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Gucci, American Apparel, United Colors of Benetton, and Gaga records all have one advertising element in common: they love to shock the hell out of people. While Lady Gaga has made a career out of shocking the masses with the obscene and the profane, why do names synonymous with class and taste like Gucci, and the United Colors of Benetton risk their image with the thrill of the socially risky?
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Well, it all has to do with the cultural buying zeitgeist of the moment. ‘Corporate Revolution’ is a nickname given to a new trend in advertising that incorporates the defiant ideals of subversive cultures into the branding campaigns of main stream corporations. The raw emotions of artistic defiance including societal rebellion, provocation, and degradation that traditionally were confined to outlaw street culture, is now used as fodder for some of the world’s biggest ad campaigns.
In our excessively artificial world, massively influential companies with cultural prestige are turning to the most guttural impulses of our primitive desires as animals, and shock is becoming the best way to emotionally hook our attention as buyers.
Take for instance American Apparel, whose shocking advertisements have been referred to by critics as low-grade pornography. Exposed nipples and sexual body parts, overt sexual posturing and the use of models who look prepubescent has created quite a scandal in the public mind.
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However, this scandal has only fueled the success of the chain who now holds the title of the fastest growing clothing brand in U.S. history. In a few short years, the company has opened in 20 countries around the world operating 285 retail stores, and employing 10,000 people globally.
What makes American Apparel controversial is that while they are pushing traditional moral boundaries in their advertising, they also incorporate values of integrity by going against the low-wage, exported sweat-shop norms of most clothing U. S. clothing factories. While at the same time battling a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, the company is employing thousand of U.S. citizens, at $13.50 an hour -- almost twelve dollars over the sweat-factory wage of those companies who outsource the manufacturing overseas.
It may not be the ethical deeds of American Apparel alone that redeems their deviant behavior in the public’s eye, but their commitment to transparency. While advertising in the 1950’s sold a life of ideal artifice, and pre-packaged convenience, but the younger generation rebels against such phony shows of illusion. The public responds to ‘the raw’, no matter how shocking, because it is not contrived.
No single artist is currently shaping the cultural zeitgeist and influencing consumerist behaviors more than Lady Gaga. However the shock queen repeatedly attributes her success not to her provocative art, but to her transparency as an artist, “I don't see myself in terms of artifice. I see myself as a real person who chooses to live my life in an open way – artistically,” she says.
The youth of the U.S. feels discontent, even outrage at the lies institutions have told them, and the success of shock advertising campaigns proves the genius of the few advertisers who understand that it is unabashed honesty, no matter how brutal, that buyer’s crave.
VIDEO: AMERICAN APPAREL THE SCANDAL AND SUCCESS