations of the object (Epp and Price 2009; Kopytoff 1986; McLaren 2003) and its embedded role in the practice (de Certeau 1984—upon whom Deleuze also draws), spatial practices (Lefebvre 1974) or habitus (Bourdieu 1977) of everyday life. Belk’s (2013) work on the extended self in a digital age elaborates this notion of the object or possession into the virtual realm, suggesting that physical tangibility is no longer a requisite for an “object”. The notable aspect of Bachelard’s work for Deleuze and Guattari resides in the capacity of the object to not only represent shifting meaning in the course of the everyday (Hand and Shove 2007) but also the capacity to embody nostalgia or to re-capture a sense of a past (Strahilevitz and Loewenstein 1998). Bearing in mind the potential to view media assemblages as objects, the theorisation of the assemblage object as an entity that enables movement between the past and present, everyday life and former experience, conducted in consumer research, has resonance for a re-conceptualisation of advertising. The more recent focus on transitioning things from commodity to meaningful object (Coupland 2005; Sherry and McGrath 1989), the situation of objects within the domestic sphere, the connection between objects and everyday life (Epp and Price 2009) and the importance of space (Brown and Sherry 2003) have all contributed to a more nuanced theorisation of the meaning of the object as it firstly moves across spaces and becomes integrated into the flux and flow of life. As such, we are able to theorise the human interaction with the visually representational force of media assemblages/objects as part of a larger mental and cultural terrain.
While the process of advertising has frequently been one that privileges spectacle, the association of spectacle in its promotional capacity with advertising alone is problematic. Such a dichotomy simplifies the relationship between the spectacular and narrative components of both movies and advertisements. Just as the use of spectacle in movies is not always or only promotional, so spectacle in advertisement is not only promotional… The logical conclusion of the assertion that spectacle is purely promotional is frequently to appeal for the exclusion of spectacle from the domain of narrative films, or to assert that spectacle is only appropriate where it is firmly and securely subordinated to narrative drives within film forms. (p. 149)
Despite the continuity of textual and audience axes within film theory, latter-day lines have been drawn dividing media, communication, cultural, and screen studies for reasons of rent-seeking academic professionalism— on all sides. The theorization of production and spectatorship relations between film and television, for instance, continues to be dogged by the separation of mass communication’s interest in economics, technology, and policy from film theory’s preoccupations with aesthetics and cultural address, although attempts are underway to transform both sides of the divide. (pp. 92–93)
it is apparent that the boundaries of cinematic production, consumption and study have been greatly expanded with the rapid changes brought about by the emergence of digital technologies and production practices. To this end, Gunning’s questioning of film theory’s tendency to approach cinema from the direction of narrative privilege has been followed in recent years by a broader meta-critique of scholarly boundary setting that theorists such as Jenkins, Caldwell, Everett, Miller and Boddy have argued is increasingly overtaken by industrial, technological and economic events. (Gurevitch 2010)
Picking up on Gurevitch’s, and by extension, Gunning’s, identification of narrative as one of the defining elements of the contemporary privileging of cinema (and the castigation of advertising as spectacle), it is useful to re-visit the origins of cinema discussed in the early stages of this work in order to recall how such a split came about with a view to contextualising how assemblage thinking may not only rehabilitate the schism between advertising and other media forms but also advance an assemblage theorisation of advertising as a media object intrinsically imbricated in wider circuits of media meaning and practice. Gunning (1990, 2006) and Gaudreault (2006) are both instructive in reminding us that cinema, at the turn of the twentieth century, was essentially a cinema “of attractions” delivering spectacle of shock, awe and dazzling visuality for viewers. As Gaudreault (2006) points out, “the attraction is there, before the viewer, in order to be seen. Strictly speaking, it exists only in order to display its visibility” (p. 95). The purpose of cinema in its early stages was to delight and shock audiences through exhibitionism, wherein those depicted in the film consciously referenced, and played to, the audience. Facially expressing to the audience in Mary Jane’s Mishap (Albert 1903) or Par le trou de serrure (Pathé Frères 1901) or bowing at the end of a trick in L’homme orchestre (Méliès 1900) spoke to the self-conscious spectacle of cinema for viewers as a form of entertainment often combined with other visual spectacles playing simultaneously. Run in a fairground environment, it was not uncommon for cinema to be played outdoors alongside singers, circus acts or comedians. Equally, advertisements were often presented as short films (in a similar practice now seen in the convergence era) shown for their entertainment value (Segrave 2004). Such a concept of cinema as a public spectacle with easy movement between advertising and story, as opposed to the immersive, sensorially geared confines of the darkened movie theatre in which the psychological intensity of the narrative plays out, fundamentally challenges what we understand as cinema today with its concomitant intellectual culture of critique and analysis.
