Explicity Implicit ‘Skins’

Observations January 25, 2011 11:33 pm

To borrow a quote from my favorite movie,

‘If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… [advertising] actually is all around’- Love Actually, 2003

And to rephrase that quote, ‘I’ve got a suspicion… that advertising actually is all around and sneaky.’ Yes, advertising is a sly, sly business- and all around us.  It’s easy to recognize explicit advertising/promotions- the TV commercial, the outdoor billboard, the print ad- that give consumers a clear call to action to buy a product/service.   But it’s a little harder to recognize  advertising/promotions that rely on implicit messaging- your favorite celebrity ‘candidly’ photographed wearing a popular brand of jeans or a Mac being used by the ‘cool kid’ in a movie- the advertising message is implied- buy these jeans and look like this celebrity, buy this computer and you’ll be cool- but not directly expressed.

In a previous post, I wrote that a purchase decision is a matter of need and want– which are personal and emotional decisions.  Advertisers are tasked with finding a way to tap into these personal/emotional purchase decision rationales, and to be a little cliche, it’s sometimes what they don’t say, but rather what they do that ‘sticks’ best with consumers.

Or to be even more cliche, it’s often the non-verbal (implicit) communication that speaks more loudly to consumers than verbal (explicit) communication.

Which begs a larger question- who is in the business of advertising and who is responsible for messaging sent to consumers?  Similar to the relative ease at recognizing explicit advertising, execs on Madison Avenue are clearly in the business of advertising- and responsible for the explicit advertising messages they send to consumers.  But who exactly is responsible for implicit advertising messages? Just Madison Avenue execs, or say, anyone who creates content and directs a message to a consumer?

Can a TV show’s content also be a form of advertising?

Just watch the promo for MTV’s new show Skins:

Hmm. This is a promo for a TV show (looking at the promo as a proxy for the show’s content)- no advertisers are sending explicit messages to minors to buy/partake in alcohol/drug use, but there’s a hellalot of implicit messaging from MTV going on in that 45 second clip.

Advertising really is all around… sneaky.

Take a look at the regulations regarding explicit alcohol advertising to minors:

‘Beverage alcohol products should not be advertised or marketed in any manner directed or primarily appealing to persons below the legal purchase age…Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing should be placed in broadcast, cable, radio, print, and internet/
digital communications only where at least 70 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be above the legal purchase age (determined by using reliable, up to-date audience composition data)…Beverage alcohol products should not be advertised or promoted by any person who is below the legal purchase age or who is made to appear to be below the legal purchase age. To help ensure that individuals in beverage alcohol advertising are and appear to be above the legal purchase age, models and actors employed should be a minimum of 25 years old, substantiated by proper identification and should reasonably appear to be 21 years of age and older.’

(from the Distilled Spirits Council Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing, 2009)

Although this promo for Skins is not an explicit ‘advertisement’ for alcohol consumption/sales, the promo [show] does implicity promote underage drinking and alcohol use.  Looking at the regulations pertaining to alcohol advertising, this promo alone (can you imagine the actual show?) breaks several regulations.

Should implicit advertising/content like this be held to the same standards as explicit advertising?

I certainly don’t have the (professional or end-all-to-be-all) answer to this question, but I will say that I personally think implicit advertising should be held to the same standards as explicit advertising.  I may be opening up a can of worms with my definition of ‘advertising’ and the notion that ‘advertising is all around,’ but I think as advertisers (in the traditional sense) adapt to changing consumer behaviors/consumer touchpoints with new advertising methods, we’re going to have to keep a close eye on standards and regulations.  And that goes for implicit advertisers too and other content creators– after all, we’re all in the business of personal branding.  You hold yourself to some sort of standard, right? Shouldn’t content creators/advertisers?

Your thoughts on explicit vs. implicit advertising?