Fri 13 Jul
It’s still too hard to locate online versions of recent television commercials. When McDonald’s, say, runs an ad that I want to talk about here, I don’t know of a particular place where I can go find a link for it. Sure, the more notable ones make it to YouTube, but sometimes it’s the mundane ones that don’t that are more interesting to discuss.
There are two that I have in mind: one, from McDonald’s, features two young, college-age guys, beatboxing some ridiculous rhyme about Big Macs or something. And there’s another for Oreo cookies that plays like a home movie in which two pre-adolescent girls sing the praises of Oreos. If I could find them to show you, I would, but maybe you’ve seen them already.
They’re both cute enough, but what struck me was how thoroughly they ape the ‘YouTube style.’ Which is to say, they are shot on digital video (though at a higher grade of quality than most of the source material at YouTube) in a cinematographically naïve manner; they feature pronouncedly offhand, amateur and somewhat embarrassing performances from purportedly ‘real’ actors; and they are ostensibly improvised — or at least they go through considerable effort to obscure the influence of any sort of director behind the camera.
YouTube is a style now, an aesthetic of its own. It didn’t take very long, but it has lodged itself into our consumer psyche as a recognizable visual, aural and narrative convention. In that sense, it’s a huge and notable success deserving of at least a footnote in media history.
So hurray for democratic authorship, right? Except, as the lightning fast emergence of these television commercials suggest, it’s an aesthetic that has become almost instantaneously co-opted.
Which is to say that the YouTube phenomenon, as entertaining and paradigm-shifting as it might be, is at its core a marketing tool. That’s probably not a revelation to anyone who’s seen how much attention media companies have been paying to YouTube over the past two years. But I still think it’s worth noting that in the Web 2.0, crowdsourcing frontier we’re all so excited about, it takes virtually no effort and no time to turn genuinely exciting social phenomena into just another technique for businesses to sell stuff to us. It’s almost like we’re a research and development laboratory for our own bamboozlement.