Did you ever see this Prudential ad from a couple years back? It features some fun footage from the Candid Camera TV show, back in 1962.
What’s so interesting about the ad is not the basic lesson in sociology — though it’s pretty good, I admit — but the punchline at the end. For the company is literally banking on the fact that it is indeed human nature to follow others despite the closing’s apparent message to the contrary. For the whole point of advertising is to sway the public’s opinions and actions — whether it’s to get us to take off our hats or give our money to this as opposed to that investment firm.
They’re hoping that, when it comes to investing, you’re no different from those poor guys on the elevator — you know, the ones who no doubt felt like they chose to turn around. Coz if you’re the only one — the truly lone wolf, the rugged individual — who opts to go with Prudential, well…, that doesn’t help them, now does it.
Given his interest in understanding myth as something that carries two messages, one smuggled in by the other and which might even contradict the other, I think Roland Barthes would have appreciated this ad.
So opens Roland Barthes’ little essay — well known to some, of course — in his collection, Mythologies (read the full essay here). Judging by a recent news story, it turns out that he was right: that the ordinary is continually dressed up as extraordinary and that, at every turn, we make our worlds meaningful by crafting History into Necessity, as he famously phrases it. For the headline of the story, posted here, reads:
There are few more relevant books for those interested in how systems of representation — in the most mundane and thus often unnoticed places — enable historical happenstance to be portrayed/perceived as timeless necessity than Roland Barthes‘s (d. 1980) classic collection, Mythologies. Originally published in the newspaper as brief commentaries on popular French culture, the short chapters have appended to them a lenghty theoretical essay, “Myth Today,” in which Barthes explains his approach to studying the multi-layered semiotic systems that we routinely see in daily life. In many ways, Mythologies, and the companion collection, The Eiffel Tower, model in their brevity but theoretical consequence what blog posts such as this site aspire to.