Selecting Environmental Wallpaper
Originally published September 14, 2001 for USC Writing 140. References are to two full page advertisements cut from the pages of GQ Magazine.
As a graphic designer assembles an advertisement for print, numerous details must be taken into consideration in order to ensure a powerful impact upon the reader. The fonts, white space, copy, and images must all be intermingled to emphasize corporate brand. Each aspect of an advertisement has a direct impact upon the readers who view it, influencing how a given product and its producer are evaluated. Much as consumers are enticed to purchase Michael Jordan’s shoes because of the enchanting feeling aroused through the experience of sharing a trait with a global icon, so, too, is a consumer likely to select a product advertised as being essential to an environment the consumer yearns to experience.
Traditionally, when attempting to reach the consumer market, corporations have selected environmental images for their advertisements which reflect their target audiences. However, in modern advertisements, it has become increasingly more common for the corporation to reinterpret the environment of its product, or even to redefine it entirely. Three advertisements selected from the September issue of GQ Magazine illustrate this alteration in the way our world is defined. In fact, the pages of GQ Magazine almost serve as a catalogue of wallpapers, each having the potential to decorate the surrounding world.
Images of the environment are powerful forces of persuasion because they draw upon the nature of human beings to adapt and behave according to the attributes of their surroundings. Numerous studies have looked at the influence of basic stimuli such as color, weather, and body language in an attempt to determine their various impacts. It has been determined, for instance, that a person’s attitude can be directed toward passivity by surrounding them with the color blue. In contrast, storm clouds are often associated by their viewers to be a foreboding symbol of bleak events just over the horizon. When selecting a background photograph for an advertisement, such relationships are important to understand. When companies first gained the ability to use environmental photography in the promotion of their products, their goal was to utilize such images to create feelings of trust, confidence, and need in the consumer mind. Therefore, it was vital that a corporation understood how a reader would interpret its advertisements, a concept that remains true today.
When readers view an advertisement and evaluate the images and statements they are bombarded with, they are left with an impression of what a given company stands for, in addition to the quality of its products. The consumer looks for corporate background, hoping to find reassuring information about the respectable history and past conduct of a corporation in numerous areas, including ecological impact. The consumer also looks, of course, for signals about the degree to which a given product will appease their individual needs. Environmental images can help to provide such information about a corporation. If images of pristine wilderness or sparkling oceans are the focus of an advertisement, the reader will be more likely to interpret the advertising company as being environmentally conscious. When, at the same time, these natural images are combined with props and statements that communicate importance and enjoyment to the reader, an advertisement will have even greater impact. For instance, the addition of a sporty, natural gas Honda Civic to the setting of a verdant and winding mountain road will convey to the reader that Honda is both environmentally conscious and produces an enjoyable mode of transportation.
Gradually, corporations have transitioned from using the environment to aid in defining their identities toward the practice of using their products to define the various roles the environment can fill. In other words, the purpose a given portion of the environment serves in relation to those who use it has come to be defined by the advertisements of corporations. This metamorphosis of advertising methodology can be most easily seen in the size relationships between a publicized product and its surroundings. The selected Marlboro advertisement exemplifies the method of advertising which dictates that a product should be presented as a bridge between the consumer and the environment he or she admires. The size of the product, the cigarettes, and their importance to the advertisement in general is dwarfed by the environment they reside in. Therefore, it can be concluded that the environment defines the characteristics of the product. Like Marlboro, Timberland’s advertisement draws upon the environment to enhance corporate brand, additionally, however, it attempts to reinterpret the environment’s identity as well. Timberland both depends on its depiction of natural environment to provide a setting for its products and uses its marketing influence to define for the reader the purpose of the chosen environment, exploration and hiking. The example of the Bacardi advertisement, on the other hand, places its focus exclusively on the Bacardi liquor which stands out, magnified, at the center of its environment. The interpretation of this advertisement being that Bacardi has the power to define the environment revolving about it, a much more assuming pronouncement than that of Marlboro.
