May 8, 2005

Smoke Up The Behind


One thing I’ve become more aware of lately is the diminishing difference between political and brand advertising.  This is just one example of a noxious player blowing smoke. 

Before we get to the visual, however, check out the primary directive:

"We’re all for reducing emissions."

Love the underline!  Thanks for telling me what I’m for!

(Of course, going lowercase is also a thoughtful reminder that it’s a soft sell after all!) 

And the image?  (I guess I should first warn you, I haven’t had the smoothest relationship with chemistry.) 

Take a look at the thickness of the fumes on the right half of the ad as compared to the left.  Does it make sense that the vapor would be more dense and voluminous on the right or "intake" side?  Also, are they trying to suggest that they are capturing 100% of whatever escapes?  And, how does the visual analogy equate to the actual science — if it even does.  If they are supposedly capturing 100% of what they are emitting, why would they need to show it escaping in the first place?  Is it even clear what process they are referring to?  ExxonMobil is primarily involved in the production of gasoline, which is primarily responsible for air pollution and ozone depletion caused by auto emissions.  The ad, however, refers to the capture of steam.  If you read the ad copy, aren’t they doing a bait-and-switch in which steam capture is (intentionally) confused with emission reduction?  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems the company is using one process to cloud the other.  

Beyond the science, the "closed loop" is interesting from a political standpoint.  Could it represent an insistence on managing environmental problems without outside interference?  

And, why a kettle?  Is it a symbol of domesticity that tested well for the feeling of reassurance?  Can’t you just hear those ad guys pitching the association with home, soothing and warmth?  (Worried about global warming?  Here, sit down and have a cup of tea!)  Perhaps there is also a subtext that, like industrial emissions, a kettle can be dangerous too — if not for simple, routine care.  (No problem.  These things are easy to handle!

Oh, and what about the color scheme?  Could it be that the issue is that black-and-white?  The design of the kettle is also telling.  The steel, and the overall design, connotes that Exxon is not just smart but cutting edge.  At the same time, because the look involves the contemporary restyling of a classic look (note the quaint "knob" top and the rounded wood handle), the impression is also that they’ve been doing it forever.

For my taste, though, I like that dark half-circle shaped reflection centered at the base of the pot.  In contrast with the rest of the appliance, it looks like the entrance to a tunnel — one with no light at the end.

(Ad copy: Exxon-Mobil refineries capture steam that would otherwise be wasted and use it in the refining process.  Recent energy-saving initiatives like this have had a dramatic effect on emissions: the equivalent of taking well over a million cars off the road, every year.)

(image; ExxonMobil ad — New Yorker Magazine, May 2, 2005)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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