Facilitated by various Internet technologies, contemporary advertising campaigns have arguably come to make use of ever-more elaborate architectural approaches to building brands and communicating with the market. Intricate arrangements of text, hypertext, sound/music/radio, interactive animations/illustrations, photos/graphics, video/television makes out a key component of such developments, which has blurred the line between traditional media formats, and opened up new avenues for addressing and appealing to potential consumers. As of late, social media has further contributed to such divergent convergence, and to blurring the line between production and consumption of advertising campaigns, with phenomena like YouTube operating foremost, perhaps, as an enabler for sharing video – one that has led to the proliferation of the short, amateurish, personal, and often captivating video clip, which leads a viral existence, appearing and reappearing in ever new contexts as it roams the worldwide web, and leaves a broad range of value producing activities in its wake. This being a kind of value production that stems out of the exchange, the new video format has not only come to redefine what video is (i.e., how it is made and how it is intended to operate), but also how it functions – how it is used, and how it produces value in society. By consequence, this redefinition has come to change the strategies for how market communication is conducted over the Internet – with organisations increasingly using visual and video-based communication as a foundation for the entire communication schemes (e.g., company presentation videos, news announcements, product demonstrations, advertising to mention a few).
This paper inquires into the processes and the strategic work whereby such video-based communication comes into being. And it does so by drawing attention to the production of a video advertisement through which the multinational sportswear company Adidas enters into a strategic collaboration with a tech start-up that is beginning to play a key role in the merging of digital media – borrowing both lifestyle credentials and a passionate attitude from the realm of web entrepreneurship. For along with the booming success and growing social impact of digital media, the creators of the tools and the technological platforms allowing this realm to converge – usually called ‘web entrepreneurs’ – have become the centre of attention of a reflexive, meta-level discourse that circles around the influential position of the technological applications, as well as the adventures of enterprising into this unpredictable, and highly lucrative world. Hailed as the epitome of success, fame, intelligence, business acumen, pioneering boldness, these entrepreneurs serve as iconic representatives of theirrespective media technologies/services – some, as Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, having had their their private lives, engineering deeds and professional rivalry dramatized and turned into award-winning full-length movies. What would, moreover, Google be without Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Or, to tie back to the topic of this paper, what would the less known, but subculturally dominant sound platform SoundCloud be without its two founders Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss?
SoundCloud is a music service popularly deemed “the world’s leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere” (SoundCloud 2012). Founded by two former students at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2008, the company is based in Berlin, and employs some 80 people. Over the past four or five years the service has captured 10 million users (Noël 2012), and after a recent funding round by world-renowned US venture capital funds, it was valued at 1.4 billion Swedish kronor (approximately !160 million) (Dagens Industri 2012). Their stars undoubtedly on the rise, the two founders of the sound platform were, in the early spring 2011, singled out as the main feature of the Scandinavian/Swedish implementation of Adidas’ global marketing campaign One Brand Anthem (OBA), which was directed, recorded and swiftly launched in mid-April the same year. With the strategic intention of unifying various different brands and category campaigns under one and the same slogan, the OBA campaign by Montreal-based agency Sid Lee was the biggest globally coordinated advertising effort in the history of Adidas at the time of its launch (Schori 2011). If the coordination efforts were complex, its basic message was all the more concise, circling around the concept of “All in.” According to the agency brief, the meaning of this brief slogan was intended to be that “we’re connected (together) through our love of the game (passion), no matter the game” (Sid Lee 2010), it also featured French electronic duo Justice, American pop-star Katy Perry, US rapper B.o.B, English football legend David Beckham, Argentine football super-star Lionel Messi, US NBA-profile Derrick Rose and a host of other endorsers.
The Scandinavian part of the worldwide campaign was focused around a two-tiered campaign of ATL (Above The Line) communication, i.e. bought mass-media communication, as well as a digital and social media oriented, video-based, public relations/market communications campaign. The prime concern of this paper is the latter stage of this campaign, which revolved around the adaptation of the global campaign into a Scandinavian context by communications agency Jung Relations. This resulted in a similar celebrity endorser-based campaign, but with portraits of alternative spokespersons (“local ambassadors”) ranging from Swedish DJ duo Rebecca & Fiona, an innovative sushi chef, a prominent street artist, several sportsmen (one in wheelchair), through a coffee bean micro-roastery, a fashion boutique, to the two SoundCloud founders. Each of the twenty celebrity endorsers were portrayed in short YouTube clips that were seeded through various official Facebook Adidas pages and several other social media channels. What interests us, in the remainder of this paper, is the genealogy of this particular Adidas advertisement – that is, how it has come to be, what the campaign is intended to convey from the marketer-endorser side, and what this may tell us of the way in which it lends meaning and valorizes web enterprising and entrepreneurship.
