Advertising Love

Posted: February 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

This week’s American Super Bowl occurs soon after Christmas and just before Valentine’s Day. Every year we see debates about the meaning of Christmas and its increasing commercialisation. For many people Christmas is less about celebrating the birth of Jesus and more about love actually (or Love Actually). Yet we often feel the tensions of the festive season, trying to enjoy some time with family, friends and loved ones, only to find it stressful and upsetting.

I have written elsewhere about Valentine’s Day and the commercialisation of love. At this time of year we see ‘Love’ plastered all over displays of chocolates, perfumes, DVDs and jewellery. Love seems to be on sale everywhere. But love is not a Hallmark advertising gimmick and you can’t buy love.

Having an interest in the advertising industry, especially in relation to love, I watched some of this year’s Super Bowl ads to see how prominent love was. The advertising spots available during the Super Bowl are by far the most expensive air time on television, costing $4 million for each 30 seconds. Many advertisers budget a further $6 million to preview their Super Bowl spots on YouTube and to promote them on Facebook and Twitter. Super Bowl advertisements have become a cultural phenomenon with many viewers only watching the game to see the commercials.

One of this year’s most popular Super Bowl ads was ‘Gracie’

In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts, CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “the social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He understands that “love is about action” and this means the corporations he works for require “meaningful” relationships that they foster by “inspiring love”. This corporate strategy hopes to cultivate a close emotional connection between consumers and brands. Roberts and the companies that employ him believe that if consumers can be convinced that corporations are interested in love, and that corporations care about them, they will reciprocate and love corporations and their products.

In this Super Bowl 2014 ad Bruce Willis asks people to hug someone that matters to them to illustrate that, for Honda, safety is very real and very important.

Advertising is often considered as motivational, getting us to work harder to be able to afford the commodities and lifestyles advertised. Many people’s lives are dominated by consumption, debt and working harder to buy more, leading to rapidly rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression. None-the-less, sociological surveys consistently show that, rather than commodities, what people value most are their social relationships with family, friends, lovers and peers. Discussing the use in advertising of “the general fear of not being loved”, Erich Fromm explains how commodities are marketed as a way of gaining love; how, by the purchase of some product, consumers will be able to be loved; that love is dependent on a commodity; and that it is “not human power, human effort, not being” but commodities, that create love. When love becomes a commodity or the promise of a commodity, the desire for love is channelled into consumerism.

Another of this year’s most popular Super Bowl ads was ‘Puppy Love’

Capitalism poisons lives with a concentration on ownership, consumption and competition, undermining loving relationships. But, alongside the system’s violence and destruction, exploitation and oppression, there are continuing struggles about who has power over social relations, social cooperation and labour, over whether love is destroyed, suppressed or harnessed to strengthen the power of capital or used to build and extend people’s genuine loving power.

In her book The Managed Heart Arlie Hochschild writes about how people resist, subvert, refuse and rebel against attempts to limit and manage their love and to fuse them with capital. She explains that when capital uses and sells acts of love, these acts are in fact often pretence; not genuine loving and caring ‘from the heart’, but acting. In order to reclaim the managed heart, people produce inventive and often invisible ways to avoid, resist and subvert efforts to capture and control them. Instead they find ways of arranging and mobilising their love against capital. These ‘human strikes’, involve both an individual and a collective rupture with capital. They build alternative caring social relations through the self-organisation of love.

And, as this popular Super Bowl 2014 ad tells us; “In a world filled with war, the greatest weapon is love”.

Nick Southall


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