Hold this L
The trailer for Taika Waititi’s new film Next Goal Wins was released online in April, prompting discussions of the director’s return to non-franchise cinema after his recent work with Marvel Studios, as well as the infamous 31-0 loss by the actual American Samoa football team.
From the trailer taking a swipe at Thor: Ragnarök losing the Teen Choice Award, to the Jojo Rabbit official Twitter account repurposing the Downfall parody format, Taika Waititi is no stranger to utilising his own brand of irreverence for publicity.
The trailer left an impression on social media, with users enjoying Waititi’s self-deprecating sense of humour and some experiencing fatigue at the meta-heavy jokes that similar directors, such as James Gunn and Tim Miller, used in marketing for their movies.
In the social media age, marketing is everything, and if an actor tweeting an on-set selfie counts as promotional material, then everything is marketing. With factors like media format, tone, ethics, humour and timing, marketing is a broad church. Much like an art, there are no rules, yet it remains obvious to the consumer when something doesn’t work.
With these criteria in mind, what makes marketing self-aware and what makes it successful?
Self-aware marketing can be described as advertising that implements some form of cultural awareness to help advertise a product or service. Most commonly, it serves to target a particular audience, often using a hook like a joke or a reference to mainstream culture.
If acknowledging consumer desires is the basis, then this level of awareness is nothing new. Volkswagen’s 1959 Think Small campaign remains one of the company’s most successful adverts, taking a self-deprecating approach to the size of the vehicle. Jokes aside, this helped establish a sense of honesty and allowed the product to speak for itself, without the need for flashy images and marketing hyperbole.
Reverse-psychology marketing like this remained commonplace in the 20th century and it’s hard to imagine modern advertising without it. While there’s no denying what the 90s had to offer when it came to, at times, unapologetically cynical marketing (look no further than the McDonald’s 1996 Arch Deluxe campaign), it’s the social media-savvy era of 2010s marketing that really set a new precedent for postmodern media and the nature in which it’s consumed.
The social media giants of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok were barely in their infancy or were non-existent in the late 00s. A world without the bombardment of influencer content or global news by those platforms seems like an impossible thought. By the mid-10s, marketing could be anything from videos under 10 seconds or even fake dating profiles – the Tinder ‘Swipe right to adopt a dog’ campaign is a unique example.
Marketing today is about making content that can be adapted to multiple platforms. Ease of access to digital content is paramount to today’s media zeitgeist, and with the constant need for news, entertainment and education, companies will utilise every possible way they can to offer these services to multiple consumer markets. Brand awareness acts as another string to the marketing bow and has proved very effective in the age of digital media.
There’s no denying self-awareness is now firmly ingrained in our culture. But is it culture? Or is it a kind of culture-hijacking by companies wanting to decide for the consumer?
With popular media, there’s a fine line between what’s organic and what has corporate backing – a fine line that digital-literate people often have no problem seeing through.
Advertising is both part of and a reflection of our culture – an advert can be the thing to influence a consumer base and a social trend can attract companies. A large influencer following will never escape a company’s notice – the chance to use that popularity to grow their brand should be a no-brainer. However, in the changing climate of what’s popular among users, there are precautions a company must take, especially when there’s money on the table.
Giving an influencer their own creative control when advertising a product can seem like a cost-effective solution but with creative independence comes less overall control. The advertiser must find a compromise to sell their product in line with the influencer’s own brand.
A brand like Raid: Shadow Legends advertises with all kinds of YouTubers, often embracing their own soft ridicule in internet meme culture – ironically or not, it is still free advertising. In contrast to this, YouTuber PewDiePie, a frontrunner of 2010s internet popularity, remained in the advertisers’ good books for years until a huge, platform-wide controversy in 2017. His offensive humour that defined him brought about an antisemitic controversy, resulting in big-name advertisers cutting ties with the platform.
Comparing the Next Goal Wins trailer to this more offensive style of content, the two are stark in their differences yet they are cut from a similar cloth. Waititi himself even made a film that joked about the character of Adolf Hitler, (albeit satirically) and utilised that same sense of shock-value humour in the advertising.
It’s obvious that these offensive and knowingly absurd styles of marketing do resonate with audiences. The interesting thing about this approach is how long it has remained in the zeitgeist. From shows like Community back in the late 00s to recent video games such as Forspoken, this meta style feels like the bedrock to a lot of mainstream culture.
Even if this self-referential approach has become the norm in advertising, it’s possible this is just a trend that will logically peter out with market changes. Having said that, this could also be a product of a more aware, media-savvy world.
Advertising will most likely remain self-aware but it’s the events of the future that will dictate the approach. Climate change, strike action and foreign wars continue to mark cultural turning points in our history and it’s no surprise that this will affect content production and how it is marketed as a whole.
A system where our every interaction can be utilised to push some kind of product could be invasive, but in another way, awareness of consumer demands can be cause for good – ideas, movements and desire for change can be marketed in a way that isn’t cynical. Awareness can be a gimmick, but without it, future developments might prove more difficult without the know-how to market to a wider audience.
Marketing is just a tool. Provided the consumer base is aware of its collective power, then that tool can be used in a way that allows businesses to personalise their advertising and also help consumers stay aware in an ever-changing digital world.