Think Superficial. Cesar Chavez and a Bitten Apple Logo.

March 4, 2010 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

“I am a deeply superficial person.” -Andy Warhol

“Deeply superficial” comes close to being a perfect description of advertising. What matters about an ad is not its subtleties and hidden details; it’s what the great mass of people who are only half paying attention take away from it. Close analysis is irrelevant, unhelpful and fruitless.

Richard Rodriguez, in an article in the Wilson Quarterly about Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers Union, now widely considered something akin to a saint for his struggles (including hunger strikes) against the exploitation by big agriculture of the Mexican immigrant workers who harvest most of our fruits and vegetables, suggests that the creators of a famous Apple campaign that featured Chavez perhaps weren’t superficial enough. Somehow in an ad that was intented to be deadly earnest, they missed the clanging irony of their simple layout:

[In 1997] executives at the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day came up with a campaign for Apple computers that featured images of some famous dead— John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra— alongside a grammar-crunching motto: THINK DIFFERENT. I remember sitting in bad traffic on the San Diego Freeway and looking up to see a photograph of Cesar Chavez on a billboard. His eyes were downcast. He balanced a rake and a shovel over his right shoulder. In the upper-left-hand corner was the corporate logo of a bitten apple.

Wow.

“Think Different” has been lauded as one of the great advertising campaigns of our time. Maybe it is, if you don’t think about it too hard, but I have always struggled with the idea of associating a product, something that anyone with a credit card can buy (even a product that I love as much as an Apple computer) with Ghandi, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and, yes, with Chavez. One must “think different”–and not in a good way–to fail to see the hubris in that.

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Entry filed under: Advertising and Marketing. Tags: , , , , , .

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