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January 17, 2005

It’s Unavoidable

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In December, after the Iraq situation had taken another turn for the worse, George Bush gave a speech to troops at Camp Pendleton to boost morale.  The main photo that came out of it — of Bush speaking in front o a sea of soldiers — was all over the news the next day.

In my critique, I mostly concentrated on the jacket Bush wore.  Besides looking like a made-up military uniform, I was interested in its oversized Presidential logo.  In its proximity to the same logo on the lectern, I commented on a growing trend on the part of politicians to “brand” themselves with symbols, and to turn photo ops into personal and policy product placements.  (Just take a look at my last two posts “starring” Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what I mean.)

Among the reaction to my post, I drew a comment from Denis Poroy, the AP photographer who took the photo of Bush that day.  Denis felt my comments about product placement were “way off the mark.”  He wrote:

“We as photojournalists go out of our way to eliminate clutter, logos included. The one on his (Bush’s) jacket is just unavoidable.” 

This “unavoidability,” however, is exactly my point.  In spite of the best efforts by Denis and his colleagues to avoid this kind of content, politicians are turning themselves into walking billboards, or are managing (as in the Arnold shots) to promote themselves and their activities with every more strategic and heavy-handed visual props.

Of course, the commercial world has been at this for some time now, especially with the embedding of sponsorship signatures.  Far from reaching a plateau, however, these efforts just continue to evolve in sophistication.  For example, the image above appeared on the cover of the LATimes following USC’s football victory over Oklahoma in the recent Orange Bowl game.  The picture had even more impact because it appeared in the first few days following the tsunami, interrupting a string of large, colorful front page images, each more riveting than the last. 

If you notice, we’re long past the days of simply stitching a product name onto a shoulder or over a breast.  The identifiers are now shapely icons which, like homing agents, seem almost trained to find the camera eye at just the opportune time.  And, the beauty of it (for the sponsor anyway)  is that, no matter how overt (or even redundant) the symbol, nobody seems to notice.

Not consciously, anyway.

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(image 1: LA Times; image 2: LA Times )

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