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January 17, 2005

It’s Unavoidable


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.


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

  • jr

    Cool; now everything in the country can be reduced to a Rosser Reeve ad; elections, candidates, issues, the electorate, informed opinion, rational thought, and of course, the ever popular manufactured, military conflict.
    “Advertising is, actually, a simple phenomenon in terms of economics. It is merely a substitute for a personal sales force – an extension, if you will, of the merchant who cries aloud his wares.”
    - Rosser Reeve -
    Who knew that in order to validate anything in the 21st century, one need only determine how to sell it?

  • zencomix

    Remember the Bush campaign stop in a factory warehouse, I think it was St.Louis or maybe Kansas City, where the Backdrop was a bunch of boxes labeled “Made in USA”…except the companies product was made in China?
    A few years ago, The Denver Broncos had their uniforms and logos redesigned. Nike picked up the tab for it. The nostril on the horse image is the Nike swish, and the stripe that goes down the pant leg of each player turns into the Nike swish when the players squat down on the scimmage line…

  • Michael Shaw


    My knee jerk response is to say that’s pathetic. But with that kind of creativity and ingenuity, it pathetic in a fantastic way.

    Just think what kind of true productivity and uplift we could achieve socially if we could redirect even a small percentage of the brilliance (brainpower + luster) of the advertising industry in a more socially redemptive direction.

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