Now, as an advertisement campaign issued by a multinational sportswear company, turned into popular entertainment, and borrowing meaning and value created within a realm located beyond the formal control of the organisation, this kind of marketing scheme could easily be subject to various forms of critique. Immediately suggesting itself here, are at least two strandsof post-Marxist critiques. One proposing that such schemes imply an appropriation of value by multinational capitalist corporations – Capital – from its rightful creator/producer (see, e.g. Zwick, Bonsu, & Darmody 2008). And another accusing it of feeding into a spirit of a consumerist capitalism and an economy of desire where the motor force resides in a sensation of dissatisfaction, which continuously displaces customer interest onto a next Adidas consumable (see, e.g., Stavrakakis 2000). These two strands of critique may indeed merge in the works of, for instance, Zupančič (2006) and Sharpe (2006). What we are faced with here, such a critique may indeed suggest, is yet another case of the structural movement of Capital as devoid of any fixed meaning, and in need of (sub)cultural content from which to extract passion and enjoyment, and ultimately new meaning and value – and doing so through advertising that addresses us in a seductive and entertaining fashion, talking to our passionate interests, and seemingly on our own terms. But, in fact, operating in the service of Capital, appropriating and integrating this cultural produce into its workings, on the conditions of Capital itself. Our position in this paper, however, is that such a critique might indeed be somewhat premature, and ascribe too much strategic intent to the multinational sportswear company, and too much determination to the dynamics at play here.
Inquiring, instead, into the research, planning, and production of the video, carried out by the communications agency Jung Relations, this paper conducts a range of in-depth interviews with executives at the communications agency Jung Relations involved in the Adidas campaign. The aim of this explorative work is to juxtapose two parallel perspectives on the mediatisation of entrepreneurship discourse in this “new media entrepreneurial” landscape: a consumer culture theoretical (CCT) perspective, and a post-Marxist Lacanian framework (one that enters into debate with Zupančič and Sharpe). According to McCracken’s (1989) seminal article, which practically established the CCT tradition, the central foundation of the (celebrity) endorser process is the cultural meanings that are transferred from the celebrity via the endorsement and consumption to the consumer. What the celebrity adds, except the obvious fundamental extra attention, is the highly specific cultural meaning, in relation to general categories of gender, age, lifestyle, etc, that the celebrity has managed to associate with him/herself during his/her career, as part of an ongoing negotiation process of meaning creation through mass-media. McCracken separates the process into three stages:
The celebrity endorser belongs to a special category of famous person within the culturally constituted world. The reason for using a celebrity, as opposed to anonymous actors, is the pivotal fact that a celebrity is charged with a very specific and broadly-known cultural meaning. This meaning is most easily communicated with the use of the specific celebrity as spokesperson instead of having actors perform this message by acting, speaking and referencing to semiotic markers (appearance, environments, props, etc):
“When the celebrity brings these meanings into an ad, they are, in a sense, merely passing along meanings with which they have been charged by another meaning transfer process” (McCracken 1989).
These meanings are not only purely positive, but naturally negative as well. Consequently the role of the second stage, the endorsement, is to enhance only the messages that the advertising/endorsement ideally wants to associate with and receive from the celebrity. Theendorsement consequently creates a context within the advertising that cue the consumer to the intended message by means of communicational redundancy. Hopefully the consumer “discovers” the similarities between the endorser and product, and the meaning has been transferred to the product. The last stage of consumption does not by default transfer the meaning from the endorser to the consumer as this is a highly dynamic and recursive process of meaning negotiation on part of the consumer. There are countless perspective on this last process, but this ultimate step is outside of the scope of this paper.
The crucial focus in our analysis is the relation between the cultural notion of entrepreneurship, the cultural portrayal of this notion generated in the Adidas/SoundCloud cooperation, and finally the organizational process of producing this meaning. Many rewarding perspectives are afforded by Holt’s (Holt 2002) theoretical framework of cultural branding (Holt 2004). Holt claims that branding in the age of consumer culture can be divided into three stages of modern, postmodern and finally post-postmodern consumer culture. In the postmodern consumer culture era there are five principal techniques employed by marketers to communicate with consumers in terms of branding as part of the culturally constituted world: authentic cultural resources, ironic/reflexive brand personas, coattailing on cultural epicenters, lifeworld emplacement and stealth branding. All of these techniques are at play in the Adidas/SoundCloud case, but the most powerful dimension for our analysis is provided by the coattailing on cultural epicenters. This constitutes one of the most ubiquitous strategies employed by contemporary consumer brands – the weaving of brands into expressive cultural epicenters such as arts/music, fashion, ethnic subcultures, professional communities and consumption communities. By associating with these cultural expression forms brands attempt to transfer the desirable meanings from the meaning-generating cultural production centers onto themselves and consequently through the consumption process continuing to the consumer.
What is striking is the radically shifting societal position of entrepreneurship, and how the meaning of this notion is shifting and becoming equated with significantly more established cultural expression forms and their respective epicenters. Our paper aims to analyse what type of cultural meanings from this new cultural epicenter that are intended to be transferred on part of the marketer/endorser, and what this tells us about the transforming meaning and role of entrepreneurship.
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