Real Fake

Job losses, national security fears and natural disasters can make the future seem bleak. Companies are manufacturing alternate realities that consumers can embrace, leaving the real world behind...for now.

Last Updated April 14, 2014

She Works Hard for the Money

Consider the following as a high school debate topic: Beyoncé is a real celebrity; Kim Kardashian is a fake celebrity. Would you choose to argue pro or con? How would you support your points, either way? Cultural critic Anne Helen Petersen is ready for this assignment. “[C]ompare Beyoncé’s visible labor with that of Kim Kardashian, one of the hardest working celebrities in the business. Whereas Beyoncé has “real” talent, Kim’s (and that of the rest of the Kardashians) is often characterized as a simulacrum of talent: she’s famous for being famous…” Petersen goes on to dissect the appeal of Shirley Temple and invokes Marshall McLuhan, discerning the substance of talent-based fame from notorious celebrity, with Kardashian as perhaps the ultimate “postmodern celebrity: all surface and no substance.” A+! 

Read the (remarkably accessible) piece at The Baffler.

(Image via Teen Y!, title with thanks to Donna Summer.)

Branding Lessons, from AirBrB to Shelfie

April Fools' Day has come and gone, and in keeping with tradition of recent years, brands of all types seized upon it to engage in a little self-deprecating humor. An AdWeek roundup of the best "Brand Hoaxes" of 2014, though, shows that the intricate jokes crafted by big companies are more than just silly – they're a bold object lesson in consistent brand messaging. The video released by AirBnB, for example, to announce a by-the-minute desk rental service "AirBrB" perfectly emulates the dozens of videos already created to explain its real services. Not to be outdone, Google announced its "Shelfie" ("sharable selfie") mail theme with a thoroughly convincing blog post, and even integrated implementation into Gmail settings for a while. Conversely, the jokes that fall flat are those that don't actually resemble existing style and tone, like the lame line-art illustrations used to announce "Samsung Fingers," a glove-based wearable device. Consistency in branding, it turns out, is crucial to market success – even when you're just having a bit of fun.

See the best (and worst) branded pranks of 2014 at AdWeek.

“We Think First of Big Words that are Synonyms for Progress.”

Art imitates life, then life imitates art. So the cycle of creativity ever was, and ever shall be – even in advertising. Kendra Eash, writing for McSweeney’s, recently penned “This Is A Generic Brand Video,” a satirical, fictional script for the most banal multinational supercorporation imaginable. Or it was, until the creatives at Dissolve, a stock video footage company, realized that Eash’s un-manifesto was the perfect advertisement for their actual brand. So they recorded a Sam Elliott-soundalike voiceover track and illustrated it with pitch-perfect footage from their own collection. The advertising world has gone apeshit, mostly missing the point, and underscoring the fact that, in addition to satire and marketing, this is real art we’re dealing with here.  

Read the piece, then watch the video!  

Playing Battleship

George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham beneath a banner printed with “Mission Accomplished” in 2003, and gave a speech announcing the successful conclusion of another Bush clan Middle Eastern boondoggle... propaganda, pure and simple. The government of Iran is no stranger to propaganda: they recently faked a whole aircraft carrier, not just a message on a sign. What’s being called a full-scale “replica” of a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered warship could be a prop for an Iranian movie, according to US intelligence, or the government might be blowing the boat up strictly to film it, for general feel-good purposes.    

Read an in-depth analysis at Slate.

(Image via CNN.)


Only the #Bold May Enter

A group of taste-makers and journalists got together in Austin last week and (voluntarily) tweeted about Doritos. Why? To get into a Lady Gaga concert, of course. We have Doritos parent company, PepsiCo, to thank for this year’s piece de resistance of performance advertising. David Carr wrote in the New York Times, “...the salty, cheesy wonder of Doritos was brought to you by the sweet, uplifting allure of Lady Gaga. Or was it the other way around?” Carr thought Public Enemy performing “Fight the Power” inside Doritos giant mock vending machine at last year’s SXSW was the highest height artists could achieve, shilling for the man. But it turns out Gaga had one better, belting out “Aura” while basted in barbecue sauce and turning on a fake spit, with #bold Doritos raining down from above, then reminding her audience that “[w]hen you leave this earth, no one is going to care what you tweeted.”

