those nutty consumers

The Swiffer ad features a woman dancing around a house. It turns out she is dusting someone else’s house. A Microsoft house shows members of the corporation dancing. A Honeynut ad shows a guy wandering around telling anyone and everyone that he has just lowered his cholesterol, including a little girl who has no idea what he is talking about. A recent ad shows a man sitting in someone else’s car, practicing his driving skills.

Is it just me or are we seeing a new theme emerging here? Call it the nutty consumer theme.

Certainly, these ads are funny. And that’s reason enough to encourage the theme. They also show an appealing side to the consumer. These characters are innocent, caught up in the moment, helplessly transported by their own fantasy.

But this is very different from the smiling talking heads that were once featured in ads. This old approach gave us the consumer as someone who wants us to know how much they like the product in question. They address the camera with the full knowledge that we are watching and the apparent hope that we will consent to, and be persuaded by, their recommendation.

The new approach gives us a consumer who doesn’t know that we are looking in on them, who doesn’t know that anyone is looking in on them, who is so caught up in the moment that they are worlds away.

What is going on here? We live in a culture that encourages self dramatization. We are all ever more vivid actors on the public stage. But this dramatization is witlessly performative. These consumers are entertaining in spite of themselves. Public performances have given way to private reveries.

Why this face for the consumer right now? What does it say about contemporary culture? Why is it so recurrent in our advertising?

As usual, the anthropologist has no answers, only questions.

2 thoughts on “those nutty consumers

  1. LK

    please note: one more level of (sub)text here re the swiffer ads


    NEW YORK ( — “Whip It,” the 1980 song that was the anthem of the band Devo’s rage against a society dehumanized by industry and commercialism, is now the theme of a Procter & Gamble Co. TV campaign for the Swiffer line of home-cleaning products.

    == raging against the machine, fuelling the machine … perhaps a less political issue than previously?

    the band also re-recorded the “swiffer theme”, not merely selling their tune as a jingle. does this count as doubly inflected?

    and now, i must sweep…

  2. Steve Portigal

    I’ve been amused/annoyed to see a number of ads featuring people conducting the orchestra playing the background music to their consumption. The backyard chef barbecueing and cueing the orchestra for the “beef” flourish (“no not yet” he cautions them). Or the guy about to eat a Mexican flavored Hot Pocket with the mariachi band in his living room. Blurring background and foreground in a silly way – maybe that post-modernist attitude is a way of grabbing more attention, with the silly consumers you describe…

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