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Aspiration or subversion? Teens co-creating brand adverts on Tumblr
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Aspiration or subversion? Teens co-creating brand adverts on Tumblr


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Tumblr's hyperspeed, hyper-fertile image culture has generated a strange trend: creating DIY adverts by putting brand logos on apparently abstract and unrelated images. …

Tumblr's hyperspeed, hyper-fertile image culture has generated a strange trend: creating DIY adverts by putting brand logos on apparently abstract and unrelated images.

What's going on? What are the visual tropes, who's doing this - what inspires people to co-create and appropriate brands like this?

Is it an act of subversion or aspiration? Brand hijack, or identification and longing? The meanings are unclear - these images are posted without commentary, making semiotic analysis the only route possible

What does it mean for the relationship young people have with brands? What are they saying that Nike, Adidas and Chanel mean?

And has this abstract visual language always-already been coopted by the brands themselves?

An exploration.

Pecha Kucha presented at LimaZulu London, October 2012.

Commentary and citations are available in Notes view.

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  • What is going on here? Are these adverts? Why has someone put a brand logo on a travel guide type photo? And why are they sharing it on Tumblr?56 & 5 reblogs respectively. First one's
  • A story of three brandsYouth brand recognition is near 99% for NikeBrand value = Millward Brown BrandZ, 2012Brand ranking = Interbrand, 2012 (except Chanel – 2009, then unranked
  • Chanel: loads of smoke.(bluey-pink colouir palette, too).For a brand that's put an iceberg on the catwalk, it's not really that far from the reality…
  • Palm trees are a theme.Don't really know why! There's something about the bland, generic "attractiveness" of these images – communicating "desirability" without anything specific.NB second image is S-UPERRICHKIDS, who (judging on a series) is recognising this blandness & playing off it. (Also diversifying brands a bit – only Calvin Klein, Gucci, etc I've seen)
  • A few One Direction versions…
  • SUBVERSIONSThese are also interesting to compare good & not-so-good. The one on the left is clearly sharper, or smarter – perhaps it's the depth of field that makes it closer to actual advertising tropes.The parody's at a pretty crude level – OMG, fashion and fast food.However, when Prada do a 1950s hotrod-themed fashion collection (summer 2012?), or Jil Sander releases a designer plastic bag – or all London's chic burger kitchens - this high-low is not really parody any more.S-UPERRICHKIDS' image may be better because it does a lo-fi Prada ad more like the way Prada themselves would do it.Prada > S-UPERRICHKIDS.Chanel > @AlliApplebum, "pro make-up artist. hip hop head. fashion junkie. awkward."
  • THEMES / SUBVERSION?Sexy / illegal – always attractive… Barely subversion, in a post-American Apparel eraNB Chanel NOT SEXUAL, no posts are. Interesting! (No menswear brand, is why?)
  • SUBVERSIONSAre these political acts?Ownership of brandClaim to its semiotic powerHowever glorifies, reifies – never just oppositional acts. Advertising has long ago swallowed & ingested its critics: it's all spectacle, possibly originally by Cat? Or just the photo.She is a VERY appropriate subject-slash-author
  • My Adidas; some SpawnpointnationWe're probably both trying too hard / overthinking – or just Marxist: both make reference to the economic conditions of the production & marketing of the trainers.
  • SUBVERSIONS>> DEMOGRAPHICS"Female, 20, necrophiliac, Los Angeles.Lindsay Lohan is my Queen.I miss dying my hair.NSFW n such"
  • AUTHORSHIP – WHO?Blandscapes– is this critical?Is by - Jasmine, 15, New Zealand.By – Fine, 14, Netherlands
  • AUTHORSHIP - SUPERRICHKIDSUltra mundane, e.g. train seriesProduced more than just about anyoneNuanced…
  • AUTHORSHIPBad or inexplicable…Adidas = Lauryn Foster, age 13 (NB low res)Chanel = Aaron, from Florida ( Only DIY one I've seen, and it's tagged Chanel, Chanel ad, real, pear.What's interesting is that there really AREN'T self-insertions in this genre – which is perhaps unexpected.
  • POPULARThe Nike kid with 59000 reblogs –BarberStreisand.Tumblr.comOne reshare w/ “anyone can be a Nike ad”Photo is actually of Brazilian model Francisco LachowskiNike shoes – – (17, New Zealand, posts skateboarding, hip hop/grafitti / street culture, hot girls with dyed hair, weed.)Evidence of scaleHOWEVER most much smaller. Does this thing matter? It is pretty niche
  • Real ads, meanwhile, are taking on a surreal Tumblr aesthetic[Chanel 2010][Mulberry 2012]Both are showing "product" (i.e. more overt than the Tumblr aesthetic), but in Chanel it's pretty unclear that that furry stuff is in fact the product… (Weird catwalk show)
  • Real retro ads are also heavily shared on Tumblr – at least for Chanel – with what now looks like a parodic outfit rather than "genuine". Likely at mercy of 1980s brand licensing deals which meant that international parts of the brand (this is Spanish) & subsidiary lines such as jewellery, perfume etc could journey a long way from the initial here's Linda Evangelista
  • Nike real ads:Humdrum scenario.Full-bleed photo, small-ish logo (something few Tumblr creations are prepared to do, actually – are we concerned the message won’t be clear enough?)Find your Greatness: UK, 2012 – getting around Olympics sponsorship rulesKidsploitation? “ celebrating every single person in sport, everyday athlete and professional alike, who push their limits to achieve new goals”
  • Nike doing shocking…Stitches = Wieden for Nike Netherlands, for France vs. England match 2010 – "France welcomes her English friends“Benetton = obviously; the elephant in the room so far. However their brand means nothing since the 1990s (in UK at least), so not part of this trend.Nike 1996 Air ad campign, using ‘Search & Destroy’ by Iggy Pop. Athletes getting hit / falling over / overdoing it & getting injured.
  • CONCLUSIONEssentially dealing with a Banksy-level critique – that kind of simple visual joke, sometimes clever, but essentially pretty one-dimensional and within the system. As the real ads show, this approach has always already been coopted by the brands themselves.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Global brand ranking: #25Brand value: $16.2 billionMarket capitalisation: $43 billionGlobal brand ranking: #59 (2009)Brand value: $6.7 billionGlobal brand ranking: #60Brand value: $3.9 billionMarket capitalisation: $13.6 billion
    • 2. 216 106
    • 3. 78
    • 4. 20
    • 5. I create for what I cant speak aloud.Art is resistance is this real? cos I lurv it ;D 13
    • 6. 31
    • 7. 157
    • 8. 66
    • 9. 24182
    • 10. 70,422 19,087
    • 11. "Any advert in a public space that givesyou no choice whether you see it or not isyours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it.Asking for permission is like asking to keepa rock someone just threw at your head.You owe the companies nothing. Less thannothing, you especially don’t owe them anycourtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves infront of you. They never asked for yourpermission, don’t even start asking fortheirs."Banksy