A closer look at the Marlboro advertisement reveals the ways in which the familiar frontier environment defines the focus of Marlboro’s product and the company itself. The key environmental images present in the Marlboro advertisement are the grandiose snow peaked cliffs, the healthy tundra, energetic broncos, and rugged ranchers. These images have no direct correlation to smoking, instead serving to define the Marlboro brand and the kind of person who smokes a Marlboro cigarette. It is important to note the adjectives that describe the four main images of the sample: grandiose, healthy, energetic, and rugged. These words represent the emotions Marlboro hopes the cowboy image will awaken in the reader due to past exposure to western films and common knowledge of life on the frontier. The images of wilderness, mountains, and tundra are pristine and unsettled, imbued with the spirit of nature. Their presence, combined with that of bucking horses, defines the cowboys in the advertisement as being in control of their environment. The ability of the cowboys to ride their horses and tame the land is a result of their assumed characteristics of bravery, strength, manliness, and bravado. Since the reader knows that the only objects in the advertisement which could be Marlboro cigarette users are the cowboys, the inference can be made that one who shares the characteristics of the cowboy would also share their taste in cigarettes. In addition, the tie that this advertisement creates between Marlboro and the cowboy culture of the west provides the company with an inferred history who’s truthfulness is left unvalidated. Through placing its product in the same setting as numerous western films and works of literature, Marlboro embraces the tales and history of the wild west and makes them its own. In doing so, Marlboro is transformed from simply a cigarette company to a corporation striving to carry on the historical traditions of the United States. Those who use its products are, it follows, linked to those traditions as well. The overall conclusion is that Marlboro is a company who caters to the macho customer, the self sufficient customer. It is the environment that provides Marlboro with this definition. Without the pictured environment, Marlboro would be just another cigarette company, lacking both history and identity.
Mountains and the wild plains, which served to define the nature of Marlboro, are also utilized in the advertising sample concerning Timberland goods. However, outside of providing the raw setting to which Timberland products may be applied, nature plays a less dominant role in this second advertisement. In size, the images of nature still overshadow those of the featured outdoor equipment. However, Timberland’s backpacks, shoes, and other outdoor items are depicted as directly being a part of the wilderness environment. While in the Marlboro advertisement the cigarettes were only inferred to be among the cowboys’ possessions, in the Timberland sample, its products are clearly involved. If the Timberland-adorned hikers are removed from their environment, we are left a winding unpaved road. There is nothing inherently spectacular about this sepia toned image, and the viewer is clueless as to the purpose of the road, whether for driving or simply long forgotten. However, once the hikers and Timberland products enter the picture, the purpose of the environment is made clear. The path is not for cars, but rather for people to traverse. As the advertisement’s copy clarifies, the path allows a properly equipped hiker to enjoy its treasures while backpacking across Europe, visiting his roots, and discovering more about herself. This ability to enjoy the environment in such a unique and rewarding fashion is presumed to be enabled by Timberland products which equip the would be adventurer for his or her journey. The canteens, walking stick, backpacks, and consumer familiarity with the Timberland brand, have given this wilderness scene its purpose. Through the power of marketing, Timberland is able to suggest to the reader that nature is there not simply to view from a distance, but rather to experience first hand. Timberland has, in essence, reinterpreted for the consumer the definition of nature.
The final sample taken from GQ Magazine, an advertisement for Bacardi Limón, goes even farther than the Timberland sample in its attempt to define the environment. Through the elimination of any references to the natural world, Bacardi describes an entirely new type of environment. The corporation has this ability due to the definition of what constitutes environment. According to Webster’s, environment is “the combination of external conditions affecting the growth of an organism.” Therefore, in order to have environment present, it is unnecessary to include anything natural at all except for the affected organism, in this case human beings. If one looks at the Bacardi advertisement, every object in it was engineered by Bacardi. The most noticeable product is the Bacardi Limón, but if one reads more closely, the club scene pictured in the various images is actually a concert for Bacardi-supported performer Nikka Costa. The setting, its guests, its entertainment, and the refreshments available were all selected and produced by Bacardi to elicit a sense of excitement in the advertisement’s reader. Unlike the setting of the Marlboro advertisement, the Bacardi night club lacks history. The reader has little background or prior information to apply to the scene with which he or she is presented to assist him or her in assessing Bacardi’s identity as a corporation. Bacardi does not rely on the images of the club to provide its brand a meaning. This corporation has gone beyond the boundary of Timberland’s influence, in which the purpose of the environment was reinterpreted by a corporation, and entered new territory, actually defining the environment. The interpretation a reader draws from this advertisement is not that Bacardi is needed to enjoy the natural environment more fully, but rather Bacardi Limón will surround those who drink it with an improved, more exciting environment.