Read on, with caution – there’s fake vomit and indelicate behavior involving sausages, ahead – at The New York Times. (Image via Direct Lyrics.)



The Lego Movie's Move Toward "Mannerist" Marketing

In addition to being a commercial and critical success (a $70 million opening weekend, and 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), The Lego Movie is revealing itself as a genuinely innovative vehicle for modern marketing. By blatantly acknowledging the presence of branding, The Lego Movie manages to make fun it, while relentlessly advancing the Lego brand, and earning praise for being subversive in the process. “There’s no more drinking or not drinking the Kool-Aid,” writes Heather Havrilesky in a recent New York Times Magazine article, “The Kool-Aid is raining from the skies and seeping into the groundwater.” She goes on to point out that Lego is far from the only practitioner of this self-referential, “we’re all in on the joke” approach to brand-building: practically every commercial in this year’s Super Bowl, for example, explicitly references the fact that it’s a Super Bowl commercial.

Read the whole analysis at The New York Times Magazine.

Lifestyle = Brand

Making a living by means of your creativity isn’t easy, no matter where you call home. If you live in New York City, it isn’t cheap, either. For a group of eight creative young people, the price tag for a three-story house with room for a collaborative, music-driven existence in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood is $5000 a month. How do these hipsters do it? With support from a group of investors, naturally. Welcome to a brave new frontier of lifestyle marketing! Founding resident and musician Denitia Odigie describes the idea’s genesis like this: “[the media investors] came to us for content and we brought them the concept. It worked because they provided us with resources, like a REDcamera, while they benefited because of the cool factor, the street cred.” Ah, the street! And yet the Clubhouse, as residents call it, is an idea with history. From the Detroit rowhouse that was Motown’s Hitsville, USA to the artistic incubator Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas created in their Parisian parlors, the rich have gotten together to provide hip young things with (artificial) places to live and create before.

Read more about BK1834 (or Club Casa, if you prefer) at The New York Times. 

Smiling Faces

Some brain function is autonomic: we don’t have to think “beat, heart,” for the muscle in our chest to do its work. Similarly, a snake-like shape on the ground makes us jump, whether what we’re seeing is a snarled rope on the garage floor or a snakey-looking vine in a jungle. It turns out processing the emotions on other human faces is similarly hard-wired, and researchers at Australia’s Flinders University have proof, recently finding that digitally literate people’s brains respond identically to emoticons and images of real faces. It’s a learned behavior, which makes sense – we’ve only been dealing with these facial pictographs for an eye-blink, evolutionarily speaking – but once you’ve learned it, that tiny punctuation-combo smiley-face induces the same shot of dopamine as a picture of a real happy person.

Read more at io9. 

Obamacare on the Silver Screen

Not wishing to be upstaged by the Oscars next month, the Writer’s Guild of America is hosting a seminar of its own. The topic? The Affordable Care Act. Why would a group of screenwriters, obituarists and various other culture chroniclers do this, you might reasonably ask? Not for the sake of their own health, but to discuss how to deal with the legislation dramatically. “‘This is such a contentious issue, no one’s pretending’ there will not be robust disagreements on-screen, as in life, said Martin Kaplan,” a director of USC's Lear Center and an organizer of the event. The people fictionalizing real life are poised to beat lawmakers and healthcare providers to the punch. 

Read more at The New York Times. (Image also courtesy The New York Times, depicting the 2008WGA strike.)

EVE's Fallen

The Icelandic company that runs EVE is building two memorials: one in the game, one in real life. The digital version will commemorate all the players who “died” in the gigantic, blow-out battle EVE players recently had, and the real-life monument will be dedicated to to all EVE players, period. Everyone who’s registered to play the game as of March 1st will get his – ahem, their – name engraved in marble! Even players who’ve actually died, in real life – for example, Sean “Vile Rat” Smith, a U.S. diplomat killed in the 2012 attack at Benghazi, Libya. Oh, and that faux oil painting-looking image? That’s a digital artist’s rendering of the forthcoming real monument, obviously.

Read all about B-R5RB (that’s the big battle, newb) and the planned monuments at Kotaku.