7 Days,One Minute: Small Gestures, Big Emotions

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Screengrab from the McDonalds 'Dave' TV Ad

Screengrab from the McDonalds ‘Dave’ TV Ad

This week’s image round-up features a McDonald’s ad inspired by Italian erotica, “Awkward Realism”, and a hypnotic movie inspired by innovations in photography

In the age of youtube, smartphones and sharing, Brands connect with customers in a remarkable variety of contrasting visual stylings. Take for example McDonald’s. This week we see the burger giant as visually savvy, ironic, and deeply embedded in pop culture in a series of spots created by US production company Buck.

These spots are classic pastiches of different genres and styles from the 70s and 80s; “Pulling inspiration from John Carpenter galactic oddities, to Ray Harryhausen creatures, to Italian erotica, this campaign is true adventure into our pop past,” says Buck.

Right down to the credit sequence, these ads feel so spookily rooted in a different age that a colleague had to ask me to stop blowing cigarette smoke in his direction. Crisply evocative, they don’t overstay their welcome, long enough to give the viewer a ‘taster’ and conjure a mood.

Meanwhile at the other end of the brand time tunnel, the visuals for this McDonald’s ad in the UK called Dave are so ‘authentic’, it feels like a cheery British kitchen-sink drama from the 1960s. By ad agency Leo Burnett, this domestic drama tracks the awkwardness of a new ‘blended’ family, where a young teenage boy warily scopes out his new parent.

The colour palette, the dialogue, the repetitive strumming of the acoustic guitar are so minimal. The ad is an exercise in stripping everything back visually and to one emotionally inarticulate but strangely affecting phrase, “No you’re alright”, as the young teenager refuses offers of help from his Mum’s new boyfriend. There is a painfully, naturalistic awkwardness to it all. You’d call it ‘Awkward Realism’, but realism in film and photography is always a little bit awkward, awry.

But the biggest retro visual this week is an ad for mustard. In the 1980s with a change of packaging and a tv advert, Grey Poupon mustard was transformed from being a specialty brand to being a dominant mustard in the US in the 1980s. The ad hit that sweet spot for the Brand, becoming a celebrated slice of pop culture, parodied in Wayne’s World and tv series Married With Children.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point and Blink, tells the story of the ad in The New Yorker:

“The company ran tasteful print ads in upscale food magazines. They put the mustard in little foil packets and distributed them with airplane meals – which was a brand-new idea at the time. Then they hired the Manhattan ad agency Lowe Marschalk to do something, on a modest budget, for television. The agency came back with an idea: A Rolls-Royce is driving down a country road. There’s a man in the back seat in a suit with a plate of beef on a silver tray. He nods to the chauffeur, who opens the glove compartment. Then comes what is known in the business as the “reveal.” The chauffeur hands back a jar of Grey Poupon. Another Rolls-Royce pulls up alongside. A man leans his head out the window. “Pardon me. Would you have any Grey Poupon?”

This week Grey Poupon ran a ‘lost footage’ teaser for an ad they are going to run during the Oscars ceremony. The ad will be created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, and directed by Bryan Buckley whose made more Superbowl ads (40) than I’ve had hot mustard.

At the moment brands can’t get enough nostalgia, it’s a kind of instant aging where brands immediately inherit some psychological and emotional power in the pop culture.

The other theme in photography and imagery this week is ‘movement’. Adrian Myers’ photo Army Diver won in the 6th Annual Photography Master Cup out in Los Angeles – the award was for Outstanding Achievement in the category of Sports. An outstanding achievement indeed given there were over 8,500 entries for the competition as a whole. A kind of water sculpture, Myers’ image is a ghost of time and movement.

Adrian Myers, Army Diver

Adrian Myers, Army Diver

Meanwhile, animation site Motionographer drew our attention to crowdfunded short movie Choros filmmaker Michael Langan and former dancer Terah Maher, now Visiting Professor on Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. Only recently available to see online, Choros extends the photographic and filmic innovations of Eadward Muybrdge, chronophotographer Etienne-Jules Marey, and film maker Norman Mclaren.

Photographers might note the visual minimalism and simplicity of form that is emotionally moving. Powerful emotion in image-making are often created by the smallest gestures.

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