It is perhaps at this level of scholarly fetishisation that Gunning’s re-theorisation of early cinema is most resonant for the works discussed here. He argues that “the inheritance of the 1970s High Theory still confined ideas about spectatorship to uncovering ideological complicity in the narrative construction of popular films, while describing cinema spectatorship technically as a process of unconscious enthrallment” (Gunning 2006, p. 32). While Gunning’s work contributes to understandings of spectatorship and gives a reading of cinematic history that continues to challenge persistent emphasis on narrative, auteurism and indexicality as the distinguishing features of cinema, the thrust of his theorisation of cinema also has implications for other media forms. For if cinema can be read not purely as a narrative construction that relegates consumers to experiences of “unconscious enthrallment” but rather a mélange of visual, sensorial, affective and emotional triggers in which the imagery and viewer are complicit, as subsequent theorists such as Powell (2007) and Del Rao (2008) suggest, such a reading would lend impetus to the possibility that any media form is open to leveraging such capacities (or intensities) and create similarly evocative rapports with consumers. As Errol Morris (in Nudd 2017) points out with reference to advertising “you’re making little films” that embody the same capacities and intensities found in cinema and have the capacity to affect consumers in similar ways. If, like cinema, advertising is designed to be viewed, imagined and integrated into mental terrains then advertising as art form and entertainment vehicle (Campbell 2013) gives rise to an experience where images become part of our mindscape, acting as symbolic catalysts for memory, affect and immersion in the same way that other media forms have traditionally done.
need to be read as more than just ends in themselves. Instead they can be recognized as signs of a wider engagement with the fluid terrains that characterize not only the products of contemporary culture, but the industrial and business contexts in which that culture is produced… Seeing the shared patterns that characterize his work across a range of different forms and understanding the conceptual, stylistic and industrial relationships that lie behind these patterns thus not only furthers the interpretation of Jonze’s films, but works more broadly to illuminate the work of all contemporary film-makers operating within an increasingly convergent mediascape. (pp. 34–35)
Similar observations can be made of all of the examples discussed here as aesthetic, narrative, authorial and commercial intensities are brought together and styles, themes, stories and opportunities for consumer engagement spill across one another. The important point to note, however, is that such spillage is not simple cross-pollination or replication but rather the elaboration of ideas and meaning through simultaneous modes of dissemination. For instance, as Annesley suggests, Jonze’s preoccupation with metafictionality and genre-bending seen in his cinematic work is as acute in his advertising and music videos where to distinguish between them becomes arbitrary and misses the point of viewing diverse dissemination strategies as modes of intensity through which common ideas are cultivated and freed. The virtue of an assemblage approach in this media context is that such ideas are able to trace for their confluences, multiplicities and simultaneity without becoming trapped in questions of genre or platform type.
The question then becomes twofold: first, if media forms intersect, unify and flow into one another, how can we continue to speak of distinguishable media forms based on the categories of genre or classification? Second, if we cannot continue to view media forms through the lens of genre, where can assemblage thinking assist us in re-conceptualising how we envisage media dissemination and use in an era of convergence? To take the first of these propositions, it is evident that many of the theoretical suppositions that demarcate or stratify media forms become immensely problematic. As such, one of the key contributions of this text is to explode long-held, and rigorously defended, notions of media genre or category and find new theoretical approaches to understanding the production, dissemination and cultural uses of these interpolated, hybridised media forms—especially with reference to advertising which has been subject to highly bounded parameters for how it is studied, theorised and understood. Equally, a theoretical lens that traces the capacities, intensities and lines of flight, which necessarily touch on aesthetics, narratives, style, wider influences etc., is needed in order to appreciate the forces and flows that drive media production and consumption. While it is widely acknowledged that media draws from, and reticulates back into, the cultural sphere, the impetus towards modes of classification and stratification are at odds with this basic recognition. In this respect, we should share in Levy’s (1997) optimism for the future of participatory culture, not just for fans and consumers, but for creative producers whose work can be viewed within wider circuits of meaning and beyond the boundaries of classification.
Deleuze’s basic principle is that society is always en fuite (leaking, fleeing) and may be understood in terms of the manner in which it deals with its fuites (leaks, lines of flight). It says there is no determination of ourselves that does not at the same time create zones of indetermination… Such zones are then the ones from which original “connections” may come. (Rajchman 2000, p. 12)
Levy explores how the ‘deterritorialization’ of knowledge, brought about by the ability of the net and the web to facilitate rapid many-to-many communication, might enable broader participation in decision-making, new modes of citizenship and community, and the reciprocal exchange of information… On-line fan communities might well be some of the most fully realized versions of Levy’s cosmopedia, expansive self-organizing groups focused around the collective production, debate, and circulation of meanings, interpretations, and fantasies in response to various artifacts of contemporary popular culture. (p. 136)
Obviously Levy’s own use of assemblage language is telling for his insights into how participatory culture is enabled by the online platform and Jenkins’ reference to artefacts connects with the view suggested here that advertisements constitute cultural artefacts. But what is significant is not so much the fact that consumers have an intensive role to play in media assemblages, as Jenkins correctly identifies, but rather how this, along with various other developments in the media landscape, transform the boundedness of how we regard media forms and, by extension, the nature of what constitutes aesthetically or culturally valuable artefacts—which brings us back in part to the earlier discussion of media assemblages as objects or possessions as imagined by Belk (2013). An assemblage view of these artefacts sees them as being in constant flux, composed of internal (aesthetic, narrative, stylistic, authorial) intensities and subject to external forces that transform and re-configure (deterritorialise and reterritorialise) the assemblage over time to acquire new intensities and possibilities. What Deleuze and Guattari show us is that these artefacts, whether advertisements, films or games and so on, are not “of a type” but rather of a rhizomic multitude, a surging wave of ever-forming connections and mutations that take new lines of flight with each iteration. These assemblages are valuable for their affective, communicative, aesthetic and narrative capacities. They speak to us as any creative expression does at an intrinsically human level. We are reminded of Errol Morris’ “American haiku”, the deeply affecting images of addiction portrayed by Darren Aronofsky, the mysterious allure of David Lynch’s Lady Blue Shanghai replete with its dazzling cinematography or the engaging humour of Jake Scott’s “wagers” between Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini. These works are valuable because they affect us as good art should.