The question must be raised as to whether Bacardi’s suggestion that corporations have the power to define the environment is justified. Many would argue that the environment is a natural occurrence, and it is thus incapable of being defined by human created industries and their advertisements. However, one needs simply to consider the impact of industries such as tourism to see examples of the power a corporation can have in redefining our environment. If the history of the Hawaiian islands is examined, for example, one can find many details to support the argument that the industries of agriculture and tourism have redefined a portion of our world. Initially, when inhabited by Polynesian settlers, Hawaii was free of disease and served as a hot bed of animal and plant life. Isolated by the ocean, many unique organisms thrived only in the special environment of Hawaii, giving it, by default, the definition of ecological sanctuary. As commodity traders and explorers began to bring goods to the islands for trade, they were engrossed by the beauty of the islands and their fertile climate. When these explorers returned home with stories praising the beauty of the Hawaiian lands, their tales caught the ear of both agriculture and tourism entrepreneurs. Among the interested investors was the Dole Pineapple Company, which purchased the island of Lanai. In doing so, Dole helped to alter the definition of the islands from that of tropical paradise to that of a farmer’s paradise. Dole did not incite the greatest amount of change, however; that task was achieved by travel agencies and hotel chains through the medium of advertising. In the present day, the stories of Hawaii’s resplendence, magnified through the marketing campaigns of numerous travel corporations, have further redefined the purpose of the Hawaiian islands. They are no longer seen by a majority of their inhabitants as the miraculous creations of the god Maui, who fished the islands from the sea and captured the sun, but instead are defined as one of the premier snorkeling locations in the world and the premier location for surfing treacherous waves.
As corporations have begun to explore their powerful ability to define environment through promotional material, the advertisements they create seem less like sales pitches for a particular product and more like alternatives to a mundane world. This manipulation of the environment has resulted in a world that is divided into categories through the influence of its businesses. As described above, corporations such as Timberland have set aside, in the mind of their consumer audience, portions of the environment for the purpose of exploration and recreation. Other companies, such as Bacardi, have offered the public the opportunity replace nature and enter a Las Vegas-like environment of glittering lights, beautiful people, and energetic music. While an increasing amount of corporations are offering such suggestions to the consumer market, the irony exists that only a limited amount of environment is available to be defined. Environment, even the newest forms of virtual environment being created with electronic mediums such as the Internet, requires physical space to exist at some level. Although a corporation can offer to provide a service that may reinterpret the use of, or replace entirely, natural environment, no corporation is actually capable of creating more environment. Each advertisement a person is exposed to suggests a possible use for a portion of the world, and therefore, the various advertisements of different corporations compete for the consumer’s attention and approval.
Ultimately, like many other decisions made in capitalist societies such as our own, the onus of deciding which combination of possible environmental realities will finally evolve, as offered by modern corporations, falls on the consumer. This places a great deal of demand on the consumer. It is almost as if, upon opening a copy of GQ Magazine, the consumer has been placed into a spherical container with stark white walls, a telephone, and a credit card. The consumer is then asked to purchase, with a limited amount of money, any combination of items featured within the magazine advertisements. On the first page the consumer peruses, there is an image of a national park. On the second, an almost identical mountain scene exists, except that a Cadillac Escalade is resting atop one of the hills, conqueror of the landscape. The next decision the consumer makes will be immensely important, validating one of the two corporations attempting to define what it means to be environment. One of them the National Forest Service, the other Cadillac, but the consumer is left with the final call. If a national park permit is purchased, then the environment painted within the sphere of the consumer will be pristine, filled with wildlife, and preserved for future generations. If, however, the Cadillac Escalade is purchased, then the environment will be defined as a romping ground for four wheel drive vehicles and the comforts of technology. The real decision, of course, will not be made by a single consumer, but many. In the end, the final definition of environment will only be known once the last telephone call or internet purchase has been placed.