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The Internet, a Tool for Art?



Advertising & Branding


"The objective realities of happiness and unhappiness form the basis of manipulation."

(Wolfgang Fritz Haug, "The Critique of Commodity Aesthetics", 1971)


Every day, everywhere we are surrounded by advertising. Although there is the right to freedom of speech, public space is not open for everybody to state their opinions. It is rented by those who pay - advertising agencies. A friend of mine who works as a graphic designer on a very high level, told me that a German student on her way to school has about 8 advertising contacts (such as billboards). This is an average value, calculated from the longest distance to the shortest, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages. She further explained, that advertising, of course, was made for manipulating our subsconsious, the most effective advertising strategies work without us noticing anything. On the internet we are bombarded by "personalized advertising" (like Google Adsense), based on scripts tracking, saving and utilizing keywords we use in searchengines or information we publish on social networks. This economical surveillance creates an infinitely looping feedback of manipulation. And the fuel for the machinery's engine is all the information we give.

"The more everyday situations can be supported by Google applications, the more time users will spend online with Google, so that more user data will be available to Google, which allows the company to better analyze usage and consumer behaviour. As a result, more and more precise user data and aggregated data can be sold to advertising clients who, armed with information about potential consumption choices, provide users with personalized advertising that targets them in all of these everyday situations."

(Christian Fuchs, "Web 2.0, Prosumption and Surveillance", 2010)



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(screenshot: a shopping recommendation while I am writing this article)



We are used to the spam of seemingly unimportant marginalia, passing them, clicking them away. But how can we pretend to be free, encircled by omnipresent manipulation?
The development of products is depending on the advertising. Through advertising real human needs artificially are turned into something you can buy. Almost any of people's basic needs are available as products: Water, education, leisure time, even emotions like love:




"Desires count as interfaces for use value promises in the mode of the illusion or the imaginary space. The perspective aims at inducing the decision to buy. Commodity aesthetics rules through presented wish-fulfilment, filling people with wishes. In rich societies where capitalist consumerism has already colonized the patterns of living, its gospel is confronted with weary and desensitized people whose imagination is regularly sobered up by the 'fulfilling' of these desires, which 'leaves so much to be desired'."

(Wolfgang Fritz Haug, "New Elements of a Theory of Commodity Aesthetics", 2005)


By dint of branding and advertising, the products are uncoupled from their practical values. Imaginary prices are much higher than real values of things depending on costs of raw material, production and shipping. In his earlier book "Commodity Aesthetics", 1971, the Marxist Wolfgang Fritz Haug explains, that the prior aim of production of commodities is not the use value, but the imaginary value. Before a product is sold - in order to sell it - it is only important, what the customer expects it to be, not what it really is. Therefore the concept of reality is more important than physical reality itself, and commodities become empty boxes, while the labels on those boxes, the images, compete for consumers, not the contents.



(Wolfgang Fritz Haug, lecture on commodity aesthetics in German, youtube, 2009)


In "The Precession of Simulacra" Jean Baudrillard describes "Hyperreality" as a reality based on simulation. The image does not longer represent the real, it replaces it. Baudrillard defines 4 phases of an image:


"This would be the successive phases of the image:

 - it is the reflection of a basic reality
 - it masks and perverts a basic reality
 - it masks the absence of a basic reality
 - it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.

In the first case, the image is a good appearance - the representation is of the order of sacrament. In the second, it is an evil appearance - of the order of malefice. In the third, it plays at being an appearance - it is of the order of sorcery. In the fourth, it is no longer in the order of appearance at all, but of simulation."

(Jean Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra", 1983)


In the Hyperreality of Cognitive Capitalism, the image, as an abstract capital, has a higher value than the product itself. Having the signs as the only orientation, people are navigating through a world of simulacra, rating each other based on brands of the clothes they are wearing. Brands come to the fore, the use-value of a pullover is secondary, and the size of the label print grows, until it fills the whole front and back of the sweatshirt. More important than buying a sweatshirt, is buying the brand, and people happily pay a lot of money to serve as a living advertising pillar. The word "branding" has its origin in the tradition of branding farm animals with the signs of their owners. Instead of branding a cow's ass, branding as a form of advertising is about branding something on people's minds. The repeatedly appearing sign is automatically processed by the human cognitive system and linked to imaginary attributes, which don't even have to be related to the product. People subsconsiously identify with those attributes and want to embody them. Stealthily a whole concept of ideology got shaped, on the basis of images, and the simulacrum reproduces itself. It sells great and real wealth is generated out of empty boxes.

But due to its lack of a real basement, exactly this glossy facade is the weak point of the system for activists to attack it. Brands are established codes which everyone on the planet can understand, which can be used and decoded in different ways. Empty boxes are there to be filled, giving the labels new meanings:


"Logos, by the force of ubiquity, have become the closest thing we have to an international language, recognized and understood in many more places than English. Activists are now free to swing off this web of logos like spy/spiders — trading information about labour practices, chemical spills, animal cruelty and unethical marketing around the world. I have become convinced that it is in these logo-forged global links that global citizens will eventually find sustainable solutions for this sold planet."

(Naomi Klein, No Logo, 2000)





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