the first concrete rule for assemblages is to discover what territory they envelop, for there is always one: in their trash can or on their bench. Beckett’s characters stake out a territory. Discover the territorial assemblages of someone, human or animals: “home”. The territory is made of decoded fragments of all kinds, which are borrowed from the milieus but then assume the value of “properties”; even rhythms take on a new meaning (refrains). The territory makes the assemblage. The territory is more than the organism and the milieu, and the relation between the two; that is why the assemblage goes beyond mere “behaviour”. (p. 586)
Nowhere is this ambition more resonant than in the creative sphere where territories are formed through the interface between the milieu of which Deleuze and Guattari speak (the wider cultural sphere) and the capacities and intensities brought to bear through aesthetic, stylistic and creative composition that offer up new territories and spaces. It is somewhat surprising that, to date, there has been no use of assemblage thinking in advertising when it seems such a timely way of looking at how advertising might fit and evolve in the convergent media landscape. It is hoped that this text goes some ways towards introducing Deleuze and Guattari’s valuable work into the advertising conversation in order to start considering ways in which this rich theoretical frame might yield new insights and possibilities. Marcus and Saka (2006) allude to these potentialities in concluding that “in current predicaments of theory, assemblage as a conceptual resource has to do with the imaginaries for the shifting relations and emergent conditions of spatially distributed objects of study in the contemporary period of so-called globalisation, which has heightened older modernist aesthetics of perception and given them fresh empirical challenges” (p. 106). Deleuze and Guattari’s do indeed offer up important conceptual resources for re-convening ongoing discussions around the nature of aesthetic artefacts, their significance in the contemporary cultural milieu and how we use them to forge new connections and possibilities.
Further to its key premises that classical theorisations of media forms have little purchase in the de-stratified context of contemporary consumer culture and that assemblage thinking offers us some new ways into thinking new theoretical possibilities for media scholarship—particularly in the advertising sphere which has been consistently assumed as part of that landscape throughout this text—the purpose of this work is to demonstrate how assemblage thinking illuminates typically unseen or unacknowledged complexities borne out in contemporary advertising. By adopting an explicitly assemblage lens, the analyses offered here reveal the hidden philosophical impulses and creative resources that advertising extrapolates. Jeunet’s complicated depictions of time and memory as renderings of the Deleuzian time-image, Fincher’s Body without Organs captured in the image of the posthuman athlete, Scorsese’s and Lynch’s divergent uses of the Manhattan landscape to explore spatiality and the multiplicities of becoming-woman offered up by Lynch, Cameron and Aronofksy all show how advertising can engage fundamental philosophical debates regarding the very nature of human perception, memory and being. Read through the prism of Deleuze and Guattari, these advertisements take on new significance as micro-dialogues, miniature musings on profound questions with the consumer. Equally, all of the work considered here leverages sophisticated cinematic, aesthetic and stylistic techniques and conventions that frequently connect with expansive historical trajectories from a range of creative sources. These advertisements are located within the larger assemblage of the director’s opus, marking out new terrains for building the director’s story world. But they also animate trajectories such as ancient Chinese poetry (David Lynch), classical documentary technique and enduring philosophical debates around truth (Errol Morris), the Dutch Masters and Caravaggio (Willy Vanderperre), the influences of the cinéma du look and magical realism (Jeunet) and Georges Méliès (Wes Anderson) among numerous others are as the intensities brought to bear on these assemblages as they extract from wide-ranging aesthetic, historical and cultural “sheets of past” to borrow Bergson’s expression. These are precisely the lines of flight enabled by assemblage thinking that become sharper as we bring them into focus. These trajectories, histories and sources also connect with the brand, product or “thing”, situating it within alternative universes of meaning and new territories of relationalities. To this end, we might also conclude that, from an advertising practice standpoint, assemblage thinking enables brands, firms and products to be enriched or enhanced by seeing their capacities as intensities within an assemblage buttressed by many other territorialising (and also deterritorialising) influences. The possibilities are infinite.
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