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The Sponsored Life

The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV, and American Culture

Leslie Savan
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bsv8f
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  • Book Info
    The Sponsored Life
    Book Description:

    How does a blatant lying in TV commercials-like Joe Isuzu's manic claims-create public trust in a product or a company? How does a company associated with a disaster, Exxon or Du Pont for example, restore its reputation? What is the real story behind the rendering of the now infamous Joe Camel? And what is the deeper meaning of living in an ad, ad, ad world? For a decade, journalist Leslie Savan has been exposing the techniques used by advertisers to push products and pump up corporate images. In the lively essays in this collection, Savan penetrates beneath the slick surfaces of specific ads and marketing campaigns to show how they reflect and shape consumer desires.

    Savan's interviews with ad agencies and corporate clients-along with her insightful analyses of influential TV sports-reveal how successful advertising works. Ads do more than command attention. They are signposts to the political, cultural, and social trends that infiltrate the individual consumer's psyche. Think of the products associated with corporate mascots-the drum-beating bunny, the cereal-pushing tiger, the doughboy-that have become pop culture icons. Think cool. Think of the clothing manufacturer that uses multiracial imagery. Think progressive. Buy their worldview, buy their product. When virtually every product can be associate with some positive self-image, we are subtly refashioned into the advertiser's concept of a good citizen. Like it or not, we lead "the sponsored life."

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0490-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. The Bribed Soul
    (pp. 1-14)

    Television-watching Americans-that is, just aboutallAmericans—see approximately 100 TV commercials a day. In that same 24 hours they also see a host of print ads, billboard signs, and other corporate messages slapped onto every available surface, from the fuselages of NASA rockets right down to the bottom of golf holes and the inside doors of restroom stalls. Studies estimate that, counting all the logos, labels, and announcements, some 16,000 ads flicker across an individual’s consciousness daily.

    Advertising now infects just about every organ of society, and wherever advertising gains a foothold it tends to slowly take over, like...

  5. Chapter One TOO COOL FOR WORDS
    (pp. 15-64)

    The quest for a clean public restroom is usually in vain. We assume a restroom to be dirty and disease-ridden, and settle for what we have to. Occasionally, though, I’ve found a restroom that, before I’d even entered, I’ve assumed with relief was not dirty but clean. I realize that it was a restroom sign, with its modern, Teflon-smooth letters spelling “women,” that led me to expect a clean toilet. Although it was surely no different from any other toilet, I thought it had to be more sanitary. It was similar to the wayan attractively packaged cleansing cream, like Helena...

  6. Chapter Two CORPORATE IMAGE ADJUSTMENT
    (pp. 65-114)

    Biz is hell. In the war of deals, TV ads tell us, today’s businessman’s got the guts of a general. A World War I officer orders the cannons fired. Through the smoke, a confounding shape approaches, something he’s never seen before — by God, a tank! As the horses’ nostrils flare in slo-mo, the scene takes on the predeath silence of movie war. Then a baritone voiceover: “Data General asks, in tomorrow’s business battle will you be buying yesterday’s technology?” Data General sells computers.

    World War II P-51 fighter planes race over Death Valley. “Competition is what makes American business excel.”...

  7. Chapter Three REAL PROBLEMS, SURREAL ADS
    (pp. 115-180)

    By now you know that Bill Demby will make that basket and that Du Pont will get the credit. But the tearjerking ad is designed so skillfully youjust don’t carewho profits. On a graffitied basketball court, Bill, a black Vietnam vet who “lost both legs to a Vietcong rocket,” strips to his basketball shorts, revealing his plastic legs. A guy on the bench staring at Bill with that familiar mix of shock and fascination is our first proxy: He allows the able-bodied audience to react as if they were there, but also provides the distance so they can...

  8. Chapter Four OUR BODIES, OUR SELLS
    (pp. 181-230)

    Exactly what sanitary products are for, no one on TV has been able to say. Alone among commercials, those for “feminine hygiene,” on air since 1972, have to communicate entirely in code. (Only portions of a napkin may be shown; forget tampons.) Even ads for incontinence pads, delicately phrased as they must be, frankly state their product’s purpose: “bladder control.” But a new Tampax ad is making personal hygiene history. A spunky dancer in a locker room says the word most commonly used to describe that time of the month. Says it three times.

    Tampax isn’t out to strike a...

  9. Chapter Five SHOCK OF THE HUE
    (pp. 231-276)

    Bigoted ads aren’t a trend exactly, but it’s certainly safer for such sentiments to ooze from the woodwork these days. Strong economically but weak imagewise, the Japanese are today’s primary target of ad abuse. Because we think of them in relation to products in the first place, agencies can insist they’re portraying the Japanese only as their client’s competitors, no more, no less. So the ads cry out “tastefulness,” while offending as they wouldn’t dare other racial groups. In a new spot for Volkswagen (of all carmakers!), a big, friendly white guy carries on about how Nipponese car prices are...

  10. Chapter Six THE SPONSORED LIFE
    (pp. 277-340)

    The ad with clips from Steve Martin’sRoxanneand people smiling for Diet Coke is confusing. Is Martin endorsing Diet Coke? Is the soda in his movie, sipped through that five-inch nose? Actually, Diet Coke doesn’t appear inRoxanne, and Martin doesn’t mention or appear with it in the ad. Diet Coke pulled a similar clip job withGhostbusters, simply intercutting standard fun product spots with some of the film’s footage. For theRoxannespot, words from the “Just for the Fun of It” jingle are matched with the movie’s visuals, and laughing moviegoers are shown wearing beaks like Martin’s...

  11. Index
    (pp. 341-354)