Personification in advertising

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Personification in advertising

This post is not meant to be particularly insightful or surprising—just a simple observation that may generate discussion. I don’t claim to be an expert in advertising, though I did work in an ad agency for a couple of years, and had some fun coming up with headlines while throwing a rubber ball against a wall. I definitely don’t make advertising my focus for Headspace, nor do I pay much attention to it as an industry (though I usually check out Ads of the World and every year I read the Communication Arts Advertising Annual ).

With that being said, I can’t help but notice a trend in advertising in recent years. That of personifying the inanimate,—using human beings to represent company products. True, using people to sell is not a new concept. Since as far back as the 1950’s, housewives would hold laundry detergent, real or imaginary customers told testimonials, celebrities would endorse big brands. It also used to be more common that inanimate objects were used as the metaphor, not the other way around (remember “This is your brain on drugs” back in the 80’s, with a fried egg as the metaphor?).

I’ve got three examples of a newer take on this, though I know there are more. Perhaps the most universally known and accepted is the Apple ads that use the 20-something cool-breeze to represent Mac, and a dumpy, middle-aged (albeit funny) man to play the boring old PC. Note how this differs from the age-old practice of having a company spokesperson; it’s common for people to represent companies, as in the case of Bill Cosby representing Kodak Film back in the 90s. However, in the case of the Apple ads, the actor is representing the inanimate product itself (the computer), which in turn represents the company.

The Capital One ads instead use a series of actors to represent other banks interacting with customers. Interestingly, in this case you’ve got humans representing companies, only they play the part of the competitors this time. The first in this series used the now familiar “Hands in my pocket” song to show that bankers always are always ripping off consumers, wrapping the metaphor with a pun. The series has since broadened its concept to use the bankers in other seedy ways (such as the exterminator, “You’ve got bankers”).

The third ad is one I saw today, which inspired me to write this post. It’s a French web company called Bouygues Telecom, and the ad concept is a man (the vistor) walking through a field by a woman (the welcome page). The hostess shows the man all of the different features of the website, like the search engines (a stuffy bunch of analysts), the travel sites (good-looking flight attendants) and online gaming (a war zone of aliens running around shooting lasers)

I’m not sure if this trend has any cultural significance, or if it just means that one thing never changes—people are always the most interesting way to sell. I only wonder what other innovative ways will human beings be used to move products. Do you have any other examples of personification in advertising, or do you have thoughts on the post?